Alright, perhaps happy isn’t the right word to describe what I’m feeling right now. Somewhat congested would be a more accurate description of the physicality of things though I am quite surprisingly cheerful at that. Those who know me probably couldn’t resist the automatic raise of the brow, as most seem to perceive me as a hypochondriac. And of course they do, none of them had the joyful experience of having to cope with a chronic condition, and one that so many know so little about. Regardless, I am as I said quite cheerful, and for me this is a symptom of personal growth.
‘No pain no gain’ as insufferable gym instructors like to remind us as they chuckle to themselves at our struggle to plank for 60 seconds, abominably unnatural as this position may be. However there is an old truth to the notion of having to suffer somewhat in order to achieve something great. That is the essence of capitalism, work hard - play hard, as well as that of the natural world. Survival through struggle, to thrive either as an individual, a group or a species by the means of overcoming changing conditions and adaptation. Growth is painful.
But what does this pseudo-philosophical self indulgence have to do with my cold? Well, I haven't had a cold for a few years now, an achievement I can solemnly accredit to a very harmful behaviour of avoidance. Avoidance is harmful as it tends to magnify and perpetuate anxiety of the subject of avoidance, which for me was getting ill. Of course, no one likes being ill and most of us would choose to always be of perfect health given the choice. However one struggles with a chronic illness, one tends to be more cautious than others, as she learns early on that her body is not one to be trusted. Sounds dramatic I know, but it is the unfortunate reality with which myself and so many others have to live with on a daily basis, more often than not, coupled with the disapproval and contempt of the people surrounding us and/or medical professionals, which of which is worse I’m not sure.
You see, when every mundane task such as opening a door, or rather ‘misopening’ a door as I would call it, can result in an injury which would trigger regional or multisystemic pain, that would deem you useless for days, weeks and even months, you learn that the world is not a battlefield, but minefield - one step in the wrong direction and you’re doomed. That’s not a way to live. Healthy people can’t even imagine. There’s a joke amongst us EDSers/Chronic pain sufferers that to us is more of a lived experience than a joke but it goes like this - a patient is going to see her GP and describes the various symptoms she is experiencing. The doctor then asks her - ‘Do you have any pain?’ to which she replies ‘oh you know just the normal amount of pain’. The doctor sighs and says ‘the normal amount of pain is 0’. This is our reality, which I reckon could be worse, but that’s not about the even more unfortunate, we each have our cross to carry.
Back to the cold!
Avoidance has kept me safe in my anxious little prison of mind and my very comfortable little house in the suburbs. It wasn’t entirely my avoidance’s fault though, as Covid is real (you’d be mad to deny it) which for people with chronic illnesses may even be fatal, so naturally anxiety levels are higher than they would normally be. Not this time though. I have managed to conquer my anxiety, or at least show up the fight, by going to the stores with my husband and to his surprise - not even wearing a mask! Yes yes I know, I went for a medal and came back with gold, as this senseless act would have been unimaginable just a few months ago. Here’s a big thank you to science for the brilliant concoction of powdered courage wrapped in capsules and branded as Fluoxetine.
Fluoxetine does more for me than ‘just’ reducing anxiety levels and allowing me to slowly rejoin the living. It helps regulate autonomic functions which otherwise would be dysregulated, deeming my body even more unexpected and vulnerable to changes in my environment. It also affects pain transduction and processing (the specific mechanism is unknown) which helps me greatly in my rehabilitation. Fluoxetine has also been shown to affect muscle metabolism, which to hypermobile bendy me - is crucial if I ever want to function as similarly as possible to a sociable human being.
Medicine when done right - does wonders. It’s a form of art, prescribing a suffering individual the remedy for their ailments and by means of magic (molecular biology duh) the ailments are gone (or in my case well hidden). But I can’t give all the credit to pharma. My insistence on physiotherapy, 2-3 times a week, painful as it may be at times, really paid and still pays off. Which brings me back to the philosophical concept which I take as gospel - no pain no gain. Growth, be in any department or aspect of life, rarely comes without pain or discomfort of some sort; we feel it in infancy when we gave up on a toy for a less fortunate toddler, we feel it during puberty when our bones and muscles grow longer, when we work out hard and suffer the DOMS in favour of a more toned and strong body. Growth always means something has to be a bit yucky first.
The cold for me is a mark for challenging my anxiety, for going out to a public space, and for catching a cold. How will that reap any benefits you might wonder? Well, I’ve been living in the UK for almost 4 years now. Of which I spent roughly 3.5 years at home. This means I never really got my time with the local blend of pathogens, so I never got to develop immunity to them. For Tom of just a few months ago, this would be a sign of yet another battle lost. But for the Tom of today this is a sign of growth, it is a living demonstration that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, there is something to look forward to. Pain is unpleasant, sure, but it doesn’t have to be a nuisance, not if it’s thought of as a means to an end, rather than the ending of all that’s good.
I welcome this cold with a nice slow-cooked chicken broth soup and packs of kleenex, wearing my White Company robe and crocheting in my snug at a house that I own (yes we bought a house!!!!!), now tainted by the intoxicating aromas of Vicks vaporub.
Life is good. <3