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Fan the flame of your inner pilot light

I borrowed this term from Lissa Rankin https://lissarankin.com/what-is-your-inner-pilot-light/ (it’s explained in more depth here).

To quote Lissa, our Inner Pilot Light begins in every baby as the untainted, radiant, buoyant light of God/Goddess but often gets filmed over by trauma, conditioning, and the illusion of separation from the Eternal Flame from which this unique spark arises.

I’m not religious, but I love this idea of us being born pure and untainted, and the understanding, for me, is that it is through trauma and conditioning that our inner pilot light (our true self) can start to fade. If we are not loved or supported as we need when we are young, then our inner pilot light can go ignored as we go through life trying to live up to the expectations and demands of other people, following the limiting self beliefs that others have conditioned us with: ‘you’re not good enough’, ‘you’re useless’, ‘you’ll fail’.

However, that Inner Pilot Light never goes out. It may flicker and fade, but it is always there.

It is through self-awareness that we begin to question the conditioned responses we have acted out for years, mostly to our detriment, and to begin to fan the flame by slowly understanding our true selves, desires and capabilities.

This belief you have of not being good enough. Where did it come from? Who told you this? Were they right? Was it true then or now? Was it possibly a reflection of their own fears? Was it simply their opinion, based on their own conditioning? You don’t have to believe it any more. It’s not true. You are good enough and you always have been.

Now is the time, especially with a third of the world’s population in isolation due to coronavirus, that we find ourselves with more time to look within, to ask ourselves ‘what do I really want to do with my life?’, ‘Where are my strengths and what is my calling?‘ and, most importantly ‘What makes me happy’ (what fans my inner pilot light).

It isn’t selfish to want to be happy or to pursue your dreams. There hasn’t been a better time for change. It’s within you and it always has been.

Corona crazy!

The world has gone mad over coronavirus! And it’s fascinating to observe the different reactions from different governments and populations. Until recently the French were accused of being too calm. Last night Macron decided to close ALL French schools for two weeks! We live in France. Our children are delighted. I’ve just heard that my son’s tennis training has been cancelled until further notice. Only 8 people attend his training. What’s next? I can’t go for a run in case I bump into someone?! This morning my running friend and I knocked elbows, instead of the usual ‘bise’ on the cheek.

In the UK, people have been advised to wash their hands to the tune of ‘Happy Birthday’. I assume this is more about time spent washing hands and won’t ruin anyone’s actual birthday. I suggested that MC Hammer’s ‘You can’t touch this’ might be more appropriate.

I’m not trying to make a joke of the virus. It is highly contagious and has caused the deaths of many elderly people. However these are elderly people, many of whom were already suffering health problems, and who would struggle to fight flu or other viruses. And as a percentage of those who contract the virus it’s small.

Preparation ― not panic ― is key when it comes to the novel coronavirus outbreak. However, this can be easier said than done, right?

It can be hard to keep calm with the barrage of news stories about COVID-19 and worries about vulnerable populations, sick leave and the health care system.

With so much uncertainty, it’s completely normal to feel concerned or even scared right now.

But experts are correct that managing your anxiety can be beneficial. One of the best ways to do that is to get some (measured) perspective about the situation.

Here is some useful information from the Huffington Post:

People do recover from COVID-19

Harvard Health reports that “most people who get sick will recover from COVID-19.”

As of publication, more than 66,000 people globally have recovered from the disease, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

Many people who contract the disease will experience ‘mild’ symptoms

Experts say cases can range from mild to severe. Some may even be asymptomatic.

Symptoms could include “fever over 100.5, cough, malaise, and occasionally nausea, diarrhea. In more severe cases, shortness of breath, chest pain and pneumonia will be apparent,” Dr. Linda Anegawa, an internist with virtual health platform PlushCarepreviously told HuffPost.

Doctors recommend treating the symptoms with medicines like Tylenol for fever, drinking lots of water and getting lots of rest.

You likely can’t get it from your food

“We are not aware of any reports at this time of human illnesses that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging,” a spokesperson from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service previously told HuffPost and mentioned in a statement.

The main ways the disease spreads are through people who are in close contact with the disease, respiratory droplets, and touching infected surfaces and then touching your face.

You also can’t get it from your pets

Evidence shows that dogs and cats may test positive for coronavirus, but it’s unlikely they’re able to pass it on to their humans. Go on and get those belly rubs or scratches in. (It’ll help your stress, too.)

It may go away once it gets warmer

We still don’t know a lot about this virus yet since it’s new ― including a definitive conclusion on when the outbreak might end, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No one can say for certain that the spread of the coronavirus will slow down or be less severe once spring or summer arrives. However, some experts have said there’s a good chance it can, based on similar diseases from the past.

Scientists are working on a vaccine

This may not be done or available for the public anytime soon, but it is projected to be ready in the next 12 to 18 months. While this isn’t great news for an immediate fix, there is at least hope that researchers will develop more medicine to fight this off in the future.

One of the absolute best ways to help prevent it is simple

Wash. Your. Hands. End of story.

Doctors recommend rubbing your hands together with warm water and soap for 20 seconds or longer. (Need a song while you scrub? This brilliant app has you covered.) Use common sense when deciding how often to wash. After using the bathroom, before you prepare food, after you’ve been in public places and after you’ve touched potentially dirty surfaces are usually good bets.

Additionally, avoid putting your hands on your face when they’re unwashed (here’s how to do it) since the virus can easily spread by touching areas like your eyes and nose. Disinfectant wipes are also a great resource for keeping things clean (this guide explains the proper way to use them and the best ones to buy).

Let’s hope that this, at the very least, has encouraged people to practice better hygiene habits ― ones that should last longer than this disease outbreak.

Finally, know that you have the power to help what’s happening right now

If it helps to channel your panic into something productive, try thinking of the situation this way: Taking care of yourself right now is an actionable priority. A lot of people will not be severely affected by this disease, but there are plenty of people who will. This includes older adults and people with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease.

Practicing good hygiene (as mentioned above), social distancing when you can, getting your flu shot if you haven’t already, and staying home if you’re sick are all ways you personally can make a difference.

We have a responsibility to each other as humans on this planet. One of the best ways to exercise that is by looking after your own health and habits. If you haven’t been doing that yet, now’s a great time to start.

Positive distractions and surrendering to what is

I almost didn’t write this blog today as I was feeling too sorry for myself. I’ve had a bad flare-up with my back recently and I’ve just about had enough of it! Yesterday I ran 12km, no problem. Then, I was stiff as a board all night and this morning and did my ‘ape to modern man’ walk to the bathroom, angry and thinking ‘why me’?

However, I realise the problem is that I haven’t let myself surrender to it yet. I need to accept it, relax, give myself some love, and not keep driving myself to do things. It’s one thing saying this to clients – it seems it’s another thing doing it for myself! It’s time to be my own best friend and just ‘let it go‘. Breathe, accept what is, and move forward in a mindful and loving way, ignoring my inner critic who is shouting at me for not being able to manage all the movements I could easily do a year ago.

The science is there in black and white. It honestly isn’t all ‘woo woo’. All pain comes from the brain. Here is an excellent explanation of why the brain continues to send pain signals, even after a prior injury has healed.

By the way, the ‘Curable’ app could be worthwhile investing in. It includes exercises on writing/journaling, meditation, education and brain training. Its founder and CEO, John Gribbin, fought lower back pain for fifteen years himself before overcoming it with this technique. 

Pain comes from the brain, and the brain can be retrained. If you are suffering from chronic pain (pain that has persisted for more than 12 weeks), have a look at this short, 5-minute video which gives you a good overview of why and what you can do to help yourself.

Back to me and my distraction! I may run and exercise almost daily but I still have a saggy bottom! So, I did a punishing 10-minute glutes workout on YouTube. Yes, I know it was only 10 minutes but it’s a killer when you have glutes that don’t ‘fire up’ like mine! Talking of ‘fire’ they were on fire by the end of it 😉 The idea was if I could feel fire in my glutes, I wouldn’t be able to feel any pain in my back! So far, it has been a pretty good distraction.

If you are suffering from chronic pain and need further support, please get in touch. You can email me at catherine@unbottlelife.com or find me on Facebook (Unbottle Life) or Instagram (@unbottlelife).

Until next time, a word from myself and Oprah……x

The problem with TMS..

..is that it can be a (bleep!!****) to shift! Here’s what got me thinking:

I just got back from a 12k run and now I’m scared to bend down and take my shoes off….what the hell?! I had to have a word with myself: “You have just comfortably run 12k on dirt tracks, grass and road. You can certainly bend down to take your shoes without experiencing pain”.

So, what did I do? I bent down in the most relaxed way I possibly could, (it still twinged a little) took off my shoes, then bent down 5 more times more confidently just to tell my brain it was OK! And it was.

I cannot possibly do justice to the work of physician and TMS rock star Dr John Sarno without quoting him directly. I hate to stumble over my words when there are important messages to share:

..psychological stress occurs from a negative perception of events. when we think we want some specific thing – but in our judgement – we got something else, or nothing at all, we become stressed.

Tension is the body’s physical response to that stress. Stress is perceived within the mind, and tension is real within the body. TMS is a real physical mindbody effect that begins as a perception within, and permeates the corporeal body as crippling pain, illness and fatigue (from the book ‘Dr John Sarno’s Top 10 Healing Discoveries’ by Steve Ozanich).

Dr. Sarno contended that you don’t always have to eliminate the tension to heal, but it certainly helps if you can. The idea in tension reduction is to change the perception of the need to fight or flee to one of surrendering, and the body will not react as strongly (from the same book).

We hold fear, anger, sorrow and resentment in our bodies to protect ourselves from the pain of really experiencing the full brunt of the pain those emotions cause us, and to maintain the persona – to show that, outwardly, everything is going well in our lives. The problem is that those feelings are held in the body as unpleasant physical sensations unless we deal with them. Many of these thoughts threaten our ego and we’re too concerned with how others perceive us, so we push those feelings downwards and inwards.

Most people see TMS as a weakness, but it isn’t. Strong, kind, generous, thoughtful and selfless people are classic TMS sufferers. They hide their emotions for the sake of others, constantly putting their own needs on the back burner. They don’t want to accept or recognise that these perpetual acts of pleasing others and not themselves is building resentment within them – “No, I’m not a mean and angry person! I’m perfectly happy to serve others……..my needs are unimportant…….it’s all fine”. The TMS protective mechanism acts as a ‘crutch that keeps the person walking, but crippled’ (Steve Ozanich).

Pain is the mind’s way of telling us we have unmet needs and unresolved emotions. Fear of facing these is the great motivator for the cycle to continue. Running from it feeds it, keeping it alive, allowing it to manifests in various physical and psychological forms.

The only thing that satisfies the hunger of fear is surrender – to who you are, to what already is, to Truth (Steve Ozanich).

This is my lesson to you, and to me. Love, accept and forgive yourself, and the rest will follow xx

Truth! My medical results

The truth is there is nothing wrong with me

physically that is. It’s a huge relief that hasn’t quite sunk in. But it needs to, if I’m to stand a chance of getting rid of this chronic back pain that I have endured for over six months.

This morning I went to see my GP to discuss the results of my X-ray, MRI scan (for my lower back) and the blood test I was advised to have.

The conclusion was that I have a flatter than ‘normal’ back (I don’t have a curve in the lower back where I should have one) and a herniated disc, but nothing pressing on a nerve that would cause any pain down my legs. I’ve had pain down my legs; this just proves that is either emotional or just tight muscles (or a mix of both!). I have pain in my lower back constantly, but there is nothing in those results that accounts for this pain.

“Surgery is not advised” said my doctor, “and you can carry on running”. Not that I had any surgery planned or intended to stop running!

But it just shows, to me at least, the importance we give to the opinions of people in the medical profession. I realised that, although I thought I had fully accepted my diagnosis of TMS (tension myoneural syndrome) I hadn’t really. There was still a thread of doubt that my pain was caused by a structural abnormality.

I realised I have been muddling along for a few months, trying to get better, but still (unconsciously) seeing the pain as the result of something wrong with my body, and not with my mind.

From the insightful book ‘Dr. John Sarno’s Top 10 Healing Discoveries’ by Steve Ozanich: People who believe their body is broken remain in pain. Those who believe their body is okay, tend to heal.

So, it really is high time I 100% (not 99.9%) believed that my body is NOT broken. I have, what Dr. Sarno would call, ‘normal abnormalities‘ in my spine. The spine starts to degenerate from the age of 20 (yes I was surprised by this fact too!), and many people have herniated discs without any pain, or any knowledge of them. If spinal structure is the problem in back pain, then why does the rate of back pain drop off after the age of 50?

(From page 15 of ‘Dr. John Sarno’s Top 10 Healing Discoveries’) We are far, far stronger than we think we are. Healing occurs when you no longer fear the pain. It takes confidence – and fear is a lack of confidence. As long as she fears the pain, she will have reoccurence.

As for my blood test, I’m low in iron. Nothing more, nothing less. I have some iron tablets to take and I may as well do – I’ll be needing lots of it for the physical training I plan to do!

Rigorous physical movement teaches the brain to react differently to movement (Steve Ozanich again).

So, I left with my ‘certificat medical’ to prove it’s safe for me to run and with my goals firmly set in my mind: a half marathon in May, a marathon in September and an ultra run in October! (shit I’ve said it now, I suppose I ought to now enter those last two ;))

Have confidence my friends. Work on the fear. Understand where it is coming from, and don’t stop moving.

Why it’s good to ‘switch it up ‘

I realised that I’m a real creature of habit – aren’t we all to a degree? I have the same salad almost every day, I do the same type of run several times a week and I stay with the same yoga classes each week. Essentially, I keep it ‘safe’. The exact same rituals may not apply to you, but we probably share a habit of keeping life boxed up fairly neatly, not straying too far from our comfort zones.

My back pain from TMS has not gone away yet, although I have seen improvements that I’m feeling really positive about. I realised I was avoiding certain movements out of fear – fear that they would hurt if I did them, or that I wouldn’t be able to do them at all.

So, today I decided to switch it up a little! OK, I didn’t suddenly take up rhythmic gymnastics (I much prefer the ‘proper’ stuff without the ribbons and hoops!) BUT I did try bridge pose and wheel posa in yoga! I got my bridge up, and even though it wasn’t beautiful engineering and you couldn’t have got much weight across it, it did go up!

And yesterday I went on a fast (relatively speaking!) 5k run instead of my usual slower 10k run. And, OK, it wasn’t as fast as I used to do it, but it was still better than I HAD been doing it, so I was happy!

And what happened as a result of this ‘switching things up’? I realised that there is nothing I can’t at least try to do, and that trying it is not going to kill me or make anything worse. And, that the only way to really rid myself of the fear is to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. In the words of Dr John Sarno, what I have going on in my back is a ‘normal abnormality’ (mainly disc generation, and a suspect diagnosis of a ‘pinched’ nerve – pinched for as long as it has been I’d have lost sensation to my legs by now!)

I’m also trying visualization techniques, which are proven to help with pain relief. Essentially I visualize a beautiful, strong and healthy spine and moving however I want with ease. I even talk to my spine sometimes (not out loud, I wouldn’t want to draw unwanted attention!).

This from the website Pathways: (https://www.pathways.health/visualization-for-pain-relief-management-the-ultimate-guide/ A compelling example of visualizations being used to relieve pain is from the example of psychiatrist turned pain specialist, Dr Michael Moskowitz:   Dr Moskowitz suffered a serious accident when water-skiing. The severe injuries left with battling with crippling pain that dominated his life for 13 years. When all conventional methods of treatment had failed, he began researching the discovery that the brain is neuroplastic (it’s always changing & adapting) and seeing how this might relate to him.   He realized that many of the areas in the brain that fire in chronic pain also process thoughts, sensations, images, memories, movements, emotions, and beliefs – when they’re not processing pain, that is. He thought that if he could practice visualizing pain relief when pain strikes, that will help him ‘reclaim’ the areas of the brain that get ‘hijacked’.   He started noticing a reduction in pain within a few weeks. Within a few months he had his first pain free periods. Within a year he was almost always pain free.   

So, please, if you’re suffering from what you feel is chronic pain (pain that you have experienced beyond the body’s normal healing period of 12 weeks) and, like I was feeling before I discovered the work of Dr Sarno, you are pretty fed up – even desperate – just open your mind to the idea that your pain could be a result of your emotions, even if you really don’t think it’s possible. It beats jumping right into surgery and regretting it, doesn’t it?

I’m here to help if you’re at all curious 🙂

On a final note, my sister said I should post a photo of myself as ‘people’ would want to know what I look like. So, people, this is me, in the middle of my first ever ultra run last year. That was one of the best days of my life 🙂


Some of the dos and don’ts from Healing Back Pain by Dr John Sarno, published in 1991:

Thanking Dr John Sarno

A few months ago I had never heard of TMS (Tension Myositis Syndrome) or considered the mind body connection in any depth. That is, until I started to get fed up, and worried about, the constant back pain I was experiencing. Listening to a podcast one day, the interviewee mentioned that she had been cured of her own back pain by reading a book. How was this possible?! I immediately grabbed a notepad and pen and made a note of the title and author: ‘Healing Back Pain’ by a Dr John Sarno. I’ve read it too, and it changed my life (no joke)! I have this book to thank for putting me on my own road to recovery.

Dr John Sarno was probably America’s most famous back pain doctor. He died in 2017 at the health age of 93, and thankfully his legacy continues in the form of (among many):

  • Nicole Sachs, LCSW
  • Dr Harold Schubiner
  • Dave Clarke, MD
  • Alan Gordon, LCSW
  • Barbara Kline, LCSW-C
  • Georgie Oldfield, MCSP
  • David Schechter, MD
  • Howard Schubiner, MD
  • Eric Sherman, PsyD
  • John Stracks, MD
  • Peter Zafirides, MD
Dr Sarno argued that chronic pain is actually the result of a psychosomatic process and emotional factors.

Don’t even get me started on this topic! I have so much I want to share with you. If you feel you are suffering from chronic pain (pain that has endured beyond the body’s normal inflammatory and healing process of 12 weeks) anywhere in your body, please get in touch and I will help you! It is my passion, and my mission, to share this work and to cure others as I have cured myself.

Healing from within

I am always studying the fascinating mind body connection and how past trauma and current day-to-day stress can manifest itself in the body, if not expressed, and lead to chronic pain. I’ve been doing a few exercises on myself and it’s incredible how many ‘aha!’ moments I’m having.

I will be talking much more about the mind body connection and adding some really useful and insightful information to help coach clients to better health. Watch this space! I already have two clients lined up and can’t wait to get started.

In other news, I can finally talk properly after losing my voice for several days! I had been travelling a lot, talking much more than is usual for a country mouse and my immunity was compromised. I ended up with a stinky cold for almost a week. I couldn’t even remember the last time I was ill, so this time I just told myself to accept it, rest and take care of myself and let my immune system do its work. It meant I couldn’t exercise for 7 days (and nobody wants to be around me when this happens!), but it did mean I had plenty of time to read, research and be kind to myself. It worked, and was just what I needed.

This morning I ran and felt great! I even had my son with me for the second lap, so we had a little bonding time. This time together becomes rare during the teenage years, so I’ll take any positive moment and treasure it!

Back to work now. Wishing you a wonderful, positive day doing at least one thing that you love, just for you.

Experiencing the ‘symptom imperative’?

This, from the TMS Wiki site: https://www.tmswiki.org/ppd/The_symptom_imperative

The symptom imperative

When a patient makes a major TMS symptom subside by doing “the work”, the brain is no longer effectively achieving its goal of distracting attention away from emotions. To counteract this, the brain will attempt to find a new area of focus, with the result that the patient often gets a new symptom – which can become chronic if it is not recognized for what it is.

The patient can have TMS knowledge and even a strong conviction about their main symptom being TMS, but will continue to experience new symptoms if deeper emotional issues are not eventually addressed.

The emergence of new symptoms as old ones subside is called the symptom imperative.

I’m working on the reasons for my lower back pain and have been ‘sent’ something else to deal with to distract me – a stinking cold and I’ve lost my voice for the last two days! This may or may not be the symptom imperative but it’s doing a good job as one.

My daughter has suggested I start using sign language as she’s finding my strained whisper a little annoying!

It’s not been pleasant, but interestingly enough, my back has felt less stiff and painful for the last two days. This cold and ‘let up’ on pain in the usual area has also coincided with the most amazing weekend at the National Running Show in the UK with my best friend – another great distraction from the TMS.

So, although I’ve been suffering a little, this has enabled me to focus away from my usual ‘ape to modern man’ walk as I get out of bed in the morning and look after myself to get better. I wasn’t really doing that before, and just ‘ploughing through’ the pain symptoms. Perhaps my mind is asking me to slow down properly this time…….

I’ll post an update soon.

Me getting up in the morning! Not for much longer…

Why NOT me?

What makes me any ‘less’? It’s time to wade through the fear.

As I look at professional coaches’ websites, Instagram posts, Facebook posts, blogs etc etc I find my stomach tightening, and I think it’s from fear. Fear of them because they are better than me, more intelligent and more wise than I am, with so much more to offer the world than I could possibly have. And then I see this image, posted by Dawn Nickels from She Recovers (https://sherecovers.co/) and it makes me think: what if it’s just fear and it’s not true? What if I AM as good as these people and that I, TOO, can make a difference?

It excites me, and at the same time it terrifies me! But isn’t that what it’s all about – feeling the fear and doing it anyway? Faking it until you make it? It’s been a long time since my last blog post and I wonder why I haven’t posted recently. When I really consider the reasons (of which they are no doubt many – one of them being a busy working mum to two teenagers) I realise that some of this ‘going off the radar’ comes from fear: fear that people I know will ‘find’ me and mock me for my writing. Fear that I will ‘out’ myself and make a fool of myself. And fear that my words are falling into an abyss where no-one is present or listening, where they have no impact whatsoever.

Then I realise that it’s a big old world! That there are millions of people out there, many with the same fears as me. And that we all have a story to tell. And that telling that story might just help someone else. This sounds a little all-encompassing I know, but I have plans! Watch this stage. It’s time to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.