Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Nerves of Steel

“Even nerves of steel are subject to metal fatigue.”

–P.K. Shaw

This is one of my favourite quotes because it reminds me that even the strongest in the world have moments of weakness.

Well, today was my moment, as I burst into tears during a gruelling physiotherapy session.

It totally stunned me because I consider myself a seasoned traveller through the medical ups and downs. Even though today’s treatment was particularly rigorous and tough, I have suffered worse fates than that and survived before very well, thank you, without even a grimace.

My tolerance for pain is generally very high and even though my physiotherapist is working through some “nasty” effects of connective tissue disease, she is gentle, kind and expert at her job.  Although there is discomfort and pain (and no, these words are not interchangeable–tell your doctors who like to use ‘discomfort’ as a euphemism for ‘excruciating pain’), it is a short-term pain for long-term gain. We have been able to regain mobility and maintain much of it between sessions. (Yippee! I can move a bit more freely again.) So it’s all good.

So far, I have tolerated everything no worries, but today was my ‘metal fatigue’ moment. It came at the end of a very busy time which pushed me further than I like to be pushed; for example:

Two busy days at the end of the week with non-negotiable commitments during the day, each one requiring a late night to attend end-of-term school functions; i.e. two late nights in a row with barely enough rest in between.

Day 3: bedrest to recover.

Day 4: woke up cheerfully with a clear head, no ‘fatigue fog’ and a little bit of energy and motivation to get things done; except every time I got up to do something, the pain was excruciating–so disappointing and discouraging. 

It meant that I would need to leave my planned activities for another day and to spend the day either in my chair (again!), in bed or on the couch. Pfffth! <big fat raspberry!> Pfffth!  I had just spent two days in my chair to survive the increased activity and the third day in bed so all I wanted to do was get up and move! <sings nursery rhyme: “Pain, pain, go away, (don’t) come again another day!”>

Day 5: woke up early with good intentions but body argued; muscles weak and aching; succumbed to the inevitable and spent the morning in bed with the crochet hooks and catching up on blogs, an agreeable outcome despite the body’s protests.  Thank goodness I didn’t have to go anywhere and could ‘go with the flow’.  I gratefully reflected on how lucky I was, relieved that I did not have the pressure of appeasing an employer.

Day 6 (today): My skin and eye symptoms were flaring up;  I was feeling noticeably tired and fragile, as remarked upon by the physiotherapist as she greeted me.  

We were continuing a series of treatments to loosen up the muscles and connective tissue in my neck, shoulders, spine and hips.  Recently, my physiotherapist was the first one ever to enlighten me that this is a pattern “typical” of my condition and she was not surprised at my clinical presentation as it all fitted into the “connective tissue” picture; interesting.

One one hand, it was reassuring to have a reason for the way I was feeling, but on the other hand, it was another confirmation of my diagnosis and everything that entails.

Today the body was presenting with particularly “nasty” problems and we were going through the usual procedures to solve them when suddenly it became all too much.  My crazy immune system must have reduced my tolerance.

The pain was extending further than the usual places and enveloping me from head to toe. (I had experienced ‘trigger points’ before but this was ridiculously severe.)

My oversensitive ‘lupey’ skin reacted as the heat cream which usually brings welcome relief became a burning, prickling fire on my neck, burning deeper and deeper.

My legs went numb and I pondered whether I would be able to walk enough to get home as I only had my ‘wheelie walker’ with me and then all of the little ‘throwaway lines’ uttered by my physiotherapist entered my head, reinforcing that this was reality these days, a reality I didn’t want to contemplate.

Involuntarily, the tears came.  I couldn’t fathom the intensity of this surge of emotion. I felt embarrassed and defeated too–the body won this round for sure.  Why this reaction? Why now? Why here at the physio?

Sensory overload, fatigue, grief, the expectation that this sort of pain is likely to be a regular fixture on the treatment list because, although we had success with some of the earlier treatments, some of it needed to be done again because the connective tissues tightened up again in the interim, essentially “undoing” some of our good work of previous weeks.

And then I remembered “Even nerves of steel are subject to metal fatigue” and I realised that just because I “had a moment” doesn’t mean that I am weak.  I can still be strong even with tears rolling down my face.  My sweet physiotherapist was non-judgmental and comforting : “this is a good place to let it all out”.  I realised it can be a sign of courage to reveal one’s inner vulnerabilities and weaknesses, to drop the shield and bare one’s soul.

Don’t get me wrong–I wasn’t a wailing mess; just lots of tears quietly escaping.  My physiotherapist finished her part and made me comfortable with a blanket, tissues and a soothing towel for my neck, allowing me to quietly contemplate this unexpected turn of events until everything had settled.

After a short while,  I regained my composure, polished up my ‘nerves of steel’ and walked out to face the world again.


  1. Ah, Jodie. Will remember this. Even though my ocular MG is currently symptom-free, I do get an attack of the nerves every now and then :-)

    1. I hope you don't have any attacks anytime soon. What are your strategies for coping when they do occur? Keep up with the healthy lifestyle choices, taking care and being kind to yourself.