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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
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Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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« How many neurotics does it take to make a fire? | Main | Ah, boys. »
Monday
Dec082008

Putting my brains on notice.

You may recall that a few months ago, my cat tried to kill me. Guess what? I am still suffering the consequences of calling my cat overweight and making fun of her butt. I have learned my lesson.

It seems that in the fall, I injured my bicep tendons, and according to my brand-new physical therapist, my neck holds untold amounts of tension (being both a chronic sloucher and a chronic typist) which means that I'm not getting enough circulation to the area to heal the damage. And lo, the inflammation, it has worsened, and this is why I scream whenever I have to lift my arms past my waist. This arm-lifting scenario seems to come up a lot, so that's why all the screams. Neighbors, do not call the police.

Today was my first p.t. appointment, and as I drove, cursing from the fucking pain (you see?), I told myself that I had to take whatever this therapist guy told me with a grain of salt.
This is all going to get a little complicated, but here's why:

When I was pregnant with Henry, I developed all manner of repetitive strain injuries. Within months of beginning a job that required a lot of writing, I had developed a stunning array of symptoms in my arms and hands. I suffered shooting pains down both arms, numbness and tingling, and every other RSI symptom I had ever heard about. Eventually I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, and thoracic outlet syndrome, which is pretty much every kind of syndrome you can have, in the RSI world. My doctor told me I had the worst case he'd seen in twenty years. I totally won the RSI Olympics. Not only could I not go near a keyboard—I couldn't button a shirt. I could not clip my nails, use a can opener, or hold a bag of groceries. I couldn't hold a book open or a phone to my ear. I did everything the professionals told me to do, but it only got worse. I went on disability from my job. I took loads of medications (after I had Henry, of course) and applied strips of lidocaine patches to my arms. Every day I went to some kind of therapist or doctor. This went on for two years.

Then I read about John Sarno. John Sarno's argument (simplified) is that these type of pain syndromes are a load of hooey, that something else is going on, some kind of complicated internal rage that the mind doesn't want to deal with, so it has shut off oxygen in the affected area, creating pain as a distraction. I read one of his books, and people, I started to improve. Just like that. Then I stopped the medication, I stopped the therapy, and lo, I got better. Within six months I was fine.

Ever since then I have approached any new kind of chronic problem with skepticism, and it's always worked. Clearly my brain is out to get me, too, because I've had a bunch. Vertigo! Vision problems! More vertigo! Chronic bladder pain! And each time, I've re-read Sarno's book, I've asked myself what was really going on, and my brain has muttered, okay, you got me, and the condition disappeared.

Except this time, damn it, it's just not. I have tried and tried to use the Power of the Mind to get past this, and it is not working one tiny bit. So, I don't know, maybe I really do have an actual injury. It still sounds fishy to me—after three months, it still hurts? Really? It's not like I'm lifting boulders every day, and I'm not ancient; shouldn't my body recover by itself? And yet, despite my attempts to minimize and dismiss what I thought was my brains creating another weirdo syndrome, the pain has only gotten worse. So physical therapy it is, but I'm not happy about it.

And listen, brain, if you are fucking with me again, so help me. I have just about had it with you.

Reader Comments (47)

You had me at chronic sloucher.
December 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSmalltown Mom
Thank you of reminding me of the bodymind approach to RSI's. I needed that nudge.

Perhaps the failure of mind over body in this case comes from the nature of the injury -- this injury to the biceps tendon was the result of a specific trauma and not an RSI, correct? Chronically poor biomechanics + acute injury seems like it could lead to 'chronic' pain.

Hope the PT or *something* works for you soon.

December 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNiki
Chiropractor fixed my shoulder pain caused by a minor disk bulge in my neck (because I'm a sloucher) that two rounds of physical therapy could not. He also fix my mis aligned hip problem that I knew I had, but imagined that surgery would be the only answer.

Just sayin....
December 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNelking
Oh man. Your spirits sound pretty good, considering these chronic things can be so depressing.I'm thinking, maybe you have to do some PT, THEN read the book, and then your brain will fall into place.Good luck and hang in there!
December 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStamford Talk
I totally watched the RSI olympics on NBC. You kicked ass, my friend. You're the Michael Phelps of RSI.I have a nice, snarky relationship with my physical therapist. I was born with club feet so I have a lot of things wrong with my legs, and I make the time at PT pass by commenting on my therapist's ties and his choice in television (there's always either ESPN or Verminators on. nothing good). So my advice here is to bug your physical therapist a lot, so you'll feel better that he/she is totally delivering pain to your body. Yup.
December 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAlly
I read part of a John Sarno book. A lot of what he says makes sense. I DO notice that I have sciatica issues when I am stressed about something - even in the complete and total absence of any physical aggravator. But I tried once to just tell myself to cut it out with the back pain already. Let's go! And my body said, essentially, "Fuck you. Lie down now, bitch!" And so I did. My approach now involves respecting what my body is telling me (Sarno seemed to be saying to ignore it) and taking some time for myself. So I guess I'm saying that the physical therapy thing might compliment Sarno's ideas (even though he'd disagree with me). It might be beneficial to try thinking about whatever issues you have on your mind while you do the therapy, thereby directing your mind and your body towards the same goal. Or not. Either way, I hope you feel better soon. :)
December 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSonja
If you suspect it is psychological, or really even if it's not, hypnosis could help. I've been hypnotizing myself since I was a kid after reading a couple books about it from the library, and I used a childbirth hypnosis program to get through 2 births (and plan to use it on the next one).Hypnosis has a big crazy reputation, but it's really just another flavor of relaxation, and then when you get really relaxed and in that dreamy state, it's a nice quiet time to have a talk with your body. I was fascinated when I read that people experience much faster healing after surgery if they do a little hypnosis before they go under the knife, just to brief their bodies on what's about to happen and assure their bodies that this knife cutting them is not an attack and they don't need to launch any big counter-attacks.
December 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie
Good luck at physical therapy-I've seen it help a whole lot more people than I've seen it hurt!
December 8, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterderfina
I read Sarno to try to deal with the upper-back pain that has plagued me for three years (I am an editor and writer, so no doubt it is work-related). I wish I could say my pain disappeared. But it didn't. Oh well, Sarno was no more or less use than the four PTs, three massage therapists, two Pilates instructors, and eight world-class pain physicians I saw, and he was a lot less expensive. Only thing that helped: Klonopin.

I still have the Sarno books on my shelf and look at them longingly. I know I've got total rage issues, but for some reason acknowledging them didn't stop the pain.
December 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLaura
Okay, I have nothing funny to say...Mainly because I went through (almost) exactly the same thing. For two years I could not raise my hands beyond my chest area. I had terrible pain in my neck and down my upper back. I had horrible burning, numbing, and tingling sensations from my forearm to my fingers. I was finally diagnosed with cubital tunnel syndrome and the thoracic blah, blah, blah. I had EMT's galore, which SUCK! After trying acupuncture, rolfing, myofacial release massage, PT, and going to Sarno's protege who is a friend and works here in Los Angeles (whom I love btw), I was convinced by a few doctors that the only way to prevent permanent nerve damage was to have the nerve in my elbow surgically transposed. Sucky surgery, hard cast, painful, very slow recovery. It helped... a bit. BUT WHAT REALLY HELPED...WHAT I'M CONVINCED WOULD HAVE KEPT ME FROM NEEDING SURGERY HAD I ONLY DISCOVERED IT SOONER...WAS SOMETHING CALLED THE FELDENKRAIS METHOD. My Sarno protege doctor totally supports this. It's about awareness of your body and the way it's supposed to move (which is very different from the way we actually move it.) There is therapy and then you do exercises at home and learn to move correctly when doing things like driving, opening doors, SITTING AT THE COMPUTER. I've been doing it for two years now and I AM SO MUCH BETTER. I SWEAR BY IT.Google it. It was developed by a guy named Moshe Feldenkrais. Don't let the name scare you. It rocks. (BTW: WHen I had the first surgery, I was told by the surgeons that I would definitely need the surgery in my other arm as well. It's been over two years and I do NOT need the surgery.) Good luck. I know what you're going through.
December 8, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermerlotmom
OH, no, don't worry - it's not your brain. You're just getting REALLY OLD.

See, old people take waaaaay longer to heal.
December 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSue
I'm pretty sure you can actually get your brain removed and put in some sort of jar. You'll be stored at NASA, of course, but we'll still be able to e-mail.
December 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMrs. Kennedy
The older we get, the tighter we get and the more injury-prone. I would definitely recommend some gentle yoga classes. Yoga also clues you in to how one part of the body is (adversely) affecting another, so you can zero in on the real problem.



December 8, 2008 | Unregistered Commentersuburbancorrespondent
Have you every considered acupuncture? True story: my ballet instructor completely shattered her ankle and was told (after it healed) that she would never walk again, let alone continue her dancing career. But then as a last resort, she went to acupuncture, and literally skipped out of the office.Kind of extreme, but it's seriously awesome, and it applies to your idea of brain blocking ness to self, since the needles apparently release blocked energy in your body.
December 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJo
Constant pain is bad. My sister has constant pain (firbromyalgia) and I can't believe what it does to a person's life. I hope you get better soon. What the hell kind of screwed up evolutionary adaptation pain is.

I had total arm numbness and agonizing pain when I was pregnant and then I had the baby and then I was all better.

I was swollen like a mofo. I think that was it. I never even went to the doctor for it, thanks to the internet telling me that when you swell up like a giant pregnant balloon you also get carpal tunnel and nothing can be done. I have lots of internal rage though so you are scaring me a little.

Your acupuncture story still haunts me so I will not suggest this nor any other alternative therapy.(I love acupuncture. You couldn't have gone to an acupuncturist trained in China, could you have? They know what they are doing. But God, I remember the horror you went through, there! So you'd be crazy to go back.)
December 8, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterozma
Try Yoga. It not only relieves body pains by working on stretching the body gently, but also is a great mental healer. Peace in the mind means peace in the body. The old body mind connection.
December 8, 2008 | Unregistered Commentersanjay mehra
Alice, there's this book I re-read every time I am starting a new book project.

It's called "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield. The book is all about resistance and the ways we create resistance when we are embarking on something big, creative and fulfilling in our lives. He talks a lot about how our bodies manifest pain and sickness to keep us from achieving our goals.

Okay, maybe this bastard is totally physical, in which case, get thee to a doctor or acupuncturist or brain surgeon or whatever just in case, but going with the brain idea, maybe it is an even bigger block to a writing project that is even bigger than the others, more important to you, etc. Maybe you needed a lot of resistance to get you to back away from something you really want to accomplish or finish.

Oh, what the hell do I know? But I believe this mind over pain think works, too. Especially for artists and writers who are in their head with their neuroses and fears a lot.

No matter where it comes from, Alice, I hope you feel better soon!

Kim
Um, maybe it all has to do with all that you're dealing with recently. Even though each situation individually may seem manageable, all together they could create one heck of a stressload. Miscarriage, depression, selling one house, looking for another, a child changing schools soon, work projects, etc.

For me, I tend to internalize stress and it comes out eventually in one kind of illness or another. Maybe that's what's going on with you.
December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRachel E.
As I read through the first few paragraphs of this entry, I was thinking to myself, "I'm going to write her an email and let her know about Dr. Sarno" ... and then I reached the fourth graf.

I was suffering from unbelievable shoulder/arm pain for, like, two years. Tons of physical therapy. Couldn't raise my arm to reach for anything above mid-torso. Motion x-ray (taken after injecting a dye into my shoulder joint, which was done by first hitting me up with a series of successively deeper novocaine injections until they could slide the horse needle into my shoulder joint, which still hurt like a bitch), full battery of MRI scans.

I went to two different orthopedic surgeons, neither of whom could say definitively what was causing my pain, and both of whom suggested surgery nonetheless. Since I was already maniacal from the chronic pain to the point that I was ready to jam a steak knife into my own shoulder, I was ready to submit to surgery ... but decided to read Dr. Sarno's "Mindbody Prescription" first.

It cured me.

The pain returns sometimes ... and I know it's bullshit ... and then it goes away within a day or two.

EVERYONE should read this book.
December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDaddy Scratches
I may be a desenting opinion here, I am very much about modern medicine. With that being said, I'm just saying, give the medical route a chance to work. If you go into PT thinking it's not going to work, it won't. And if you go in open minded and you don't see improvement in a few weeks, you can always move on to something else.
December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKristine
Sometimes it is your mind and sometimes, it really is an injury. I am a massage therapist (9 years and counting) and you get a good feel for when something has an emotional component and when something is just physically fucked up.

I would recommend getting a massage from an experienced massage therapist and seeing a chiropractor in addition to your PT.

Too bad you were turned off of acupuncture. If you have a trusted friend who knows an excellent one, I would give it another try.
December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLisa
Blogs are so strange when they align with an issue in your life. I had to have PT for sciatica (I travel a lot for business), and it went away after a few sessions. Now, several months later, I have had a weird twitchy pain in that same vein for the past week. I haven't been flying, but I am stressed to the max. I am looking into that book, will research merlotmom's suggestion, and whatever else comes up in comments. What fantastic timing! Thanks to Alice and her readers for giving me direction!
December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKristen
My illnesses are similarly ridiculously influenced by my own expectations. I got a very bad stomach bug last week - came down with it at the hospital, where I work. One of the other residents told me I needed to go home, but assured me that the bug that was going around was bad but quick. Thus, I recovered from the stomach flu in only 12 hours. Not that I was 100% better, but I stopped puking in those first 12 hours. Because it was a quick bug. Because my friend had said so. Come to think of it, I may start seeing her for all of my illnesses. I'll be the healthiest person ever or at least the quickest to recover...

December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSara
Find a yoga class.

Breathe.

Get oxygen into all those tight places and your body (and your world) will begin to expand. It's life-saving.
December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLynn in Tucson
I swear my muscles have atrophied into the shape of me hunching over the keyboard for 1,000 years. Yoga would kill a person like me. So, in January, I feel daring and throw on some boxing gloves with my little buddy. I bought him a professional punching bag to help him work through some frustrations he was going through. It's fun ... I go for what, 3 minutes total, maybe? It took, uhm, 6-7 months for my muscles to recover from the shock. That, my friend, was real pain. However, I am ordering that book ... I can't wait to read it.
December 9, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterkaren

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