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The worse day for me by far was the day that I got stuck on the toilet….
Looking back I find this amusing, especially with the knowledge I now have about the mind-body connection, but at the time I can assure you that it wasn’t!
We had been trying to set a date to move house for a number of weeks but due to problems with the house sales further down the chain the date was continuously being pushed back and this had been going on for around 6 months! Mainly due to the complete plonker that we were buying from who up until we exchanged contracts was trying to get a better a price by sneakily sticking a for sale sign to his back gate to grab the attention of passing walkers, two of which happened to be my wife and I! This guy wound me up no end and I ranted at anyone who would listen about the injustice of it all.
Finally, after months of nail biting, we received a call on a Thursday morning from the plonker to inform us that all parties had committed to a date………tomorrow! We didn’t have a removal company booked and hadn’t given the house one last clean. We had a piano in the basement that needed specialist removal and lots of items still needed to be boxed. However, we were a young couple with enthusiasm and the housing prices were rising fast so we agreed to the move at short notice. We were desperate to get in!
We quickly called around the local removal companies and were met with rejection after rejection and finally decided that as we were only moving a short distance we would enlist both the help and cars of friends and family along with a trailer belonging to my father in-law. Having managed to secure a last minute booking with a specialist piano removal company we were good to go.
Everyone was concerned (as was I) about my bad back and how I would manage tackling all those boxes but I was positive thinker and decided I just had to grin and bear a long day of hobbling, lugging, pushing, pulling, lifting and placing box after box and hope I would be OK. Thankfully, I had good friends and family who made sure to remind me at various points that my back was weak so I didn’t get carried away……”let me lift that Daniel”, “Jon come and help Daniel with that, I don’t want him damaging himself”, “ooh this is heavy be careful with your back Danny”.
As the plonker gave me the keys to the house just after lunch, I turned to the open garage and was greeted by a mountain range of useless old filing cabinets from his failed business, “are you not taking these?” I asked, to which he replied “I thought you could have them!” I could have pulled my hair out! As if I needed more boxes to move, what a plonker!!!
At around 9pm in the evening the move was finally complete and our friends had left us slumped in a corner trying to take in our new home. Throughout the day the pain in my back had been getting worse and had moved from the dull ache to intense shooting and stabbing down my glutes and legs. Now everyone had gone and the job was done there was nothing distracting me from that agony.
Inch by inch I managed to crawl my way upstairs, every-time I put pressure on my right foot the pain would shoot across my back and take my breath away. I would grit my teeth, haul myself up on the bannister and wipe the tears from my face.
I really needed a wee and so slowly managed to make my way into the bathroom, having to stop after every footstep to take deep breaths and tense myself in preparation from the inevitable searing pain from the next move.
With assistance from a loving wife I managed to lower myself onto the toilet where I held onto the seat leaned back and twisted which seemed to relive the pain just enough to allow me to piddle. When the time came to stand back up, I braced myself…but I couldn’t, the pain and anticipation of pain was just too much and was pinning me to the toilet seat. I was there for half an hour before managing to awkwardly roll off the pan sideways and onto all fours.
It was then that my wife, who was carrying our first child caught a glimpse of the healthy young man she married, crawling from the toilet, with his pants around his ankles, simultaneously crying and laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation.
Welcome to your new life Mrs Hindsley!
Butt cheek Day
The day my journey with chronic pain started I was midway through a 7 a-side football match on a hungover Sunday morning in my early twenties. I was sprinting courageously down the left wing to make a tackle but before I could complete the glorious manoeuvre I was brought to the ground with a searing pain in my right butt cheek….and so it began. The doctor did not agree with my diagnosis that I had “torn my butt cheek”, he said it was probably my back or Sacroiliac joint and sent me away to rest. Four weeks later there I was again, sprinting courageously down the left wing, glancing to my right to make a sublime pass and… aaarrrgh! It went a second time!
Fast forward two years and following endless amounts of knee tapping, forward bending, prodding, poking, core strengthening and back bending for a small army of Physiotherapists, Osteopaths, Chiropractors and Doctors along with too many episodes of back pain and sciatica to mention I am sat face to face with a back surgeon holding my MRI scan results up to the light. “So, Daniel, these blackened discs you can see here are dehydrated and see how there is a bulge there, and again there, it is these discs that are impinging your nerves and causing the pain and sciatica you are experiencing. You have Degenerative Disc Disease. A premature aging of your spine”.
“I have a disease! Man I have a disease” I said to myself “hold it together Daniel” “OK Doc, so how do we fix it?” I asked, quickly trying to stay positive and pragmatic. “Well, it isn’t that easy, this pain is chronic and the condition cannot be easily fixed!” “Chronic?”
“Yes, which means that has become permanent and that you just have to manage it as best you can, or you can opt for surgery but I must warn you that the chances of success are only around 70% and quite often people come away in more pain than they started with. My advice would be for you to learn to manage and cope with this pain as best you can as technology is advancing all the time. We are even experimenting with growing new discs on the back of rats you know. See how you get on”.
And there I was, just like that, mid-twenties with the new found belief that I was well and truly screwed! After all, a highly qualified man in a white coat had told me so. I left that hospital in a daze, a head full with imaginations of spending my later life in a wheel chair and having to give up immediately all the activities that I loved to do.
I left that hospital in a daze, a head full with imaginations of spending my later life in a wheel chair and having to give up immediately all the activities that I loved to do.
However, little did that surgeon know that in my stressful technology sales career I had come across books about positive thinking. I was also slightly (my wife would argue very) obsessive in character and I refused to give in to this. The problem was that I still believed that my back was knackered. All I had done was to positively accept the situation and to fight it with positivity (which was an error on my behalf).
So I began on a journey of learning about my back pain, researching degenerative disc disease, sciatica and filled my head with the grim reality of what I was dealing with! Following a long and winding road of trial and error I ended up with a huge list of what I could and couldn’t do based on links between activity and pain, for example…
I could swim front crawl but not breast stroke (based on the fact that I swam breast-stroke once and had agonising pain a couple of days later)
Bending forwards was a no no (I had been told this by a physio whilst he bent a plastic spine in front of my face showing me how the discs would pop out)
I could cycle but not run (based on the fact that whenever I played football I would be in agony a few days later if I didn’t just seize up on the spot)
I couldn’t play golf (due to pain and generally being crap at it), but I could race a sailing boat
I could rock-climb but not lift heavy weights (one doctor had told me that I had damaged my spine squatting with weights at an early age and that sounded feasible so I adopted that as part of my story)
Eventually on my path I came across Yoga and started to make some real progress. I had put this down to the lengthening of my hamstrings which must have been pulling on my spine and compressing the discs. Over the next decade, with Yoga and by following the long list of rules I became quite proud of the fact that I had managed to reduce the number of episodes I had down from every two weeks to only three of four times a year…but man they were painful when they came!
Penny Dropping Day
The day the penny dropped for me was two days after a sunny family barbeque and around 15 years after Butt Cheek Day when I had thrown caution to the wind and joined in a game of football with my daughters, nephew’s nieces and their uncles and aunties. A couple of beers in my belly and sun on my face gave me the strength to ignore the warning from my wife and mother in law about my back. I accepted that I may well be hobbling in pain for a week but just couldn’t resist. Two days later, sat at work, it dawned on me that the pain never came. Wasn’t I supposed to be in agony? Surely if my back was structurally damaged, it would hurt every time I played football? Maybe there was actually something in this Sarno stuff after all? I thought to myself.
You see around a year earlier in monthly internet searches to see if there had been any more developments on back pain (I was hoping to be growing a new disc on the back of a rat anytime soon) I had come across book reviews of Healing Back Pain – The Mind Body Connection, By Dr John E Sarno. He believed that physical pain was caused by repressed thoughts and emotions manifesting in the body and according to the reviews was having tremendous success with his patients actually recovering from chronic pain! I had read the book, understood it and thought, that makes sense, I get that… but my pain is definitely not from thoughts and emotions. I am a super positive fella and I know this pain is structural I have an MRI scan to prove it! Anyway I had dabbled in a little bit of journaling on the back of the advice in the book and I just found calling up some of the crap from my youth depressing. I shelved the book and carried on adhering to my list of rules and regulations instead.
Well that was certainly my intention anyway, but the seed had been planted and I began to notice correlations between period of stress and episodes of pain. I had three changes of bosses in around a 12 month period and I noticed that the bouts of pain had developed particularly as the uncertainty in my job was arising and eased when I had clarity. On the third time the link was so strong that I knew I had to take this work seriously.
I was staying with my family on a long weekend break at some cottages on the North East coast. I knew there were changes at work…again… and the pain had been building whilst I was waiting to find out which part of the business I would be working in. On the Friday evening the pain had a real surge, so much so that I had to crawl on hands and knees in order to get up the stairs. That evening I received a call from my new boss to introduce himself. We chatted about the changes in my role and he reassured me that it would meet my expectations. I had been convincing myself that I would need to begin to look for a new job as soon as I returned from the holiday. That night I fell into a deep sleep and when I awoke in the morning the pain had completely gone! To the amazement of my wife and embarrassment of my kids I was moonwalking across the landing as I knew that I was onto something. Maybe there is nothing wrong with my back after all? A few weeks ago my Auntie had come across the book, Chronic Pain, your key to recovery by Georgie Oldfield that seemed to be building on the work from Dr Sarno, I downloaded it to my kindle and set to work reading it that weekend.
I began with the timeline exercise and marked out my major life events and set about exploring them with the journaling techniques. By offloading my thoughts and emotions I learnt so much about myself and the resentment, anger, sadness and frustration that I had been holding inside my body for so long that originated from two major challenges that I had in my life.
When I was 16 years old my best friend from childhood was brutally murdered in a knife attack.
I had developed an obsession from that point about not wasting any moments in life. I was striving to optimise every moment and driving myself to succeed carrying a gut feeling of needing to fight against the world.
The second life event I identified was being born to extremely religious Born Again Christian parents. I loved them dearly and knew they loved me, however I didn’t share the same beliefs as them. I always felt like I was a disappointment, in fact I was repeatedly told that they believed I would be going to hell if I didn’t follow the same path as them.
Through doing the work set out in Georgie’s book pennies kept on dropping as time and again I noticed the pain correlating with moments where I felt that I was being judged, such as when I had a new boss, and felt the need to prove myself…all over again! It was starting to make sense.
As I journaled and journaled and wrote unsent letters to my dead friend, my parents and the 16 year old me, the space between episodes of pain became larger and I felt lighter, happier even. I started to become aware that I had been living in a fog for many years.
Over the coming months I got to the point where I was 80% sure that there was nothing physically wrong with me but I was still avoiding the physical activities that I believed that I couldn’t do. There was a nagging doubt in the back of my mind. It was time to test my beliefs.
100% sure day
Two years later I woke up at 6:00am in a hotel close to Hyde park on a beautiful summers morning, I had managed to get some sleep despite the particularly bad pain episode I was experiencing. I was in London as the company I worked for had acquired a business and I was to help with their integration. In short, my boss was changing again!
During the months prior to this point in time I had been tackling running. It was the last activity on my list that I was afraid of doing. I had held onto the belief that running would speed up the degeneration of my discs and I felt that I needed to challenge this. I took comfort in the words of Dr Sarno that my MRI scan was simply showing “normal abnormalities” and that the majority of people without pain would should show the same disc degeneration if they also had an MRI scan.
I had followed the advice and created an evidence diary that I reviewed daily that showed the times I had run and had not experienced pain (such as the game of football with the kids) and was armed a list of affirmations to tell myself that my back was strong, and there was nothing physically wrong with me. I had initially braved the running machine as I knew I could easily get off and managed to run for 2 minutes without pain. I stuck that in my evidence diary. A couple of days later I was back on the treadmill and managed 4 minutes without pain. Yeah! Filled with a new sense of confidence I rushed out and bought some running shoes and headed out for a twenty-minute jog which started with a beaming grin at the wind in my hair and ended in agony and with my hopes shattered!
When my disappointment finally subsided I remembered reading or watching something on youtube, I can’t quite remember which, about the anticipation of pain being enough to actually trigger an episode of pain. I was sure this is what happened to me. I was just running and waiting for the pain to occur holding tension in my body which triggered it.
And so back to 100% sure day. Here I was in a hotel on a beautiful summers morning, I inched on my shorts and T-shirt and laced up my running shoes, I hobbled and lurched towards Hyde park, stopping to breathe out the pain every ten or twenty meters. I finally made it to the green space, smiled and nodded at a few joggers and then took a moment to visualise myself running. I began to hobble whilst repeating to myself…”my back is strong, I am well”.
For the first few hundred meters shooting pains would pull me up and stop me in my tracks. Each time that it happened I breathed, visualised and repeated the affirmations, “my back is strong, there is nothing physically wrong with me”.
Ever so slowly I felt a release in the muscles of my glutes and back and my hobble turned into a slow wobbly jog, my heart lifted and it eased some more. I lost myself in the sunshine and the passing runners and 15minutes later I woke up to the realisation that I was sprinting through the park pain free with a huge smile on my face.
That was when I was 100% sure that I had a TMS/PPD/Stress Induced condition!
Today, as bizarre as it sounds I am truly thankful for my pain.
It seems quite easy for people to accept that living in continuous stress can cause strokes and heart attacks but for some reason they struggle to accept that other physical symptoms can be caused by the same. It also seems to me that somehow what ancient cultures believed to be true (such as those practicing Yoga thousands of years ago) about the mind and body being connected has been lost. Modern medicine has been treating the body as a machine separate to the body and only now is science re-discovering it with the evidence emerging from the work of organisations like SIRPA and PPDA in the states.
Working through the mental loops that caused me so many problems and increasing my awareness of thoughts and emotions has transformed my life. Just to prove to myself that I had recovered, last year I completed an Ironman 70.3 triathlon which finishes with a half marathon after a 1.2mile open water swim and 56mile bike ride. Ironically running is one of the best tools at my disposal to release negative emotion. If I notice any tension, I get out for a run! The gratitude I feel simply to know that I can run brings me back to the present moment and negativity subsides.
Having come through the other side, there is now a calmness and perspective where there was once frustration, tunnel vision and anxiety. I feel in-tune with my body and use the feedback that it gives me as a guidance as to the quality of my thoughts.
Writing this account of my experience with my new knowledge and awareness it is obvious what was happening to me. On Toilet Day, I was dealing with the stress build up to the move, the plonker’s behaviour and my response to it, my wife being pregnant with our first child meant that my life was due to change forever. I was taking on a big mortgage, I was worried about my physical condition causing me to tense up and if I managed to forget my back was screwed, I had well-meaning friends and family to keep the fear alive.
The tension at the point in time was more than I had ever previously experienced beforehand and the intense pain was the stress bubbling over having been slowly boiling since the time of my friends death at the age of 16.
When I explore Butt Cheek Day I now recognise that that is a time in my life when I was just getting into the world of work. I had responsibilities for the first time and a sales career where the pressure was kept high and judgement was continuous. My issues with being judged were a result of growing up with the one and only Jesus as the benchmark for acceptable behaviour. No pressure.
When I started to get the improvements with Yoga, I discounted the fact that I was awkwardly doing a hugely helpful guided meditation at the end of each session and was more focussed on hoping no one I knew would see me through the gym window. In fact, I ended up replacing Yoga with a few stretches and stopping the part of the practice that would have made the biggest impact!
The positive thinking was just like a sticking plaster on broken leg. Emotions need releasing through techniques such as journaling before positive thinking becomes any use. Researching Degenerative Disc Disease just reinforced my beliefs in an incorrect diagnosis and filled me with fear and the list of do’s and don’ts I created were simply learned behaviour and anticipation of pain going on to trigger the pain.
Researching Degenerative Disc Disease just reinforced my beliefs in an incorrect diagnosis and filled me with fear and the list of do’s and don’ts I created were simply learned behaviour and anticipation of pain going on to trigger the pain.
So finally, if you are also suffering with chronic pain hang in there, hopefully you can see from my success story and the many others that are out there from SIRPA that you can make a full recovery with these three steps.
Firstly, by reading the books and becoming knowledgeable and aware of the mind-body connection.
Secondly, by actually do what they suggest (instead of just reading the words) in order to release surpressed emotions.
Finally, by staying aware of the mind-body connection as you move forwards in life and by making healthy thoughts and emotions your number one priority.
Daniel Hindsley is co-creater of www.mindbodymedicineinfo.org. His story was first published on the SIRPA website.