Rita’s Blog

“The More You Know”!

“Scientia potentia est”, the Latin aphorism meaning “knowledge is power” is the basis for transformation and freedom from suffering. In order to learn the “how” of eliminating the horrid symptoms of CRPS, one must first learn the “why”. In order to understand the root cause of this “condition”, it’s essential to understand the operative system…in other words…how the mind and body interact. Although the field of neuroscience has made tremendous strides in the past 20 years, these amazing findings have not yet filtered down to the field of medicine.

After my own odyssey in the medical mill, desperately searching for answers, I often wondered why this knowledge is not more mainstream. How much suffering could be alleviated if it was? After ping ponging helplessly to numerous specialists for 6 months, I was finally given the diagnosis of CRPS. The irony is that the diagnosis did not serve me one whit. If anything it confirmed my worst fears…that I was damaged and “broken” beyond repair, doomed to a life of existing in pain and debilitation. At the time, I was terrified and really believed my life was over. Fortunately however, I had information on the brain and chronic pain. I endeavored to delve deeper and find out if it applied to CRPS as well. !With the knowledge I gleaned from books such as “The Mind Body Prescription” and “Unlearn Your Pain”, I decided I could apply it to CRPS. This was confirmed to me by Dr. Schubiner, who reassured me that CRPS was still brain induced pain …that is faulty signals stemming from the brain and altering my physiology.

At that point I knew it was a reversible situation and I was not going to allow a label or the medical industry to discourage me. After all, I knew too much! !The emerging field of PsychoPhysiologic disorders (which includes an array of labels (such as: CRPS, Fibromyalgia , Interstitial Cystitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, RSI , Trigeminal Neuralgia, Tension Headaches, back pain, neck pain and foot pain) is producing study after study demonstrating the role of the brain and neural circuits.

90% of chronic pain is NOT caused by structural issues (infections, tumors etc.) but by neuro pathways in the brain that send pain signals and maintain the fear-pain-fear loop in the brain and body in a state of chronicity. Let’s start with understanding the nature of pain: All pain is real and it’s a subjective experience. The brain is what creates all sensations. All experiences are derived from learned circuits (vision, hearing, taste, how we talk, walk, ride a bike, respond to different people or activities like snakes or heights etc.). Basically, we feel what we EXPECT and the term for this is “Predictive Coding”. Pain is a decision made by the brain to protect us from danger (whether it’s real or imagined). Depending on the situation, our brain will decide if it should alert us. When our fearful thoughts about symptoms become ingrained and habitual, the danger/alarm mechanism becomes sensitized over time. I realized that the CRPS label simply meant that my brain had become extremely opinionated!!

One of the huge deficits in medicine, is the lack of knowledge between “Dynamic Pain” vs. “Static Pain”. Physicians and the costly world of alternative practitioners are trained in static pain and that is why treatments fail the patient. CRPS is a great and dramatic example of dynamic pain (or neural circuit pain) that can be turned on or off, that waxes and wanes, shifts locations, changes in intensity, morphing symptoms, and it often “spreads”. It is not the same thing as static pain like a broken leg or metastatic cancer. This is actually great news! Dynamic pain is common and reversible. We can retrain our brain out of these learned pathways and habits, by using our conscious mind.

When you have an accurate diagnosis, you employ an accurate treatment. Rather than having to “cope”, the mind body approach “cures”. !This leads me to the difference between acute pain and chronic pain. Acute pain is mediated by an entirely different area of the brain than chronic pain. Chronic pain is actually driven by the area involved with emotions and memory. When we treat pain as a symptom of somatized anxiety, we can then place it in the construct of thought. Stay with me here!! When we are embarrassed, we blush. When we are frightened our heart races and our pulse quickens. When we are aroused, sexual organs react. When we are sad, we shed tears from the eyeballs.

CRPS is no different it’s just on steroids so to speak. When we look at cases of “phantom limb syndrome”, we see how dramatically the brain creates sensations. People have reported feeling their watch on an amputated arm. Why? Because that is what their brain was used to and now EXPECTS!

When we can understand how the brain operates, we understand the cause. When we know the cause, we can implement change. Stay tuned…more blogs to come! In the meantime start reading those books and getting empowered!

“Danger, Danger, Will Robinson!!”

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” This quote by Viktor Frankl is one of my favorites and describes the journey you have chosen to embark on. In order to do the necessary work in your road to recovery, it’s essential to understand the “operating system” of the brain and body.

The character of “The Robot” in the 1960’s tv series “Lost in Space” illustrates the alarm function in our brain that alerts us to danger. On the tv show, a family find themselves struggling to survive in outer space after their space ship gets sabotaged and highjacked by the evil agent Mr. Smith. The Robot is ever aware of threat to the Robinson family and frequently exclaims “danger, danger!” to Will.

Having CRPS is exactly like having the robot as your brain’s default setting. We all have an alarm function that is activated when the brain senses danger. It’s the evolutionary survival mechanism meant to keep us alive. When the alarm center is triggered, the brain goes into fight or flight within milliseconds, sending signals throughout the body (heart rate, breathing, adrenaline, muscle tension, vision etc.). In the case of chronic pain syndromes, and most dramatically in the case of CRPS, the alarm function and danger signal becomes sensitized and reinforced over time.

Often this leads to the freeze response and a feeling of helplessness that also becomes chronic. When signals are continuously transmitted from the brain to the body, symptoms ensue. So how do we turn this spaceship around? The first step will require a suspension of belief on your part. This is critical because once you accept the diagnosis that CRPS is simply mind body pain (learned pain), you believe that it’s reversible. In order to be successful in reversing the brain’s strategy, the reduction of fear is critical. Without belief in the diagnosis, it is impossible to reduce fear. So are you ready? Read on in the next blog! Stay tuned….

Your Brain is a Smoke Detector

If my smoke detector could differentiate between fire, carbon monoxide and burnt toast, I would never have to worry!  Unfortunately I seem to have a talent for burning things in the kitchen! Our brains are no different.  The brain cannot discern what is a real threat or danger, from a perceived one.  When we experience pain sensations and altered physiology (swelling, redness, temperature changes etc.), they are actually the burnt toast in the story of how our brain responds to messages of danger.  What is the messaging you are giving to your brain on a daily basis? On a minute to minute basis?  What messages have you received from the medical or alternative industries? If you have the label of CRPS, then it’s guaranteed they were all communicating danger, doubt, fear, and hopelessness.

Ask yourself if you have engaged in these thought habits or behaviors:

1.) Panicking when symptoms arise or worsen.

2.) Researching online about it’s “incurability”.

3.) Reading in toxic “support group” forums filled with horror stories and doom and gloom.

4.) Believing the dire prognosis given to you by medical “experts”.

5.) Chasing “treatments” or “therapies”.

6.) Generating chronic, ruminating thoughts about how your body is “broken”, “flawed”, or “weak” in some way.

7.) Avoiding so called “triggers”….activities or movements or other innocuous stimuli that your brain has deemed dangerous and linked to your symptoms.

8.) “Guarding” areas of the body that are affected for fear that you will hurt yourself.

Do any of these ring a bell?  If so, what is the antidote? We combat the messages of danger, by replacing them with messages of safety.  Our job is to teach the primitive part of the brain (‘our stupid friend”) that is bombarding us with false alarms, that we are totally ok and safe in the present moment. Some ways of cultivating safety are:

1.) Using knowledge and logic to shine a light on this label.  It makes no sense from any medical or scientific standpoint that the body would renew a subscription to acute pain on a moment to moment basis, in the absence of any pathology or structural damage. For evidence, refer to the PPDA association’s list of peer reviewed research studies on chronic pain. The science and truth are indisputable!!

2.) Do an assessment of your symptoms.  Review if they fit the criteria for mind body syndrome (for ex.:  symptoms change location, mirror image, pain and symptoms “spread”, symptoms are triggered by harmless stimuli, pain varies, your personality profile, and any history of trauma.) Even if you have one of these that fits the criteria, that is enough to prove it’s TMS!

3.) Feel your emotions rather than resisting them.  Teach your brain that emotions are safe and normal.

4.) Calm your thinking down by catching yourself when you are catastrophizing or pessimistic.  Become aware of those thoughts and nip them in the bud.  Just because you think something does not make it true!!

5.) Respond to symptoms with curiosity and detachment, rather than terror or frustration.  They may “hurt”, but they cannot “harm”…they are as harmless as burnt toast.

6.) Practice gratitude (even if it’s just for finding this site and knowing you will get better!)

7.) Focus on your life as much as you are able to.  Even if you are totally debilitated right now, see if you can find enjoyable and relaxing things to do….even if they are small, things like organizing your sock drawer or watching stupid cat videos on YT.  This will train your brain out of danger mode.

8.) Believe that you can get better and reclaim your life.  Choose to believe you can, and you deserve it as well!

So, rather than smashing your smoke detector with a hammer after burning some toast , simply take the batteries out!!

Rita LaBarbera

I’m a 52 yr. old, happily married, mom of 2 teenage sons, living in NJ. After overcoming the diagnosis of CRPS and its debilitating symptoms, I endeavored to help others and now offer  short term, solution focused coaching sessions as a Mind Body Coach. 

My mission and commitment to others is not to “cope” with pain, but to eliminate chronic pain entirely…to help people take their power back and reclaim their lives. 

My background education is a Masters Degree from NYU in Counseling Psychology and a certificate of completion of Dr. Schubiner’s “Freedom From Chronic Pain” Practitioner Training  course.  Most significantly, my work is informed by my first hand experience of conquering CRPS through knowledge and implementing the core concepts of the maverick Dr. John Sarno.

My coaching sessions expand on Dr. Sarno’s framework to provide you with a laser focused roadmap to recovery, and a life of freedom! 

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