Tag Archives: personal story

Connecting the Physical to the Subconscious Mental

I’ve eaten my fair share of Big Macs and taken my physical health completely for granted, but I’ve always been a bulldog for my mental health.  Throughout my life, I’ve learned that everybody has mental health skeletons in the closet, either somewhere in his own past or her family’s past.  Well, my skeletons jiggled and moaned so loudly in my younger days that I was afraid and made it a point to listen to them:  [insert moaning and groaning like in Scooby Doo.  “Don’t go there.  Don’t ever go there.”]

For years, this meant getting plenty of sleep and exercise, communicating my emotions well, embracing who I was and where I came from, alleviating unnecessary stressors in my life, and keeping in close touch with God.  Three years ago I also learned that eating whole, real food and eliminating certain foods also impacted my mental health, so this was added to the “important” list.

I added things here and there, like some yoga and some meditation, to help give me new techniques to add when life was just stressful and there wasn’t really anything I could do about it.  All this kept a genuine smile on my face, and I thought I had a really good grip on my psychology!

Thankfully, life gets you and shows you where you’re wrong!  I think that the nagging physical problems I am encountering are telling me that there’s more to my mind than meets the eye.  I am going to continue on in writing about my introduction to mind-body health.

I’ve Got a Body.  I’ve Got a Brain.  Let’s Do this ‘Mindbody’ Thing.

Enter Dr. John Sarno’s work.  John Sarno, MD (because you know the fact that he is an MD is important to me…) was a professor of rehabilitation medicine at New York University School (NYU) of Medicine and an attending physician at the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at the NYU Medical Center.  He treated many common conditions, from carpal tunnel syndrome to herniated disks to migraines, as mind-body ailments, rather than pure physical ailments.  He is retired now and older than anybody reading this blog!  He’s 93.

I dug around the internet on Sarno, trying to dig up the negatives on him and his approach.  You know, searched “Quackwatch.com” for him.  Interestingly enough, I didn’t find too much crushing criticism, like you will on so many other physicians fighting conventional beliefs!  I figure he must have maintained himself very well to have escaped the usual scorn you find in these matters.  He has written three books on alleviating certain health complaints using mind awareness and introspection:

  • Mind Over Back Pain;
  • Healing Back Pain:  The Mind Body Connection;
  • and The Divided Mind:  The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders. 

I read all three of his books in one week, and I thought, “I’ve got a body!  I’ve got a mind!  Hey.  Let’s do this ‘mindbody’ thing.”  I like safe.  I like cheap.  And I love improving my psychology.

There Are Parts of Our Brain Not at Our Beck and Call

Dr. Sarno gave a fancy name to a syndrome he dubbed Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS), which connects the physical to the subconscious mental.  He declares the idea that the understanding of TMS is a work-in-progress, and he embraces further study, insight, and modification of his ideas by science.  So what is TMS in “Terri terms?”

Tension Myositis Syndrome:  Certain symptoms are allowed, even perpetrated by the brain as a diversion to repressed, unknown, deep, uncomfortable, unwanted, undesirable, and conflicting emotions.  It can manifest in many ways:  back pain, neck pain, carpal tunnel, allergic rhinitis, headaches, dizziness, joint pain, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and acid reflux, to only begin listing a few manifestations.  Often, it has a migrating pattern.

Hello!  That’s quite the idea! Yes, it is.  But it’s a fact:  There are parts of our brain that aren’t at our beck and call.  You know them.  They’re the ones that generate feelings that just seem to tug at us yet we can’t get a handle on–the fear, the guilt, the shame, the embarrassment, the desire, and the anger, for example.

These basic, primitive emotions, when subconsciously present, bring about physical reactions and shut down others!  (Think of sweating, blushing, tingles, and not noticing pain when hurt till things calm down.)  These basic feelings have served to keep us alive as a population.  Although we are able to keep tabs on lots of these intrinsic emotions with our conscious thoughts and choices, not all of them are within our control or recognition!

Perhaps Conventional Medicine Has Radically Underestimated How Much the Mind Can Do

Think of someone you know who avoids conflict at all cost, sacrificing his or her own needs and comfort.  Let’s say it’s your mom and you’re visiting her.  Well, even if she’s walking around wrapped in blankets in her house in the dead of winter, she lets you turn the thermostat colder if you’re hot–even in her own house.  She lets you borrow the car on your visit so you can visit your old high school friends even though she had doctor’s appointments.  She says it’s okay and she just reschedules the doctors’ appointments.  Nobody else volunteered to do the church cookbook, so even though you’re visiting she stays up late typing it up, even though she’s leaving for vacation in five days herself.  Not to mention the painting hobby she gave up when you were 16.

This is all very honorable!  However, deep in there somewhere, no matter what her active, conscious thoughts are, deep in there somewhere is a piece of the human organism which recognizes that her own needs are not being met. It will probably greet this knowledge with basic emotions of fear or anger.  These emotions are perfectly capable of altering physical physiology.  Perhaps conventional medicine has radically underestimated how much.

Sarno suggests that these usually unrecognizable, basic emotions (fear, shame, guilt, anger, rage) somehow cause the brain to bring about physical symptoms, and he describes people with perfectionistic and goodist tendencies, like your mom up there, as prime candidates .  He calls the physical symptoms a diversion from the unrecognized subconscious (unconscious) feelings.  A human being does not mean for this to happen at all!  Yet, somehow, it does.

I Don’t Beat Dead Horses

Not much has turned up for me for help with my food sensitivities and constipation.  I’ve gotten as far as I can go with diet, lifestyle changes, and select supplements.  These are great changes I have made!  I will not abandon them.

But to further perfect these areas would be beating a dead horse.  I’m going to leave the dead horse behind and go by foot.  I don’t beat dead horses.

Next post is going to be specifics on how Dr. Sarno proposes reversing TMS–a connection of the subconscious mental to the physical.  Thanks for reading.  Thoughts are always appreciated as this is a live production.  Skepticism is allowed.  Converts welcome.  People who’ve been there and done that–feel free to share.

Smile a real smile from your subconscious.


Maybe Slow Guts Need Poked

Everyone tells you its simple.  Everyone tells you, “Oh, if you’d only try this, then…”

You don’t know whether to feel stupid or insulted and mad.  Then, rashly, you fork out money to try X, Y, or Z sometimes–which fails–and then you feel stupid AND mad.

I’ve got today’s post and one more on my personal story on severe, chronic, idiopathic constipation.  I’m not here to tell you it’s simple or even that I know what I’m talking about when it comes to constipation.  My blog is not for medical advice anyhow.  (It’s to make you wonder what kind of person would type about this.  Is she normal?  Or not normal?  Hmmm…)  If you missed them, I wrote this post first and this post second in my personal update series on trying to cure my refractory, lifelong constipation.


Smooth Move Tea and Laxatives

A few years ago I went to a gastroenterologist for my constipation.  She recommended that I stop the magnesium preparation that I was taking and sip Smooth Move Tea (a senna product). I didn’t like this recommendation so I didn’t do it.  I’d tried senna products before, and they never worked for me.  I felt the doctor clearly wasn’t listening to my story, so I found a different doctor.  I mean, I’d told her I had given up pizza and bread and ice cream to try to beat my severe, chronic constipation–did she really think that sipping a simple tea was going to work?  Like she blew me off, I blew her off and did not try that blasted tea.  Last year, however, after having the baby, my constipation had some bad spells.  So I decided to get off my high horse and try the stupid tea.  The tea did nothing but cause severe cramps. (Point: Patients usually know their bodies.)  I also tried some other OTC laxatives, but they also did nothing but cause cramps and create no bowel movement.

Bottom-line:  These products don’t work well for me.  They never have, and they still don’t.  I get terrible cramping and little to no bowel movement.  To get a bowel movement, I have to take like 12 or more pills of whatever.  I’d better stick to giving up pizza.

Herbs and Spices

I use a lot of herbs and spices when I cook, both fresh and dried.  I’ve tried increasing these over the last several months.  Nothing has seemed to jump up and shout that it is making my gut move specifically.  But they taste good and have many great properties.  Could they be doing slow magical work?  Sure.  I’ll keep using my herbs and spices:  turmeric, Ceylon cinnamon, cardamom, fresh-pressed garlic allowed to sit ten minutes, coriander, allspice, nutmeg, saffron, fresh cilantro, fresh parsley, rosemary, and so on and so forth.

Bottom-line:  Herbs and spices are worth adding in for overall health even if they don’t clearly seem to make a definable difference in my GI motility.

Diverse Fiber

I’ve read some fascinating anecdotes about people who tanked up on diverse fibers and reversed their GI, SIBO, and food issues.  (Fiber is a VERY complex term.  Please consider reading about it here.)  Fiber in the forms of legumes, Metamucil, and whole grains has never worked for me.  But as I’ve researched, I’ve come to find that I’m not needing the “skin” fiber of foods that I thought I needed for bulk–or even “soluble” or “insoluble” fiber.  There are other, less definable, carbohydrates that the bacteria in our guts may chomp on to produce by-products that stimulate and repair the gut.  So I devoted a couple of months to trying high dose “fibers”:  glucommannan (cramping), FOS/inulin/beta glucan (no change), psyllium (no increase in movement but more bulk), and oatmeal/blueberry/potato starch smoothies three times a day (no change).  I had no significant set-backs from these attempts, but I still needed tons of magnesium.

The “fiber” that seems to do me best is resistant starch “fiber” via green bananas (in smoothies), cold cooked rice (as in rice salad), and cold cooked potatoes (great over a salad topped with vinaigrette).  I also occasionally pop a bit of raw potato.  I do feel these “fiber” foods help me if consumed daily.

Also, over the summer I inadvertently upped my raw vegetable intake with delicious Israeli-inspired salads a good friend taught me to make.  Raw vegetable intake at the beginning of my journey killed my bloating problems.  Not anymore.  Once a gut’s environment is improved, I think raw vegetables and fruits are important.  Maybe the addition of these salads helped.

Bottom-line:  I can’t be 100% sure, but I do think that the resistant starch foods eaten daily and the salads play a role in the recent progress of my gut.  (And these are amazing salads!  Not the kind boring ones I used to make.)  The powders and supplements I tried didn’t work for me. (Too easy.)


I tried some triphala.  No luck.  Nothing bad.  But nothing improved, and although it is listed as safe in some places for nursing (and other places not), I thought my baby had looser stools when I titrated up the dose.  So I ditched triphala.

Essential Oils

Oh man.  I love the way these smell.  Some people swear success in helping their constipation with essential oils.  I’ve tried two different times and no go for me.



Japanese_kudabariI told a medical school friend, who is married to another medical school friend, that I was trying acupuncture for my gut.  She laughed and jokingly said, “I won’t tell Jeff that you’re trying that.  He’d never let me talk to you again…”

Anyhow, I have received acupuncture now for about 5 months (with some quite extended breaks for traveling).  When those tiny needles poke me, you can hear my gut start rumbling.  It’s a little embarrassing.  Sometimes after a treatment, I will have to go to the bathroom.  Usually not.  However, in the several months of acupuncture I’ve had, my gut has improved. The acupuncturist I go to only does acupuncture, but he draws on chiropractic, ancient Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic principles, and kinesiology.  When we first started, I asked him, “So, do you think you’ll be able to fix me?”  He was super honest and said, “Well–you’ve had this a long time–but we can try.”  I love that answer!  I have the utmost respect for what he does, but I do have to say it feels like “voodoo” at its finest to a conventional doctor.

I think that acupuncture has been a piece of the progressive improvement of my gut (but only as a part of the plan).  For the first 6 weeks, treatments were weekly.  Then, he spaced it to every two weeks.  And then slowly we are stretching it out further.  It does seem to help.  On the down side, it is not cheap.  In fact, it’s expensive.  Some insurances pay for acupuncture, but mine does not.

Here are some links to check out about acupuncture and constipation:

Efficacy of acupuncture for chronic constipation: a systematic review.:  This is an abstract to a positive Chinese study on acupuncture for constipation.

Use acupuncture to treat functional constipation: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial :  Here is a full-text summary of the study protocol for the above-linked study, in case you want to take it to your acupuncturist to see what points were used.  🙂

Acupuncture for functional constipation: protocol of an individual patient data meta-analysis : And here it looks like the British Medical Journal is gearing up to explore acupuncture for functional constipation.

Bottom-line:  Acupuncture definitely seemed to add some motility to my gut.


I will try to wrap up this long story in the next post which will cover things like yoga, acceptance, meditation, getting up early, and my favorite topic–diet.  It seems like a lot of stuff to try–and it is–but I know these things will impact my marriage, my parenting, and my life forever.  Here is a funny thought:  I am a better person because of my constipation.  Oh, my.  Did I just type that?Insane.

I appreciate the comments you’ve all left.  And I like to hear of people doing well and what and who they used to achieve that.  Have a super week.






Looking You in the Face, Part 1

wpid-IMAG1488-1.jpgI knew it.  I knew it.  I knew it.  I knew this girl had an eating disorder…all she talks about is food!”

STOP!  Hear me out!  Hear my story!

Once, a long time ago, I struggled with bulimia and I won.  It kicked me in the head during my second year of pharmacy school, which was a killer.  My childhood sweetheart, who this little Hoosier farm girl from Indiana followed to the sprawling metropolis known as St. Louis, Missouri, decided to move on to somebody with a bigger chest who surely gave out more.

I felt totally alone and abandoned.  My self-esteem plummeted.  My farm-hearty appetite began turning to food for comfort, particularly flour-based products:  donuts, bagels, and brownies.  For about two years, I wrestled the demon of self-insecurity, and food helped me feel better for an hour.

So I ate and ate and ate.  However, I was a young girl, and I didn’t need my biochemistry to tell me I couldn’t eat that way and “be healthy.”  Or eat that way and look foxy.  I knew if I ate that way I would get fat.  I wasn’t afraid of the weight I was; I was afraid of the weight I would become.

So I got it out of there, with exercise and vomiting.  And thus began a terrible cycle of eating, overeating, being mad at myself for overeating, trying to not eat, overeating, over exercising, obsessing, vomiting, obsessing, and overeating.  (Please note, I tried laxatives only once, but I was so sick I wanted to die.  So laxative overuse is not the source of my slow GI tract.)

I was out of control, and I HATE being out of control so I sought help from my volleyball coach and athletic director at St. Louis College of Pharmacy.  Great women.  I saw a medical doctor who unbelievably said, “It is a phase.  It will pass.”  I visited counselors who worked on remodelling my body image, self-esteem, and relationship skills.  All VERY, VERY good things.

A summer break came, and I went home to the farm.  I embarrassingly had to tell my mom all that I was going through, and she immediately got me to see a medical doctor and a counselor, excellent practitioners.  Mom’s response was instrumental in my recovery, and I thank God every single day for my mom, for many, many reasons.

Over time, my mental self got a great makeover, and I reigned in my bulimic impulses.  I didn’t hide in the bathroom with the shower running and throw up.  I no longer scheduled an extra hour on my workout to compensate for extra calories.  I no longer obsessed about food to the point of running out on special bagel or donut runs in the late evening.

But you know what really didn’t get redesigned?  The way I ate–despite meeting with a nutritionist who told me things I already knew and tried vainly to employ regarding moderation, portion quantities, and food choices.  I still preferred six chocolate chip cookies to a steak.  Three donuts to start the day.  Fresh baked bread at Biaggi’s Restaurant followed by pasta with a creamy white sauce and bread pudding for dessert.

I had my self-esteem, a great metabolism, and I knew I looked “okay.”  And that was enough.

I was in control of my mental and psychological response to eating food now, but I was still not in control of my eating.  I had just learned to accept it.

I have always loved processed carbohydrates, and LOVE should NOT apply to food.  However, it did, and aside from my two-year struggle at a very tough time in life, I have never viewed my carbohydrate cravings as a problem.  I was the kid whose Halloween and Christmas candy was gone within a couple of days.  The guest who never said “no” to the offer of a treat.  The mom who baked her heart out for parties.

My brain likes carbohydrates.  Period.

“Food and addictive drug use both result in the release of dopamine in the mesolimbic regions of the brain (at least in animal studies), so one gets a sense of “reward” and happiness from eating. Obese versus lean individuals show greater activation in the addictive behavior centers of the brain in anticipation of receiving “palatable” foods” (from Emily Deans’, M.D. site, a blog post on Eating Disorder, Obesity, and Addiction)

For many years now, bulimia has been behind me, left totally in my past.  It may have stolen a couple of years of my life when my childhood sweetheart took his “bon voyage” of me, but it allowed me to gather and build my fragile self-esteem.

I conquered bulimia and I came out MUCH STRONGER on the other side.  Moved on.  Kept the boyfriend, actually (married happily now for 16 years).  Ditched the eating disorder.  Gained self-esteem and a “well, I guess it’s good enough” kind of body image.  Bulimia was horrible, and I promised myself I would NEVER go back there.  And I never have.

Fast forward…

Part 2 of my story to come in 2-3 days.  Thank you for reading.  Is this blog altruism or insanity?  Haven’t decided yet.


You may be interested in Part 2.