Dani Fagan is the founder of My TMS Journey, AKA "The Stress Illness Survival Guide". She is a chronic pain survivor and mind-body healing advocate and practitioner. She lives in England and teaches online yoga, meditation, and breathwork to the chronic pain community, combined with mentorship and support to help others heal just like she did. Offering encouragement and practical advice and tools to help others along their healing journeys is her jam. There's a lot of confusion in this space, so she likes to show up in a clear and straightforward way so that suffering doesn't get harder with complex scattered information.
Q: Hi Dani! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. We understand that you have your own chronic pain recovery story. Would you mind sharing a bit about that and how it informs/ed your work in the space?
A: It's my absolute pleasure to be here and share some of my story - thanks for having me!
My main chronic symptom - the one that made me sit up and take notice - was back pain, it started slowly and got progressively worse...that I now realise was massively fueled by the fear I had around it and it becoming a life-changing disability. I tried everything, every treatment, doctor, medication, exercise there was available and it only got worse. My mental health really suffered too, which I later came to understand wasn't helping the situation either and was actually part of the reason why I was suffering in the first place.
I stumbled across the work of Dr. Sarno at a time when I was basically desperate and fastly losing hope. It led me to discover that my emotional world was governing my physical world and everything finally started to finally make sense. My emotions, my fear, my traumas were literally making me sick. The more I read and researched, the more I felt understood and hopeful for the first time and started to get back to a little bit of really simple movement. I picked up the Journalspeak method taught by Nicole Sachs LCSW and this combination of expressive writing, meditation, and restorative yoga I was practicing really held my nervous system in a kind of soft embrace I had never experienced before. I was finally able to speak my mind and set myself free.
Throughout my own healing research and work, I had accumulated SO much great content and realised that there were very few places to find this kind of information in an easy to understand format online, so I decided to create my own website to showcase what had worked for me, to help others. So I made mytmsjourney.com with my partner, we’re both from web tech backgrounds, he builds all the back-end tech and brains, I design front-end, write content and create for social media, so we made a great team and put it together at the start of the pandemic and it's just grown from there really.
Q: That’s such an inspiring story. And it’s great that you’ve taken an active role in trying to help others experience the relief you’ve achieved. As you have spent more time in chronic pain management, are there any challenges to helping people in pain that stand out to you? And why are you optimistic about conquering those challenges?
A:The main challenges I see are a) getting people to find this work b) actually believe in the mind-body approach and c) having them actually do the work needed to recover. So, yeah, quite a lot really!
Recovery requires a massive unlearning of what we've been taught our whole lives, not only by doctors but by our caregivers too. Learning how to unravel perfectionistic personality traits, to know that we are not defined by our ability to overwork ourselves into burnout, to ignore our true feelings, to people-please, etc. To challenge the medical model and go against what specialists are telling us about our bodies and really get to the core of what's happening in our nervous systems. It's like the world is blind and it's so hard to break through that. But one you see it, you can't unsee it. And waking others up to this truth turns into a kind of life purpose.
I'm optimistic because this knowledge and work is the TRUTH. It's really only the Western cultures that don't really fully practice in this way. So it's not a whole planet you have to convince thankfully. And I believe that the truth will always "win". This mindbody approach is reaching a tipping point now where it's becoming a little more mainstream and stretching further than ever before. Even in the short time (about 5 years) that I've known about it, it's literally exploded in its reach, so I'm sure it will become much more common knowledge soon enough. Not fast enough as it should of course, which is incredibly frustrating, but there are a lot of powerful people in charge of the traditional medical/pharmaceutical world... And a lot of blinkered humans that are in pain and just want relief as fast as possible. It's not an easy road, I've considered giving up on this work many times. But it's too important to stop. I believe that once it reaches that sweet spot where a much more trauma-informed, neuroplasticity/brain science approach is taught by all types of practitioners, it will not only heal the pain people are in pain but heal the hearts of not only this population but break patterns for generations to come. It's really much more groundbreaking if you zoom out and look at it that way.
As for people finding this work, again it's been very much a grass-roots kind of situation so far, but it's gaining much momentum in the medical world too, in mainstream media and growing exponentially as each person recovers and shares it themselves...it's starting to snowball now I can see it and feel it happening. As for my own work, I have a background in digital marketing, so my content is highly optimized and I rank highly in the search engines for this reason. I can only control what I do in this space so I do as much as I can to expand the reach of this message. All of my online content is also translatable into any language too in just one click, which I felt was a really important thing to implement. It's one of the important benefits of having a lot of written content instead of mostly video/audio for example.
Q: You mentioned earlier that you do some work with yoga and breathwork for pain. How can these practices help people in pain?
A; In my own journey, as my brain started to realise that I was safe and my back wasn't broken, things started to lift and the symptoms started to shift for me. As soon as I was well enough to get back to "normality" (even though I felt like a totally different person as a result) I decided to do yoga teacher training and gain more knowledge of how this method had been so beneficial to my healing. It wasn't the exercise so much as the shedding of fear, and reconnection to myself and my heart that made this the ideal healing practice. So a little after I qualified I decided to create a style of yoga that would work for the chronic pain community and teach them what worked for me.
Yoga is literally a mind-body practice. All the teachings are in-line with the TMS/PPD approach. Focusing the mind, mindfulness, conscious movement, remaining calm and steady under duress, regulation of the nervous system through controlled breath patterns (literally like a remote control to the parasympathetic nervous system), and meditation of course...it's the perfect recipe for a practice that "holds" you through recovery. When we can regulate the nervous system, the threat is removed from the brain and the stress response is diminished...which controls the pain signals.
I like to see it as the less "worky" part of this recovery work. Yoga teaches you to come home to yourself. To accept and honour yourself. There's so many benefits to it from an "inside" perspective, the movement piece is the least important part really. But the styles I teach are very gentle and nourishing, so you can practice with me no matter what your ability or symptoms. It helps you to connect to your emotions somatically too, something that is not easy to do at first. Notice how your body reacts and responds to stimuli, to different energies, to feelings, to emotive music and memories for example. It can help release deeply rooted trauma from the body. It's a much more bottom-up approach to healing TMS basically. Less thinking and more feeling - in a safe and comforting way - leads to reduced symptoms.
Nervous system regulation is at the heart of what I do, but wrapped in a big blanket of self-acceptance and compassion. Which is SO key in recovery. Softening your approach towards yourself, your body, your whole experience really. No matter what you've been through, it's like a magical ointment in the struggle of recovery.
Q: When you are not working on helping people tone down their pain, what do you do for fun?
A: Funnily enough I do actually find this fun. It's not quite work. Helping people is my purpose. But outside of this - I'm also just a huge relaxation fan! So the fact I get to teach people how to relax is hilarious to me now really. I'm so fortunate to do this. I love hanging out with the right people, soul connections you know? Listening to uplifting music, eating out, when I have time - I love my own yoga practice, forest walks, things like that. I love plants (my house is like a jungle), nature, animals. This work has changed me a lot actually, well maybe not changed, just revealed what I always was. I'm not into hectic late nights anymore. I enjoy peace these days.
Q: Thanks for everything you’ve shared! Where can people find more about your work?
A: head over to mytmsjourney.com - everything I do is right there. I post daily on Instagram and Facebook too under the same name - My TMS Journey. Everything I used and found benefit from is in the Resources section of my website and the steps of my healing story are outlined in detail in my Recovery Journey Roadmap there too.