In April 2019, my acute back pain got me fired from a stable job and placed on an endless waiting list to see a doctor. For six months, my only income was a $700 welfare check, which the government threatened to stop if I didn’t make credible efforts to look for a job. It didn’t help that an ER doctor who assessed me wrote that I needed just nine days of rest. Except my back hurt too much to get a full-time job, and I could no longer afford the insurance I needed to get surgery for my back. I was staring at homelessness.
Out of sheer desperation, I began to think maybe my pain was in my head. I was encouraged in that direction by the late Dr. John E. Sarno, whose groundbreaking research into Tension Myoneural Syndrome (TMS) suggested that stress and physiological factors – not broken muscles – can be the true cause of some types of acute back pain.
An unemployed refugee on food stamps addicted to pain pills without the money to pay for the surgery doctors told me I needed, I needed my pain to be all in my head. So I spent my last $100 on eBay, buying as many books by Dr. Sarno and his colleagues as I could. My goal? To try to reprogram my pain to no longer believe it was in pain.
It didn’t work. Dr. Sarno was a brilliant physician whose writings have helped heal untold numbers of back pain patients, but his books made zero difference to my pain.
That is when out of sheer chance, I got a job as a school crossing guard. For two hours every day, my job was just to stand in the road and help kindergarteners cross the street. For someone on back pain meds, it was lovely: no bending, no lifting, no stress… just two hours outside around children, wearing a bright yellow vest.
For someone on back pain meds, it was lovely: no bending, no lifting, no stress… just two hours outside around children, wearing a bright yellow vest.
There was only one problem. The job paid only $600, which just barely covered my rent. I couldn’t even afford a bus pass to and from work, which was $114.
So despite my back pain, twice a day in the early morning and at noon, I began to walk to my job. Through Ontario’s -10 degree winter weather, I walked six miles each way to get to my job, where I also stood and walked back and forth across the street for the duration of my two hour shift.
It was hard at first. Very hard. But then I started noticing something. The twinkling and electric surges of stabs pain in my legs and lower back were starting to go away
At first, I thought it was fluke. But over the next three weeks, as the muscles in my legs and back strengthened from use, the trend continued. I started feeling great. And after another two months, the constant knot of agony in my back finally began to loosen. My right shoulder healed. The more I walked and stood upright directing traffic, the more my pain melted away.
After three months of walking, unable to afford bus fare, I was strong enough to jog, I could sleep on my back at night without a whimper of pain,and doing common household chores like washing clothes or dishes didn’t cause me pain anymore.
Walking ten miles to work every day has improved my life so much, I don’t want to stop.
Since then, my back pain is about 75% better than it was. I threw away my pills, and I’m no longer desperately seeking the next doctor’s appointment. Through a lifestyle change, my life is livable again.
But I am facing a funny I am in a funny new dilemma. Because I have worked at this job for a set period of time on a low income, I can now afford a reduced $54 monthly bus fare. But I don’t want it. Walking ten miles to work every day has improved my life so much, I don’t want to stop. In fact, I’ve turned down better paying jobs, just because I’m afraid of what would happen to my back if I couldn’t do this anymore. It might not pay well, but at least it allows me to walk and heal my back muscles. It is a lovely dilemma to be in.