I was sitting in Mr. Nara’s 11th grade English class the first time I felt excruciating pain. We were reading Siddhartha, delving into his journey towards enlightenment via gritty human experience. I loved that book, and Mr. Nara’s class was one of the few I truly enjoyed, yet the severity of pain was such that it felt like someone was ramming a rod into my spine. Repeatedly. So I left class and awkwardly made my way to the family chiropractor. He did a little intake, walked me to an open room, and had me stand and wait while he pushed a button that would take an x-ray of my back. I stood, and I waited, and before the deed was done all went black and I flat out fainted.
Going back several years, my childhood was marked by the earnest use of sick-fakery techniques. My trickery was so full proof it landed me back in third grade for a second go. I guess I’d missed a bit too much school. Oops. As an emerging adult, my early delinquency manifested in a total distrust of my own signals for pain and sickness. I not only distrusted my own signals, I was positive, paranoid even, that people didn’t believe me when I said I was unwell. The fainting incident, while unnerving, was the one and only time to date, that I (and in my mind, everyone else) had unequivocal proof that something was really wrong.
Pain has been my constant companion since that dramatic day. I’ve seen doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, and specialists, all leading to the elusive diagnosis ten years later, that I have fibromyalgia. It is my own poetic irony that having had such a seedy beginning with being “sick” I would later be told I had a health condition that is basically immeasurable, and is brimming in medical controversy. A diagnosis is based solely upon a patient’s own report of pain; and many people, laymen and professionals alike, scoff at such mansy-pansy doctoring. If it can’t be empirically measured with tests, then it simply ain’t real.
A decade has passed since that diagnosis, and up until two months ago, I’ve managed it pretty well. That’s what I was told; that there isn’t a cure, there is only “management.” Yoga, swimming, walking, a healthy diet, minimum stress, avoidance of extremes, and most importantly, sleep; these were the keys to living a life with fibro.
Last year was a personal best. Life, of course, wasn’t perfect, but I was content. I was in the best shape of my life, doing yoga four times a week, eating well, and simply loving life. Then I got cocky while doing a reverse prayer pose, an injury occurred, and pain began to restrict the use of my right arm. I stubbornly continued doing yoga for a few more months, until it became clear that if I didn’t slow down and let my arm heal, I’d be sorry. Yet, four months after my deceleration, and my symptoms have been snowballing far beyond the simple arm injury, putting my ability to manage things to the test. In two months I’ve missed more work than all of last year combined. Pain, sleeplessness, cognitive dysfunction (a.k.a. brain fog), listlessness, and unexplainable exhaustion have stuck to me like glue. It feels like no matter what I do, I just can’t shake ‘em; and of course, no doctor can measure any of the above, making it difficult to get help.
A few weeks ago I was hit with the most excruciating pain I’d ever felt. Over the course of two weeks the pain camped out in various areas of my body, and whether I was sitting, standing, walking, or laying down it did not seem obliged to move on. In fact, the knots seemed to multiply like those evil Gremlins, digging in and grabbing hold, trying to shake me into submission. From the top of my neck, down my arms, up my shoulders, along my spine, and into the wings of my back, pain had the upper hand. The physical therapist I’d been sent to simply didn’t get it, and everything he did exacerbated the pain. Exponentially. I began to feel much like this.
Thank God for Alison, my oldest friend, also a physical therapist. She worked on me one night, performing some craneo-something or other, along with some gentle massage, and I woke up the next morning feeling like Lazarus brought back to life. I was not cured, but the web of pain that had been criss-crossing all over my backside was partially released. A miracle, that was.
I’m not gonna lie, feeling that kind of pain for two weeks straight was almost unendurable. But honestly, what I’ve hated most these past months is the lack of motivation that’s been pervading my body. Normally, I have energy in abundance, I am brimming with ideas, and I seize every moment in my pursuit of abundant living. But I can barely handle work right now, let alone the maintenance of my daily life. Goals? Dreams? They’re around here somewhere, but far, far off the radar at the moment.
And now I find myself at the crossroads of this essay, the moment of truth, the crux of this wordy revelation. The reason I write, nine times out of ten, is to get something out of my body, and make peace with it. I wax poetic on my predicament for a bit, as I slowly come to terms with the wisdom that I already possess, but have chosen to ignore. Here’s what I can glean in this moment:
- I know the most difficult experiences have the greatest power to transform me into the fullness of myself.
- I know the nature of that transformation is such that the process of getting there must be uncomfortable. Period.
- Looking back at every crappy experience I’ve had, I can say without a doubt that I am grateful for the gifts each one brought…even though it sucked.
- My body is telling me to take a chill pill and relax. I should listen.
- I have endless reserves of resourcefulness, strength and hope, even if many days I feel weak and discouraged.
- I have not yet given this everything I’ve got. There is hope in that.
- Warm Milk with Honey and Vanilla is a valuable resource for times such as these. Drink when sleep does not come easily.
WARM MILK WITH HONEY AND VANILLA
Adapted from Winnie-the-Pooh’s Teatime Cookbook
1 cup milk
1/2 spoonful honey
1 drizzle vanilla
Combine milk, honey, and vanilla in a small saucepan and heat over medium until milk is steamy and warmed through. Do not boil. Drink in a warm bed with a good book.