The Back of My Mind was the original title I used when I started to write in my blog about the back symptoms I had been experiencing that eventually led to my being diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis three years ago today.
Vague feelings of malaise were not new to me. Ever since I was in my early teens I had experienced a range of unexplained conditions that I went to quite a lot of trouble to investigate that more often than not, either disappeared as mysteriously as they started or formed part of a sort of rotational menu of symptoms that generally appeared in times of stress or uncertainty in my life.
The first of these were what I now know to be panic attacks but in the mid seventies no-one really talked about these rather alarming states of anxiety. Mine could be triggered by anything from watching a movie that I found disturbing to feelings of agoraphobia or generalised worry about my health (hypochondria).
The accompanying physical aspect of these attacks, apart from increased heart rate etc was dizziness and I would often feel as though there was a danger that I might pass out. After consulting ear, nose and throat specialists I underwent exhaustive testing including inner ear tests, hearing tests and I even had a brain scan. When everything returned normal, I did what of lot of people do and started on the alternative therapies. I changed my diet, did various exercises and eventually saw a dentist who diagnosed temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ). The diagnosis made sense to me because my jaw constantly clicked, my bite was out of alignment and I also realised I was a rather enthusiastic teeth grinder. I was fitted with two plates – one that I wore at night time and another during the day which affected my speech to the extent that I was often asked if I’d had a stroke.
Unfortunately it did nothing and the symptoms remained right up until the time I had my first child when the jaw problems that I’d associated with TMJ disappeared and were replaced with an odd sensation in my throat. It was as though I had a lump in my throat and was unable to swallow properly. Back came the panic attacks. It was something of a chicken and egg situation. I didn’t know whether the swallowing thing was because of the anxiety or vice versa? I’d had problems with tonsillitis in my teens after a bout of glandular fever and underwent more tests that all proved to be normal. I found that the condition had the rather manic-sounding name – globus hystericus. I found it hard to believe that this condition had its roots in stress and anxiety because it felt so incredibly physical, yet I have to admit that when I was swallowing actual food or drink, the sensation wasn’t so evident (particularly if I was swallowing red wine!).
Mild psoriasis appeared and I dabbled in diet changes and ointments that may or may not have contributed to its eventual disappearance. Throughout all of this the dizziness came and went and eventually developed into Benign Positional Vertigo which would sporadically occur when I was lying in bed and moved position in my sleep. When this happened I would awaken feeling as though the entire room was spinning like a merry-go-round and I would have to sit up and put my head between my knees until the spinning stopped. Sometimes I felt as though I might be sick but thankfully I found an exercise (the Epley Manoeuvre) that seemed to help more than anything else I’d tried.
After that it evolved into shoulder problems followed by back and hip related issues that guided me down a path that eventually led to the discovery of TMS. Tension Myositis Syndrome is a condition described by Dr John Sarno in which unconscious emotional issues (primarily rage) initiate a process that causes physical pain and other symptoms.
I discovered TMS, which I’m going to call the Mindbody Syndrome, in 2013 when I was at my wits end with the leg weakness and corresponding tension in the muscles that were compensating for that weakness. He pretty much outlined all of the symptoms that I had experienced throughout most of my life that I described above and I totally recognised the personality traits he lists as being the most vulnerable to Mindbody ailments. But although I followed his suggestions and fully believed in it, my problems didn’t improve and I ended up going against his advice and allowed myself to be seduced into the idea that after having spinal surgery I would be running, bush walking and possibly even skiing!
Nearly a year after my surgery I felt worse if anything and I fervently wished that I had followed Dr Sarno’s advice and not allowed to get my surgical hopes up so high. As I re-embraced the works of John Sarno and I uncovered a lot of repressed anger that I had been only moderately aware of yet instead of improving, my symptoms almost immediately worsened. I became very fearful that I either had ALS or cancer. When I was eventually taken to hospital and diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis on 22 September 2016, I almost punched the air with relief!
I slowly improved almost to the point where I was at prior to my hospital admission on 22 September 2016. Having said that I had what I thought might be an MS flare up a couple of months ago but even my doctor and neurologist agreed it was more likely to be back related rather than due to MS. I was admitted to hospital and underwent a lot of scans etc and it was thought to be a problem with my facet joint and I was given a cortisone injection, although by that time it had already started to improve of its own accord. When I looked back on what had taken place in my life in the month prior to the onset of pain I probably shouldn’t be surprised that I had experienced a Mindbody reaction to those events. I won’t go into the details but it wasn’t one big drama, more like half a dozen things that had either upset, saddened or angered me to the point where I had almost literally manifested the back of my mind.
Thankfully my back pain improved reasonably quickly after this latest blip, and everything is stabilising again. It might have been the injections or a change in my mindset, or maybe a combination of both.
Once I was diagnosed with MS, all those other Mindbody symptoms – the panic attacks, TMJ, Psoriasis, Globus etc that I described above completely disappeared … along with my fear. The fear was far worse than the reality. Not only of the disease itself but I’m now not afraid to say, “I’m too tired to do this”, or to my physio “my body doesn’t want to do that”, or to confidently voice my concerns to health professionals etc. I recently read Gabor Mate’s excellent book “When the Body Says No”. It’s a great title! I know full well when my body is saying no and I know if I don’t act on it I will pay the price later.
Why the hell I didn’t I do it before I got the illness rather than stoically battling on and trying to be “perfect”? There is no doubt in my mind that emotional issues paved the way to my MS and I believe that my awareness of it now will continue to keep the MS at least to its current stable level.
It’s not necessary to get a bona fide auto-immune disease to set boundaries, attend to your own needs and honour yourself. My latest experience has taught me the importance of being vigilant lest those old habit knit thought patterns creep back in.