At age 18, all I could think about was cycling. It consumed my life - training, racing, cleaning my bike, you name it. When I wasn’t riding my bike, I was thinking about riding my bike.
And I had been presented with an incredible opportunity: I had just qualified race against professionals.
But on a training ride one day, I felt pain like a lightning bolt in my back. It was as if someone was wringing my spine from end to end. The pain was so bad that I couldn’t sit on my bike seat.
I visited a chiropractor who said “two weeks, and you’ll be back on top - no problem.” Well, two weeks passed, then four, then eight, and my pain was getting worse. Not only had my entire cycling season been taken from me, but I was in pain every day during normal activities, like sitting and even lying down.
When the new semester started at college, I retreated inward, unable to sit without pain in my lectures, and ride my bike - an identity that had been so core to who I was.
I tried every physical treatment I could find: physical therapists, epidurals, chiropractors, acupuncturists, you name it. Nothing was helping - and I was adamant that I did not want surgery at such a young age.
A year later, nothing had helped. And I started to question why. Why was my pain horrible on days when I followed my care team’s instructions to the letter? And why on days when I did the opposite of what they recommended - sitting too long or being too active, would my pain feel slightly better? Why could someone have a perfectly normal MRI of their spine and be in immense pain, and someone else, whose MRI looked just like mine, be in no pain at all?
MRI of my spine taken in 2011, showing a disc extrusion. This occurs when the outer wall of a disc tears, causing the inner disc material to seep into the spinal canal.
Numerous studies show that structural abnormalities, like herniated discs, are extremely common among the population - up to ⅔ of people have them.
And when I learned that repressed emotions, pressure I was putting on myself, low self-esteem, shame, could cause physiological changes in my body, it was like a light switch went off.
I started to see all the pressure I was putting on myself to win races, to prove to myself and others that I was enough. It was killing me from the inside out.
Me after receiving my first of two epidural injections into my spinal canal in 2012. My pain decreased for a few days, and then came back even worse than before.
I knew from then on that my pain was due to Tension Myoneural Syndrome (TMS) - also known as Mindbody Syndrome.
And two years after my original pain episode, my back pain started to go away - permanently.
But then over the preceding years I developed a number of other strange symptoms: Shin splints despite the fact that I’d only run 1-2 miles. Tension so bad in my calves that it was like they were frozen stiff. Pain in my forearm when throwing a baseball. Plantar Fasciitis. Pain in my wrist and shoulders. Insomnia. Anxiety. Shivering. Stomach issues and more. Each was a manifestation of TMS.
It was as if my mind was saying “until you look deeply inward you’re going to keep having these symptoms.”
And I did the work - I developed a stronger and more comfortable sense of self, learned that my mind is always on my side, that the body is more powerful than I can possibly imagine, and most importantly, that I am, have always been, and always will be enough.
I made a full recovery, resumed all of the activities I enjoyed, like cycling. I worked for LinkedIn as a Manager in San Francisco, Ireland, and traveled the world.
I intentionally gave up my dream of becoming a professional cyclist, and decided instead to pursue my life's calling.
My TMS journey has been a blessing. It gave me my life's purpose and taught me lessons that have transformed the way I see an experience life.
I became a Certified TMS/Mindbody Syndrome Coach because I never wanted to see someone unnecessarily suffer from chronic pain again. Because I want to help people achieve in weeks what took me years to do. Because it’s possible to recover.
If my story resonates with you, then I'd love to connect.