Mandy’s story 1/2
Mandy shares with us the story of her migraines: how they started at a young age, the failure of traditional medicine, and how she found pain relief using the mind-body connection . Her testimonial gives us an insight on what it’s like to be a teenager with TMS / stress induced symptoms.
I got my first migraine when I was 14. I remember it was after track practice and I was waiting for a friend to drive me home. I had never felt a migraine before, I felt so bad I had to lay down on the floor of the hallway. I had actually been sick a few weeks before with an odd illness that was never diagnosed. I had had a rash and a fever and stayed home from school for five days. So when I came home feeling terrible, my parents thought it could be the sickness coming back and possibly mono. This was also during the beginning of high school, what I remember as the worst time in my life. Before then, I was an extremely happy person. I had a wonderful childhood and felt like a loved member of my community. I was confident, felt I excelled at everything I did, and was sure of most of my decisions. But high school changed all of that.
I went to an extremely competitive, high pressure high school whereas many of my middle school friends were districted to a different one. I had more trouble with my classes than I had before and lost the passion I had for school. I got bullied by other girls and felt like there was something wrong with me. I was going through changes in my religion, interests, and identity and it felt like everything I had depended on was taken away.
Looking back this is a normal adolescent experience, but at the time it truly felt traumatic. It also fits directly with TMS* that my chronic pain would begin during such a difficult time. At first, the headaches came every few weeks and they would go away if I went to sleep early. Then, they became more frequent, but I could use over the counter Excederin to get rid of them. I became more concerned about how they would affect my ability to homework, and we went to my pediatrician. She diagnosed them as migraines and gave me Imitrex to abort them. She said some people just get migraines and she didn’t see anything else wrong. But the headaches kept getting more frequent and my parents and I weren’t happy with just trying to manage them. We tried the initial treatments you find on the internet: drinking more water, eliminating nitrates and MSG, eliminating caffeine, eating more frequently, checking my eyes. I eventually went to a physical therapist who determined they were from my bones getting out of alignment. This made sense because I was tall and thin and did have poor posture. What did not make sense was that I ended up going to physical therapy for 6 years without any improvement on my headaches.
I continued through high school and onto college and my headaches settled into a weekly pattern. The Imitrex still worked fairly well so I could still live a normal life. My social setting and confidence continued to improve as I got older, yet my headaches remained. Through college I continued to try different treatments. It almost felt like my “mission” to fix this one part of my life that was clearly so wrong. I went to a neurologist and tried preventative migraine medicines. I went to a chiropractor and different physical therapists. I tried massages, acupuncture, and meditation. I saw multiple cognitive therapists and tried anti-depressant medications that gave me terrible side effects. I saw a nutritionist who diagnosed that it was a hormone imbalance and gave me hormone supplements that then caused estrogen imbalance and nausea and vomiting for a year afterwards. I was so young I trusted everything a doctor told me and didn’t think twice about the risk of putting different substances in my body.
I continued these attempts after I graduated college and moved away for work. As I navigated starting a career and being far from home, the headaches got worse until I was getting three each week and taking six Imitrex pills. I tried Botox injections and nerve blocks. I had a neurologist diagnose that I had sleep apnea that was causing my neck to twist at night, so I used a CPAP for an entire year, even on my wedding night. The most extreme treatment I tried was prolotherapy, where three different times I got 800 injections of dextrose in my back. I was covered in massive purple bruises for weeks afterwards. There was no change with my headaches.
Throughout all this my dad continued to think it was stress and he actually gave me one of Dr. Sarno’s books. He had health issues in college that were fixed by reading Dr. Sarno’s book. But when I read it and didn’t immediately feel better, I thought it didn’t work.
I agreed the headaches could be from stress but since I got them every week of my life it didn’t seem related to anything in particular. Now when I see people posting about how to help their teenagers with TMS I tell them that all they can do is provide the information. TMS is something you have to find and believe on your own, especially during an age where you don’t really want to listen to parents anyway.
After 11 years of headaches, I ended up in the emergency room because I ran out of Imitrex. I started finally looking for support groups on the internet. I have since read about the emotional impact of chronic pain and it can be detrimental. With other illnesses or injuries, a person can go through a challenging time but look forward to a future when they will be almost completely better. With chronic pain there is so much confusion, lack of hope, unsureness about what to do next, and isolation. It feels like it might be your fault, like you just haven’t been doing the right thing, and time and money costs are endless. After some google searching, I found Curable. I listened to their initial explanations and heard Susan’s interview about her migraines. As I listened to her story, I just kept thinking this is me. Her personality: high achieving, caring about what others think, always wanting to do the right thing, and her varied, futile attempts to keep her migraines from affecting her career were so similar to my experience.
I knew I was in the right place and jumped into Curable work. I listened to speakers like Nicole Sachs and Dan Buglio. I diligently did their work for a year and started to see changes with my emotional state, ability to process emotions, and general confidence. Simply not having to question what was wrong or spend all my time at doctor’s offices was a huge increase in quality of life. I worked with Edith and got even further with her support.
Since I have had my headaches for over half my life, it has been a challenging pattern to break. I now go weeks at a time without a headache, which was unheard of when I was getting three per week. I believe I have learned everything I need to know about TMS, done the emotional discovery, and redefined the meaning I give to the pain. I am in the final stage where I am learning to simply not care about whether I get the headaches or not and this lack of attention will cause them to go away. I am continuing to feel and release emotions throughout the day, and not focus on not getting so shaken by daily life challenges.
This work is truly a powerful, life-changing process. It makes me feel like I can handle anything and that I have the tools to live the life I want to live. When I hear about other young people having chronic pain, I feel heartbroken for their loss of careless youth, with how quickly they must become experts in filling out medical forms and navigating different doctors. But I also know that it is an amazing gift to go through this journey at such a young age. I understand myself and have the rest of my life to live authentically and courageously. I know how to handle emotions so that they don’t poison me or those around me.
This is not only the work to get rid of chronic pain, but a practice that cultivates inner peace and makes the world a better, more loving place.
👩🏫 What is TMS? It’s physical pain, usually chronic that is not caused by a physical issue, but by psychological stress. https://www.tmswiki.org/ppd/An_Introduction_to_Tension_Myositis_Syndrome_(TMS)
📺 Resources to better understand pain