Nothing can throw me off-center faster than a bout of fibromyalgia. Recently, I had an experience of intense pain that sent me into panic mode. I almost crawled to my doctor for medicine—I was way beyond the yoga/swimming/meditation panacea. Worried that this might be something else, that my body was really betraying me big-time now, I fretted over Google, surfing for any information I could find. I had finally done it, I thought, finally ignored my body long enough, pushing through pain and discomfort, and now my body was roaring back. After much searching, I found a relevant article about trigger points that seemed consistent with my symptoms.
Having a cognitive framework relieved my anxiety, and luckily, the meds worked. Or time worked. Something worked. I changed some posture habits, began some exercises. But what interested me was those days before I got some kind of handle on what was going on. I experienced fear–a profound sense of ego disintegration, of losing my sense of power, of my confidence in navigating the world. I found myself casting about for answers, as if someone else could tell me what was going on. It was only when I was rested, in less pain, and able to amass information, that I finally was able to regain my poise. I remember the moment when I thought—I can make an assessment, I can make decisions that will help this. I can trust myself. Energetically, it felt as if I was consolidated, rather than fragmented.
The fragmentation I experienced briefly was akin to what Arthur Frank in his seminal book, The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness and Ethics, describes as the chaos initiated by a major illness or event like a heart attack. Frank himself, a sociologist, experienced both cancer and heart disease. Through his own experience, he was able to describe the stages of our psychological response to illness, the first being chaos. He cautions those who love and work with people experiencing chaos, to simply witness it, not rush to tidy it or minimize it. He describes the burden placed on the ill person to be cheerful, positive for others. He posits that it is only by experiencing the chaos that we can find our way through to a new narrative, whether one of accepting an illness and finding meaning through the quest, or indeed restitution. “Seriously ill people,” he writes, “are wounded not just in body but in voice.” Without body integrity, we lose voice. Without voice, we also are fragmented.
I’m glad that this whole experience happened over a matter of weeks, not months or years. But I was reminded again of how real the journey is from chaos to narrative. I’ll end with the quote prefacing Frank’s book:
“I had grasped well that there are situations in life where our body is our entire self and our fate. I was in my body and nothing else…my body…was my calamity. My body…was my physical and metaphysical dignity.”-Jean Améry