My TMS Recovery from RSI and further – James Wiltshire
I write this short account for Georgie and the people she helps; her approach to her work I would describe as brave, tactful and refreshingly human and was greatly helpful to me.
I have recovered from chronic RSI and will say hand on heart that it was the most frightening experience I have every encountered. I have accessed a new depth of confidence and now feel better than I did before my episode and feel stronger each day mentally and physically. Practical mental work (on myself) is a small part of my daily process and I use it not for just healing any more, but as a pleasurable and useful process within itself and for me it applies to every part of my life.
Therefore please take the focus of my note as not merely recovery. I will account a couple of similar techniques and findings of the ‘practical mental world’ which in my experience can take any worker beyond recovery and to balance, strength, independence and comfort.
Let me explain parts of my findings before I tell you of my suffering (if you are reading this you are more than likely tired of focussing on suffering) They worked together for me and are also interesting because they have different focuses and some of these writings are over 90 years old. Mental healing and practical mental working IS NOT a new idea. However it is one that needs to be presented in the right way for people of our generation.
Here’s what I found the most helpful reading.
Dr Sarno’s work was the bulk of my recovery. I was astonished at how quickly MINDBODY PRESCRIPTION started to work. Emile Coue talks of autosuggestion as early as the 1920’s and was a successful French pharmacologist who was interested in the placebo effect. He healed many for free with experimental suggestion and autosuggestion and wrote about ‘The Imagination and Will’. This is particularly relevant to TMS which obviously he was not aware of at the time. He argued that patients who willed themselves better got worse (as really they were imagining the adversity and the will of strenuous effort reinforces the sense of adversity).
Coue argues that the will is subordinate to the imagination. Using the imagination to direct the will produces powerful results in mental healing. This was actually a recent find, but explains why I got worse in the beginning and why regular visualisation which I will explain later helped me very much. I stress the importance of imagination over will and recommend that you read this, it can be found on the internet for free. I think this explains a lot of the TMS activity quite well. Healing is a peaceful process applying strain, effort or force impedes it. I believe peacefully cultivating imagination is an incredible mental tool for healing and for many other practical outlets.
Essentially as soon as I ‘imagined’ my physical pain as emotional transference I felt relief and actually a lot more human. I also think that the itemisation of people in to bodily parts with clinical Latin names is dehumanising and a scary agitation of TMS, abandon it immediately as we are not machines. Imagine relief and feel it and you will get better. Note that this is an old idea and the success was largely due, in my opinion, to the suggestibility of the people at the time.
Dr Jeffrey Schwartz – Mind and the Brain : Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force (2003). A very inspiring book about a neuro-psychiatrist who wrote that, ‘every attentive thought physically changes the brain’. Schwartz makes a brave attempt to put the person at the driver seat of the brain and not the other way around.
Ultimately it is very important to understand the two phases of mind- Conscious and Unconscious. Specifically that the unconscious is powerful, intelligent and alive, but it is influenced by the conscious.
In March 2011 I was working as an admin assistant within a post room. I really wanted to be a professional musician. I didn’t like my job, but had friends there and it was good to be earning again. I was out of work for about a year and had had problems with debt previously. My job was very repetitive and involved the opening and stacking and then referencing of hundreds of letters a day.
When exercising one day I noticed a sharp ‘twang’ that was at the height of my elbow at the bottom of my bicep (golfers elbow area). It felt like thin barbed wire was in my arm and that somebody had plucked it like a guitar string. A bit alarming, but not agonising. It subsided after a very short while and I thought nothing of it. I woke the next morning and felt weak in my arm and when I went to work I noticed that this ‘twanging’ would return as I extended my arm every now and then. Not too often and not too painful. Next day the same and the following morning I awoke and felt greater alarm. The feeling of weakness increased and now my hands were tingling on both sides, like I had pins and needles. Picking up teacups and saucepans felt a strangely heavy and awkward and I felt panic. I called in sick and went to the doctors. He said that I had ‘repetitive strain and carpal tunnel’ and had deeply irritated the forearm muscles. I was referred to an NHS physiotherapist, but chose not to wait and to book in private.
This was the beginning of my nightmarish period.
I had, and probably still do to a lesser extent, have terrible posture. Lordosis and Kyphosis, I had an S shaped back with large over developed lats, tiny wasp-like waist with stomach sticking out and rounded over shoulders. InAmerica they call this ‘turtle back’ and I had never considered it before. ‘Oh dear’ He said as I took off of my shirt ‘I can’t believe your back isn’t in agony, your posture is awful’ He concluded that the posture was the cause of my RSI and that it was disturbing nerves and putting extra strain on the muscles. Key Point here- my back NEVER ever hurt, which was something that I should have paid more attention to.
I must stress that this started a nightmarish path of pain and obsession and I would confidently say that this deduction was not only unhelpful and unscientific, but actually made the problem a lot worse. He said that I might have Schuermann’s disease and that my spine was fused together (it wasn’t because somebody else mobilised later!) and that I might also have ankylosing spondylitis (a type of arthritis). This was greatly frightening as my dad has crippling arthritis and I thought that I was starting to become like him. (I’ve been blood tested since and don’t have this) The agonising road of obsessive stretching, resting at work, not standing like this, sleeping like this, sitting like that, not lifting this and exercising this way and sit up straight completely dominated my entire thought process.
I was convinced that I was some kind of crippled old man with a folded over spine and was actually day by day starting to feel and act like one. The complaints worsened until I went off work sick. I started to swim and do yoga and pilates, desperate to correct my crooked posture and every minute of time I went searching desperately on the internet for the answers. Then my shoulders (rotar cuff) started to really hurt and then my knees felt like they were grinding themselves away –walking and standing was very painful. All with the ‘it must be my back’ thought in my head, I was becoming like a cripple, I almost felt cursed. Weakness and weight-loss followed until I felt completely emasculated.
I hit the lowest of the low when I read a blog on-line about how somebody had had RSI for 7 years and was distraught because they had just had a newborn child that they could not hold. I felt sick with sorrow and then shortly after this my entire world collapsed and I got worse and worse and worse. Stretching didn’t help, treatment didn’t help and even rest and absence from aggravating factors made no difference. I cancelled all my social engagements, gave up playing bass in my bands and became totally imprisoned. I got stress rashes on my chest and felt utterly doomed, I had even started to introduce myself to new people as ‘a sick person’. They would ask, ‘What do you do?’ and I answered, ‘I don’t’. 8 months of massages, chiropractors, osteopaths, NHS physiotherapy totalled about £800 worth of treatment and I felt miserable and convinced that that was it for me.
Hitting ‘rock-bottom’ led to my salvation.
I began to read a book by Ernest Holmes called Science of Mind which is a system of guided. I started to apply deep relaxation, meditation and visualisation practices into a daily routine. 20 minutes at a time I would lie comfortably and meditate 3 times a day. At first it was out of desperation and just to combat the anxiety and fear and then I got onto a part about imagination and the creative nature of mind. I began to visualise myself as completely pain free and then to imagine deeply the sense of relief I would feel if I opened my eyes after the session and I was back to normal. It was immensely therapeutic and my anxiety subsided to a manageable level.
My unconventional Breakthrough
Then my break through came in the most unconventional and, in hindsight, hilarious way. I was waiting a call from occupational health officer from work (my doctor had deemed the work a source of irritation as I was sitting down all day and this was putting my spine in a bad position).
He was a very ignorant man with a manner that infuriated me quickly and I’m not famous for my temper. He seemed to have no interest in helping me and was consistently incredibly rude, couldn’t remember my job, working hours and was ‘sending me round the houses’ while I was in a lot of anguish at home, unable to work anywhere, I thought.
He claimed that I didn’t go in for a work station assessment which was entirely false. He simply wasn’t organised in his reporting and never had his notes with him for our telephone meetings and I had to deal with his continued incompetence quietly for about 6 months and then I finally exploded over the telephone to him. I attacked every aspect of his person, I completely mauled him verbally, which is not common for me to do. I questioned his ability as a doctor, I asked how much he got paid and told him that he hadn’t given me a shred of useful advice and that everything he had done or not done when needed had in fact gotten me worse, I told him that I thought he didn’t care about me or any of his patients. He was completely taken by surprise and couldn’t really answer. His tone changed a little and then I raged “HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN DOING THIS JOB FOR?” and he replied with “20 years. I recommend we give it another 2 weeks”, which was his standard non committal answer. “FINE” I said, and our meeting finished.
Then the most remarkable thing happened!
After the conversation I realised that the base level of my symptoms (which was at the stage normally chronic, whether I was using my arms or not regardless of rest) had greatly reduced. The difference in physical sensation was staggering, I had been searching desperately for patterns and focussed all of my attention on physical positioning and had never noticed such a stark contrast.
I walked over to my computer and typed in ‘psychosomatic illness’ into Google and then sure enough RSI with a long list of other illnesses appeared on my screen and featured on different web sites. I came across a blog that a long time RSI sufferer had made about his recovery and it featured a questionnaire. It actually was taken from Sarno’s book and was in fact a TMS questionnaire. I could not believe my eyes. All of the questions I had answered yes and as I read through the brief description about TMS to my complete astonishment I was FEELING RELIEF AS I WAS READING IT. I clicked onto different pages and found an audio clip of Sarno (I’m sure his therapeutic voice helped) and every encounter was further relieving me. I was being healed simply by information, by awareness.
Although I didn’t get 100% better immediately, after my breakthrough I had felt dramatic relief and was literally jumping around my bedroom with child-like joy. I ordered MINDBODY PRESCRIPTION and completely devoured it. My progress from that point was exponential. I felt physically normal within 3 weeks and any minute twinges would disappear with a bit of self-talk and imagining the oxygen flowing to my arms. The ‘attacks’ had become completely laughable, almost like a threat of violence from a small child with a water pistol. It had become like the scale of a microbe and I was ecstatic.
I had gotten completely carried away and was trying to give away the extra 8 copies of the book that I bought onto to people that I thought needed them. I was a little naïve to say the least. A lot of people get offended and not many people finished their reading. Only 1 person benefitted, which was a shame, but at least that was better than nobody. This is particularly relevant.
If you can’t accept the suggestion you won’t get better.
I was utterly convinced straight away and so got better straight away. Unconscious resistance and sceptical views on mental treatments are in my opinion the obstruction. The results are quite simply down to imagination, practice and faith. Sarno’s book could be shorter, a lot of the information is repeated and the reason is that it is the deep planting of the suggestion that works the magic. Wholeheartedly accept the suggestion and completely abandon the old. Systemically I took every single symbol of sickness and weakness out of my room and view –painkillers, wrist straps, yoga mats, foam rollers, stretching posters, books, doctor’s notes and destroyed them. That felt so very good.
I was very receptive because I have always been interested in the mind and Ernest Holmes ‘Science of Mind’ and Charles F Haanel’s ‘Master Key System’ (which I had scanned about 8 years ago) laid the foundation for my healing. Understanding the two phases of mind is one thing, but practice is entirely different. It’s not what you read, it’s how you react to it and how you apply it. It takes courage and I know what it is like to relapse. When I had suffered worries with my family, love life and career all at once and ‘I didn’t have time or space to feel the emotions’, sure enough the physical pain came back. However as it was relieved again my sense of independence, confidence and balance was further developed.
Underlying source of the stress
My emotional and mental source was aimlessness and hatred of my ‘meaningless’ job, low self-worth professionally and sexually. I was placing large unattainable goals on myself and working myself into the ground. Fear of turning into my father and unresolved family and loneliness issues also came into it. Perhaps the biggest was me approaching 30 and feeling out of control with my life.
Sarno doesn’t require that you change your life to get better, saying that awareness and perhaps a small ‘emotional buffer’ is sufficient. In reality though I have now made changes in my life that I have needed and I feel much, much better than before. I’m doing what I want and my personal, romantic and family life has improved dramatically.
If you really think about your ‘physical illness’, although very scary is there not something slightly ridiculous about it? We have become obsessed with this idea of ‘genetic lucky dip’ in this country. I’m not saying that it doesn’t make a difference, but a lot of the limits of these ideas are ‘man-made’. If the organ called the stomach was unhappy it would affect other organs within your body. Why therefore should it be any different that the organ of the mind, the brain, would not have a similar, if not greater effect? Your unconscious mind does not stop. It beats your heart and runs the natural functions. It knows what you need and serves you valiantly if left undisturbed. However it is alive and influenced by conscious processes. Imagine if you could record all of your thoughts! How many pages of text would you need for a single hour? If you plant wheat you cannot grow roses. Therefore be kind to your mind and let it be kind to you.