For years, Daniella experienced unexplained chronic pain. But when she stumbled across some information on the mind-body connection, things started to make sense
About a year ago, I couldn’t sit up in a chair, walk more than a couple of steps, or get a good night’s sleep. I was in so much pain 24/7 that my head ached from all the tablets I was taking to numb the agony in my body. The muscles in my back were as hard as rocks – burning hot electric rocks – and so tight that they twisted me up like a crooked stick. My mental health suffered as I faced a life of solitude, constant pain, and the isolating depression that came with that.
I had suffered from headaches a lot previously, but the back pain that jumped into my life with no warning was brand new. It started gradually in 2015 and got progressively worse until I couldn’t go a day without serious pain medication and a lot of rest. It screamed at me like an alarm bell ringing constantly around my mind.
I fought with this debilitating condition for about three years, as I was batted between doctors, traumatologists, surgeons, specialists, chiropractors, physical therapists, and osteopaths. Nothing worked. In fact, every treatment I had – including electrodes, laser treatments, and daily steroid injections – made me worse. The only thing that they could find was a herniated disc which, despite looking really scary on MRI, apparently wasn’t bad enough to be causing me that much pain. I was devastated, believing this was going to be my life forever. I ended up in a wheelchair at times, and was utterly broken inside.
As you can imagine, my mental health suffered greatly. The more fear I had and the more despair I felt, the worse the symptoms got – which totally makes sense, now that I understand what was happening to me.
Purely by chance, one day I noticed someone posting about their back pain on Facebook, and a friend had commented about a book called Healing Back Pain by Dr John E Sarno. I was thoroughly sceptical at the time, but I was also utterly desperate and willing to try anything.
Dr Sarno was a pioneer in his field, and spent his career educating patients and practitioners about the mind-body connection. His theory was that repressed emotions and unaddressed past traumas can cause our nervous systems to become stuck in a ‘stress response’ mode called fight-or-flight. This is our body’s primitive natural defence mechanism that kicks in to help us flee or fight a predator or threat.
By not addressing my feelings properly, and therefore not allowing myself to process traumatic events or threatening scenarios in my life, I was literally toxifying my body with an immense amount of stress As a result, a number of physical symptoms had shown up throughout my life.
Back pain is one of the most common areas for mind-body issues to manifest, so it’s no surprise that back pain is also one of the most frequent complaints in GP practices every year. Other common mind-body symptoms are migraines, chronic fatigue, widespread pain often diagnosed as fibromyalgia, gut problems such as IBS, skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema, pelvic pain, and sciatica. Collectively, these conditions are called tension myositis syndrome (TMS), otherwise known as the mindbody syndrome or just ‘stress illness’.
I’m not saying all chronic pain is caused by suppressed emotion. Neither am I saying that my pain was all in my head. The symptoms were very real, and felt exactly the same as an injury or tissue damage of some kind. But my pain was not created by my physical body, it was created by my brain and was exacerbated by my nervous system being on constant high alert.
My emotional world was like a big simmering pot of water. The pot has a limited capacity, but the more emotion and turmoil we suppress, the more the pot fills and boils. At some point, if the volume in the pot isn’t reduced, it’s going to overflow and cause problems.
Our mind and our body are the same things, not separate entities. When we’re nervous, our palms sweat and our tummy aches. After a long stressful day at work, our heads hurt, our mouths are dry, and our bodies feel tense. These are just a few examples of the power of the mind-body connection in our day-to-day lives.
"Journaling peeled back all the layers of protection I had built up around myself for years, and allowed me to just sit with my real self"
I went down the rabbit hole of research into Dr Sarno’s work and found a successor of his called Nicole J Sachs, based in Delaware USA. She worked with him for years as a psychotherapist to his patients, and designed her own form of expressive writing therapy called JournalSpeak. One of Dr Sarno’s main recovery principles is to address the emotions that you’ve successfully buried for so long in the form of daily journaling.
Journaling peeled back all the layers of protection I had built up around myself for years, and allowed me to just sit with my real selfand heal her. It sounds ridiculous, believe me, I know it does, but by releasing these emotions, it was teaching me how to really feel.
The recovery timeline is very different for everyone, but after about two months of consistent practise and more learning along the way, I started to have pain-free days – whole days! Then the days turned into weeks and, to cut a long story short, here I am today, completely chronic pain-free, anxiety-free (for the most part!), and no longer living in fear of my body, convinced that something is broken.
Shockingly, I am now grateful for my pain and what it taught me. Since recovering, and with Covid-19 changing my day-to-day work life significantly, I decided to write my story into an online stress-illness survival guide, to help other people do the same as I did, from home, for free.
When I had recovered enough to restart my life, I decided to fulfil a lifelong dream I had fantasised about for years, I went to India to train to become a yoga teacher. I now teach others in the chronic pain community to overcome the fear of movement, and settle their nervous system out of fight or flight to propel their recovery forwards, just like I did.
Since recovering, I’ve reinvented my whole life. I’ve become much more resilient, courageous, honest, and protective of the peace this work has given me. I fully accept myself for exactly who I am these days – something I’ve never been comfortable with in the past. I can only wish the same for you. I know this is hard to believe, but keep an open mind and do some research of your own. If you try this approach, and you’re anything like me, you’ll be even more surprised at what you find out about yourself.
For more from Daniella visit her website, mytmsjourney.com
Rachel Coffey | BA MA NLP Mstr says:
Daniella’s story is a uniquely interesting expression of self-discovery, and how that fits into the world around us. In a time when we’re being bombarded with new information, and trying to navigate our way through, you’ll notice just how quickly things can change. What was true yesterday may be seen in a different light tomorrow.
Although we need a foundation that feels grounded in truth, what’s also true is that we make new discoveries every day. If you’ve been feeling stuck, maybe it’s time to see what’s possible beyond what you thought you knew.
To speak or connect with a counsellor, visit counselling-directory.org.uk/