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How Ailsa beat RSI

This story was written in January 2004, and was sent to a rapid recovery news-group. It has been updated in June 2006.

My name is Ailsa and I am currently 42. Since my pregnancy in 1995-6 I developed pain in my body that eventually reached a point where almost all the activities in life I loved were no longer available, and trying to get well became an obsession.

The critical symptoms were an upper leg that felt like it was being sawed, RSI in my hands and arms which developed over a period of about 2 weeks, (and at it’s worst prevented me from dressing, toileting or eating without assistance), and eventually my feet (both) which became painful after I twisted one ankle as I was running down a street with my daughter. At times my back and neck were too sore to travel in the car, and of course there was a year when I couldn’t drive myself at all. As the inflammation reduced with constant AK (Applied Kinesiology) and Osteopathy treatment I was able to drive for about 15 mins or so without a flareup. Eventually in Oct 2002, after one foot mishap after another, I ended up in a wheelchair, pushed around by my husband.

In my past life I received a degree in Botany and worked as a Botanist in the field. NZ is rough and rugged and I’ve always loved to tramp and climb. My other passion is the piano which I have played since I was a little girl, and of course as my pain levels went up I became severely limited in playing, particularly using the pedal which I could not depress at all without sending spasms up the back of my leg.

This episode has had a huge impact on my life and that of my family. Of course we spent thousands and great amounts of energy seeking a cause and a cure. We saw several specialists. The one that seems to have had the greatest impact suggested that the tendons in my feet had been stretched to the point that they would not longer work and that it would be unlikely that they would improve. I asked about surgery. He said (and now of course I’m so glad he did) that even shortening them may only give me perhaps twenty minutes tramping before they would stretch again. I asked how I would manage from here. He said that all he could suggest was that I must be careful only to walk on level surfaces.

This was the beginning of a profound loss of freedom for me. No paddling at the beach with the sand between my toes. No walking (shopping malls don’t count to me, and the footpaths where I live could never be considered level). No wearing bare feet. No outdoors, and all the time being careful, careful, CAREFUL to avoid injury. And the pain got worse despite my commitment to avoiding any activity that might be a problem.

Wendy (who had been through a similar experience, and supported me throughout the process of recovery) wrote to a friend of mine early last year and she passed the letter to me. I finally got hold of a copy of The Mindbody Prescription in mid-March. I didn’t believe Sarno was on track for a moment, but when I got to the place where it explains how to deal with getting rid of pain, I allowed myself to take a quick look at an incident that had traumatised me in my mid-teens, and noticed to my amazement that my back which had been really troubling me, was suddenly pain free and remained so for around 3 days. Of course I sat up and took notice.

I didn’t seem to have much cohesive improvement at first but devoured Amir’s book when it arrived in the mail. What really stuck out for me was how I linked activity or events with pain.

It seems crazy now, but I believed that I only had one pair of shoes that didn’t cause damage to my feet. Of course I’d worn them non-stop for 3 years and they were almost worn out, and I was starting to panic because I couldn’t find a replacement. Not to mention that because they were sandals rather than full shoes I had freezing toes in winter, and used to wear socks with them, which didn’t look too good. Several years before I’d spent almost $300 on a pair of Italian leather boots. I’d bought them because they were comfortable (so I thought) and they really looked great, but as my foot pain developed, a piece of me thought it was something to do with these shoes. I sent them to a shoe specialist to see if he could alter them in any way so that my foot was aligned as in my “comfortable” sandals. He said no, so I hid them in my cupboard so I wouldn’t have to look at them.

On reading I suddenly made the connection that this could be association. I went and dug out my shoes. I put them on. Much to my shock I found my heart racing in fear. And my feet hurt a lot. I decided I would introduce myself to them gradually which is what I did. In the beginning I would put them on for half a minute or so, then take them off. I hurt. Then I practiced walking up the hall with the thought in mind that I would have one pain-free step, then two etc. Over a few weeks I got to be able to walk up and down the hall 6 times! One afternoon I decided to leave them on for twenty minutes, and if it worked go out and buy myself a present. After twenty minutes was up I realised my feet felt great, so I kept them on and went out wearing them. That evening I realised that I would try the pedal on the piano for the first time in two years. I did and I’ve been playing the piano without trouble ever since, playing whatever I want. In fact I’ve just given two ninety minute concerts in the last couple of months (wearing my boots of course).

I designed my 9 step plan incorporating walks and bounces on the trampoline. I made my ultimate goal walking to the Harris Saddle on the Routeburn track, a very special place for me. (It involves a three-day return journey through mountainous terrain carrying a pack, along a track that is anything but level). At the time I designed this plan I was still attempting to do a pain-free step along the hall. In November I achieved my goal. It was amongst the most special experiences of my life.

I still experience some pain from time to time but nothing like the pain I had had for several years. I am comfortable in bed, and I can read, carry things, drive where I like and vacuum the house. I seem to need to continually visualise myself doing activities without pain, and usually my body cooperates very well. If I am not disciplined my mind runs its association of pain and activity that it has practiced for years and my body behaves accordingly. I have just returned from a day at the beach, kayaking with the kids, paddling in the sea, and carrying the kayak up from low tide mark. No problems. Not bad for a woman that not so long ago had trouble cutting up a carrot.

One of the most amazing things for me is that my hayfever/asthma problem has next to totally disappeared. Other than reading that this might be part of the same emotion cycle, I have not tried consciously to get rid of it in the same way that I’ve worked on my body. It is especially amazing as I developed severe hayfever at five, (that’s nearly forty years ago). Now I can sniff the grass, and poke my nose into Christmas lilies and Lupins, and have the cat in bed. This is like a miracle to me.

In conclusion I can only give you a taste of how joyous it has been to have my life back. I have freedom again and spend leisure time in the outdoors, or playing the piano, or engaging in physical playing with my daughter, and can spend time at work working hard without fear. And I can talk on the phone without a headset for as long as I like. I can go 4-wheel driving, or fishing. There have been so many things that have been restored to me I can’t remember them all. If Wendy had not been in touch my likely future would have remained dependent and stifled. I can only say that the results are well worth the input and that I owe all those who are committed to sharing this approach a great debt.

Testimony kindly reprinted with permission from RSI BACKPAIN UK

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About The Author

Senior Writer

Justin Bennett is the senior writer across the How I Beat sites. With six years experience in mental health encompassing work in homeless shelters, psychiatric hospitals and disability employment services and graduate diplomas in counselling and journalism he is passionate about helping others overcome and beat their conditions.

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