Everything Strange Is Not Pathology

A few years ago, I joined a discussion group that shared information that pertained to reality beyond what one could pick up with the five senses. People brought in information from science, religion and personal experience, so one week I shared my experience with spontaneous movements often referred to as “unwinding”. (See “unwinding” blog post for a description).

When I finished speaking, a woman frowned at me and said, “A few years ago, whenever I saw pizza it smelled like popcorn. I went to the doctor and found out I had a brain tumor.”
“Are you suggesting I get an MRI?” I asked.

I understood this woman’s viewpoint, because before my illness I would have written off many of my experiences as an alteration in the brain due to the chronic pain, depression, or the side effect of some medication. I still don’t have concrete explanations for these happenings. But for me they are real and related to my personal healing, and not just a sign of pathology.

After one doctor heard about some of my experiences, she commented that it was important to first rule out that the changes weren’t happening because of some disease process, and then you could entertain that it was related to something more.

Over the years, these happenings gradually shifted my perspective and I began to accept them as real, meaningful and related to my healing. I learned that everything strange is not pathology.

Painful Hierarchy

2014-03-08 13.30.36During a course for the alternative treatment, Myofascial Release, the instructor described how unexpressed emotional trauma can sometimes show up as symptoms in the body. When the topic was opened for discussion, I shared with the group how my repressed sexual abuse was related to chronic pelvic pain.

During the break, a fellow participant approached me and said, “I feel so sorry for you. You have had to deal with horrific pain in your life. It’s not like so many of the people around here who are upset or crying about the stupidest things.”

When I thought about this comment, I realized that putting information in a hierarchy and judging the relative importance of things is a great tool of the analytical mind. But this capability, which helps us focus and survive, can also be used to discount our pain or the pain of others.

I have to admit that on occasion, I have felt impatient with people who were struggling with emotional or physical pain, and even a bit superior. I have also compared my level of suffering to other people’s pain and deemed that mine was less intense and therefore not really valid.

But pain is pain, and for the person who is hurting it is always real. When we switch from hierarchy to equality and from judgment to compassion, we help ourselves and each other feel safe enough to feel and express our pain. And this is the way to healing.

Spreading the Word

I am grateful today for the International Association of Health Care Educators who just requested more copies of the book. This group has sold eighty copies of the book so far at their seminars. Because of their efforts, the book has made it into the hands of many caring professionals who work with people in pain. 🙂

The Way Out

IMG_0156It is a common notion that if you pay attention to your emotional pain you might get stuck in that uncomfortable place. For this reason, people are often afraid to really look at and feel what they are carrying inside.

So here’s a little clarification.

While it is true that ruminating can increase suffering, this is very different than looking at the emotional issues that may be living partners with physical pain. This process is not wallowing in the pain, wearing it like a badge of honor, or using it to get needs met. It is honestly looking inside and feeling what hurts you are carrying, and seeing how this affects your body and the patterns in your thinking and life.

Acknowledging pain in this way can actually help you get “unstuck”. And sometimes the only way out is through.


DSCN5392It all began eighteen months into my illness during an acupuncture session. After lying there for about fifteen minutes, I felt tingling in my left foot, which then progressed up my left leg. Slowly and spontaneously, my chin started to tuck and my neck elongated. It felt like my head was being gently pulled away from my body. I wasn’t moving this way consciously; it was just happening to me. I could stop the movement at any time, but if I relaxed, it continued. It is an understatement to say that this was a really strange experience, but I wasn’t afraid and didn’t resist. The movement felt just like the cervical traction I had undergone to alleviate the pain of previous neck injuries, and that familiarity was comforting to me. It was also easier for me to accept because it was happening in response to acupuncture, and I knew that this type of treatment had been healing for me in the past.

A few days later, I woke up one morning and my neck began moving just like it had during the acupuncture session. Then, every day for a full month, right when I woke up or right before I fell asleep, my body would spontaneously move with new movements being added to the repertoire. The pattern of muscle activation and the timing were always different. Sometimes, there would be long-held postures; other times, slow or fast oscillations would occur. At first, the movements happened only when I was relaxed in bed. But after a while, my entire body would move spontaneously whenever I allowed it and in any position, even standing.

When I showed the movements to my doctors, they said they had never seen motions like that before. They told me it was obvious the movements were not in my conscious control, but they didn’t think they were pathological. The movements seemed to be related to healing because my overall discomfort lessened as soon as these movements began.The movements seemed to calm my nervous system and release the tension in the muscles and tissues of my body. On several occasions, my body went into its spontaneous movement while my physical therapist was working on a stiff/inflexible area of my body, and the area she was working on completely softened and felt like normal tissue.

Both of my doctors hypothesized that these movements might be a way my body was releasing tension and trying to heal itself. The movements seemed to be related to moving or releasing energy, because once the movement stopped, I would feel light tingling throughout my body, similar to how I felt during other energy work, like acupuncture and Reiki.

Later, when I took courses for the complementary treatments, CranioSacral Therapy and Myofascial Release, I witnessing many people moving in a similar way and found out that these types of movements are sometimes referred to as “unwinding”. I have also met other people who experienced these movements without having prior knowledge of them. Just like me, their movements were not directly linked to belief, group dynamics or the power of suggestion.

This was one of the most surprising experiences on my journey to health, and it helped me appreciate the natural, self-healing potential of the body. I also learned that not everything  weird is pathology!