Dear Dr. Schubiner,
For so many years, I have been taught and “programmed” to please others and basically ignore what I was feeling; because I didn’t matter. I denied myself things such as food (anorexia), pain medications and even rest. I even felt that I didn’t deserve to have feelings and lived with tremendous guilt.
I started to have pain at the age of 13 and I am now 49 years old. I had a very difficult childhood with severe abuse and neglect and it has been reflected in pain for all these years. I now understand that my subconscious mind caused me to have severe headaches. They began gradually and occurred about twice a month. But they were severe and forced me to lie in bed and cry. The headaches started to occur more often, until they came daily and lasted for the next 20 years! I forged on with my life; marrying, working and starting a family. The pain finally got so horrible that I had to quit a job that I loved and held for 21 years.
I was devastated, but I decided to become the best wife possible. I was determined to be the best coupon shopper to find sales on all items, sometimes dragging two toddlers with me across town just to save 50 cents. I tried to be the best housekeeper and stay at home Mom. I was obsessive about everything, to the point of exhaustion. Finally, I had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for three weeks.
Since taking your workshop and beginning therapy, I have come to an amazing revelation. My internal child was telling me, “Hey, I matter and if you won’t listen to me, then I’ll just have to force you to pay attention. I want some nurturing too. Quit trying to please everyone else and be kind to me. I deserve it.”
For all those years, I was very stubborn. I refused to pay attention to my wants and needs. My subconscious was more stubborn. Since the daily migraine headaches were not enough to wake me up, it decided to throw in pain in every muscle in my body for days at a time. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, ended up applying for disability, and began taking narcotics for pain.
Did I listen to my subconscious then? No. I had stopped virtually all of my activities but I still felt undeserving, so I started to deny myself the pain medications and accept the pain as punishment for not being able to do all, for all. I came very close to suicide many times, feeling that I didn’t deserve to live. I could not get any lower than this. It was finally time for me to listen. Fortunately, miraculously, I came upon your Mind Body program.
After starting your program, I realized that I had Mind Body Syndrome (or TMS). But I wasn’t getting better. I couldn’t get to the root of my low self-esteem, anger, shame, and guilt. Your simple words, “Be kind to yourself” kept creeping into my thoughts. I did the affirmations on an hourly basis. I did all the writing assignments with a passion and truly believed that somehow this program was going to work. The writing brought up a lot of painful memories, and now instead of denying them, I sought out a therapist. I discussed the Mind Body program with her and she began to help me sort things out.
After one therapy session, I got into my car and the song on the radio was one of Billy Joel’s that I had heard thousands of times before. But this time, the words rang so true for me: “This is my life, go on with your life, leave me alone.” It hit me that this is what my subconscious has been telling me for the last 36 years. I don’t have to react to those voices from the past. This was my life and now I could choose how to live it. I told my inner child, “I understand, I am deserving, I matter and that everything was going to be OK.”
I was still in a lot of pain that day, in bed with a severe headache, when my daughter came in to ask if we going to the mall. When she saw me in so much pain, she quickly said, “That’s OK, Mom, we’ll go some other day.” But I looked at her and said, “Just give me a couple minutes and we’re going.” I began to breathe deeply, relax as best I could and started repeating over and over, “I understand, it’s OK. I no longer need the pain. Leave me alone. I’m going to do what I want and what I need. I no longer need the pain.” I got up and forced myself to go to the mall. That is what I really wanted to do. My other daughter called me and said, “Mom, you should be in bed. Go home.” But I wasn’t giving in this time.
The next day, I woke up full of energy. The pain was way down. I felt as if I could start living, instead of just existing. I worked on letting go of the past. A girlfriend had hurt me terribly and wrote me a letter full of hateful and spiteful words. I instantly wrote back trying to redeem myself, but the letter came back undeliverable. I kept both letters and have been trying to track her down for the last 17 years. I found those old letters, tossed them into the garbage and let go of my anger and guilt. I felt exhilarating.
I know I have a ways to go. My subconscious has been shouting to a brick wall for 36 years, but I am listening now and deep down I know that I will not give up on myself. Your kind words to me, “I will never give up on you,” will stay with me and keep me strong. I am not a once-in-a lifetime patient. I’m an average, everyday person who believed these words, “I have TMS.” Thank you for giving me my life back. You will always be in my heart.
Comment: This is an amazing story, of course, but there are so many people who have suffered in a similar way and this woman had the courage and the perseverance to get better. It is such a common situation for my patients with TMS/MBS to have been so self-sacrificing that they truly never take time for themselves or they never stand up for themselves. People who have a very strong case of the “shoulds,” as Dr. Sarno tends to call it (what of course Freud called the Super-Ego, or the conscience, or a strong sense of obligation) appear to be at particularly high risk of developing TMS/MBS. They tend to feel trapped in difficult situations, as they often don’t seem to be able to find a way out that allows them to remain “nice.” They also tend to put extra pressure on themselves and to feel guilty about things they didn’t do or should have done. Their bodies will react to the situations where they feel trapped, or they feel guilty or highly self-critical. The symptoms of pain (or other symptoms) can often persist for a long time. In the story told by D.R., her symptoms did not abate until she began to change. She needed to take control and do some things for herself; she needed to act (not just read or write about her stress). She needed to change some things that needed changing. This is one lesson I have learned. When people truly see themselves and their truth, they can make changes that free them. We are good at building prisons for ourselves. Some times, we need to break down the walls.
To your health,
Howard Schubiner, MD