Created and Curated by Sarah Rainwater, Seattle Washington
Note: Resources for these mind body approaches are listed below “My story.”
Hello! I cured myself from Covid Long-Haul syndrome, but the story starts 11 years ago. Let me tell you my story…
11 years ago I had debilitating migraines, and basically a constant headache all day long every day. I remember throwing up in parking lots on my way to work. I tried many techniques to heal (e.g. diet, acupuncture, chiropractor, etc.)… nothing helped. Then, I read an article by a writer named Kathryn Robinson in the Seattle Met (I’m from Seattle) about her back pain that she cured by reading Dr. John Sarno’s book called Healing Back Pain (I am forever indebted to her for writing this piece). John Sarno was a professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at the New York School of Medicine for over 50 years. Even though I had headaches, not back pain like Robinson, the words she wrote spoke to me. Come to find out, many ailments, I mean, many many unexplained ailments have been cured by Sarno's methods (more to come on recent research on this subject matter). He called it Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS). I read Sarno’s book, and then I read it over and over again. First, I had hope, and within three weeks substantial improvement. Today I have 100% no migraines, 100% of the time. I did have to work the program though, and success grew incrementally.
Since using Sarno’s methods I have cured other ailments. Chronic pelvic pain (couple of doctors and way too many antibiotics), plantar fasciitis (hospital visit), neck pain, back pain, hip pain, you name it! Also, many other people have healed from neurological problems such as fatigue, dizziness, POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), numbness, etc. (I never had any of these neurological ailments until Covid.) Basically, anything that doctors cannot find a cure for, Sarno’s work can very likely fix it if the person is willing. 11 year ago not much research was going into his mind body approaches. But now, the research on brain neuroplasticity is booming! (More information to come on that.)
Fast forward to November. My family came down with Covid and we all tested positive. It was so scary, particularly because we put the older people in our family in jeopardy (they never got it thankfully). They were our only care takers for our children, and my husband and I had to work. It was traumatic, not to mention the news and information online that I was seeing about Covid making me even more scared. Simply terrifying. I had no long haul symptoms until after Christmas, then, I noticed I started waking up throughout the night. I also had a chronic cough (which happens to me often after I heal from other viruses). As I started researching and talking with people about long-haulers, my fear rose, and so did my insomnia. It got so bad that I drove myself to the hospital at 3am in the morning because I felt irregular heartbeats and was on another night of no sleep. Here is a list of all of my post covid symptoms: weird sweating events (body temperature felt off), chronic cough, rash, weird eyesight problems (not normal eyesight vision problems), acid reflux, weird chest pain, weird heart beats, a strange clicking sound/feeling behind my eyes, POTS symptoms (dizziness, particularly in the morning, etc.), anxiety, skipped menstrual cycle (adrenaline issues?), quivering tongue (fear related?), weird pains in my arms and legs, and insomnia. Honestly, all of it I was able to regulate and keep in check with what I learned years early with Sarno’s methods on brain neuroplasticity and the reprogramming of neural pathways, but the insomnia, the insomnia, that was horrid! And started to really freak out… and then everything (all my symptoms) started to ramp up. In all honesty and transparency, I did not have long haul symptoms for long, but I believe I would have, had not known about the mind body connection. Needless to say, it was a scary couple of weeks in January.
I believe what is happening is that long-haul syndrome (in people without tissue damage) is an overactive response by the body to foreign invaders--the inflammatory response does not shut off, and is exacerbated by fear and hopelessness, keeping the fight or flight response in a negative loop cycle (which is the same pattern of neurological circuitry for many other alignments/physical issues too). In short, fear is hijacking our nervous system and immune response, which is causing weird symptoms in many people, especially those with super sensitive nervous symptoms (like me!). In fact, here is an interesting article from a recent opinion piece from the British Medical Journal. And yet, another healing story by Rebecca Tolin. The point is that long haul symptoms are curable for Covid like other CFS/ME symptoms. Also, here is Nicole Sachs, a TMS expert, explaining her early thoughts on the “TMS-ness” of Covid. She recently published an episode on her podcast on Covid Long Haul syndrome, The Cure for Chronic Pain with Nicole Sachs episode 122 Covid Long Haul with Lieke.
After the hospital called back from my 3am in the morning visit (mentioned earlier), and said absolutely everything from my blood tests checked out as normal as could possibly be, I started to dive in, again, like 11 years prior to Sarno’s work. You guys… it worked! It did. Everything went away and even my menstrual cycles came back (sorry if that’s too much information, but I feel it’s really telling). I wholeheartedly believe that if there is no tissue damage, this can be healed in the brain.
Because I have been such an advocate of this mind-body approach for so long, I have been able to see it grow overtime with so much more research and backing by modern Western medicine (in the nick of time I might add). It is miraculous work. But it does take work. The stress from having Covid Long-Haul is so scary and enraging, so I wanted to share this information to the people who may be willing to subscribe to this understanding (and who want to). And when you pull through, you will pull through, you may even be in a better place than you were before Covid. I know not everyone will buy into this, but even if just one person can come out the other side because of this post, I am going to be brave in this space and say what worked for me.
If you’re curious about Dr. Sarno and his methods, here is a 20/20 episode with Dr. Sarno years ago that sums everything up, but remember that neural pathway research has come a long way since this video (see the “expert interviews” in the Curable app for more uptodate research and practices, their scientific advisory board is outstanding). This will give you a little information on him and his strategies for unexplainable chronic pain. Also, please note that I know it will sound outrageous to you that these resources talk so much about “emotions.” It’s because emotions are HOW we rewire our neural pathways, and how they were wired in the first place… migraines for me were anger, and Covid was fear. This “emotional work” is how I cured my debilitating migraines years ago, and what I believe is the cure for many people with Covid Long-Haul syndrome.
I recently listened to a podcast, and the doctor from Northwestern said something like, “Neural Circuit Pain is simply NOT up for debate anymore. It’s real science.” I’ll end with that. I’m listing here the resources to check out. Many of these resources have helped me along my way. See for yourself. Thanks for reading. Good luck everyone!
My Healing Process:
- It’s different for everyone, but here is what worked for me…
Note: The Curable app breaks down healing pathways in a similar way: Education, Meditation, Writing, and Brain Training.
- 1. Education: This was the biggest step for me. Maybe 70% of the work. It sounds weird, but education makes you believe. Belief gives you hope, and hope calms your amygdala in your brain, and therefore your fight or flight response and autonomic nervous system, which basically regulates everything else in your body… including pain. This part, educating yourself, I believe, is the reason so many people who simply just meditate alone don’t always become pain free--there is something about the education process that quite literally is changing your neural pathways circuits, in a way that meditation alone just can’t do completely.
- 2. Recovery Stories: Podcasts and testimonials on other peoples’ recovery stories are so encouraging. Curable, Nicole Sachs, etc. In some of my worst moments I even dug into the thousands of positive reviews of Dr. Sarno’s books on Amazon. Here is a list of testimonials by diagnoses. Also, I like this video (on POTS) and it helped me with the neurological symptoms post Covid, but it’s important to remember this work is NOT about just merely thinking positively, nonetheless, this is a hopeful video.
- 3. Somatic Tracking/Brain Training: Alan Gordon talks a lot about this on Tell Me About Your Pain. Basically feel your pain, don’t be afraid of it, and literally talk to it. Try to tell the neural pathway of pain (while you are feeling it), “You are safe.” Takes a couple of weeks. Dr. Sarno taught people to “tto their brain.” I’m not sure, at the time, if he totally knew what was happening in the brain, but he certainly knew it was working. Now, we know that people can rewire their pain neural pathway and calm it into submission. On a hard Covid long haul day, I literally kept saying out loud, “Amygdala, you are okay, you are safe, calm down.” The Panic Button in the Curable app is great, and will guide you through a 21 second somatic tracking exercise. People love the Panic Button. I’ve noticed people ask a lot of questions about how to do somatic tracking, listen to Alan Gordon talk about it.
- 4.Expressive Writing: Journaling is so important. It sounds so stupid, but just try it for 28 days. Try Nicole Sach’s 28 day challenge. Use her programs if you’d prefer. You have to go deep with this and really let the inner child go nuts on the page (so it doesn’t go nuts in your body). Sachs is a master at teaching this. The Curable app has some great prompts that are awesome too. The app also has an expert interview on expressive writing, and it is very insightful. Here is that interview with researcher, John Evans. And here is a “How to Jornal Speak” from Nicole Sachs and her team. I do it a little differently than Nicole which I will eventually add below.
- 5. Emotions: It’s weird that you have to think about emotions while changing your neural pathways, but emotions are HOW our brain makes the good and bad pathways in the first place, so you have to use emotions in order to change your brain (emotional intelligence education, I hope, is the way of the future… it will change the world one person at a time!). Like somatic tracking and meditating, you need to practice feeling your pain objectively and then ask yourself: “What emotion is hidden there.” Try not to think of the pain as pain, but as emotions. As you are walking around in your day and you feel it, think about what emotion it is that you are feeling. Journaling, meditation and somatic tracking will help you become really efficient at this. When my daughter is yelling demands at me, I start to feel my blood getting hotter, and I think about how my inner child is getting upset. I don’t let the inner child have control, but I recognize and acknowledge my physical manifestations as simply emotions. It helps to not let that “heat/anger” flare into a migraine by acknowledging the emotion.
- 6. Meditation: This is hard. Trying to make your parasympathetic nervous system stronger (the rest and restore part of your brain), all while your autonomic nervous system is going nuts, is fruitless. BUT, this is very good for when you have started to calm your brain over a few days and weeks, and really work on calling in your body's own pharmacy (weird way of putting that, but it works). HeadSpace Guide to Meditation is a great place to start. It is a show on Netflix. Love it! They also have an app, and I heard, a 30 day guided meditation for pain. The Headspace show will totally work with your TMS work, as it is all about noticing your body and how it’s feeling in order to process your uncovered emotions that are wreaking havoc in your body.
- 7. Physical Activity: You have to start being active again after you have ruled out other issues and ruled in TMS. This actually helps with your somatic tracking work and rewiring the brain to focus on healing and safety in that part of your body that you have babied for so long. This is a part of the rewiring process. Dani Fagan’s program, list above is great for this.
- Important Points:  People who use this mind body approach are not against Western medicine and doctors. I have had my gallbladder removed, a weird liver issue when I was pregnant, surgery on broken bones, I take antibiotics, I get vaccinated, I’ve had two C-sections, and I am soooo grateful for Western medicine and doctors for all of these issues. However, when pain is chronic and there is no reason, this works for me.  The pain/symptoms do move and change, it’s called “symptom imperative.” That is a good thing, your brain is just trying to create a new pathway. It will go away, just don’t stop your work.  Also, at some point your physical feelings will switch to feelings of anxiety and/or depression as it’s on it’s way out of your body, at least it was the case for me, and others I’ve watched heal. This can be a hard point, but it’s temporary. It’s just like the pain, it moves, just be good to yourself during that time, and try not to let it scare you. Make sure you talk to someone about this, and stay safe.  This program is NOT about merely positive thinking.  The pain is real, it is not “in your head,” but it is stemming from another place in your body than you think… your brain… and you can change it. Listen to the podcast, Tell Me About Your Pain to understand how this works.  Just because you have structural abnormalities, does not mean you need to be in pain. Sarno called these “normal abnormalities.” Here is a literature review on the subject from The National Library of Medicine. Many people who have structural abnormalities feel no pain at all, doctors are finding, more and more, there is no correlation between structural abnormalities and pain. Lots of information about this on the Curable app and related podcasts.
- Healing Time Frame: The timeline is different for everyone. For my headaches it took some time. Within three weeks I really started to feel hopeful. That year my pain would go in and out. If I look back on my journal at that time, it’s a lot of begging, and uncertainty, that Dr. Sarno’s strategy would or would not work (I’m glad I kept these journals, and eventually want to do something to show nubies what I went through and the doubt I experienced in the beginning). After about three years I thought to myself, “Wow, I honestly, cannot remember the last time I had a headache, or even this tiniest of ache.” I know three years sounds like a long time, but like I said, it improved within three weeks of reading and believing Sarno, and it was a gradual uphill (or I guess downhill?) healing process with some tears and joys along the way. 11 years ago there were not as many resources. I remember lying in the bath with a migraine reading Dr. Sarno’s book reviews on Amazon in order to find some kind of community, and hope that it would work for me. I hope this healing timeline brings some solace to slow healers, and a realistic timeline for becoming pain free.
- So goodnight to Insomnia- Cognitive Based Therapy, and goes well with this TMS work. Really helped with my insomnia post Covid, as well as the TMS work and resources above.
- The Highly Sensitive Person- Amazing researcher! Like Sarno…Dr. Aron noticed that some people are wired differently, and very sensitive to stimulus. Neurologically highly sensitive people are a thing! Thank you Dr. Aron! Wonderful wonderful book and author. Listen to it on audio. Dr. Elaine Aron, the author, reads it outloud. Love her and wish she was my grandma! A serious, serious, serious, recommendation here. Life changing. Here is a documentary on Aron’s work, it’s a little cheesy, but it explains Aron’s research. She is truly a genius! Like Sarno.
- The Perfectionist Predicament by M. Elliot. One of my big issues with pain was perfectionism. This is a great book to give you helpful tips on being okay with mediocrity sometimes. It helps you to focus on progress not perfection. And it also gives great tips for conquering “all or nothing thinking” (examples, setting timers to finish tasks, etc.).
- Healing the Shame that Binds You by John Bradshaw. The source of my perfectionism was shame, and of course, was the source of my physical pain. This book helped. Also, Brene Brown has books, and a great TedTalk, in this subject. However, you will need to do this with your somatic tracking practices, and other TMS work, because there is no pain work in her work.
- Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts- I had a really difficult first birth and because of some PTSD issues I had a lot of scary thoughts going into my second pregnancy. This book was dynamite in helping get rid of those thoughts. The reviews speak for themselves. It pairs well with your TMS work. Probably only needed for people with a little underlining OCD who are doing TMS work also. Might be better after you start your TMS work or in conjunction with it.
- Un F*ck Your Brain Podcast: Kara Loewentheil does the same kind of brain work and neural pathway rewiring, but not with pain, more with perfectionism, relationships, careers, dating, body image, etc. When you are no longer suffering from chronic pain, you might like to continue this kind of brain work in other areas of your life. This is a great podcast for that. Particularly created for women. It’s been lovely for me to listen to in order to continue the self evolution process.
- Staring into the Sun: Overcoming the Fear of Death- I’ve noticed that a lot of people in the Facebook groups start experiencing pain after the death of someone close to them. I became terrified of death after a traumatic first birth, and most likely the overall stress of becoming a mother. Going into my second birth, I saw a counselor about this fear. He suggested this book, and since then, have come to realize just how wonderful of a person Irvin Yalom is, the author. A veteran therapist, and a great writer! This book won’t heal your chronic pain/condition directly, the steps listed above will, but it won’t hurt to dive into repressed fears of death, which all human beings have deep down, according to Yalom… and me! Bonus: the movie Soul would be a lovely movie to watch in tandem with this reading, a lot of Yalom’s existential philosophies about death (and how to live life!), are in that film. I slightly wonder if the writing team actually read Yalom’s work, or worked with him, in order to make this amazing children’s flick with such big ideas and heavy concepts.
After a number of years of doing this work now, I have come to some conclusions (and if you are still just trying to simply believe this TMS method as truth, my conclusions here might not be for you right now, you kind of need to believe it before you understand this):
- If people can overcome this, they will be in a better place than they have ever been and, dare I say, even be grateful for this paradigm shifting experience and their new outlook on life.
- Once you heal from this, you will be forever changed, and the super difficult thing about it is that no one will ever believe you. It’s like you took the red pill Morpheus, from the movie the Matrix, handed you. Welcome to the Matrix my friends! Not all pain is physical! Lol, people are going to look at you like you are a crazy person. It sucks… but it sucks less than the pain. :)
- The people who suffer from unexplainable chronic pain are some of the best people there are on this planet. Sarno called these people “goodests”--Type-A personalities, who strive to be the best community members they can be, unfortunately, at the sake of their own bodies. Here’s the deal, if you can get through this, you can be one of the most successful people, leaders and community members out there. We, sensitive types, will change the world for the better. We need to. The world needs neurologically sensitive people like us. We can’t let our sensitivity get the better of us. It's our greatest SUPER POWER. Here are the books that have led me to this conclusion. I will explain….
- In the book The Highly Sensitive Person, Dr. Elaine Aron explains her discovery of the neurologically highly sensitive person. In the beginning of the book she talks about a study with preschoolers. Highly sensitive kiddos, with not much home support or adult care, got sick the most. BUT, highly sensitive kiddos with a solid and safe home life, were sick the least! There IS another side to the sensitive coin. I would put a page number here, but I listened to this one on audio. I wrote this above, but here it is again nonetheless: Here is a documentary on Aron’s work, it’s a little silly, but it explains Aron’s research. She is truly a genius!
- In the book Confidence Code, the authors talk about a study that was done with monkeys. The sensitive baby monkeys, with no mother figure to love them, died earlier of illnesses such as heart disease, etc. and were often quiet and sad little guys. BUT the sensitive monkeys with a positive mother figure to give them love and support, ended up being highly sought after community members, and respected leaders of the group (pgs. 74-77). The thing the sensitive sad little monkeys couldn’t do is this TMS brain work, so don’t make that example above scare you. The section in the book is literally called, “Strength through Sensitivity.” I like this quote, “Sumomi had uncovered what a few other researchers are starting to understand. Some genes make monkeys, and humans, not more vulnerable to the environment, but more sensitive to the environment. There’s a big difference. Suomi has come to see the monkeys with the anxious gene as sponges, absorbing the worst, but also the best, of what they experience” (pg. 75).
- In this section, the authors mention the Orchid Theory which I have also read about in a fabulous book called The Social Animal by David Brooks. If you are interested in genetically predisposed sensitives, check these out. The theory, and Mr. Brooks, also came to the same conclusion: genetically predisposed people sensitive to neurological stimulus have the ability to be a dynamic contributor to their community, if they are emotionally supported and emotionally cared for.
- In the book Brain Rules for Babies, by John Medina, talks about a poignant study done with “baby number 19”. Because of the research with this baby, researchers have come to believe that highly sensitive babies (sometimes difficult for their parents to handle--my highly sensitive daughter can’t stand the feel of many types of fabrics, ugh, so hard to buy her clothes) actually become extremely “easy” adolescents. They are so highly sensitive that they catch a lot of things: they turn in their homework, they play all the sports, they try to do everything just right (pgs. 181-183). These babies, born highly sensitive, are our future perfectionists, and likely pain sufferers too. I like this quote from the selection, “And if your infant is highly reactive? She might seem hard to parent, but there’s a silver lining. As these highly reactive children navigate through school, Kagan noticed, most were academically successful, even if they were a bucket of nerves” (182).
- Social emotional skills, and brain education, should be one of the most important skills we teach children in the education system (of course, in age appropriate ways). It drastically changed the way I teach (I’m a high school history teacher). Humans are just walking emotions, influencing other people’s walking emotions. Most actions we make are emotional and unconscious in nature. If we heal our unconscious mind, we can heal our world.
- Video: I’m nervous about attaching this video because I know very little about Bruce Lipton, but I like this video. It’s a little dramatic in it’s visuals, but for some reason it helped me during my Covid experience. Super sorry if this is not an expert I should be attaching here. In some cursory research it looks as though Mr. Lipton is an epigenetics scientist, and I think epigenetics is FASCINATING! Epigenetics is, in an example-nutshell, like giving a mama pregnant rat cheese, and electrically shocking her every time she ate the cheese, scientists are finding then, that her unborn babies somehow also know not to eat that cheese, that it is dangerous. Like, literally, if we heal our unconscious selves we can heal, genetically, the next generation!
- I love this quote so much after my TMS experience: “This is an inscription on the tomb of an Anglican Bishop in Westminster Abbey in 1100 CE: When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser I discovered the world would not change – So I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country, but it too seemed immovable. As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it. And now I realize as I lie on my deathbed, if I had only changed myself first, then by example I might have changed my family. From their inspiration and encouragement I would then have been able to better my country, And who knows, I might have even changed the world.”
- And also: "Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself." - Rumi
- I sometimes wonder if this TMS work is micro, as well as it is macro (I’m a social studies teacher so I can’t help but think about our world systems and institutions). Do our individual brains act a lot like the larger organic systems of our world? Highly developed interconnected systems that are “inflamed” or “healed” with anger/fear or hope/love. For example, if there is a social problem in the world (like an inflamed area of the brain) such as Apartheid in South Africa, then, do we need a community healing program like Desmond Tutu's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (used in South Africa at the end of Apartheid), in order for the community to go back through that trauma in order to heal the “inflamed” area? Like, is our world just a giant functioning “brain” and the same TMS principals apply at a macro (societal) level, as they do at a micro (individual) level… or maybe they are one in the same (Anglican Bishop quote above). If that is that case, then, lol, “all we need is love” for each other and ourselves… what a cliche truth!
- I’m not a betting person, but if I was, I would put all my money down on neural plasticity science. I predict 20-30 years from now it will be mainstream (God, I sure hope so!).
I more than 110% believe in this paradigm of knowing how my emotions and body work together. I’m good at these techniques since I have been practicing them for over a decade. And I can control pain relatively quickly when I feel an inkling of it manifesting. NOW, I want to teach my kids and students these techniques (in age appropriate ways of course).
- Feelings and Coping Map:
This funny dinnertime activity has paid for itself in spades! We use it every now and then, but the habits of mind our family has cultivated is so useful that I’ve been meaning to recommend this little ditty. My husband and I have even created a number of our own “I Can'' cards. LOL… I’ve added journaling and somatic tracking to the pile. One day, my daughter and I had a bad day at the same time (something about her stuffy and for me, I can't remember) and we chose to the the dance card and drawing card, and it was so cool to see how much that affected our second emotion card (step #3). This is a really logical tool to teach something non-logical, and helps my kiddos talk about our bodies’ emotional sensations (e.g. “embarrassed is in the stomach”, “anger is in the head” or whatever the case may be for them). And also creating personal coping mechanisms to get at the heart of the bodily sensations. I bought this Time In Toolkit, but am only using the items you see here, and of course creating my own version with it. Two books I recommend for teaching kids about this are Hey Warrior and Hey Awesome: A book for Kids about Anxiety, Courage, and Being Already Awesome.
- Journal Mind Map: To write soon...