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I have started writing an account of my own experience with chronic pain and fatigue, and the mind-body journey I had to go on to heal myself. Please note the ending of my account is still in something of an abbreviated form, however I hope it gives you a sense of my experience and what helped me to heal in the end.
A journey through the mind-body maze
When my wrists first started hurting I wasn’t at all worried about it. I had had plenty of simple strains and muscle pains before and they all seemed to go away of their own accord, so why should this pain be any different? Fast forward two years and what had started as occasional wrist pain had morphed into a mysterious chronic pain syndrome which left me effectively incapacitated. I was a walking bundle of muscle and joint strains and sprains which wouldn’t heal. Whenever I moved or did the most basic activities I experienced significant pain in my wrists, shoulders, neck, lower back, thighs, ankles and feet.
The vibrant, creative person I had been throughout my mid twenties felt like someone I didn’t know. I found myself unable to walk further than 25 metres at a time, to go down stairs, or perform many of the basic activities of daily living without significant pain and fatigue. I couldn’t sleep properly. I felt scared of the unknown, of this mystery illness that had befallen me. I felt even more scared when I realised that it might last a lifetime, given that my multitude of symptoms could be diagnosed as either Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, neither of which had curative treatments at that time.
The journey to this point had been, well, painful. Rewind back to 2000 and I was wondering what to do about RSI / myofascial pain in both of my wrists. The pain, that was particularly bad after typing or playing my bass guitar was not going away. I was doing long hours of dextrous activity with my hands in a cold Melbourne winter. I went to see my trusted long term GP and he asked me “Can you rest?”. I explained to him how I had become essential to the functioning of my small business and my two original bands, and it would be a bad time for me to down tools in either occupation. He gave me some anti-inflammatories which I faithfully took but there was no change in the pain.
A friend recommended a highly experienced physiotherapist in Brighton who I consulted as soon as I could get there. He gave me a soothing massage, whilst proudly telling me about some of his former clients including Mark Knopfler, lead guitarist of Dire Straits when they were on their Australian tours. I felt I was in good hands and stuck with his treatment program which included massage and strengthening exercises. Unfortunately though I found that my wrists would hurt during and after the exercises so after a few weeks I started looking elsewhere.
I had always had an interest in holistic approaches to health so I saw a well recommended local acupuncturist for 6 sessions, which seemed to make a difference just after the session but without any lasting benefit. He was a lovely guy but seemed to be disappointed in me that I was still in pain.
After a few months I realised that the pain was not going anywhere. My friend Emma who was a medical student had been warning me for a few months against continuing activity when I had pain. She had heard in her training of people getting chronic pain that didn’t go away, if they didn’t respect the body’s signals to slow down for a while. I didn’t want to but it was getting to the point that I had to stop doing the things that I loved, in order to try fully resting for a while. Playing live music in two original Melbourne bands dropped back to one, then none. My successful web development business was now a rather unpleasant occupation given how dependant I was on the use of a mouse and keyboard. “But hey,” I thought, “things are pretty bad, but at least I can rest up and the pain will go away”.
The unfortunate thing was, I did start resting, but the pain didn’t go away. I began to get quite anxious at this stage. I was still taking the anti-inflammatories the doctor gave me, and resting as much as possible. But the realities of life made it hard… I had a business to run and no one was going to pay me if I didn’t finish work for my clients. I had no income protection insurance and not a lot of savings. I started using IBM’s Via Voice software to cut down on my typing but found it infuriating to use and highly inaccurate in its voice transcription. So I resorted to paying a friend to come and sit with me by the computer, typing and helping me with manual tasks to save my wrists.
At the same time I started searching more widely for solutions, seeing a deep tissue massage therapist who thought that scarring of the muscle tissues could cause the pain. If his massage could breakup the scar tissue and I could rest properly, perhaps the pain would go away? Unfortunately not, it just hurt even more while he was doing the massage then subsided to the now ‘normal’ hurting while I performed any activity with my hands. I now had chronic pain! Yikes!
As the weeks rolled on, numerous compounding stresses mounted up. I was starting to feel the financial pinch now of needing to pay someone to transcribe my typing in my web business, and other programmers to do the technical aspects of the work. Not to mention paying cash for my therapy sessions. The pain was also starting to affect my social life in strange ways. I avoided shaking hands with people given the aggravation it created to do this. My love life had gone from an exciting and pleasurable part of my existence to a painful, depressing reality reminding that my hands are required for almost every aspect of human life. Many of the most ordinary activities I had always taken for granted were now pain producing, so I tried to avoid the ones I could and winced through the rest. A complex range of emotions now accompanied my pain, as I went from flare up to flare up, so I would feel sad, scared and frustrated usually at the same time.
I was really kicking myself that I hadn’t heeded Emma’s advice to rest straight away, as I now seemed to be stuck with a severe case of bilateral Repetitive Strain Injury or “Forearm myofascial pain with chronic features” as my doctor preferred to call it.
Visiting my parents in Canberra I discovered the RSI and Overuse Injury Association of the ACT who were very helpful and well organised. The convenor of the group spoke to me at length about her own experience with RSI, which scared me a bit to realise that despite trying to get better she still had it. She also provided a useful perspective that life can go on despite having chronic pain. I borrowed a couple of books from their library, and found it refreshing that people had written articulate works on the subject. Pascarelli & Quilter’s “Repetitive Strain Injury: a Computer User’s Guide” was well written and structured, but somewhat light on for hopeful insights into what might help me to get better. They seemed to be saying that once RSI gets very bad it is hard to make a full recovery. Doh!!
Back in Melbourne I continued to try various treatments which might make a difference. Nearly every alternative therapist I spoke to said they thought they might be able to help. They were great with providing hope, but, as I later discovered, greatly disappointing at providing any results.
I was wondering if the pain was a kind of a wake up call, a sign that I needed to change my life in some way. I had read Louise Hay’s classic “You Can Heal Your Life” a few years earlier and she described how so much healing can take place by heeding the symbolic significance of physical symptoms. I didn’t feel that great about so much of my life being swallowed up by computers so I began to imagine a life beyond my web consultancy. Healing and environmental activism had been my two main interest before starting my business, and with these in mind I started to sense into ways I could surrender my current occupation for something deeper and truer to my calling.
Continued on page 2
NEWSFLASH! ALL THE RAGE MELBOURNE SCREENING – 16 July Cinema Nova Carlton
Its about time we had a feature length film showcasing what has already been achieved in mindbody pain treatment. Well... its landing in Melbourne in July!>>read more >>
"Since I've started seeing Hal, I've quit drinking and smoking, gone off my antidepressants, stopped feeling shy, dramatically improved my relationships with my partner and with my mother, and largely gotten over my RSI issues.
Its been a transformational few months. I have to give credit to myself and to a course that I'm doing at the moment as well, but seeing Hal has really helped me get in touch with my emotions and given me the capacity to deal with life, rather than avoiding ... >>read more >>
"Seeing Hal changed my life. After 4 years of strong chronic pain I now experience minimal pain and have no restrictions in doing all the activities I love in life. Here is my story.
I initially developed RSI type pain in my wrists from typing and computer use while writing up my PhD. It manifested as strong pain right through both my wrists whenever I typed or used my wrists for normal activities. It eventually got so bad ... >>read more >>
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