In 2005, I was working as an Information Technology Manager for a large company. I had a wife and 2 very young boys, ages 1 and 3. My wife was a stay-at-home Mum so I was the sole provider for the family. I was 36 years old.
I had been working for this company for 4 years. It was a stressful job with high expectations placed upon me and the department that I ran. The job demanded that I put in long hours in front of the computer writing emails, reports, and completing other work on the computer. My boss, who I think had good intentions, was a micro-manager type and was making it difficult at the office for me by the nature of how he managed. Generally, I felt that he was hard to please and I worried a lot about doing a good job.
Gradually during that year, I began to develop a dull aching pain in my right wrist where it bends (ulnar nerve side) when I bent to hit the backspace key. By September, this pain was bad and I actually developed a noticeable swelling in the area. The pain worsened to the point where it was seriously affecting my ability to work so saw a doctor about it. Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and ganglion cyst were diagnosed and I was sent to hand therapy a few times per week for approximately 5 months. During those five months, I underwent various treatments such as hot wax, massage, ultra-sound, and strength training. The therapy alleviated the pain to a large degree, but it did not result in any long lasting improvement.
At the advice of the therapist I made some changes while working in front of the computer. I changed to a mouse that did not require bending my wrist. The mouse looked like a joystick and you gripped it like you would a shifter in a car. I wore a brace to limit movement of my wrist. And I began using Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software to reduce typing at work. It took a long time to master, but eventually became quite good at it. Additionally, my employer paid for an ergonomics expert to come in and review my workstation for any recommended modifications. As a result of that, I was able to buy a new ergonomically sound chair and a keyboard tray which was installed under my desk. At the end of the year, I still had pain regardless of all of the modifications.
The beginning of 2006 brought ongoing challenges at work and I began feeling less and less capable to meet the growing demands. My job was becoming less and less enjoyable and I began to dread going into the office. I wasn’t doing such a great job. I started making bad decisions or sometimes avoiding decisions. At some point, I even stopped having staff meetings. I wasn’t being a good manager for my team. My boss was verbally and visibly not happy with me. It was a vicious downward spiral of having negative thoughts of doubt and fear which lead to poor work performance which lead to my boss’ disapproval which made me feel even more doubtful and fearful.
During this time, in January of 2006, I was referred to a hand surgeon to determine if surgery could help me. Initially, he just wanted to take it slow and see if I could continue to alter my work habits in such a way that the wrist would heal on its own. I tried many different mice. I tried left handed ones, big ones, small ones, touch pads, etc. None seemed to make any difference. Things even seemed to worsen. While trying to learn to use a left-handed mouse, I started to develop pain in that hand! I finally found a handless mouse called SmartNav that allowed me to move the cursor around the screen without using my hands. Of course, this helped me by removing the need to use my hand, but it was demoralizing to have to use a device designed for quadriplegics.
It was at this same point in time that I started to develop pains in the backs of both hands. It was a shooting, needle-like pain that radiated from my knuckles and to my wrist and occasionally up to my forearm. It specifically hurt when I typed. It started lightly in the morning, but by end of the day, my hands were “buzzing” from the pain. The Dragon software allowed me to get through the day, but there were some things that even that kind of software was incapable of. I had to type a little bit to get through my job duties and even that minor amount of typing was causing me pain. When I mentioned these new pain symptoms to my doctor, he said he thought it was tendonitis and prescribed rest, reduced typing, and ibuprofen for when the pain was very bad.
During these painful days, the only things that would help me were to take ibuprofen daily and to soak my hands in alternating cold and warm water each evening. It was a very low point in this fight against RSI.
In mid-2006 the company made a decision to combine my department with another for synergistic purposes. This basically pitted me against the manager of the other department to lead the new department. In my paranoid mind I felt that this move to combine departments was meant to oust me as manager, but make it look fair by allowing both of us to interview for the new position. I don’t know if this was true or not, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t have the confidence in myself and my abilities to be able to take on even more responsibility that what I was already given. I felt this was a no-win situation for me. I therefore declined to interview for it. I essentially demoted myself. When the departments were combined, I was offered a staff position at a substantially lower pay. I accepted that because I needed to pay the bills at home, but it was quite demoralising. I’ll never forget how defeated I felt during that time.
In May 2006, the hand surgeon decided that removal of the cyst was justified. It was removed in early July and with my hand in a cast I took a month off from work and rested. I didn’t use a computer or did anything that might cause repetitive use of my hands. I hoped that this time off would heal my wrist and the structures in the back of my hands that I thought were causing the shooting pains. I desperately wanted to be healed.
When I returned to work in August, I kept using the SmartNav and Dragon software, but tried to type a little to see if the month off had allowed my hands to heal. It was the most incredible disappointment when after just a few keystrokes, I was feeling the same exact pain once again. The surgery to remove the cyst had been successful and the pain in my wrist did feel a bit better, but the pain in my hands persisted.
I had a follow up visit with the surgeon during which he expressed his satisfaction with the results of the surgery and basically closed my case. However, he had very little to say about the pain in my hands. He just recommended that I see my general practitioner (GP) about it. However, my GP could only recommend rest, pain killers, and practicing good ergonomics when using my computer – nothing new.
Six months later, in February of 2007, I again visited my GP. The pain was not going away despite not using my hands to type or use the mouse. Unfortunately, the doctor could do nothing. It was at this point that I knew I was on my own and I turned to the internet for answers.
In August of 2007, I found an online RSI support group, www.sorehand.org. I read through the posts looking for people with similar symptoms as mine. I stumbled upon some posts in reference to Dr. John Sarno’s approach to chronic pain. One man had the exact same wrist problem that I had in 2006 and claimed to be 100% healed in a short time after reading a book. I was very intrigued and read these posts voraciously. It was a ray of hope during a very dark and frustrating time. In retrospect, reading those posts was like a new awakening.
Somehow, I knew that this could be my answer. I purchased The Divided Mind by Dr. Sarno. It’s an intimidatingly thick book yet I devoured it. I was reading it a second time through after a week. In my 20’s I read a lot of books on the power of the mind — books by Norman Vincent Peale, James Allen, Napoleon Hill, and Anthony Robins to name some. Being the overachiever type, I set goals to read one self-help book a month. I did this for 10 years. So I believe that with that sort of background about the power of the human mind, the idea of TMS was not outlandish to me. And it explains for me why and how I easily accepted the ideas so quickly from just reading a book.
Within a just a few days of finishing the book the first time, I felt like I wanted to try testing the boundaries of how much I could type. I remember how giddy I was as I started typing, a little at first, but then little by little I was typing normally again, not quite the 18,000 keystrokes from the past, but a few thousand with NO major pain. There was only some very minor discomfort that was not pain as much as it was a tingling in the hands like what you would feel when a limb falls asleep. This reinforced that it had to be TMS. Moreover, there was absolutely no lingering pain when I got home. It was really mind blowing. I was actually healing from reading a book! I’m not sure what my co-workers thought when I clumsily tried to explain. By end of September, one month after learning about TMS, and I was almost 100% cured. It took a couple more weeks and continued reading and emotional exploration to be 100% pain free. The serendipity of this was that other aches and pains that I had suffered over the years (back/neck pain, plantar fasciitis, tennis elbow, etc) never re-appeared again.
That August 2007 marks a major turning point for me. Everything changed after that. Only seven months later I was promoted to a manager position again at work (under a new boss). And then in another 19 months I was promoted again to manage a larger department.
Today I have no chronic pain. I don’t fear physical activity. I type for hours. I use any keyboard or mouse. I use any chair and even slouch sometimes. I know now that my body is capable of much greater things then I ever thought possible. I know that my mind has a profound control over my body. I once read in a James Allen book that “the body is the servant of the mind”. This idea carries a new significance for me.
Finding out about TMS also opened my eyes to limitations that pain placed on me since I was a teenager. With my newfound knowledge I embarked to regain lost health and fitness. I started jogging and success after success led to many other physical activities over time. I’ve run various distances up to marathons and competed in triathlons including Ironman events which are some of the toughest one-day events in the world. My life is quite different because of the knowledge I now have about TMS. I am much more aware of my thoughts and feelings. I am less likely to bottle up emotions. I am more forgiving of myself. I am thankful for each day. I’m truly thankful that I found out about TMS.