Stress thrives on two truths:
1. We all have stuff.
2. We all think we handle our stuff, most of us don't.
Almost twenty years ago I heard a noise emanate from my lower back that I will never forget. It sounded like an explosion and tearing flesh combined. It was so loud that the people around me heard it. I heard it with my ears but also from within my body. It was terrifying and it hurt like hell. The next 12 months were doctor appointments, days spent incapacitated, lost work time, I was a slave to the pain in my back.
One day a close friend brought me a book. I'll never forget what he said, "I heard about this on the Howard Stern Show, Howard says it made his back pain disappear in a week". I remember joking that I'd probably be better off hitting myself in the head with the book. Right before my friend left, he wished me well and commented that, "it couldn't hurt anything - you're just laying here anyway, read it".
I was a man in my early twenties and I sincerely believed that my life was over. I could barely move most days and when I was able to eliminate the pain, it would only come back twice as bad the next day.
So I read the book...
I want to be clear when I say that my back "hurt" I mean it was as if twenty men had their hands wrapped around my spine and they were trying to squeeze the life from me. I mean that if I moved too fast or the "wrong way" that it would have been less painful to stab myself in the eye with an ice pick. I mean my back hurt like I had been struck by a thousand trucks and somehow didn't die - it hurt in a way that I hope none of you ever experience.
I read the book, it was a short book. I read it and I did as the author asked - I thought about my stress and where it came from, I took a leap of faith and threw myself into something that a year earlier, I would have mocked openly. I read the book and one week later my back didn't hurt anymore.
After over a year of incapacitating pain, I read a book and stood up like nothing had every happened. Three months after I was told I needed spinal surgery, I just stood up and it didn't hurt anymore. I cried when I realized that the pain was gone - like a baby.
Some will say I was never really injured. I was there when it happened, everyone heard my back exploded. I can tell you that I did injure myself that day. That the pain worsened as you would expect, the injury progressed as the doctor told me it would. I had a text book back injury - I promise you.
Yesterday marked six weeks of my back "hurting" again, I wasn't laid up but I was in a great deal of pain and not moving well at all. Stiff, partially incapacitating back pain. I had been carrying it for weeks. I knew from reading the book that I wasn't injured but I was in pain. Perhaps it's time I tell you more about the book.
I'll keep it simple. Stress is bad for you and your mind doesn't want you to experience long bouts of it. When you deal with your stress by not dealing with it, your subconscious mind is still processing the turmoil that you refuse to outwardly feel. Your brain, for the lack of a technical explanation, gives you something else to worry about, to pay attention to - it distracts you in the only way that it can.
I wonder why it doesn't make you feel like you just ate chocolate while having an orgasm on a warm breezy day?
Some get headaches, some back pain, we all experience the distraction differently. Here is why I believe mine is back pain. I was a bright twenty year old guy in a terrible job that I could not figure out how to get out of. One day I lifted something and legitimately injured myself... that was all my mind needed, it now knew how to get me out of that crappy job even if I didn't. My brain did something to me that forced me to not go to that job ever again, it forced me to find a different path. It made me sit down and think about my stuff.
Back to yesterday. I was in bad shape and getting worse but instead of calling a doctor I forced myself to reflect on the last two months and figure out what was bothering me. Not the stuff I know about. The things that concern you but you are dealing with, those don't effect your stress level in the same way as an unexamined issue.
Now just in case this all doesn't sound mystical enough, here's what happened to me yesterday morning. I figured out that I had been worried about a loved one. I don't want to give details but this person means the world to me and I am concerned about an aspect of their life. I know that I can't solve this issue and since I can have no real effect on it, I tried to ignore how worried I was. I guess that was eating me up inside because my back tightened up and when I tried to ignore the pain without finding it's source, it worsened and persisted for weeks. I tried telling myself that I wasn't injured (a trick that often makes the pain dissipate if the underlying cause isn't too serious) to no avail. I decided that I couldn't carry the burden of this concern without pain so I told the person that I was worried for them, that I knew it wasn't my place to worry and that I loved them and would do anything to help. My back stopped hurting by the time I got the words out and it has not hurt since. Six weeks of pain and tightness disappeared in moments.
I know that sounds a bit crazy but it's the absolute truth. I wouldn't have believed it either if I wasn't forced to all those years ago. Twenty years later I owe my life to that little book and to the man that wrote it, Dr. John Sarno. Dr. Sarno has written a few books on the power of the mind since then and I've read them all. They have relieved me of pain, hay fever and other stress related ailments. I'm sharing this with all of you not because I want to sell a book for the man, he's doing pretty well but because the world of diabetes is a rather stressful one. The next time you get a phantom pain, start feeling sick or begin to get overwhelmed, I suggest that you find a quiet place, come to terms with what it is that you are worried about and voice that concern.
Most people think that they handle stress well - those are generally the ones that don't. It's the screamers and the criers, the complainers and the talkers that handle stress the way it was meant to be. Those of us who put on a strong face and press on - we are the walking heart attacks, the back pain and headache people. Turns out that just like most things in life... the simple answer is usually the correct one. Let your stress go! If you don't have a person, get one, get a Twitter handle or a diary, pay a therapist or talk to a wall - just don't keep it inside. Sharing helps, it's why blogging is such a wonderful release for patients and caregivers, it's why your mother told you to not keep things bottled up inside.
I'd like to thank, in no particular order: Dr. John Sarno for writing such amazing books, Howard Stern for reading them and telling the world and my friend Mike for working in a book store when we were youger. The three of you saved me from a miserable existence.