I love the fall. It’s by far my favorite season. I love the rain and the mist and the cooler weather and fuzzy sweaters and tea.
Unfortunately the fall doesn’t love me. The rain and mist come with pressure changes that make my head feel as though someone is trying to crush it, unless it feels as though it’s going to explode.
I try to enjoy the fall, I break out my super soft sweaters and leggings first chance I get. I don my ultra thick fuzzy slipper socks and wrap up in my soft pink muppet shawl. I curl up with pets and coffee and try to relax.
It’s just harder to enjoy it. My jaw stabs in little reminders that the pressure is shifting, my head aches with an increased dull throb, and every little sound makes me want to kill.
Winter will be worse. Snow storms bring the worst in pressure changes, pregnant clouds will beat down upon me until finally releasing me when the snow actually falls.
There will be days spent in my room, curled up next to my cat, fireplace on, wishing I could do more.
For today I am pulling in the feelers, retreating into myself.
You know that thin veneer of socially acceptable behavior we all wear throughout our days and nights? That veneer that keeps us from tossing our wine onto the shirtfront of the idiot at the cocktail party who insists on cloaking his misogynistic ramblings under the heading of “devil’s advocate”?
Some might call it self-control.
Well spoonies have masterful self-control. We maintain it with an iron fist when we are out of the house because chronic pain creates an inner voice that is almost always an asshole or a whiny bitch.
So we shut the fuck up and do our best to ignore the urge to burst into tears at the slightest inconvenience or collapse into a puddle of completely broken human being-ness as we give in to our pain and finally, at last, stop trying to pretend it hasn’t rendered us animals.
Well today my self-control decided to fly off to Katmandu for some sightseeing and I got a glimpse at the monster that lives in the depths of my soul.
Maybe it’s my medication. It’s possible that my inner voice is altered by the ugly addition of Lyrica. I’d like to be able to blame the handful of mind altering substances I pour down my throat twice a day. If not, my inner voice is a manic, terrified, angry, sick-and-tired-0f-the-pain, psychopath who wants to throw up my hands, crawl into bed, and never get up again. Ever.
With my self-control on vacation in the Adirondacks my inner voice is screaming: FUCK THIS CHRONIC PAIN SHIT. I GIVE UP!! IT’S TOO MUCH. MAKE IT GO AWAY OR MAKE ME GO AWAY OR INVENT SOMETHING THAT MAKES ME NOT CARE ABOUT IT.
Because it is too much. It’s too much. I am forty years old and I actually believe that today’s life expectancies are too. fucking. high. I don’t want to feel like this for another forty years. I don’t really want to wake up in the kind of pain that makes me uncertain I can get out of bed every day for another fourteen thousand six hundred days. That is too much of ask of me. It’s too much to ask of anyone!
It’s complete and utter unfair bullshit. It’s the kind of bullshit that makes me want to walk through my house slugging wine, pulling things off of shelves and throwing them against the walls. It makes me want to take a walk of complete destruction wear I inflict the pain I live with on every inanimate object in sight.
Why don’t I? Because then my fucking self-control would come back from helping orphans in Africa and I would have to clean it all up. Which would make me hurt more. Which is, again, fucking bullshit.
So why today? What is it about today that made my self-control hop onto the back of a bird and fly off to Borneo? My dreams.
Here is the story: I don’t sleep well. I never really have. So one of my many doctors discovered I clench my teeth like life depends on it all night long. He prescribes a night guard. I start wearing it. I sleep. I sleep well enough that I begin to dream.
Night after night I dream these freakishly intricate dreams about me as different people in different times. One night it’s a burlesque dancer who did the USO circuit in the 1940’s. Another night I’m a nurse who treats victims of Agent Orange. It’s different every night.
Two things about the dreams remain the same. One, I am always someone dealing with something that causes intense PTSD. Two, I always reach a point in each dream when I start to cry so hard I can no longer speak, even when I desperately want to.
I dream every night about desperately needing to speak about my pain and being rendered physically unable to do so.
Every morning I wake up tense and afraid. I lie in bed and think about how fucked up the most recent dream was as I feel my consciousness return to my body and the pain filter in. It’s like putting on clothes. Pain in my feet, arms, hands, head. Stiffness in my back so bad I am not sure I can move.
I lie in bed as my body puts my pain on and I gather my self-control and my intention to make it through another day. To make something beautiful in that day. To love and to be loved. To feel the wind and the sun and the rain and to remember all the reasons I should do it all again tomorrow.
Today I needed someone else to take me to tomorrow. Today my inner monster was loud enough to make me give up. Today Dan came into my dark, dank, cave of bad feelings and despair and he held me there. He let me cry and listened as I shared my dreams and this sense that no matter how much work I do this is my life going forward and it has so much suck in it. He didn’t try to talk me out of my feelings or point out the good. He just held me. He listened. He took me for a walk. He got me out of the house. He helped me make a delicious dinner and ate with me while we snuggled and watched Game of Thrones.
When I was done my self-control was back. My desire to see another tomorrow, despite the pain that will inevitably come with it, was once again strong. My monster in the depths was once again locked away.
So if it is strong again why am I writing this?
Because your monster may not be. You might be hearing it tell you all the awful you have ahead of you.
Well, it’s right. You have a lot of awful ahead of you. You have pain and medication and doctor’s visits and missed opportunities and the feeling that you have to remain silent about it all.
You also have those things that make your day wonderful. That person who really sees you and still loves you. That animal that curls up next to you when you can’t get out of bed. That show you really want to see the end of.
So let your monster scream. Let the unfairness of it all come out for a bit. Cry.
Then shake it off, lock your monster away, and begin again. You have a long fight ahead of you but you are not alone.
Evening came and went and whilst my love was sleeping the creativity I sought all day long surfaced in a rush. Sleep became impossible and I gave up trying when evening turned to night. In the quiet darkness of my house I crept to my desk and turned sleepless discomfort into shiny things. I found comfort in the act of shaping metal and pairing stone.
The work is quiet and takes little physical energy, though it can often leave me exhausted if I do too much. I find sleep again after a few pieces are finished, my former restlessness replaced with satisfaction.
I think I may have PTSD when it comes to self-help books, books on migraines, or generally any written device intended to explain to me how to make my current state in life better.
I have been trying to unwrap why I loathe self-help lately and I have hit upon a theory. It’s a relatively new theory so bear with me but here we go.
Ours is a society of the quick fix. If we have a cold and can’t sleep we take NyQuil. If we have a cold and need to go to work we take DayQuil. What we don’t do is rest long enough for our bodies to battle the cold on their own.
Due to our quick fix mentality we have a tendency to offer solutions to the people in our lives who express problems. We rarely actually commiserate. It’s not because we don’t feel sympathy or even empathy for them, but our language of caring has morphed over time from listening and empathizing to offering solutions.
As a migraine sufferer I have had a lot of experience on the receiving end of solutions. It doesn’t bother me from friends or family but it’s the complete strangers that make me crazy. Usually when I meet someone and they find out I have migraines I get asked my entire medical history by someone without a medical degree because their fourth cousin once removed has migraines and maybe they can mention something my nationally recognized neurologist hasn’t thought of yet. It is exhausting and not a way I want to spend one of the rare times I actually leave my house to go out into the world.
I think this is why I hate self-help mechanisms. Rather than listening to each other, talking about our feelings, and creating deep, strong bonds of friendship we are offering other people’s takes on our interpretations of someone else’s problem.
Meet someone at a party going through a divorce? Offer them this book. Got a brother with MS? Here’s a book on how one person worked through their experience with it. Children being… children? Here’s a book on how to parent in a way the person who wrote the book likes most.
Now I am not saying seeking self-help is a bad thing. Personally, if you want to read books on parenting, relationships, investing, whatever medical diseases you may have, and that helps you handle life, go for it with my blessing! There is nothing wrong in my mind about seeking out information.
What upsets me is offering these unsolicited solutions to others in lieu of care.
I get it, caring is hard. It’s time consuming, it takes real listening and empathizing to truly succeed at it and none of us have the time or the energy.
Is that last part true though? Would we find consoling someone less tiring if we did it more often? Could it be we are out of practice and therefore it seems more tiring and time consuming then it truly is?
Here’s my truth: My best memories are from times when I opened up my mind and heart and joined someone in their hardships. Really joined them. Crawled down into the hole they were stuck in and sat with them for a while. I have been blessed enough to build truly amazing relationships with people because I was simply sitting with them and listening when they were having a hard day.
Sometimes the way to be the most helpful is to offer no help whatsoever.
One of the hardest things for me to do is manage multiple days of activity. I usually need a day or two of rest between super busy days or I need to do only one little thing each day that drains my spoons and rest to save up for the next day. Of course knowing this doesn’t stop me from occasionally over-scheduling and looking at a coming week with activities and events every day and night. I am not the best at time management yet and I am even worse at turning down opportunities to see people I miss or do fun things.
This week had a lot of activities. They were wonderful activities and I enjoyed them but by Friday I was paying for my spoon spending excesses. My headache was so painful I thought I might have to go to the ER even though I know there isn’t much they could do other than shoot me full of drugs, even though the ER usually makes me feel worse due to the bright florescent lighting and loud noises. (Especially all the beeping machines. I hate beeping machines.)
I regretted my mismanagement of spoons because it meant I had to skip seeing Sweeny Todd with Dan. I have the hardest time canceling on events, especially when we had to pay money for tickets. I felt so horrible that we were not going to be able to go to this event we both wanted to attend so badly. I cried for the better part of an hour and tried desperately to summon a few extra spoons so I could make it but going simply wasn’t going to happen. I was curled up in tears in my bedroom because it hurt so much to simply exist that I kind of didn’t want to do that anymore much less anything as complicated as putting on fancy pants and going to a musical.
Dan is wonderful about these things. He offered me nothing but love when I told him we would have to cancel our plans. With teary eyes I told him how sorry I was to disappoint him and he replied with “I’m not disappointed, I’ve got the girl.” He brought me ice and helped turn the evening into low key time together. I am envious of his ability to remain calm and accepting. I felt like a sullen child who is told their playdate canceled due to flu, unwilling to accept the loss of my fun with aplomb and instead pouting in furious but ineffective mutiny.
I’ve learned that his boundless acceptance of my limitations is the most amazing gift on Earth. He never makes me feel that my chronic illness is my fault, or that there is something I should be working harder at. He always treats it like something that we need to work through together, something that is part of me and is somehow therefore precious. I have no idea how he manages to have so much patience when I still rail against my limitations but I am desperately trying to learn from his example.
Today I am still suffering the aftershocks of so much activity. My headache is forcing itself into my thoughts and activities with wild abandon, making concentration and focus difficult. I shall have to rest a goodly portion of the day and start picking my scattered spoons back up off the floor.
It’s a constant lesson in self-acceptance and self-forgiveness, this daily struggle with chronic pain. I desperately want to be the superhero I now realize I once was but I am learning to accept the me who is shouldered with this burden. I am starting to see that I still do amazing things, even though I times when I can’t do much of anything, and I am hopeful I will start to feel as fulfilled working within my limitations as I did before they arrived.
It’s a difficult balance to strike. Most of us don’t realize our energy really isn’t boundless until our bodies force us to set limits on our ambitions. I know I thought I would have far more time to do everything I wanted than I have. I never gave a thought to not being able to work full time, parent full time, partner full time, have a dazzling social life, and donate oodles of time to charities that matter. Now I am impressed with myself if I can shower, make and eat food, put on pants, and do something in addition to these basic life skills. (Grocery shopping for the win!)
So today I will rest and borrow some patience and forgiveness from my husband until I can find it within myself. I will enjoy the sound of birds outside my window, the feel of the cat in my lap, and the warmth of the dog by my side. I will gather up my spoons and ready them for another attempt on the outside world, an attempt I will make another day.