As you probably have guessed, I am not a trained medical health professional. What I am is a mom, a mimi, a retired teacher, a lover of nature and of music, as well as, someone living with chronic illnesses. I share my journey to provide some insight and hopefully ideas that may be helpful to others dealing with similar issues. Always, consult with your doctor before trying anything new.
Two months ago, I met for the first time with Dr. Howard Schubiner, a Michigan physician and veteran pain research scientist. He has been treating patients with chronic pain for over twenty years. We met via online video (a practice he began in reaction to the COVID pandemic). In our initial consult, Dr. Schubiner spent two hours with me, reviewing my pain history and as much of my personal history as we could fit in.
Those of you who have followed my wellness journey since developing Fibromyalgia and having to leave my teaching career earlier than I had wanted know that I have focused my efforts on rewiring my pain-filled brain. I fully believe in brain plasticity, which to me means that I can lessen the pain pathways that have developed and create new ones that lessen the impact of chronic pain on my daily life. This is what gives me hope and purpose.
Dr. Howard Schubiner has been treating chronic pain patients for nearly two decades, during which time he has been developing and refining his mind-body approach. He is recognized as a leading researcher and physician in the field of pain medicine. He has authored more than 100 publications, including an NIH-funded study on fibromyalgia for the journal PAIN. He is on the board of the PPDA, which advances the diagnosis and treatment of stress-induced medical conditions. He is now working with neuroscientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder on a neuroimaging study for people with back pain.
Past Post That Show My Journey:
- Just Breathe and Other Ways to Rewire the Pain-Filled Brain
- Smile Power! Emotional and Physical Healing
- Growth Mindset: A Teacher’s Approach to Healing Chronic Pain
- Mind Over Matter: 21 Days of Meditation
- EMDR Therapy: Rewiring the Fibro Brain
- Frozen Facia of Fibromyalgia: Myofascial Release
- You’ve Got to Be Kidding! Looking Back at Childhood Fibromyalgia Symptoms
This Might Hurt
Facebook is stalking me! The ads I have on my “wall” tend to be a lot about chronic pain. The trailer for THIS MIGHT HURT showed up this past winter- over and over until I finally clicked to watch it. The trailer intrigued me, and so I bought the movie for personal use. However, then, I stored the link away for quite a while until I felt I was in both the right headspace and had alone time to watch the movie.
Wouldn’t you know, but I LOST my “secure link” for viewing the film. Luckily, I found my receipt email. Fortunately, the director, Kent Bassett, emailed me right back and gave me a new link. I watched that weekend for the first time.
I identified with Dr. Howard Schubiner’s patients featured in this film and was intrigued by the talk of Mind-Body Syndrome. Early on in my effort to understand why I developed Fibromyalgia, I realized that due to childhood trauma, I had lived in Fight/Flight since birth, training my nervous system to be over-amped. Dr. Schubiner’s method of treating chronic pain spoke to what I had already been doing on my own over the last three years.
The idea of having a medical doctor guiding my treatment, having a focused program led by an in-tuned, pain-educated, medical specialist made me giddy. I googled Dr. Schubiner right away, hoping to find out more.
The Patients Featured in THIS MIGHT HURT
Tony has suffered from debilitating leg pain since he was 12. In the last five years, he’s had to stop playing basketball and attending school. The dozens of doctors he’s visited can only tell him that he has Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome, which typically has no cure and no known cause. Once he turns eighteen, he is likely to be prescribed opioids. This is when he meets Dr. Schubiner.
Maureen is a writer, working on a book about the Great Lakes, an area she loves. But she suffers from severe pain in her hands that makes it hard to type and has also prevented her from getting a full night of sleep for years. After physical therapy doesn’t work, she is told that her final option is neck surgery followed by a long recovery period, during which she’d be dependent on opioids for pain management.
Kym used to ride motorcycles and worked at an auto parts supplier. But then her abdominal pain and fibromyalgia became so severe that she’s spent the last 8 years in bed rest, disabled. While she currently depends on opioids to manage her pain, and on her mother to help with the household, she hopes to return to a full life where she can play with her nieces and nephews and be of service to others.
Help Near Home!
I was floored when I found out that Dr. Schubiner practiced in Michigan (where I live). I was also excited to find out that he was accepting new patients, so I sent out an email right away.
His personal response came just three days later; I was ecstatic to find out that he did in fact take my insurance. And the best part was he could see me via Video. At this point, I didn’t have my COVID vaccination, and the drive there would have been about three hours, so this was wonderful.
We set our first appointment for the end of June. Dr. Schubiner sent me 12 pages of paperwork (asking for extensive health and personal history) to send in prior to the appointment and asked that I forward any pertinent medical records to his office. Also, he asked that I purchase his workbook, Unlearn Your Pain, and read through chapter 3 before our appointment.
What is Mind/Body Syndrome (MBS)?
In chapter 2 of Unlearn Your Pain, Dr. Schubiner explains, “People with MBS do not have pathological changes in their body tissue: they have physiological changes that are reversible. That is, they have changes in blood flow, muscle tension, nerve-firing patterns, and brain-wiring patterns that create pain in the absence of tissue pathology. ”
One of the main questions Dr. Schubiner asked me is to tell him about my pain. My pain is all over, mostly deep within my muscles, but this summer, developing in my elbow and knee joints. However, as I explained, the more intense pain comes and goes and even roves to different spots on my body for no apparent reason. “This,” he explained, “is MBS. All your tests (which are extensive) don’t show any acute injury, yet you have pain. Not only that, but it moves around. That shows it isn’t due to any tissue damage.”
As he sees the wheels turning in my brain, Dr. Schubiner is quick to say, “Your pain is very real. All pain originates in the brain. The good news is that your pain isn’t damaging your body or life-threatening, and it can be reversed through retraining your Central Nervous System (CNS).”
TMS to MBS: A Little History
Dr. Schubiner began his work with MBS after training with Doctor John Sarno in New York, physician and author of The Mind-Body Prescription. Doctor Sarno first coined the term, Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) when describing the phenomenon he began to notice in his practice of over 50 years. He came to develop the TMS theory (more and more research now backs this up) that a person’s unconscious mind uses the autonomic nervous system (ANS) to decrease blood flow to muscles, nerves, and tendons, resulting in oxygen deprivation which causes pain.
In the article John Sarno, M.D., An American Hero: Marking a shift in how we treat chronic pain published in Psychology Today just after Sarno’s death in 2017, the author states, “The latest neuroscience research validates this. In patients with chronic pain, the body’s stress chemicals remain elevated, causing every organ system to respond in its unique way to the adrenaline and cortisol assault.”
Dr. Schubiner came back from his time working with Dr. Sarno to establish the Mind-Body Medicine Program at Providence Hospital in Southfield, Michigan. At the time of my first appointment with him, Dr. Schubiner had changed to a one-on-one approach, rather than the group approach that was shown in the documentary. Also, he now uses the workbook as a guide to the process.
Even though I was excited to start the program with Dr. Schubiner and had read the first 4 chapters of Unlearn Your Pain, the subtitle of the book, A 28-day Process to Reprogram Your Brain, didn’t sit very well with me. As I mentioned, I had done a lot of the work he suggests, including 9-months of EMDR Therapy. Over the past 3 1/2 years, I had studied extensively on rewiring the brain, and while I believe it can be done, I have not found it to be a quick or an easy thing to do.
Not An Over-night Process (At Least, Not For Me)
Dr. Schubiner was very upfront that for some, complete elimination of pain just after being educated on how pain works and what Mind Body Syndrome is. That is the case for the director of THIS MIGHT HURT, Kent Basset.
I had the opportunity to interview Kent and when I asked him the reason for his making of the documentary, he explained, “Much of the drive to make This Might Hurt came from my own struggle with arm pain and chronic tendonitis as a 22-year-old. Unable to type or even turn a doorknob, I was forced to drop out of college. Although I saw several doctors and tried physical therapy, strength training, even opioids—my pain grew steadily worse. It wasn’t until I had an insight into the role of the brain in triggering real physical pain that I was able to completely recover.” He and Marion Cunningham, co-directors, hope to make the MBS treatment for chronic pain more known and understood, and so that viewers can see firsthand the powerful transformations that can happen when people go through this intensive mind-body healing process.
Kent is very passionate about his mission to get the word out. “Since I was able to overcome my own pain, I felt an urgency to help people who are needlessly suffering. I strongly believe people should be told this option exists since for many it is transformative. Many people go to zero pain, which is really rare for chronic pain. Now there are solid randomized controlled trials showing the treatment is effective, and so we think this treatment should be on the menu that doctors discuss with their patients.”
I did it! A 5-day/4-night backpacking trip: 40-miles with a 32-pound backpack and good friends:)
3-Months Later: Final Appointment
Flash forward three months. This week was my last video appointment with Dr. Schubiner. Much like it began, it was a time of self-reflection, some words of encouragement, mindfulness exercise, advice, and kudos.
The last time we had met, I shared with him that I had been asked to go on a 5-day backpack of 40-miles on the North Country Trail at Pictured Rocks with three other women (my age and older). He knew that I had been able to regularly do day-hikes of 6-8 miles, and he knew that this was something that I both longed for and had fear of. When I had told him that I wanted to go, his exact response was, “I’m excited for you. I think you are making a good decision to go! Keep reminding yourself that you are fine and will be fine, whether you have pain or not.”
And so, I went. I purchased lightweight gear; my previous gear was 30-year-old technology. Also, I made two contingency plans in case I couldn’t keep up or make it the entire distance. Because the trail is along Lake Superior, it is in a straight line with campgrounds and sight-seeing spots that allow the drive-up spots periodically. With this in mind, I planned for 1. rest and doing my myofascial release along the way (allowing my group to go on ahead of me if need be) and 2. get a ride into town to a hotel if I had to bail from kind-hearted, car-visiting tourist (which there were plenty of).
While I won’t go into all the details (saving that for my next post which once written I’ll link here), I MADE IT! I carried a 32-pound bag, hiked an average of 8-miles a day, survived sleeping on the ground, set up and tore down my camp each day, made my own meals, and socialized for the entire week. I wasn’t a “burden” to the group, although I was generally the slowest of us four. I even led a couple of morning yoga sessions. As I’m sure you can imagine, I felt EMPOWERED. A month later, and I feel not only empowered but I know that I am able to live my life FULLY despite pain.
At our last Zoom appointment, I explained the pain that I had. The first three nights had leg lock up, lower back electrical shock pain. It was BAD! However, I did what he said. I continued slowly on: setting up my tent, making dinner, and doing myofascial release with the two therapy balls I had packed with me. By the 4th night, the electric shock that I had been getting since the spring every time I “over-did-it” didn’t happen. Neither did it happen on the 5th night. In fact, it hasn’t happened again (although it felt like it might the other day after doing a full day of yard work and 16,000 steps).
Promise of Life Beyond Pain
I reported to Dr. Schubiner that I still have pain, but I know that it’s not hurting me. I know that I can make plans and live my life FULLY. “Even if I’m never pain-free, I can live like this,” I told him. He and I agreed that I know the steps to take and can continue on without our appointments. However, he let me know that I can contact him at any time for help whenever I need it.
His parting instruction was that I was ready (and needed) to start looking outside of myself, get out of working 24/7 on healing-follow my passions and focus on others again.
While I will miss talking to Dr. Schubiner, I know that I have my life back. It’s not Pollyanna, positive thinking; it’s knowing in my gut that I can create new neuropathways that override the deeply embedded pain and trauma pathways. It’s going to take time. (I was right; 28-days wasn’t meant for me.) 53-years of living in fight/flight takes a bit to undo. But, I have the hope founded in facts, the will, the support, and the know-how to get there.
I realize that this diagnosis may not resonate with you. I am sharing my journey and my own experience/understanding. I would suggest that you look into it if you have Fibromyalgia, chronic pain, etc. It can’t hurt to at least learn about it to see if it may help you. This was a difficult post for me to write. I had intended to write it soon into my connection with Dr. Schubiner. However, I also know that this can get some upset and the fear of a backlash to my experience kept me from my computer most of the summer. And so, I ask you to receive this post with that in mind. I welcome, though, an honest, caring discussion.
Recommended MBS/TMS Resources
- This Might Hurt Website
- Dr. Howard Schubiner’s Website
- TMS Wiki Website
- A Step by Step Online TMS Pain Recovery Program
- Directory of TMS/MBS Healthcare Providers
- Pain Free You: TMS Success Stories & Tips for TMS Therapy
- MBS/TMS Journaling Prompts
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Release: Free Online Mediation Course
Thank you for visiting my blog today. I am committing to posting once a week by Friday. However, as you know, my new normal means that sometimes I have to listen to my body, and I cannot follow through as planned. Thank you for your understanding.