After the Drive, the Flare-Up

After the Drive, the Flare-Up November 16, 2019


The whole time I’ve been learning to drive, I was terrified that I’d hurt myself or someone else. This past week, it finally happened.

No, not like that. I didn’t get into an accident. This is me, so it has to be an absolutely pathetic injury.

I had the last four hours of my in-cars before I can take the test again, this past Monday and Tuesday. Monday was delightfully warm and sunny; Tuesday was bitterly cold and snowy. That’s typical of Ohio Novembers. I’d never driven in snow before, and I was surprised to find I rather liked it. You have to pay more attention and drive more slowly when there’s a nice powdery snow blowing at you, and I always drive too slow and with attention. In snow, everybody drives like me.

We drove to a distant parking lot, where my instructor watched me practice for the maneuverability test– forward through the y-shaped course and to the left, then back the car up to the beginning, then forward to the right and back up to the beginning without knocking over any cones. I practiced this for an hour, slowly and extra carefully, on Monday with the windows open in the sunshine and on Tuesday with snow blowing at me. My neck was craned sideways, since the driving teacher taught me to back up watching the traffic cones through my side mirror without looking back. My right foot was hovering over the brake the whole time. My hands gripped the wheel at four and eight. My muscles were all squeezed tense and my jaw was clenched because I am a brand new, very nervous driver.

Fibromyalgia can tend to flare when exposed to sudden dramatic temperature shifts– such as sitting in a toasty car in front of the heater with your coat on for an hour, and every once in awhile opening the window to listen to your instructor shout at you in bitter cold and driving snow. Fibromyalgia is also known for making it harder to recover from the tiny muscle tears that can occur when exerting the body in a different way; that’s why people with fibromyalgia need to take extra “buffer days” after a new physical exertion, because the muscle soreness is more dramatic and lasts longer than it would with typical muscles. And when fibromyalgia flares, it often causes mental disturbances along with the fatigue, head fog and classic nerve pain.

That was how I ended up having a massive flare-up like I haven’t had in years, just from driving.

It started Tuesday night, with a little soreness in my neck and elbows as I studied the online driver manual and got ready to take the driver test. I read the obligatory chapter on drugs and alcohol with flagging attention, rubbing my neck, hoping I wasn’t coming down with a cold. I wondered how long ago the book had been written and who they consulted for all the slang terms. I don’t doubt that twenty years ago, people called Ketamine “special k,” but I refuse to believe anybody ever called marijuana “butter.” I nodded my head gravely when the manual listed the number of ways in which drugs could impair my driving. As I nodded, I noticed that my neck was getting sorer as the evening went on. I took the online quiz, passed with ninety-five per cent, and ordered my driving school certificate to show at the BMV.

Wednesday, I was  anxious and too absentminded to write though I tried, and my neck and joints still ached.

Thursday, it hurt to walk on my ankle in the morning when I got out of bed, though that went away in the middle of the day; then I was extremely anxious and jumpy until it felt like I was having a nightmare, and then at night the pain was so bad I thought I must be dying, but I wasn’t. I’d just triggered a flare-up by driving an overly warm car on a frigid day, and I’d badly hurt my muscles by  craning my neck to look in a side mirror and drive backwards for an hour. My right ankle where I’d been riding the brake was too sore to walk on when I got out of bed today, and the pain went all the way up my leg and back. My neck hurt to even lift my head off the pillow. My wrists and elbows hurt. Everything hurt as if I’d spent Monday and Tuesday competing in an Olympic gymnastics match instead of learning to parallel park.

My fibromyalgia is the type that rarely results in a lot of pain, but it does tear up my stomach and contribute to making me fat and anxious, so my doctor and I decided I wasn’t a candidate for any fancy fun pain drugs or medications like lyrica either. I take medicines for the gastritis and for other symptoms as I have them. 89% of the time, this is the right choice. But when the occasional bad bout of nerve or muscle pain flares up, I don’t have anything exciting in the house to get me through. I take the highest safe dose of Aleve which makes me nauseated. I have a handful of vitamins and herbal remedies my doctor approved of that I experiment with to help with some symptoms. I eat more animal protein than I thought was humanly possible. I sit at the computer saying witty things on Twitter and Facebook and trying to make my foggy head bang out a blog post, but the blog posts don’t come. The tips dry up because the blog posts don’t come to earn them, and I feel guilty.

That’s what I’ve been up to this week when I should have been writing.

Michael went to the store and got me epsoms salts for baths. Rosie brought me snacks and watched Ninjago with me in bed. I ate pot roast for breakfast on Friday, like a bad Catholic. My joints hurt when Rosie hugged me and I shooed her off instead of hugging back.

I’m still so sore that I assume I’m down for the count and won’t be able to get to Mass this weekend, but we’ll see.

I am a person who can get hurt driving– not driving recklessly, not getting into an accident, but driving carefully in a parking lot with my jaw clenched and my hands at eight and four.

I try so often to convey to you what it’s like to live with a chronic illness. I never feel like I’ve done it justice, but here’s a huge part of it: it’s frustrating. It’s annoying as hell. It’s deeply embarrassing. I hate myself when I’m like this. Writing blog posts is such a sedentary job; it doesn’t take a lot of physical energy. Yet, as I am writing this I can feel my fingers seizing up and hurting. My neck is sorer than it was from tipping my head to see the screen. I’ve had to take several breaks to look at other tabs and to rest my neck and hands as I write, and I’m going to get in an epsoms salt bath after I finish.

I used to try to “offer it up” like a good Catholic at times like these, but I don’t say “offer it up” anymore. I don’t like that phrase. It makes Christ sound so far away. Instead, I offer it in. I offer it to Christ Who is one with me because He loves me– Christ Who is coming back but is also already here, here in me, in my life, in my body, in driving in snow and studying manuals, in taking tests and having a flare-up and eating pot roast for breakfast. To be a Christian is to believe that He is already here, everywhere present and filling all things, offering it up and in and everywhere to His Father Who is also with me. And when I’m too sore or anxious or annoyed with myself to think about or accept that reality, it goes on being real. Being Christian is not like driving in snow; it’s not something you can only do when thinking carefully about it. It goes on happening while you’re doing something else.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing this week. Sorry for all the radio static when I should have been writing.

And now for that bath.



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