What does it feel like to be run over by a Mack truck? Thankfully, actual occurrences are few. When I first developed pain, and long before I heard of fibromyalgia, I used Mack Truck metaphors for my own experience. Having grown up near the company’s headquarters, I may have been quicker than average to make this this association. Yet, when I was finally diagnosed and began reading about people’s experiences with fibromyalgia and related pain syndromes, I found such references were rampant.
Most people with chronic pain would probably agree that a personal collision with a truck would exceed even their highest pain moments – after all, those machines weigh tons, and any survivors would unlikely be spared bones or flesh. Fibromyalgia is usually described with benign words such as achiness, stiffness, or tenderness, or as muscles that feel over-exercised --all of which can refer to what everyone experiences from time to time (if not chronically). These words may fit people with milder symptoms, but they are wholly inadequate for those whose lives have been upended by FM’s unrelenting arrival.
It’s a problem of magnitude. How in fact does one convey feeling wracked with pain, in one’s skin, joints, or nerve endings throughout the body, from head, neck, shoulders, on down?
It’s also a problem of visibility. “If someone were experiencing that level of pain, it would show!” Yet it does not.
What would a reasonable response look like to awakening with searing pain? You might cry out, whimper, rush (with help) to the emergency room, or fear moving at all. But getting up and going on with your day as if nothing were wrong would feel inappropriate, even absurd. No?
Yet for many people with chronic pain, “normal” mornings deliver a shocking level of pain. Even after nearly two decades, I can be surprised by the force of the pain that routinely follows a mundane evening and solid night’s sleep. And like many who live with painful disorders, I have learned that I benefit most from acknowledging the pain (maybe observing its perseverance or tenacity) and then forcing myself out of bed and into the day.
Living well with fibromyalgia can involve observing and then ignoring the feeling that you’ve been hit by a Mack truck.
Going about your day despite intense pain requires the paradoxical skill of acting opposite to your intuition. When your whole body hurts, it takes a powerful narrative to convince you that getting up or moving will help. But often it does. The more self-knowledge you have about the probable outcome of a chosen response, the less difficult it becomes to act in ways that may feel counterintuitive. By learning the consequences of your morning choices, you can benefit from heeding your data rather than listening to your body. Over time, you can develop a new intuition based on what works.
But even when you know that you will benefit from getting up and going, it can still be difficult. For members of the morning Mack Truck club, consider the following:
Like someone suffering from depression (and pain and depression can coexist and reinforce each other), facing the day can be difficult. Yet, not doing so most often worsens both physical and emotional symptoms. As a psychotherapist, I have yet to hear from a client, “I stayed in bed for two days and boy did I feel better!” And as someone who have lived for years with Mack Truck mornings, I have learned that regardless of how desperately I hunker down in bed, I fare better by focusing on something constructive and moving ahead step-by-step with my day.