My First TMS Symptoms
Updated: Jun 1
Fear Leads to Pain...
Looking back, I can see I had my first significant episode of a mind-body symptom (TMS) when I was just 9 years old.
For no apparent reason I suddenly developed unrelenting severe low back pain. No matter what I did, in which position I stood, lay (or is that just what chickens do?!) or sat, the pain was extreme. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. All I could think of was the awful pain.
The doctor diagnosed “growing pains” & said not to worry. I wasn’t worried, I just wanted it to go. It wasn’t fair, why me? And what made it worse was that I felt people thought I was making it up. A few friends even said so. I was devastated they thought that - I was just desperate for the pain to go away.
Within a few weeks the pain did self-resolve & the unhappy episode soon became a distant, insignificant memory. Nearly 40 years later my career led me to study how we humans handle our emotions & the potential effects those emotions have on our bodies - specifically pain:
Our minds can bring about "physical" pain without a physical cause.
Life-TimeLine - such a great tool!
As part of the process of understanding, I was encouraged to draw up my own life-time-line chart, noting all “conditions” I had suffered over the years from year dot. This back pain episode jumped into my mind.
I had to think. What potentially emotional events had been going on in my life at the time of the back pain? At first I was stumped. Then it dawned on me... I had always suffered terribly with homesickness as a youngster, even staying the night with my best friend & her lovely parents was a difficult, silently isolating ordeal & I really struggled to cope or sleep through the long dark enduring hours…
Around the time of the back pain, my mother had decided that my brother & I might go away on a week’s summer camp with a bunch of unknown adults & children. To me, I was terrified & distraught at the thought. It felt like a huge threat. I really didn’t know how to convey how desperate I was feeling, how I knew I would hate every minute of it. I begged my mother not to book me to go. I almost succeeded... but in the end she thought it would be good for me.
Hindsight is a Wonderful Thing
Looking back at this time, I now believe the backpain was my body reacting to the depth of emotion I was feeling & trying to control - perhaps my subconscious brought it about in an attempt to keep me safe - to show my mother I needed to stay at home, that I couldn’t be expected to go away without her care if I was in such pain.
From my more knowledgeable perspective of today, I've further confirmation this was a mind-body (TMS) symptom: my good friend when I was 9 had developed sudden onset back pain about 2-3 weeks before mine came on! (Her own TMS no doubt). This symptom copying, “social contagion”, is another typical pattern that can occur with TMS. It’s beyond our conscious control. If you’d like another mind-blowing social contagion example: trainees at medical school are known to sometimes temporarily develop the symptoms of the particular disease or organ that they're studying at the time!
Second Symptom - inability to eat
Anyway, off I went on the “holiday”. No back pain by then, but I had another demonstration of the huge power of the mind over the body, in particular over the process of swallowing this time. That whole week away I was not able to eat anything solid. I could drink, but nothing more solid could I force down my throat (apart from 1 inch of a sausage all week!). I wasn’t hungry & I just felt nauseous at the thought of any food. The homesickness went straight to my throat & stomach... Nothing solid was going in there!
I remember it being a hot week but feeling really cold all night & unable to sleep - probably because I’d not eaten anything! By Friday we went swimming & I remember being shocked to see my now very bony body. I would never have thought that something so vital for survival as swallowing food would ever be the body’s reaction to emotional trauma... but it was.
I think my subconscious realised that if I didn’t eat, my mother was more likely to come & take me back home, thus removing me from the “holiday” and the awful fear I was feeling. Perhaps.
Over to You!
Are you interested in how some of your past (& present) symptoms may be emotionally connected or induced? Here is an example timeline chart that you could create and use. Give yourself plenty of quiet time to simply contemplate & think back. Keep returning to the process if necessary. You may very well be quite surprised at what you uncover from your own past - and the link of your emotions to the onset of your symptoms.
Best of luck in your self-explorations!