The “disease” of TMS/MBS: Lori’s story
The last two blogs have dealt with the issue of fear and how fear can often derail the recovery process from TMS/MBS. I thought it would be helpful to read the story of a brave woman who is confronting her fears head on. Here is Lori’s story:
“Fear is a big issue for me right now, but I am making some progress in dealing with it. In the blog entry titled “A rose by any other name…” it says people can see themselves as having a disease called “TMS” and see themselves as a victim of their life events, their stressors, or their mind. It goes on to say that people with TMS/MBS do not have a diseased autonomic nervous system (ANS). Until I read that, I hadn’t had the specific thought, “I have a diseased ANS”, at least not consciously. But when I thought about it, I realized that I really did fear that I had a disease or syndrome or chronic problem called “TMS” or “MBS”. I thought that since my physical symptoms were caused by emotional triggers, then those emotional triggers would always cause physical symptoms. I worried that whenever I was stressed, anxious, angry, guilty, or in a confrontation, I’d start to have physical symptoms. And since I often did have physical symptoms in those cases, that reinforced my fear of the emotional triggers.
“I read that blog entry over and over again, several times a day. I started to realize that when I did have physical symptoms, I had been thinking I had done something “wrong” to have caused them. I figured I shouldn’t have put myself in a stressful situation, or gotten angry and not calmed down quickly enough, or felt guilty and not figured out how to stop feeling guilty. Since I knew the physical symptom was due to an emotional trigger, I blamed myself for putting myself in the situation that caused the emotional trigger, or not controlling it well enough. Then I feared encountering future emotional triggers, thinking it was inevitable that they would lead to physical symptoms because I “had” MBS.
“I’ve started working on believing the thought “I don’t have a diseased ANS.” That means that it isn’t inevitable that I’ll have physical symptoms when I’m stressed. It isn’t inevitable that I’ll have physical symptoms when I feel guilty. It isn’t inevitable that I’ll have physical symptoms when I have a confrontation. I still do have physical symptoms with those emotions, since I haven’t gotten myself un-programmed yet. But now I don’t fear the physical symptoms so much. They aren’t part of a disease I have to have forever, or the result of a weak ANS, or the result of some flaw in my genetic code. They are just part of programming that it is possible to eventually resolve. I figured out that it’s OK to observe any physical symptom and any psychological symptom, no matter how painful or frightening, and not be afraid of it. It’s OK to let myself acknowledge the symptom and feel it without trying to push it away or get rid of it. It’s OK to feel strong emotions. It’s OK to be in stressful situations. It’s OK to take on challenges that might make me feel anxious.
“I haven’t yet been able to do this consistently, so the fear is still there sometimes. I find it’s easiest to just observe the physical symptom when the emotional trigger is obvious. When the emotional trigger is not obvious, or when it’s something I don’t seem to be able to resolve (for me that’s usually guilt), then it starts to get difficult to stay in the observer mode. I start to get swept up into feeling the physical symptom. I wonder why it’s not getting better yet. That quickly leads to worry that it’s never going to get better. Sometimes it helps to think, “What strong emotion might I be feeling right now unconsciously, even though I don’t feel it consciously or might feel the opposite consciously?” Or I think, “I must have a strong unconscious emotion that’s causing this physical symptom, even though I can’t identify it right now.” Other times it helps to think, “This physical symptom won’t last forever. It has always gone away, even if just for a short time, and it will again.” Sometimes nothing helps, and I just have to wait it out.
“One thing I still need to work on is that when I’ve identified the emotional trigger that’s causing a physical symptom, I often figure the physical symptom won’t resolve until the emotional trigger goes away. My logic is, “I figured out what’s causing this symptom, and that emotion hasn’t gone away, so of course my physical symptom won’t go away.” That is a fear that I need to change. I somehow need to reprogram my mind to learn that resolving the emotion or getting out of the trigger situation is not a requirement for getting rid of the physical symptom. Remembering I don’t have a diseased ANS is a step in the right direction.”
We can easily fall into the situation that was plaguing Lori, i.e. the notion that we have a disease called TMS/MBS, and that we will always develop symptoms of TMS/MBS whenever we are stressed or feel any kind of emotion. This is a form of determinism, the idea that we are a victim of our past and can’t do anything about it. In fact, the opposite is true when you think of it. The traumas and stressors of our past have conditioned us to respond with pain because of our reaction to them, not because of the trauma itself. Everyone has had traumas in their lives, of course some have been much worse than others, but the critical thing to understand is that we can control our reactions to the events in our lives, even though we cannot control the events that occur. If you suffer from TMS/MBS, you do not have a disease, you have symptoms caused by stress and your emotional reactions. Lori is a wonderful example of someone who is taking control of her reactions. She is casting aside a victim mentality and asserting her ability to overcome her old patterns of reacting. She is taking the journey towards freedom. It is not an easy journey, but it is the only path that can lead to freedom from TMS/MBS symptoms and freedom from her past.
To your health,
Howard Schubiner, MD