Four years ago, I was diagnosed with Inflammatory Arthritis. The doctor put me on methotrexate for a short time before I went back to working with my naturopath and looking for other alternatives.
I have nothing against medical doctors, and this should in no way be construed as medical advice, but even he agreed that they tend to be better at working with acute conditions.
For long-term, chronic pain, “See your naturopath,” he told me.
She’s a lovely woman who doesn’t mind me doing my own research. As I was doing that, I stumbled across the work of Dr. John Sarno, who spent much of his career treating patients with back pain.
His theory was that chronic pain originates not in the body, but in the brain. And that by working with a patient to change how they thought about the pain and about themselves, he could relieve their pain without surgery or drugs.
While his colleagues dismissed his theories, many of his patients left their pain behind.
Sarno believed that there were certain personality traits associated with chronic pain, including what he called “goodism” which he described as being someone with a compulsion to please or be a good person, even if it means self-sacrifice.
I describe it now by saying that the average person will make a donation to charity and feel good about themselves for doing it.
A goodist, on the other hand, will donate as much as they possibly can and then feel bad it couldn’t be more and “end up sitting on the board for the next three years to make up for their lack of cash,” a friend of mine muttered as I was describing the theory to her.
She has arthritis in her knees.
It was a new term to me, but it pretty much sums up my life.
Before I got sick, I was volunteering as a Reiki practitioner in a cancer support centre, often coming in early for my shift so that I could squeeze in an extra client, who would otherwise have had to wait.
I also volunteered backstage with our local symphony, going to the final rehearsal the night before the concert so I could hear the music and get a better idea of the flow of the evening. This wasn’t necessary and often left me tired for work the next day, a day that started with walking the dog at 5:00 AM and didn’t end until midnight.
Whenever someone asked for help, I said yes because I believed that that’s what good people do. I often felt tired. I sometimes resented the constant giving, but was afraid that if I didn’t step up, no one would love me.
And then I got sick.
I could no longer do my volunteer work. I couldn’t help anyone. For the better part of a year, I could barely manage the basics of looking after myself.
And a weird thing happened.
My husband still loved me. My friends kept in touch. The world kept ticking along without my input.
I discovered Dr. Sarno and the concept of goodism and worked on ways of leaving that unhealthy approach behind.
Cue months of therapy.
I knew I was making progress when I didn’t return an overdue library book, even though three other people were on the wait list.
In the past, I would have had that thing back to the library on time and unfinished. But it was a really good book and I needed an extra day. And it was, after all, just a book. I kept it the extra day, finished reading it and cheerfully paid my fine.
It might sound like nothing to you, but to a recovering goodist like me, it was revolutionary!
I’ve been working on my mental state for nearly a year now.
In this time I’ve also discovered Curable, which expands on Dr. Sarno’s work with the latest findings in chronic pain management. It’s a wonderful tool that has helped me a lot. I’m not associated with them outside of being a client and this is not a sales pitch.
My pain is not cured and might never entirely go away, but my life is so much better than it was. I feel like I’m getting better and better with each passing week.
And it makes me wonder.
If I had known about the link between goodism and chronic pain, if I had been able somehow to convince myself that being that conscientiously good all the time was going to lead to the excruciating levels of pain that come with Inflammatory Arthritis, might I have been able to avoid it?
Would changing my thinking before the pain hit have spared me this adventure?
I can’t know for sure.
And I do know that because of the autoimmune conditions that run through my family, I was genetically predisposed to this. But it’s an interesting thought.
I’m encouraging my nieces, good people one and all, to give Curable a try, even though they have no pain symptoms. They seem open and I hope they give it a go.
Because living pain-free is a really good way to live.