My body is a fire no one can put out

It is the point in the term where I can no longer delude myself into thinking I can keep up. Attendance and deadlines keep slipping out of my reach. I am not 20 anymore. I cannot pull all-nighters like I used to. There is only so much reading, writing, thinking, composing and practicing I can do in one day before my body gives out, without accounting for mental illness and intense grieving. 

So why do I not take a term off? Go get better?

Honey, this is my better. This is my best. 

I was diagnosed with Bipolar II towards the latter half of my senior year of high school. At the time, I was pretty freaked out by it. Two of my cousins were also diagnosed, but the stories my parents relayed to me about their adolescence seemed horrific compared to mine — how could I fall within the same prognosis? I told myself that “cousins” was not a direct enough relation to be relevant to my family medical history. 

I started feeling pain in my arms, wrists and hands in the latter part of my freshman year of college. At first, we thought it was an overuse injury from violin. I had to stop playing entirely Spring Term and did physical therapy all summer. But the pain came back sophomore year. By that time, I had learned how to play with little to no tension. I could be playing a Paganini caprice with the loosest bow hold,and my right arm would still be on fire. I stopped playing entirely again.  There are no doctors who specialize in musician’s injuries anywhere in Wisconsin. So, after the conclusion of my sophomore year, I went down to Chicago to see a doctor that could figure out what was wrong with me.

I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in five minutes. After two years of being lost in a fog of pain, I scarcely believed someone could find an answer so quickly. It was not until I really started digging online that I realized that this diagnosis accounted for so many things that had started happening since starting undergrad at Lawrence.

Fibromyalgia was first defined in 1990, so all research and findings are recent and growing. The disorder lies in my pain receptors, which start firing randomly or with little provocation. As I am typing this, my fingertips and knuckles are tingling. My left arm is sore from practicing a few hours ago. There is more tingling in some of my toes. My jaw is sore. There is more tingling at the top of my head. My neck and back were cramping pretty terribly when I first sat down to hash this out, but the pillows are starting to help. The pain is usually, because of violin, in my arms, neck, shoulders, hands and back, but it also ravages through the rest of my body at will. Sometimes it will be so intense in my legs that I cannot walk. I take the stairs as little as possible because of my knees. 

There are so many symptoms. I easily get fatigued because most of my energy is spent fighting the pain. What I have left is put to school, which eats up the remainder quite quickly. Just some of the symptoms that weigh me down include chronic headaches, brain fog, memory loss, intense chest pains, weight gain, cold symptoms, extreme sensitivity to temperature and, of course, anxiety and depression. 

Fibromyalgia is linked to mood disorders and trauma. The former worsened and I acquired much more of the latter when I came to Lawrence. The only forgiveness in this mess is that mood stabilizers and antidepressants help lessen the symptoms of fibromyalgia, so a combination of a few pills have greatly improved my quality of life. I am on the highest dosages of all my medications.

But I am still in excruciating pain. If I do not get my medication every night, I am bedridden. Some days, the pain is so bad that I am still bedridden even with medication. I have a memory foam mattress pad, memory foam pillows, an emotional support cat, an electric blanket, an insane amount of sweaters and a huge stockpile of coffee — and it is still not enough. 

I knew I was going to write about this eventually, but I did not think it would be this week. But when the flare-ups are so bad that they start to rip my life away from me again, I cannot think about much else. 

Editor’s Note: If you struggle with a chronic health condition and are looking for support, check out the Chronic Illness Support Group which meets weekly on Wednesdays from 3-4 p.m. in Sabin House 113.