Several years ago I dog sat for my sister and her husband at their house on the lake. They had gone on a trip and needed someone to stay with their two dogs. I didn’t mind, plus it was like a mini vacation for me. This particular time I was without my kids – it was just me, and the lake, and the two boxers.
During the day I loved the wall of windows on the main floor facing the lake. What views! But at night the windows would turn black. I couldn’t see out, but I knew people could see in if they wanted to. But I never had to worry about anybody sneaking up on me in the night because those two dogs barked at every single sound, real or imagined. The wind blew “WOOF WOOF WOOF!” A squirrel climbed a tree, “WOOF WOOF WOOF!” A car drove down the street, “WOOF WOOF WOOF!” And I jumped out of my skin each and every time. “Shhh, girls, it’s okay…” I would try to soothe them. Or, “Stop it!” if I was really jarred.
The thing was, there was nothing there in the dark wanting to harm us. I knew there was nothing there. Well, I was pretty sure there was nothing there. But how could I know for sure when it was black outside, and I felt like a sitting target in a lit room with no curtains? The dogs certainly didn’t know whether what they heard was real danger or not. But by golly they were going to alarm me, anyway.
And this how I’ve come to understand fibromyalgia.
My nervous system barks. A lot. One day it barks that I must have a sprained ankle. The next that I have a big bruise on my forehead. The next that my clavicle is out of joint. Or that my feet are on fire. WOOF WOOF WOOF.
I consider myself lucky (grateful, blessed, whatever) that in today’s time there is a name for this, and it’s a real thing. Well, it’s real but the pain isn’t real. Well, the pain is real, but I don’t have a sprained ankle or bruised forehead or fire on my feet. THOSE CONDITIONS DON’T ACTUALLY EXIST. My body alarms me for things that don’t exist. It means well, but it’s wrong.
Somewhere along my nervous system there are dogs barking at nothing.
But unlike the black windows at my sister’s house, I know there is no danger. How do I know? Well, science.
Science can test to see if your feet are damaged, if your joints are damaged, if your muscles are damaged. And I’ve been tested, boy howdy have I been tested. So I can say with confidence, “Shhh, girl, it’s okay…” I can tell my nerves that there is no danger. I function through much of it (except fatigue), knowing everything is okay and that the pain is an incorrect message. I find great comfort in knowing that and it helps me feel less powerless. I can also find ways to distract my nervous system with things like staying busy, yoga, and/or medication.
I like doing all of those things. Pushing through, having hobbies, yoga, and drugs! Maybe one day I’ll be able to manage the barking dogs without medication. But not today and there’s no shame in that.
But what if there really is a danger, you ask? Sometimes there are prowlers and alarms need to be sounded. But how do you know which is which?
If my sister’s dogs went more wild than usual, I would be concerned. If I heard a noise myself, like a doorknob turning or knocking on the door, I would be concerned. I would call 911 if I thought I was in danger.
I have found that my body is great at letting me know when something is really wrong and needs attention. But it’s not easy. I’m learning that muscle pain, bone pain, and fatigue is likely fibro related. But when something new shows up (like pain that drops you to your knees, or numbness in your face) you may actually have something wrong that requires attention. WOOF WOOF WOOF can be a good thing.
So here is the important part – learning to discern. Sometimes when there is pain there is something wrong and it needs to be addressed. Sometimes the nervous system is right. And sometimes it is wrong. Often my nerves are just being alarmists. Silly nerves… they can’t help it, no use being angry with them. Though often wrong, they are sincerely trying to protect me and be helpful.
And that’s what fibromyalgia is to me.