Again I find I haven’t blogged for a while, this midlife unravelling has left me with little concrete to say. I’ve been searching for things that feel true to me and not things I have picked up along the way that helped me feel like I fitted in, felt safe or look good. I can tell you, there’s not a lot left right now.
But, one of the things I have learnt on this journey is that we simply cannot take for granted that we are all wired the same. We’re just not, and the sooner society learns this the sooner we can start getting our shit together (can you tell I’m in a ranty mood?)
A few years ago I developed RSI in both hands. I went down the normal ergonomic mouse and hand splints route and it just wasn’t working. In my frantic search for a solution to something that was threatening to take my job and gaming away I stumbled on Dr Sarno’s theory that chronic pain and long term illness often has a root in the emotional or psychological aspect of our whole. His name for this is Tension Miositis Syndrome, although there are other doctors working on it and have called it different things. The theory is that our subconscious mind creates very real and disabling pain and illness as a distraction to stop us feeling socially unacceptable or difficult feelings. Our mind literally does a “Look! Elvis!!!” as it points to the pain in our hands, or elsewhere, to stop us feeling the distressing results of trauma, anger that we don’t feel we have a right to feel, or sorrow that we feel will break us.
The antidote to this, Dr Sarno says, is to first accept that there is nothing actually physically wrong us and, whist the pain is very real, it is created by our minds. From this we have to learn to go back to doing the things we feared because of the pain. In my instance I had to recognise there was nothing wrong with my hands and go back to typing and gaming without fear of making it worse. I began reading Dr Sarno’s book Healing Back Pain, a short book and a fairly easy read, and by the time I had finished my RSI was gone and has never come back. If I get a niggle I look the pain in the eye and say “you are not real, there is nothing wrong with me, it’s just TMS” and it’s gone.
There is a problem with these first 2 steps though… they weren’t enough. Dr Sarno goes on to speak about the “Symptom Imperative” where your mind continues to create a string of issues as it fights for control. I have had pain and other issues running all around my body now, none of them serious, just enough to distract me. Recently it has manifested as insomnia and palpitations so I went back to the TMS groups and started reaffirming the beliefs that solved my RSI. His answer to this is that we need to allow ourselves to feel those repressed emotions. This is done, he suggests, by journaling. If you write out your feelings on a daily basis there isn’t anything to repress and so the pain should go away.
This is where my rant comes in (I did warn you). In this group there are a number of TMS purists that say that steps 1 and 2 are all you need. If you must then journaling can be added. You don’t need to have any other philosophies, you don’t need to dig or understand yourself, just keep doing, reaffirming, and journaling and all will be well. I’m sorry, it just isn’t that simple for everyone.
I witnessed a guy joining the group saying he was struggling with step 3, he asked “how do you feel your feelings” and the purists trotted along and basically suggested it was easy, how could it not be? But for some it’s just isn’t.
Something else I’ve been learning about, and possibly mentioned here before, is personality typology, namely the systems known as MBTI and Enneagram. These are both tools for understanding how your brain is wired. MBTI looks at your preferred cognitive functions, how you take in data and use it to make decisions, and Enneagram looks at how your ego, formed by childhood experiences, created coping mechanisms as you grew up that now get in the way of living a healthy life as an adult. They show us that there are so many differences in the way our brains work and our ego manifests and that something like feeling feelings is super easy for one person and can be as hard as climbing Everest to another.
Learning about these systems has taught me so much but I think the most fundamental thing, the most life changing lesson, is that no two people see and meet the world in the same way and we simply cannot assume that what makes sense to us makes any sense to another.
I’ve tried to back this poor guy up and they attempted to shuss me. They were basically saying to him that all he needs to do is feel his feelings and, he just needs to try harder if he can’t do it. How, I ask, does that help anyone? How does telling an Enneagram 5, 7, or 8 that he just needs to feel his feelings help? Unless he has done a lot of work on himself he just can’t do it.
I personally find journaling mostly empty and pointless, but put me in a field on my own and I can rant away to my hearts content, letting all the feelings flow. Journaling can become an intellectual exercise of telling a story about what happened. As a Bach Practitioner I have found that if I ask someone how they feel, they’ll tell me what happened and expect me to know how they feel. Tapping into emotions is something that has been drummed out of us, and if you’re a thinker in MBTI then it’s even harder.
So, I ask, when you go out into the world, see that we are all different and love those differences, respect the individual challenges we all face… me, I’m a hot mess of emotions, some of which I really don’t need, but I see in people around me that it’s just not the same for them.
Follow some of the links… it’s a rabbit hole of self discovery, and love people for who they are.