By Brendan Mooney, Registered Psychologist BPsySci (Hons) AmusA, Australia
On the outside, my life appeared to be going well. In my final year at a large private school in Brisbane, I was voted school captain by my peers. I was also one of the top academic students, the fastest runner, and the most talented violinist performing in front of many large crowds at various concerts. This type of success continued after school, as I completed a degree in Psychology (with Honours) at the University of Queensland. I then worked full-time for one year as a violin tutor, working privately and at various private and public schools. In total, I tutored 54 primary and secondary students each week.
In 2004, I decided to complete my psychology registration requirements and thus commenced a PhD in Clinical Psychology and Clinical Neuropsychology at the University of Queensland. I was awarded a scholarship to complete this PhD and also a University of Queensland Trailblazer award for innovative research. I had a long-term partner and was well-respected by family and friends. Life was very successful…
Although my life was successful, there was always a part of me that knew there was more to life than what I was doing. At quieter times I would consider deep questions about life and the meaning of it, but usually I was too busy to really think much about it. However, I was always one to ask questions, and as a child used to ask why? about everything (according to my beautiful father!). I completed three courses in philosophy at university, but these courses fell far short of the answers and meaning to existence that I was craving. But given that my life was already successful, I ignored the quiet voice deep inside me, and hoped that my questions about life would gradually fade away in time and not bother me any more.
It was just before I commenced my PhD that I started to experience pain in my body. I remember practising piano and I felt some weakness in my right forearm. I had never felt this before, and so I decided to take a break from practice for a week. Within this time, I started experiencing mild pain in my right forearm. For a person who had never had an injury before (as I have never broken any bones or even sprained an ankle), this was a new experience. After a few weeks I was surprised to see that this pain remained as a relatively subtle background pain. As it did not seem to be going away with rest, I arranged to attend some sessions with a local physiotherapist. In attending these sessions, I received massage and an exercise program. I adhered to this program and continued to take a break from playing piano. Given the mild nature of the pain symptoms I continued with my other responsibilities including my PhD, working as a violin tutor and performing with the Queensland Youth Symphony Orchestra. I thought with a bit of treatment, my pain would resolve just like any ‘normal’ injury. Little did I realise what was to play out in time…
Over the next three years, my arm pain gradually encompassed my entire right arm and shoulder, and worsened to such an extent that it was horrible all of the time. There was no abating of the pain, it was just chronic and awful all of the time. As a result, I lost about ten kilograms and had to stop many of the things I enjoyed doing, such as playing violin and piano and going out with my friends. I simply could not keep up with my friends any more as even going to see a movie would exacerbate my pain to excruciating levels. The pain became so bad that I ended up being on the disability pension and moved back in to live with my parents for support. My parents were a wonderful support but they felt so helpless. Here was their son who had once had everything going for him, but his life was now turned upside down, and there was nothing they could do to stop this.
Over the three year period, I sought many different treatments, but no one could explain the cause of the pain or the reason why I was not responding to treatment. Being scientifically minded, I sought treatment from a number of medical and allied health professionals. This treatment included regular visits with my GP, attending appointments at the Brisbane Multidisciplinary Pain Clinic, a neurologist, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, a nutritionist and psychologists. I tried many different pain medications to assist with the nerve and muscle pain I was experiencing, including a strong opioid medication, Endone. My diagnoses included thoracic outlet syndrome and fibromyalgia. One treatment involved a number of Botox injections over a period of months to paralyse my chronic muscle tension. However, no amount of medication, stretching, exercises or injections alleviated my pain symptoms significantly at all. Each new treatment that I tried seemed to offer some hope of being successful, however each time it would fail and I would become very frustrated and depressed that I was only able to gain minimal symptom relief for my condition. I knew that somehow the treatment I was receiving was only offering part of the picture and did not encompass the whole.
After many unsuccessful treatments, I considered that maybe all of this pain was in my head (i.e. just conjured up by me), because no one was able to offer me any valid explanation for it. To investigate this possibility, I sought treatment from a number of psychologists and counsellors, but they had no explanation either. As part of my PhD studies, I also had access to the most up-to-date scientific research on chronic pain by the world’s most respected scientific journals. At this point my life involved spending 80% of my time attending to my chronic pain through treatments and research, and 20% of my time completing my PhD. My PhD thesis was child’s play compared to the research I was undertaking on chronic pain.
I also sought treatment from other health disciplines with no results, for example osteopathy, homeopathy, and magnetic therapy. In the end I became open to trying anything that had a shred of scientific evidence or significant anecdotal evidence that it alleviated chronic pain. In some cases, treatment actually exacerbated the pain significantly.
After three years of treatment from a variety of different modalities, I was at a loss. At 25 years of age, I felt devastated by how my life had turned out. At times I felt to give up because the pain was so chronically unbearable. For example, I would brush my teeth in the morning and need to rest afterwards due to the flare up of my pain. And yet, even in this state I knew there was more to life. In other words, I always knew that a life of pain and suffering was not natural, even though my reality was so far from this being true. I remember curling up into a ball on my bed one night crying to myself because the pain was so bad, and feeling that I did not know how much longer I could keep this up. As I was lying there, I just could not imagine living the next 50 years of my life with such pain. However, in the midst of this agony I still felt deep down that somehow life was naturally harmonious, and that there is a way but I had just not found it yet. In essence, even in the dark times I knew that I could not give up on myself as there was more to life than what I was experiencing.
Around this time, I visited my brother Andrew in London. Andrew works as a well-respected physiotherapist and he gave me a few sessions. However, like all the others he too was at a loss as to what was causing my pain or how to treat it. After our sessions, as a last resort he suggested I attend an appointment with Serge Benhayon who practised esoteric healing. I did not know what this was and I had never had any experience with healing modalities in the past.
After some consideration and having tried so many other treatments, I decided to book an appointment with Serge. In my first appointment, Serge presented that the cause of my pain was due to my unresolved anger. He presented that this unresolved anger was congregating in my arm, and that this resulted in the pain symptoms I was experiencing. He mentioned that the key was for me to heal my unresolved anger. When he said this, I knew deep down that he was right, but I certainly did not admit it. Instead, I promptly stated; ‘no-one, not my partner or family members have ever mentioned in my whole life that I have anger’. After all, I had always been a very nice and polite person, and I never yelled or screamed at anyone. So in the session I did not openly agree or disagree with him, and after presenting what he felt, Serge did not try to convince me either.
Over the next few weeks following my session with Serge, I was surprised to find that my anger slowly became obvious to me. Essentially I started to notice that little things did annoy me, and had always annoyed me (even before I developed chronic pain). It did not take long for me to feel that I actually had an underlying sense of anger all the time, even though I never expressed it. These experiences confirmed my original feeling that Serge was indeed correct, and from this realisation I began to ask myself a number of logical questions. For example, how did Serge know I was angry when I never showed any signs or symptoms of the fact? And how did Serge know I was angry when he had only just met me and knew nothing about me? Given I had attended sessions with a number of psychologists and counselors, why had they never mentioned that I had anger issues? And how was it that in all my training as a psychologist and PhD study in Clinical Psychology and Clinical Neuropsychology, I had not been able to resolve my own anger? I had no answer to any of these questions, but I was interested to do some further investigating. After all, despite all of my knowledge about psychology and my experience with many heath professionals, I had been defeated by the mystery of my own chronic pain.
After attending three sessions with Serge, he referred me to Kate Greenaway for ongoing treatment. Kate is a well-respected physiotherapist who specialises in craniosacral therapy, and I found her sessions to be very gentle and supportive. My program with Kate also included stretching, exercises and regular exercise. In having sessions with Serge and Kate, I felt for the first time that I was beginning to make real progress at last.
At some point I decided to attend a one-day course presented by Universal Medicine. In this course, a number of uncomfortable topics were presented. For example, the underlying theme of the course was that life is about choice, and that we need to be responsible in our choices on a daily basis. It was presented that life is not about what you do, but about the quality you do everything in. In other words, it was presented that we do many things in emotion or reaction, instead of doing things truly gently and lovingly. Other topics covered included being honest with oneself and all others, and making consistent and daily choices to lovingly support your body.
Given the enormous amount of pain I was still experiencing, I had nothing to lose in experimenting with what was presented by Universal Medicine. After all, by this time I had withdrawn from my PhD studies completely because I could not keep up with the work required. I also ceased working altogether because I felt that I could no longer handle the workload as a violin tutor with my ongoing pain symptoms. The presentation by Universal Medicine had emphasised quality in everything that you do, and so I began to choose to do things gently throughout my day. At first I could not actually feel whether I was doing something gently or not, as it seemed to be an elusive feeling that was just outside my awareness. However, I kept persisting, and after a while I actually felt myself moving gently for the first time since I was a child. I also started to be honest with myself when I reacted to something, for example admitting when I felt angry, frustrated, stressed, or sad. When I felt these things, I gently and honestly identified what was causing the reaction, as opposed to my old pattern of reacting to the issue or ignoring it. As a result, I found that each day gradually became more resolved, and issues did not accumulate into bigger problems as they had done in the past.
Over time, I continued to make further loving lifestyle choices and became more aware of my body. For example, I began to go to bed earlier, but most importantly I consciously chose to go to bed gently and lovingly. Furthermore, in the two hours before I went to bed, I would choose activities that would help me wind down from the day, and not stimulate my nervous system. I found that when I made these choices I had a more restful sleep, resulting in more energy and less pain the next day. In developing greater body awareness, I was also able to feel when I was overdoing things and disregarding my body.
I also started to feel the impact that my diet was having on my body and my pain levels. For example, all my life I had never enjoyed the feeling that I was altered and ‘not myself’ when I drank alcohol. I could now also feel that alcohol devitalised my body and exacerbated my pain. So I decided to stop drinking alcohol altogether (even though I only ever drank socially), and this resulted in a significant reduction in my pain levels and enhancement to my general wellbeing. I felt clearer in my ability to make decisions and I was able to resolve any emotional issues much more easily. As a result of feeling the differences within myself, I have never consumed alcohol ever again. I gradually made other changes in my diet as a result of feeling the effects of certain foods on my body and pain levels.
All the way through, I continued to attend regular appointments with my GP and to consume medication for my pain when needed. At times, if my pain became particularly intense, I would use strapping for support. These treatments were very useful in managing my symptoms in conjunction with the now more responsible choices I was making on a daily basis.
As I gradually made more gentle and self-loving choices for myself, I continued to attend appointments with Kate Greenaway and courses by Universal Medicine. These appointments and courses were a great complement and support to the changes that I was making in my daily life. One day I remember saying to myself ‘I have not felt pain for the past hour’, and that this was the first time I could remember not having pain since before 2004. This experience confirmed to me that what I was now developing for myself was truly working and my body was positively responding. Eventually I stopped taking pain medication altogether because I no longer needed it.
I realised that taking responsibility for the quality of my choices on a daily basis had been the missing piece in my treatment program. In the past, I had never placed emphasis on the actual quality that I did things in. For example, in the past when I walked during the day, I was never consciously aware of the quality that I walked in – I just walked. Usually when I walked I would be thinking about other things, such as what I would be doing on the weekend. Throughout my life, I had also performed regular exercise but never had I intentionally and consciously exercised gently. Instead, I would typically exercise at the end of the day as a form of stress relief. However, I slowly became aware that the quality that we choose for ourselves on a moment-to-moment basis eventually develops the quality of life that one experiences.
After consistently choosing to be gentle and loving with myself and others, my life has changed completely. I feel as though I am true to myself again, and at ease with life rather than angry with it. My relationships with people have changed enormously and deepened as a result of the newfound honesty in them. For example, I have close relationships and regular contact with all my family members. Although some within my family have had difficulty comprehending how my life has improved so much, they have recognised the obvious benefits. As one family member stated ‘I don’t understand what you are doing, but keep it up because it is obviously working’.
I have also not experienced any pain for many years as a result of the lifestyle that I continue to live. My life is simple and enjoyable now, as opposed to the complicated mess and chaos it used to be. In reference to how I used to live, I can now see that there were many warning signs that all was not right prior to my development of chronic pain. However, given that I ignored these signs and just continued it is no wonder why things built up to such an extent.
In relation to employment, I have completed my qualifications in psychology and am currently working six days per week. I work as a private Psychologist and also for one of the largest rehabilitation providers in Australia. I also continue to tutor violin at a local primary school.
Suffice to say, the lifestyle I now live is very normal. I go to work, tend to my domestic duties, and enjoy great food and company with family and friends. However, the quality that I now do everything in has changed completely. In other words, I now make choices that allow me to feel gentleness, love and joy on a daily basis. Whilst I am still learning and sometimes make mistakes, predominantly my life is very enjoyable and deeply meaningful. In short, life is as it should be, and as it was when I was a young boy. The returning of myself to this most natural way of living has been a development akin to coming home, having strayed off the path for some time.