I can very clearly remember the night in November 2012 when Katie and I were each searching the internet for solutions and she found the blog post that changed our lives forever. She had searched “software engineer wrist pain” (or something like that) and landed on “How I Cured My RSI Pain” by Aaron Iba.
Katie said, “He seems so similar to you—he went to a top college and then was a software engineer for a startup and eventually had debilitating wrist pain that no health professional could relieve. He said that he found a book that cured it.”
It seemed too good to be true, but I was so desperate that I went on to Amazon and immediately bought the book that Aaron recommended anyway: “The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain,” by Dr. John Sarno .
According to Dr. Sarno, patients who are perfectionist, people-pleasing, and conscientious are the ones who are most likely to experience pain that is either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Sarno proceeded to explain the behaviors and personalities of his patients, and they sounded so similar to me that I couldn’t help but keep reading.
It seemed like he was writing a book just for me and wanted to cure my pain!
Of course, other health professionals had already provided reasonable hypotheses that were incorrect in my case, and maybe Sarno would be incorrect too. (I consider myself skeptical, tentative, and logical; I’m an INTJ.)
But it seemed much more likely that Sarno would be correct given that he specifically wrote about how certain health professionals were biased to diagnose pain in certain ways. He seemed to have a more scientific approach.
The Basic Idea
Remember how I mentioned that “When the student is ready, the teacher appears”? Or “Wishing for something is not enough; being truly ready for it is”? Many of you reading this article right now won’t be able to grasp these concepts. That’s OK. It takes an exceptionally open-minded person to explore the forefront of science and question decades of medical practice. If you’re ever as desperate as I was at that time, you’ll come back to this idea, and it will work for you.
The Mindbody Prescription book was fascinating. Sarno claimed that his approach—spanning many years and countless patients—cured people from back pain and other various pains by addressing emotional issues rather than physical ones.
WHAT?!?!?! Read that again.
The horrible, debilitating, and very real pain that people were feeling seemed to have a mental cause rather than a physical one?! But what about the visible deformities in their backs? Or what about the nerves in my wrists that were pinched?
I think it’s safe to say that scientists and doctors still haven’t unlocked all of the mysteries of how the human brain works. Recognizing this, Sarno speculates that maybe our subconscious and unconscious minds play larger roles in our daily lives than most of us acknowledge. He proposes that—for people of certain personality types—maybe an unconscious part of our mind reacts to emotional “pain” by triggering physical changes in our body (nervous sweating, the feeling of “butterflies” in the stomach, blood flow to certain areas, muscle contractions) that can actually cause physical discomfort or pain. Even severe, debilitating pain.
And not just pain, either. Sarno also lists diseases that he believes are likely to be psychosomatic. Lyme disease, irritable bowel syndrome, tinnitus, vertigo, and many more. Sarno even suggests that the unconscious believes that by instigating physical pain it is doing us a favor. It might have deemed the “emotional pain” as being more “dangerous” than the physical pain that it created as a distraction. Heavy stuff!
Dr. Sarno named the phenomena responsible for all of those diseases and symptoms Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS).
According to Sarno, you’ll cure your TMS (physical pain and the other symptoms mentioned) if:
- you first believe that you are physically healthy
- because either: qualified doctors told you that nothing is physically wrong with you, or
- doctors made hypotheses about something being physically wrong with you but then their recommendations didn’t help you), and
- you are aware of this “trick” of misdirection that your unconscious is trying to play on you, and
- you bring your emotional challenges to the surface instead of repressing them.
That means: get examined by doctors, read books about mindbody interaction, and then journal about your feelings (or talk with a therapist).
Remember that by this point I’d spent thousands of dollars on ergonomic equipment plus appointments with healthcare professionals. And so many hours (hundreds?).
Then, I bought this book for $11 on November 27, 2012. The book probably arrived 2 days later, and I started reading voraciously.
By December 5th (only days later!), my wrists weren’t hurting anymore!
And they had been hurting for 3 months prior to reading the book.
But now I could type again pain-free! Just by reading (and believing) Sarno’s hypotheses!
It felt like magic. Or a miracle. I couldn’t believe it.
I kept thinking to myself, “Sarno isn’t telling me to buy anything or do hours of a particular exercise?? He just cures me via a paperback book that he wrote 13 years ago?! This is the best diagnosis and prescription I could ever hope for! Reading is so cheap and effortless!”
I then also bought “The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders” by Dr. John Sarno, and I currently recommend that book more than any other. I also wanted to see perspectives from people other than Sarno, so I read most of “Pain Free for Life: The 6-Week Cure for Chronic Pain–Without Surgery or Drugs” by Dr. Scott Brady and some of “They Can’t Find Anything Wrong!: 7 Keys to Understanding, Treating, and Healing Stress Illness” by Dr. David Clarke.
My wrists, fingers, and elbows were pain-free, my headaches became less frequent and then disappeared, and my knee felt less concerning as well. Huge victory!
Dr. Sarno says that sometimes the mere knowledge of the mind’s “trick” of misdirection is enough to thwart it. For example, once you know how a magic trick is performed, you can’t really see the “magic” anymore. I guess that by knowing that my wrist, finger, and arm pain were due to a mind trick and not due to some physical behavior of mine was enough to undermine the trick.
But I still had significant pain in my right scapula and my left hip. Additionally, from reading the books, I’d realized that maybe I’d have the power to resolve other bodily annoyances that I’d lived with for years. I was still plagued with “symptoms” such as: needing to wake up to urinate at night (sometimes several times), occasional hemorrhoids, occasional cornea tears (excruciatingly painful result of dry eye), and more. Could all of these symptoms be manifestations of TMS? I was optimistic.
cured: carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, finger pain, headaches = 😃😃😃😃
MindBody intro | Part 1: My Struggle | Part 3: Mindbody resources | MindOverPain