You'll have to forgive the title. Obviously there's no great time to have chronic pain. I suppose a more accurate title would be "I'm slightly more hopeful that effective treatments for chronic pain are being recognized" but that didn't have quite the same ring to it.
Why am I writing about chronic pain? I have no medical background. No, this is more about my experience as a chronic pain... victim? Too defeatist. Sufferer? More accurate, but we'll just say "as someone who experiences chronic pain".
It's something I've actually wanted to write about for months now. But it's also a hard subject to tackle. Eventually though, when something bubbles up enough, it eventually needs to be spilled. I'll do my best to keep things concise, but no guarantees. It's a difficult subject to tackle not only because it's personal but because it's complex.
My story with pain starts all the way back in 2011. I started having back pain while sitting at work. Nothing in particular provoked it. When it didn't go away, I went to the doctor who referred me to physical therapy. And so began the carousel of treatments which provided no relief. Much work was missed, much money was spent. Frustration and despair grew after each failed treatment.
Finally, about a year later and at my wit's end, I mentioned an approach to my girlfriend at the time (now wife). The testimonies had intrigued me before but the method also seemed to go against everything I thought I knew about how the body worked so I hadn't taken it too seriously. However, after explaining it to her, Jen's simple response was all I needed to hear: "That sounds like you. You've tried everything else. What do you have to lose?".
Thus began an almost religious leap of faith and turbulent journey into my own psyche as I began to treat the pain as psychosomatic (which refers to a physical illness or other condition caused or aggravated by a mental factor such as internal conflict or stress).
The book that introduced me to this approach was called Healing Back Pain by the late Dr. John Sarno. In the book he talked about his realization that many people's pain stemmed not from structural issues, but instead repressed emotions such as rage. He called the phenomenon TMS (Tension Myositis Syndrome). Once this diagnosis was accepted, many patients healed very quickly, often by simply reading one of his books.
Despite significant anecdotal evidence of success, this unconventional treatment did not lend itself well to rigorous clinical trials, and Dr. Sarno was ignored or even scoffed at by almost all of his peers. Nevertheless, for a desperate pain sufferer like myself who's tried just about everything else, I was willing to give it a shot.
I didn't get better after reading one of his books (how nice that would have been). But I still believed that I fit the profile of someone with TMS. The good news is that as Sarno had treated other doctors & medical professionals dealing with pain problems of their own, these professionals then began to find success treating patients in this way as well. The bad news is that the closest one of these "TMS Doctors" was about 4 hours away. And while I came very close to making the trip to see one, I decided instead to move on to the next step which I imagined would be the recommendation of the TMS Doctor anyway- find a psychoanalytic therapist to address the emotional turmoil happening in the unconscious.
I'd been to see therapists before for a number of things (OCD in high school, anxiety and depression both in and after college), but analytic work (think old school, Freud & Jung) was very new to me. New & effective. By cancelling any other sort of physical interventions and simply treating my back pain as rooted psychologically, I was able to find relief from my pain after just a couple months. It definitely wasn't easy (and for awhile the pain also moved to my wrist & I thought I had carpel tunnel- more on that another time), but it was oh so worth it.
Shortly after my symptoms cleared up, I changed jobs, moved, and got engaged. Life was good. And things went smoothly for the next few years as well. Even with the challenges of the new job & stress of wedding planning, I don't recall having to worry at all about pain. In the years that followed, bouts of pain would come up, but introspection into the stresses of my life or a few visits to the therapist would clear things up. I also felt like I since I now knew the source of my pain, I no longer had to fear it. I was managing quite well.
I'm sure my use of the past tense has tipped you off- it's not all sunshine and roses from that point on. When I return, I'll talk dive into the more recent chapters of the David vs. Pain saga.