What Is Stress-Induced Illness? How Trauma Can Cause Physical Pain

“Wisdom is merely the movement from fighting life to embracing it.” ~Rasheed Ogunlaru

Three years ago, I fell into the blind spot of medicine: America’s unknown epidemic.

Modern medicine was unable to find any serious problems with me after numerous scans and scopes. My gallbladder was also removed. My first and only surgery at age forty, an “experiment” of sorts.

Six months later, I was living the most horrible nightmare of my entire life. My rapidly declining health had begun to affect my physical, mental, and emotional well-being. I didn’t want to live anymore, but I was too chicken to take my own life.

They can’t see the forest for the trees

A single doctor could have listened to more of my history and probed further. This would have made the diagnosis clearer and helped me plan the best treatment. Here’s the problem: My doctors were only focused on my presenting symptoms and not on my whole being.

Instead, thoughts of the following conditions (in this exact order) became my daily companions: colon cancer, GERD, IBD, IBS, pancreatic cancer, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, gluten sensitivity, celiac disease, Meniere’s disease, interstitial cystitis, chronic pelvic pain, pelvic floor dysfunction, motor neuron disease, multiple sclerosis, bladder cancer, thoracic outlet syndrome, pudendal neuralgia, peripheral vascular disease, bile reflux, and a few other conditions I’ve surely forgotten. My life was an uncontrollable, hot mess.

The constant pain in my bladder was one of the 26 symptoms that I had. It was also the hardest to manage. You can’t imagine a UTI going away. You can’t get rid of it.

My pain drove me over the edge and I felt like I wanted to die. One time, I even told my doctor I was willing to give him all of my 401k savings in the event that he can make the pain disappear.

It’s Time to Surrender and Trust the Process

After nearly two years of fighting this disease, I gave in to my pain and sought a referral from an academic medical center. In the end, I chose to live with my pain.

My quick learnings quickly revealed that physicians who specialize in pain medicine don’t seek to treat pain. They do however try their best for patients to learn ways to manage their suffering. In addition to the lessons my pain psychologist gave me, he advised me to revisit Curable. This app was something I actually had downloaded on my phone nearly a year before but that I quickly deleted. I made a stupid mistake.

To me, it didn’t make sense to address pain on an emotional or psychological level. After all, I had a structural problem, not a brain problem—or so I thought.

My second time trying Curable, I was pleasantly surprised to discover Howard Schubiner MD as well as one of his coworkers, Alan Gordon LCSW. These psychotherapists specialize in treating chronic pain with pain reprocessing therapies (PRT).

Dr. Schubiner, the director and founder of Mind Body Medicine Program at Providence Hospital Southfield in Michigan is also the founder. He uses the latest research methods to help individuals suffering from tension myositis (TMS) or mind body syndrome (MBS). This program was described by Dr. John Sarno.

What exactly is mind body syndrome? I’m going to answer this in a second, but first I need to take this story back to my childhood. Here is the exciting and surprising part of this story.

Negative Childhood Experiences: The haunting effects of bad childhood experiences

As I started to dig deeper, I was introduced to the landmark 1998 ACE study that, as its abbreviation indicates, explored “adverse childhood experiences.”

The ACE research concluded that the more adversities a person experienced as a child—whether it be a parental death or incarceration, poverty, neighborhood violence, or abuse—the more likely that person would be to suffer from serious physiological disorders as an adult. Six childhood challenges were faced by me: substance abuse, violence, poverty, neglect and the incarceration or divorce of my parents. All of these occurred before I was ten.

A meta-analysis that I recently discovered showed that those with a history or type of psychological trauma are almost three times more likely than others to experience chronic pain.

Bingo! You can call me Sherlock Holmes.

Translation: As a child, I was threatened repeatedly—not physically, but emotionally—causing my body to have a stress response. My body was ready to flee or fight. My body was in this stressed response mode for a long time. This likely caused me to become hypersensitive to stress events.

In other words, my alarm switch is always “on,” unless I can lower the perceived danger in my brain. My spiraling health began with my divorce.

A Day in the Life of the SWAT team Visiting My Home

One example of how inept society was about emotional trauma management in the 1990s is the SWAT team jumping my yard fence. They pointed their submachine guns towards me as I was feeding Smokey. My dad, who was a drug dealer, was their target. But he wasn’t there.

After a night of partying, he had not returned home. At the moment, I was the sole person at home. I was a scared, shitless ten year-old boy. It was a fun reality television show. CopsIt was surreal, however.

Here’s the fun part. This is the crazy part. The SWAT team left my backyard and instructed me to go school as though nothing had occurred. I have never spoken to anyone about the frightening incident.

I grew up thinking it was normal to not talk about emotions—or scary things like being stuck in the middle of a drug raid, alone and helpless. That was how I grew up.

Mind Body Syndrome: Anyone?

Psychophysiologic disorder, also known as Mind Body Syndrome (PPD), refers to a condition that occurs when nerve pathways are continuously activated or intermittently stimulated by stressors from the past or present.

Psychophysiologic Disorders Association says that symptoms like PPD result from altered nerve pathways in your brain. PPD symptoms can be headaches, stomach pain, pain in the back, neck, or chest, as well as pain during or after urination.

To illustrate how inept today’s doctor is at diagnosing a psychophysiological disorder, I only need to point to my first-ever encounter with a board-certified gastroenterologist in March 2019. Gastroenterologists can diagnose and treat issues in the gastrointestinal system (GI) and liver.

Basically, they get paid handsomely to look up people’s butts and take pictures all day long. This sounds quite mundane, and it’s not very creative. The best news you can receive after getting one of their colonoscopies is that you really didn’t need the procedure after all.

Emotional Tone Decafness

My bowel problems had started (the first sign of many), so I anxiously waited to see the nearest GI doctor. On the exam table I told the doctor that I was currently in the middle a terrible divorce, and I had been living in severe emotional pain for the past ten year.

The doctor’s response? Nothing. Zip. Nada. The room could have been filled with pins. The dimwit doctor ignored my unfortunate situation and continued his exam. He acted as if what I shared was the most pleasant, boring, or benign thing he’d ever seen in his entire life. I consider this a crime against humanity.

Information flash: According to The Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale, divorce is second on the list of stressors for people after the death or separation of their spouses.

You can search high and low.

In my secret, I wanted my doctor to confirm my emotional traumas and scars as the reason for my bowel issues. But his silence only strengthened the belief in my brain that something was wrong structurally. And so that’s the path I went down for nearly three years, trying to find something structural to explain one unexplainable symptom after another.

If I claim that I have turned over all the stones, it is true.

My bladder pain was so severe that I tried to do internal pelvic floors therapy. That’s right. Through my anal canal, my physical therapist and myself mapped every inch of my pelvic floor. A funky wand device was also provided as homework.

Keep in mind, I was willing and able to do almost everything because of my desperate nature. The butt gas is the exception. It’s basically ozone therapy gas that is administered into the body. My case was that I would have given it through my butt.

I can’t help but laugh when I recall the day I was first presented with this option. That was my life. Other bizarre therapies.

As a professional, my job involves solving problems. It was the same for fixing my health. I spent thousands trying to save my health and almost lost my mind.

Could this be true?

This is where one can ask whether the PPD symptoms really are real. These symptoms can be real. PPD symptoms are real. In fact, they can even be more severe than those of any other condition. PPD patients may need to be admitted for treatment.

Experts like David Clarke MD, a retired gastroenterologist and president of the Psychophysiologic Disorders Association, like to point out that one in six adults and 30–40 percent of primary care patients suffer from pain symptoms and chronic conditions that are “medically unexplained.” This is America’s unknown epidemic.

Wait! There’s a silver lining to all of this sad news. There are many treatments that can be used to relieve symptoms of PPD once it is diagnosed. Dr. Schubiner likes to ask: “Why manage your pain when you can cure it?”

The best treatment around

How effective is mind-body syndrome treatment? His colleagues and Dr. Schubiner wrote a recent article demonstrating the superiority of emotion-focused therapy over cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in dramatic pain reduction for patients with fibromyalgia. The majority of those who were affected by childhood trauma experienced fibromyalgia.

Dr. Schubiner and Alan Gordon also helped lead the recent study at the University of Colorado–Boulder that showed that not only can chronic back pain be managed, it can be cured using a mind body approach. The study involved 151 participants. 66 percent of those who were randomized to receive PRT experienced pain relief or near pain-free at the end.

This realization sparked me to take on my psychological and emotional pain. Along with somatic tracking, expressive writing, mindfulness, and reprogramming the brain, my favorite treatment activity has been intensive short-term dynamic psychotherapy (outlined in Dr. Schubiner’s book, Learn to Get Rid of Your PainThis is where deep-buried feelings of anger, resentment and guilt are exposed and let go. Stabilizing these emotions can often lead to rapid healing.

During this process of intensive short-term dynamic psychotherapy (ISTDP), I have taken several of my most incompetent doctors, and even my dad, behind the proverbial woodshed, and I have given them the worst tongue lashing they’ve surely ever received in their lives. Cursing should be encouraged and recommended.

While I couldn’t literally slash the tires of the doctor who appeared earlier in this story, this was the next best thing. It felt great.

Perhaps you are wondering about my father’s fate. My dad turned his life around and is now a man I can be grateful for.

Today, while my pain is not completely gone yet, it’s generally at about a two or three instead of a six or seven. This is what I’m willing to do any day.

Jeremiah Kalb

Jeremiah has been diagnosed with psychophysiologic disorder and is very passionate about spreading awareness. To learn more about PPD, visit or urge your doctor to go to ppdassociation.org.

Participate in the discussion! You can click here to comment.

This is the post Stress-Induced Illness: What Are You? Tiny Buddha: Trauma can Cause Physical Pain

Related Posts