In the Spring of 2020, I joined the covid gardening craze and was excited to put these purple and apricot flowering San Diego natives in our garden. My husband had to prep the soil for me before I could put them in the ground. As anyone who has gardened in southern California knows, the soil is heavy on clay and easily becomes rock solid. Even in this small planter, if I had spent the hours needed to break up and amend the soil, I almost certainly would have ended up with a very sore neck and a doozy of a migraine.
Fast forward to 2021. In the rest of the garden, I planted salvias, dahlias, and various other pretties. The process was mine, from start to finish. I hauled granite rocks, weeded, broke up and amended the soil, dug the holes and put in the plants. I love these details, because this time I did it ALL BY MYSELF. I was tired and my neck was a little sore, but did I get a migraine? I did not!
The difference a year can make! Without the concrete reminder of my garden, I would almost not believe it.
Migraines and neck pain were part of my life for 20 years. Regular headaches morphed into frequent and intense migraines, until migraines were fused with my identity. Eventually, my life felt like a whittled down version of itself. Almost every decision I made was filtered through the lens of how it would affect my head. Exercise was severely limited—even a vigorous walk could trigger neck pain and a migraine. I became a detective searching for clues. What triggered the tightness in my neck and the feeling I’d been run over by a truck? Was it not enough water? Not enough sleep? Was I eating the wrong foods or not eating often enough? Was it the wine I drank? Did I have sugar too close to bedtime? Was it my menstrual cycle? Was it from being in the sun for too long, or the shifting barometric pressure?
I tried various medications, botox injections all over my neck and head, acupuncture, chiropractic and osteopathic treatments, cutting out certain foods and adding various supplements, reading the latest book that promised a cure…you name it. Sometimes I’d experience relief in the form of less intense migraines. But they always returned in full force. While some of these treatments felt good, they did nothing to heal the underlying issue.
A few years ago, in my Life Coach Training, I became friends with a classmate, Rebecca Tolin, who shared her remarkable story of healing. After 13 years of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, she finally recovered through the approach of Dr. John Sarno and Dr. Howard Schubiner. It’s based on rewiring the brain and understanding how fear and repressed emotions are fuel for chronic pain, fatigue and other symptoms. This phenomenon is called Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) or Mind Body Syndrome (MBS).
Rebecca told me that migraines fall under the umbrella of Mind Body Syndrome. Though it wasn’t hard for me to accept that occasionally a migraine came on as the result of stress, to put my condition fully in the Mind Body category brought out my inner skeptic. I was still convinced that, at the very least, hormones were a culprit.
As I pondered her story I became more curious. After all, I had tried everything else. Eventually, I made the connection between this diagnosis and the way I’d learned to approach stressful situations throughout my life. When the lightbulb went on, relief from neck pain was almost immediate and the migraines were greatly reduced. I worked through Dr Schubiner’s workbook, Unlearn Your Pain, and took a course taught by Mind Body Coaches Rebecca Tolin and Michelle Wiegers. The knowledge I gained proved life changing.
I now give very little thought to the triggers I mentioned above. My choices are no longer dictated by whether my head and neck will be able to handle it. What’s more, I have a much better understanding of how my body responds to stress, and of the important role emotions play in health and well-being. When I feel a headache coming on (I get them occasionally), my go-to thoughts have changed from, “Oh no, what did I eat? What physical activity did I do that I shouldn’t have?” to “What am I stressed about? What do I need in this moment? What is my body trying to tell me?” Usually, paying attention to these questions is enough to regain my equilibrium.
The path to healing body, mind and soul has become one and the same. My body was the messenger, shouting for deeper and more loving attention. I’m learning a different language now, a way of being that tends to my emotional life and calms my nervous system. Using the multifaceted approach of teaching my brain that I am safe, asking where in my life something is out of kilter, and treating myself with greater kindness and compassion, I’m learning to speak the language of body and soul.
If you’re struggling with chronic pain, fatigue or other symptoms, or are simply curious, here is a resource to help you get started in understanding MBS. Make sure to scroll down to watch Dr. Schubiner’s short video explanation.
In addition to Life Coaching I now offer Mind-Body Coaching. It is my heart’s desire to reach a helping hand out to those who experience chronic physical symptoms and who long to find full enjoyment and engagement in life. Contact me for a consultation to see whether this is for you.