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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
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Monday
Dec082008

Putting my brains on notice.

You may recall that a few months ago, my cat tried to kill me. Guess what? I am still suffering the consequences of calling my cat overweight and making fun of her butt. I have learned my lesson.

It seems that in the fall, I injured my bicep tendons, and according to my brand-new physical therapist, my neck holds untold amounts of tension (being both a chronic sloucher and a chronic typist) which means that I'm not getting enough circulation to the area to heal the damage. And lo, the inflammation, it has worsened, and this is why I scream whenever I have to lift my arms past my waist. This arm-lifting scenario seems to come up a lot, so that's why all the screams. Neighbors, do not call the police.

Today was my first p.t. appointment, and as I drove, cursing from the fucking pain (you see?), I told myself that I had to take whatever this therapist guy told me with a grain of salt.
This is all going to get a little complicated, but here's why:

When I was pregnant with Henry, I developed all manner of repetitive strain injuries. Within months of beginning a job that required a lot of writing, I had developed a stunning array of symptoms in my arms and hands. I suffered shooting pains down both arms, numbness and tingling, and every other RSI symptom I had ever heard about. Eventually I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, and thoracic outlet syndrome, which is pretty much every kind of syndrome you can have, in the RSI world. My doctor told me I had the worst case he'd seen in twenty years. I totally won the RSI Olympics. Not only could I not go near a keyboard—I couldn't button a shirt. I could not clip my nails, use a can opener, or hold a bag of groceries. I couldn't hold a book open or a phone to my ear. I did everything the professionals told me to do, but it only got worse. I went on disability from my job. I took loads of medications (after I had Henry, of course) and applied strips of lidocaine patches to my arms. Every day I went to some kind of therapist or doctor. This went on for two years.

Then I read about John Sarno. John Sarno's argument (simplified) is that these type of pain syndromes are a load of hooey, that something else is going on, some kind of complicated internal rage that the mind doesn't want to deal with, so it has shut off oxygen in the affected area, creating pain as a distraction. I read one of his books, and people, I started to improve. Just like that. Then I stopped the medication, I stopped the therapy, and lo, I got better. Within six months I was fine.

Ever since then I have approached any new kind of chronic problem with skepticism, and it's always worked. Clearly my brain is out to get me, too, because I've had a bunch. Vertigo! Vision problems! More vertigo! Chronic bladder pain! And each time, I've re-read Sarno's book, I've asked myself what was really going on, and my brain has muttered, okay, you got me, and the condition disappeared.

Except this time, damn it, it's just not. I have tried and tried to use the Power of the Mind to get past this, and it is not working one tiny bit. So, I don't know, maybe I really do have an actual injury. It still sounds fishy to me—after three months, it still hurts? Really? It's not like I'm lifting boulders every day, and I'm not ancient; shouldn't my body recover by itself? And yet, despite my attempts to minimize and dismiss what I thought was my brains creating another weirdo syndrome, the pain has only gotten worse. So physical therapy it is, but I'm not happy about it.

And listen, brain, if you are fucking with me again, so help me. I have just about had it with you.

Reader Comments (47)

Okay - here's my 2 cents.

I had not dissimilar issues when I was getting married (1999) and then pregnant with my first (2003). Really excruciating pain in my hands and legs. And someone recommended Sarno while I was pregnant, and it made a WORLD of difference. Tension's a bitch, ya know.

Fast forward to 18 months ago. I bent over to get my purse, and my back and right hip went *twang*. That's never a good thing to hear. I went through PT, and they decided to treat the hip symptoms. I kept getting a little better then getting a lot worse, until finally someone got me in for an MRI. And I learned that my back (not my mind or my hip) had failed me. A completely herniated disk, 3 bulging disks and, to quote my doctor, "a 60 year old spine in a 40 year old body." No amount of kicking my brain in the ass was going to fix the physical damage. So one cortisone shot and some seriously hard PT combined with pilates, and I can walk upright again. It's awesome.

If you really tore/damaged a tendon, you are going to need to address the physical piece. I'm betting that you'll get a lot of therapeutic massage early on, just to help the area unfreeze. After that, see how it goes - if the PT is helping after 6 sessions, then it probably will continue to help. But if you keep re-injuring yourself, you should absolutely try another avenue. Whether that's therapeutic massage, the Alexander method, chiropracty, osteopathy, or acupuncture - or all of the above - you do need to heal the physical piece this time. Sorry.

And yeah, it's been 18 months now and I am just about to "graduate" from PT. Be prepared for the long-haul on stuff like this. It isn't speedy. Good luck.
December 9, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlizneust
I was always really skeptical of all that chiropractic BS. "Oh sure," I thought, "and perhaps I should rub some eye of newt on my malfunctioning, pain-riddled hips and knees while I'm at it!" And then I tried it. The chiropractor, not the eye of newt. Well, dayum. It worked. It really worked. I am still shocked that it worked and looking for the trickery. But, lo, there is no trickery in yonder hills. Or nearby hills for that matter. It really worked. Anyway, worth a try, especially since 2 years of pain sounds like it really sucked!

I also hear (but cannot attest) that acupuncture works great, too.

Good luck! Get better!
December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKim
I was always really skeptical of all that chiropractic BS. "Oh sure," I thought, "and perhaps I should rub some eye of newt on my malfunctioning, pain-riddled hips and knees while I'm at it!" And then I tried it. The chiropractor, not the eye of newt. Well, dayum. It worked. It really worked. I am still shocked that it worked and looking for the trickery. But, lo, there is no trickery in yonder hills. Or nearby hills for that matter. It really worked. Anyway, worth a try, especially since 2 years of pain sounds like it really sucked!

I also hear (but cannot attest) that acupuncture works great, too.

Good luck! Get better!
December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKim
PS - I am just now seeing some of the acupuncture comments. Oops! Never mind abotu that!
December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKim
Dearest Alice,

Clearly your mind does not want you to deal with this, and has therefore shut off oxygen to the area of your brain that COULD effectively deal with this. In short your brain is attacking itself, or as we in the brain poking industry like to say, “gone cannibal.”

I wish you luck.

Hungrily,Joe

December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHeyJoe
Might I suggest accupuncture? I know, it sounds weird, but I have this neck/back issue that flares up all the time, but especially when I'm stressed out. The only thing that has ever worked (not massage, not heat, not cold, not physical therapy, not drugs) is accupuncture. I asked the nice lady why, and she just made some comment about Western medicine. But I swear, it is so good.
December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRita Arens
I'm an Occupational Therapist, and I can tell you several things:

The mind is often stronger than our pain, but not always. Orthopedic and musculoskeletal injuries are not just in our heads, and pain is our body's way of communicating. That said, pain does not equal gain. This is a myth. Pain is the body's way of saying "knock it the fuck off!" and encouraging rest and healing.

The biceps tendon does not have a great blood supply to begin with, so it will always be a slow healer. It is a major player in the rotator cuff grouping of muscles, and is easily injured, but slow to heal. It is practically impossible to rest the arm enough to promote speedy healing. Keep seeing your PT, do your exercises, and DO NOT push yourself!!

If you need an ergonomics assessment for your computer set up, I'm your girl! Make sure you take 15 minutes of stretch/rest break for every hour at the computer. This means walk away. Far away. Stretch, rest, do anything but sit slumped over your computer!
December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAlison
Dearest Alice,

Clearly the poster above is what we in the brain poking industry like to call "scooters." If you want your brain to stop feeding on ITSELF, thenyou MUST give it what it craves; someone ELSE’S brains. How you obtain these is up to you but it's imperative that you begin feeding on human brains immediately. I cannot stress this enough. FEED ON BRAINS. Quickly! Go! Now!

Mensa-ly,Joe
December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHeyJoe
I've had RSI in both wrists for over ten years and I'm on the computer all day, every day and a writer.

I have been surgery and pain free since I started using these two tools: a Kinesis Pro Advantage keyboard and a Wacom pen tablet instead of a mouse. Set the tablet preferences to "mouse mode" and it will work the same. You hold the pen like...a pen. No pain like with the mouse. The keyboard is truly ergonomic, not like the others that force your hands up, which is wrong.

http://www.kinesis-ergo.com/advantage.htm but www.officeorganix.com may have it cheaper.

http://www.wacom.com/bambootablet/bamboofun.php

they are pricey but worth every penny!!!
December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSarah
It's very hard to outsmart your own brain, but kudos to you for trying. Feel better soon.
December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTammy
I definitely think we have some control over how we feel, even physically...but since it seems you are stuck going to therapy, maybe it will help to just try to envision the therapy helping you, and it will.
December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMamaCass
I'm with Joe. You should consume more of other people's brains since you give so much of yours away.Great post! I hope you get better soon, no matter what means you choose.
December 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAbby
There is a researcher at Northwestern University who found that many people were being misdiagnosed with chronic bladder pain. The pain is actually being caused by pain in the colon. The article is at http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2008/10/klumpppizza.html.So possibly chronic bladder pain may be reduced by changing your diet....? I dunno but just desperately wanted to be useful. I'll go back to my cave now.
December 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea Gurr
John Sarno. The man has his own chalet in the um, ski resort of my mind.
December 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPare
3 words: chiropractor, chiropractor, chiropractor.

Find a good one somehow, because there definitely are quacks out there. Massage will also help and yoga. Try Formula 303, a homeopathic muscle relaxant. Try relaxation methods like the Alexander technique. Ask the chiropractor if you need foot levelers, a lot of times these problems start in your feet and go from there.

Good luck with that.
December 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAlexandra Carbone
If you really did tear part of your bicep or surrounding tendons, it actually will take a while to heal. And an injury is very different from a chronic syndrome. Cut your brain some slack.
December 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMarie
If the pain is coming from your colon as mentioned by earlier poster, I would highly recommend Colonix. This is a colon cleanser that works. I have been doing it for the last 2 months, it is really disgusting to see how much yuck is in you. I know it is gross, but check out their website.
December 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNancy
I injured my bicep tendon this summer (looks around frantically, hushed voice) um...studying for the bar exam.

Yes folks, thats right. Sitting in a chair, hunched over, for 14-16 hours a day can in fact cause your bicep tendon to shrink, and your neck to kink up and pinch nerves and now I'm in a boatload of physical therapy that luckily, seems to be working.

But the embarrassment of injuring myself studying for a test lingers.
December 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDaisy
I read Sarno and had the same experience - when the pain doesn't go away, I just think my body is getting better at fooling with me.

Anyway, I hope you feel better!
December 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLisa
I read Sarno and had the same experience - when the pain doesn't go away, I just think my body is getting better at fooling with me.

Anyway, I hope you feel better!
December 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLisa
You do have a lot of symptoms. Take some time off, maybe you need time to relax. It may be good for you mentally and physically. If the pain is still there, then maybe you may need to have it checked. Wish you the best!
December 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBlogging Mom
Wooo-hooo! I am also a John Sarno recoveree with a traitorous brain. What a great doctor.
December 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

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