Fierce Pain – Medically Explainable Symptoms (MES)

This is a piece sent to me through the expressive arts gallery.

My arms reach upward as the mind and hair are disintegrating, reaching through burning into the light. Grounded in the earth, I dance. My heart lifts up, surrendering into light, moving with the energy, letting go of resistance, opening to the possibility of a new layer of growth, channeling wild fury and mad aliveness. I am here to be bold and to show the real, raw intensity of what my past two months have been like. I have had a rash on my skin from an unknown cause that erupts as red welts on my arms. Ouch. I am in process of getting tested to discover the underlying root cause, but in the meantime, enduring outrageous jumping-out-of-my-skin irritation *%?#*! Yikes! I am using this intense experience to build endurance and stamina… to practice staying grounded and present in the midst of such reactivity, this is for real. Just as in nature, there are wild storms as well as peaceful meadows, I see this energy may be an aspect of shadow anger that has been suppressed that is now erupting, in my body as well as in the collective….what if I can welcome even this and thus become more whole.

This intense description of suffering reflects several important concepts. This type and pattern of pain is uniquely difficult to endure.

First point is that there is a clear cause for the skin rashes. When your body’s physiology (how it functions) is in a flight or fight mode, inflammatory mast cells are activated. Each cell has many granules of inflammatory chemicals that released that create intense reactions. They include:

  • Allergic reactions – migratory skin rashes with burning/ anaphylactic reactions
  • Irritable bowel syndrome – stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation
  • Burning, itching, hot, cold sensations throughout your body
  • Irritable bladder (interstitial nephritis)


Mast cell releasing histamine during allergic response – Dr_Microbe/AdobeStock



There is testing is being done to find out the cause, but most of medicine is looking in the wrong places. The diagnosis of MUS (medically unexplained symptoms) may be applied to this situation. It is a common diagnosis that could not be more wrong. When your body is in sustained flight or fight, everything is wrong. Every cell in your body is bathed in this stress chemistry bath and the reason why there are so many different symptoms. The correct term should be MES (medically explained symptoms).

The next point is  this person has correctly identified that this is the shadow side of anger. However, the terminology is tricky in that anger is also the sensation generated by threat physiology. Anger and the pain are the same entity. The better term for anger is “hyper activated threat physiology.” It is not a psychological problem. The key to treating both of them is learning methods to lower your stress chemistry. It is one of the main focuses of The DOC Journey. It requires a multi-pronged self-directed approach that is not difficult but requires commitment to develop the expertise to regulate your physiology.

Connecting to the pain

What is unusual about this story is the degree to which these symptoms are being embraced and being a source of learning to move to a higher place. Most of us want to fight or run from them, which unfortunately reinforces the pain circuits. Being with your pain, mental or physical, is a major aspect of healing. There is a saying, “what you resist will persist.” It is similar to trying to escape from a finger trap. The harder you pull, the tighter the trap becomes and the key is letting it loosen first and gently remove it.

What I am concerned about is that this is intense pain and unless there are other approaches being used to move forward, you’ll eventually become worn down. White knuckling alone can’t and won’t work. Combined with other tools, this is a remarkably powerful step. In the “C” quence of healing, connecting with your pain is a foundational step, but not the final solution.

Anger – the tipping point

The most significant tipping point in healing is learning to process anger and move forward. This is challenging in that when you are suffering from chronic pain, you have a legitimate reason to be extremely angry. These symptoms are intense and it is hard to “make space” in order to heal. I have always been in favour of doing whatever is needed in order to provide symptomatic relief. Some options include medications, biofeedback, local measures, vagal stimulation, and possibly spinal cord stimulation. None of this are definitive solutions, but in the context of a healing journey, can be very helpful.


Scottish Fold Cat – koldunova/AdobeStock


Ants under the skin

I have a close friend of mine who developed sensations of ants crawling under his skin throughout his whole body. He was more than miserable. I talked him through the concepts behind solving these symptoms. One way of lowering inflammation is by stimulating the vagus nerve. It is the 10th cranial nerve that originates in the middle part of the brain and connects to every internal organ and the immune system. It is highly anti-inflammatory. He re-engaged in the expressive writing, active meditation, and then used various breath techniques that stimulate the vagus nerve. He used them with a vengeance. Within a couple of weeks, the sensations resolved, and have been gone for over 6 months. There are still other things he can do to keep moving forward, but his remarkable focus on one set of techniques to jump start the process was remarkable. The other factor was him taking charge of his situation.

My story

My personal experience included severe burning sensations that enveloped both of my feet for over 20 years. During the worst period of my ordeal, I felt like they were in toaster ovens, especially at night. I took off my shoes whenever possible. I underwent many tests to find the cause and nothing was found. These symptoms have been gone for over 19 years with just occasional tingling. I also had skin rashes that would randomly appear on my arms, wrists, and legs. They were preceded by severe burning for 10-15 minutes, would last for several hours, and then disappear. Those have also resolved unless I quit using the tools I teach everyone else. If I stop doing expressive writing for a few weeks, the first symptoms to show up are skin rashes on the backs of my wrists.


This story represents the major paradox in treating chronic pain. The tipping point is processing the legitimate anger about having it, but how do you not be angry when suffering at this level? It happened for me and also for hundreds of other patients I have witnessed breaking free. I can’t completely explain how I broke free or how I got there. The common theme is persistence in using the tools and layering on others. Jumping around for a solution doesn’t work and it is counterproductive. In the depths of my frustration, I remember the deep sensation of being fed up with it all and moving on. Although I been trying to use many tools with quite a bit of success, it marked the tipping point of my symptoms resolving over the next six months. Your body knows how to heal.