photo: Ryan Weisgerber on flikr

I’m in love with a man named John. You might wonder what this has to do with my scuffle with back pain, but I assure you, they’re totally related.

You might also wonder what Melissa, my sweetheart, thinks about my manly love interest, but check this out: She’s in love with him too!

Here’s why.

From the time I was a teenager, I was told I would have chronic lower back pain. How’s that for positive reinforcement?! I have a leg length difference of almost an inch, and I was assured that this would create all sorts of problems for me later in life.

Luckily, my body did not crumble in the face of this diagnosis. At least, not right away.

Then, in my twenties, I started working on a farm.

For the first time in my life, I started to experience regular lower back discomfort. It was manageable, though. No big deal.

That is, until the day I leaned over to pick up a fifty pound bag of limestone. As I did so, I felt a slight twinge in my lower back.

I thought it was nothing.

Nada.

No big dealio.

But later that night, I woke up with sharp, throbbing, no-fun-at-all lower back pain. Pain that didn’t go away. Not the next day, not the next week, not the next month.

I had to stop working at the farm. I had to go on disability.

I was twenty-eight years old.

As for my diagnosis, I was told I had scoliosis and disc problems. I tried everything to make the pain go away – from traditional physical therapy, to quasi-traditional chiropractic work, to not-at-all-traditional homeopathy.

photo: Jonathan Wilson on flikr

Nothing worked.

Nothing, that is, until someone told me about a book called Healing Back Pain, by Dr. John Sarno.

(That’s right, you guessed it. This is the man I’m in love with. Head-over-heels-over-back-pain in love. And like usual, when love enters the scene, things are about to get a whole lot better . . . .)

Dr. Sarno is a professor at New York University School of Medicine. (Yup, my man is from New York City. The Big Apple! The Huge Fruit! Don’t mess with him!) He is most famous for his diagnosis of Tension Myositis Syndrome for a wide variety of disorders, including back pain.

Here’s what Sarno says: Back pain, as we know it, was virtually unknown a hundred years ago. No one was going to the doctor for chronic back pain back then. But suddenly, in the last fifty years or so, medicine has seen an epidemic of lower back pain.  

What gives? How could we go from standing upright all these years and having no problems, to having back pain be the number one cause of worker absenteeism in this country?

What my man observed was that a lot of the traditional diagnoses of back pain – like slipped discs and pinched nerves – didn’t make sense anatomically. Disc degeneration is actually a natural part of the aging process. Sarno noticed that he would see MRIs of people with degenerated discs who had no pain at all.

(No pain at all! Do you catch this? I’m just sayin’. My man is on to something.)

Sarno began to think that something else was going on here. His thesis is that the mind is sending a signal to deprive oxygen to the afflicted areas, thus resulting in severe pain.

So the pain is real. It’s just that we can reverse it with our minds.

Now, you might say, Why on earth would my mind cause me pain in this way? (You might also say: Do armadillos get back pain? And they probably do, given the weight of their armor. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.)

photo: amareta kelly on flikr

The reason the mind creates pain in the body is a simple one. The pain is a distraction from the subconscious stresses in our lives.

In fact, Sarno began to notice a common psychological profile for people who develop neck, back, and shoulder pain. We’re not like type A people, who tend to get heart problems. We’re type B people.

(And B is not for Bozo, or Bonkers, or anything else you might be thinking. It’s just B. Like, the letter that comes after A.)

photo: Karoly Lorentey on flikr

Type Bs are perfectionists, people who are helpers. People who often have hidden angers and frustrations with the people they’re helping.

I know, it sounds kinda psycho, but bear with me here.

Think about it. Someone says, how are you doing? You have two choices. 

Choice A looks like this: 

How am I doing? I’ll tell you how I’m doing. I’m full of unacknowledged, unexpressed anger and anxiety. I love my kids, but they drive me crazy. I never get any time for myself. My life is passing me by and I’m worried that I’m never going to fulfill my dreams. My job is stressing me out so much that half the time I don’t even want to go into the office. And don’t get me started about my parents. I’m doing my best to take care of them as they age, but I feel like I’m never measuring up.

That’s Choice A. 

Choice B looks like this: 

How am I doing? My back is killing me. That’s how I’m doing.

Let’s face it. In this society, Choice B is a lot easier than Choice A. People can feel sorry for you, and everyone gets to avoid the messy, emotional stuff.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: Okay, Ms. Smarty Z-Pants. If this weird-psycho-mind-thing is what causes back pain, then what’s the cure? (You probably also have more questions about armadillos, but again – that’s not what we’re talking about!)

photo: Chris van Dyck on flikr

Here’s the cure: All we have to do is realize that the mind is causing us pain as a distraction from our emotions.

As part of this realization, it can be helpful to do some kind of process to uncover and express our emotions, but it isn’t necessary. We mostly just have to reprogram the misinformation we’ve been given from the medical establishment and the pain will go away. 

I know, it sounds unbelievable and/or impossible, but it frickin’ works.

In my case, I’d been in chronic pain for over a year when I first found Sarno’s work. It took about six weeks of reading his book for my pain to go away.

Totally and completely. 

A few years later, when I developed Chronic Fatigue syndrome, I successfully used the same technique and made that go away too.

Sarno’s technique can be used on about 80% of what brings people to the doctor: back, neck and shoulder pain, allergies, gastrointestinal disorders, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and a host of other problems.

Not only that, but I found this technique to be incredibly empowering. It gave me an opportunity to witness the immense capacity of my mind to heal my body.

Okay, okay. I’m getting off my soapbox now. But not before I point out that getting off my soapbox didn’t hurt my back at all. Not one bit!

So there you have it.

That’s why I’m in love with a man named John.

He changed my life. And I will be forever grateful.

Any other Sarno fans out there? Or would-be/could-be-Sarno-fans? I’d love to hear from you!

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