The computer wasn’t the problem. Although it appeared to be the cause of my symptoms, they were actually coming from, to put it somewhat imprecisely but in familiar terms, stress. We all have experience with emotional stress causing physical reactions, everything from blushing in embarrassment to stomach upset and muscle tension from anxiety.
When those effects get out of control due to a buildup of emotional stresses, serious physical syndromes, such as RSI, can result. This process is referred to as TMS, for Tension Myositis Syndrome. The term was coined by Dr. John Sarno of NYU after he started treating chronic pain patients and began seeing the common threads that connected their experiences.
In TMS, the pain is real physical pain, just like the real physical tension we feel after a stressful day. But, while it may be triggered by any number of activities, from sitting, walking, standing, or lifting (back pain), to typing (RSI) to playing sports (tennis and golfer’s elbow), the physical triggers aren’t the true causes.
The psychology of TMS theory can be a little offputting. Stress is a convenient way of describing it, but the theory actually says that the pain is created by your brain to distract you from emotions that you unconsciously don’t want to acknowledge or deal with. These emotions may be powerful and complicated, may seem very negative, may originate in our early lives or in our current daily lives. We (as humans) have very powerful emotions, and in our society, not a lot of room to express them sometimes as we go about the business of trying to fit ourselves into society’s rhythms, not causing too much conflict or upset, working hard to grasp social and financial success.
The brain, by becoming obsessed with the physical pain itself, can forget the emotions that we don’t want to think about. As Rachel puts it so well, the key point is that any kind of chronic pain distracts you from real, psychologically difficult problems, and puts you in a kind of constant problem-solving for the pain itself. Consider how hard it is to ignore pain — pain is a siren call that we can’t easily avoid thinking about or trying to dedal with. Other problems fade into the background.
However, you don’t have to let your brain get away with distracting you; you can make a decision to break the connection between emotional distress and physical pain. It can and should be broken, so you can return to 100% health. I’m not going to go into the theory further. Rachel has done it better, and you really need to read one of Sarno’s books anyway. But I do have some thoughts to add: see below.
Before you read on, please note: I am not a doctor. I am a fellow wayfarer on the road to health. I am not qualified to give medical advice. I am sharing my experience in the interest of education.