In my 22 years of medical experience I have always been fascinated by the trust we have in our doctors. And as I’ve evolved as an internist—one who began her career with the enthusiasm to diagnose diseases accurately and know all of the latest drugs that help relieve symptoms—I’ve come to the realization that diagnosing a disease can be done by a computer. Matching a drug to a disease can also be done by a computer. Today, even surgeries can be done by a computer.

But computers cannot understand the person who has the disease. And as I journey into functional medicine, where the principle approach is to find out why a body is not healing, I am very intrigued by the idea that we may be sick because we are trying to protect ourselves from an excruciatingly painful event in our life, or even life itself.

Can traumatic experiences make you sick?

A trigger event can be something profound that changed your life in a split second or a series of events that created a lot of fear or caused pain. These triggers can cause feelings that we oppress so much, we may not be consciously aware of how angry or upset we still are. Examples of triggers are an abusive childhood, poor relationships, the death of a loved one, poor self-image, or hatred for a job.

Whatever the trigger, when we feel emotionally distressed our brain’s job is to protect us, and the best way to do this is to cause a distraction. I believe that this distraction can take the form of a physical pain or a disease that we can now obsess about. This has been called TMS or tension myositis syndrome by Dr. John Sarno (who coined the term) and Steve Ozanich who continued Dr. Sarno’s work and wrote the book The Great Pain Deception.

These are the symptoms to look for

How do you know if you have TMS? You’ve had pain for a long time or a disease that has been treated by both conventional and unconventional methods but have found no relief. Other common symptoms include:

  • Low back pain or leg pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Migraine headaches
  • Chronic pain
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Psoriasis
  • Anxiety and depression

Sometimes I find that autoimmune diseases, cancer, and diabetes are also caused by stressors that have been left unresolved for years.

What do unresolved stressors look like?

The theory is that the brain can create a pathway of defense and repair using the immune system or the autonomic nervous system. When it affects the immune system it leads to allergic reactions, skin conditions, and decreased immunity, which can lead to other illnesses. When it uses the autonomic nervous system it creates symptoms of migraine headaches, peptic ulcer disease, inflammatory bowel disorders, and sometimes even cardiovascular disease.

To heal your body you have to heal your mind.

Understand that your subconscious mind is working all the time and you don’t have a lot of control. Fear and guilt are the most self-destructive emotions we can harbor, and it may mean we have to change our environment—whether that’s our relationships, career paths, or the city in which we live. Here are some other steps I provide my patients who suspect they are dealing with TMS:

  • Use your conscious mind to refute any structural anomalies you may have.
  • Accept that there may be a strong psychological component to your illness.
  • Accept and acknowledge the fact that you have several stressors in your life and from your past.
  • Spend a few moments each day to reflect on your emotions and what can be done to address them and let them flow through you.
  • Trust that when you make this shift from feeling like a victim to taking charge of your mind, the healing will begin.

The lesson we all need to learn is that in order to heal our bodies we have to heal our minds. Luckily, the power to do that is mostly in our hands. We may just need to confront this reality in order to get started.

Dr. Chellam

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