A typical description of fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep impairment, and cognitive dysfunction. What this description doesn’t do, however, is explain that all of these characteristics of fibro can really be boiled down to hypersensitivity. Right now I’m sitting in Caribou Coffee (for those of you not from Minnesota, it’s a great coffee shop, filled with luscious smells and students studying, like Starbucks but not). The sound of the coffee bean grinder and the lathering machine thingy sound like they’re hitting me on the side of my head. There’s a Christmas “carol” playing on the overhead speaker – sounds like someone is beating a cat – I think it’s Mariah Carey having a conniption (sorry to any Mariah Carey fans out there), There are people talking quietly but occasionally breaking out it laughter. The laughter pierces my right eardrum. The mild dullness of hearing in my left ear helps that side. The carpeting on the floor is an abstract rendering of tree limbs. Mixed with another section of hardwood floors, a brick fireplace, and walls painted all different colors (nice colors, just lots of them), the surroundings make me feel a little off-balance. The lighting, however, is dim, except what hits off my little laptop and bounces back to hit between my eyes. I had to move to keep out of the sun streaming in the window. Beep beep beep behind the counter, people wandering in and out, constant motion, constant noise, constant sensation. Add to that the “usual” sensations: lower and mid back pain, aching ankles and hands, neck and shoulders, arms and legs, all the usual stuff including eyes that won’t properly focus. This is one of my favorite places, Caribou Coffee. I love the atmosphere, the kids studying, the forbidden peppermint hot dark chocolate.
It’s a good place to think and settle in to writing a little bit. I plug Pandora into my ears, breathe in the caffeine smells, savor the hot chocolate (yep, I’ll feel that later) and settle in. I want to be here, so I’m here. It hurts, it’s exhausting, I’ll need to hibernate when I get home with peace and quiet and calm environment (if my puppy allows it). I want to be here, so I’m here, but I’ll only be here an hour or so, and then I can retreat.
At work, it’s much the same, except I am there nine hours total. The environment is completely different from the Caribou Coffee environment, but the effects are all the same. The lunch hour doesn’t really give me the hibernation that I usually need by midday. Venturing out of my office for lunch and making my way through crowds and noise to find food is completely overwhelming and anxiety-provoking. By the end of the day, I’m shattered. Work is one of my favorite places, the people are some of my favorite people. I want to be there, so I’m there, everyday. It would break my heart if I couldn’t make it to work.
Other “normal” people don’t hear, see, or feel the same way in these environments. They don’t realize their laughter is causing actual physical pain or that talking incessantly is causing someone anxiety. People at work don’t realize not everyone can concentrate with glaring fluorescent lights. They don’t understand that our bodies are under siege, that we feel and react more to smaller stimuli. Doctors have documented that difference, and they don’t understand how we feel more with less either. We do, though, so may as well settle in and go the places we want to go, do the things we want to do, and hibernate when we need to. I don’t expect people to understand, and honestly, I prefer they don’t try. Just let me do what I need to do….