Leonie’ s story (pp. 138-139)
Imagine how bad life would be if you had a headache every single day for 59 years. Leonie was born with Chiari malformation, a rare and serious neurological disorder, where the cerebellum protrudes through the base of the malformed skull, crowding the spinal cord, and putting intense pressure on both the brain and spine. It leads to a constant and extreme headache at the base of the skull.
The condition is incredibly debilitating. Leonie explained, ‘Every day I suffer from severe headaches, pressure, dizziness, choking, disorientation, loss of balance, loss of memory, neck and spinal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea … and that’s on a good day. On a bad day, my headache can be a 20 out of ten on the pain scale and I just want to end it all. I’m a walking pill bottle, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve blacked out and crashed to the ground.’
Over the years, there had been countless visits to pain clinics and specialists, and surgery that had delivered short-term relief only. Because of the pain intensity, Leonie had attempted suicide several times.
‘The best way I can describe it,’ said Leonie, ‘it’s as if a monster is trying to tear its way out the back of your head or as if a javelin is being thrown through the back of your skull from the inside.’
I was deeply moved by Leonie’s situation. Both Leonie and her husband Ian confirmed that I was their last hope. If the hypnosis didn’t work, Leonie was prepared to end her life, with Ian’s help. ‘No pressure,’ I half joked to them, to bring a little ease to the moment. But this was deadly serious.
Through welling eyes Leonie said, ‘If you can take the pain level down from its current nine out of ten to a five out of ten, I’ll be the happiest person in the world. I’m scared that I’m never going to get any better. I’m even trialling CBD oil at $450 a month to try to get some relief. I’m 59 years old but I feel 95.’
Headaches is an area where I have had some great results, and I was ready to do my absolute best. But there was more. On top of the Chiari malformation, Leonie also went through a list of her other conditions including: degenerative disc disease, sleep apnoea, type 2 diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, scoliosis, fibromyalgia, polymyalgia, recurring glandular fever, widespread osteoarthritis, bursitis in her shoulders, hips and thumbs, panic attacks, anxiety and suicidal depression. ‘Other than that, you’re fine?’ I asked her, with a cheeky grin. Leonie explained that, to make matters worse, both her daughter and granddaughter had been diagnosed with Chiari malformation, even though it’s not supposed to be genetic. Leonie’s stress level was enormous.
I explained that what I wanted to do first was to bring down her stress levels and anxiety. We sat together on the couch and I ran through several relaxation and meditation techniques to help Leonie release the tension she was holding onto. I could see her stress melting away. I watched as Leonie’s shoulders dropped by at least five centimetres. When I checked with her, Leonie nodded and said, ‘The pain level has gone from a nine out of ten to an eight out of ten.’
Over the next two hours, I taught Leonie every meditation and pain self-hypnosis technique I knew. Each technique took the pain down by either a one or a half. Eventually, we had the pain down to less than one out of ten. Through tears, Leonie sobbed, ‘These are tears of joy. I don’t know this feeling; it feels so strange.’
Knowing that pain causes stress, sleeplessness, anxiety and depression, I emphasised how important it was to create a daily morning mindfulness self-hypnosis ritual and an evening self-hypnosis session. I advised Leonie to talk to her doctors and, as her relief continued, she could discuss decreasing the dosage of some of her medications.
It is now six months on and Leonie has maintained a pain level between zero and two out of ten.
Text from ‘Mind Free’ by Mark Stephens. Murdoch Books RRP $32.99.