If you don’t understand what that means, don’t feel like you’re being insensitive. I don’t necessarily understand what it means, either. But I do understand that I am sensitive. Overly sensitive, actually. I suppose that’s a good place to start.
Picture yourself stuck in an alley. The darkness is thick and foreboding. The smallest sound catches your attention, sends your heartbeat into double time. Something brushes against your arm, so lightly that it must be imagined, and you jump backwards, frozen with fear despite the adrenalin pumping through your veins. Are you frightened yet? Just reading this description, has your breathing altered? Have your eyes narrowed? Is your subconscious ready to turn and run?
Our bodies are designed to protect us using a series of reflexes, most of which we rarely notice.
The lights go out? You’re on guard.
Standing by a ledge? Your fear makes you cautious.
Hear a loud collision? The shock prepares you to escape.
It’s bitterly cold? You overwhelmingly desire hot tea and a warm bed.
Sprained your ankle? Putting weight on it hurts, so you’ll elevate it, helping it heal.
My brain thinks that I am stuck in that alley. It thinks that the lightest touch, the smallest pressure, is a threat dire enough to warrant that most fundamental flight-or-fight reflex: pain.
Bright light? Pain.
Loud music? Pain.
Tap on the shoulder? Pain.
Clothes against skin? Pain.
And even: Muscles stretching? Pain.
Meanwhile, reflexes aside, your body is always in motion. Take a moment to raise your eyebrows. Now frown, and feel them lower. You’ve just used two different muscles – as one contracts, your eyebrows lower; as the other contracts, they rise. No matter where your eyebrows sit, both muscles are being strained to some extent. Your other joints work in the same way: every movement stretches and compresses various muscle groups.
Just two more quick experiments, and you’ll be free. First, stand up. Shift your weight around, but try to be aware of the muscles and joints in your legs. In light of what we just discussed, try to find a relaxed position that stretches none of your muscles. It’s harder than it sounds, right? Impossible, really.
Finally, raise your arm straight up, as high as you can, and keep it raised as you read this paragraph. Are you uncomfortable yet? Maybe by now, your shoulder is starting are starting to feel pressured. Maybe your elbow is starting to hurt. Take my word for it – the longer you hold the stretch, the more it will hurt, because these muscles aren’t used to maintaining this particular exercise.
Just like those times when you tried to lift something heavier than you are strong, and you felt those miscalculations for days to come, overworking our muscles can harm them. So our bodies kindly warn us to stop stretching before we do serious damage; hence the discomfort in your arm that is slowly escalating to pain proper as you approach the point of actual harm.
There you go, you’re free. You can lower your arm now.
The thing is, I’m not free. My arm will be hurting for the next half hour and there’s a good chance that my back will want to join in the fun. You see, my shoulder went from movement to pain in a matter of seconds. My body is so concerned for my safety, that it gives me an advance warning to stop moving, despite the fact that I’m not even nearly close to doing myself harm. The pain, sharp enough that I lowered my arm almost immediately, will linger for just as long as your pain might have, had you held the stretch for long enough to actually damage your muscles.
Like your arm, the muscles in my legs are perfectly normal, physically, inside and out. But as we’ve seen, the collective sum of all our leg muscles cannot ever be relaxed. Every muscle I move and every muscle that I hold still, at every time, triggers the same reflex reaction, the same pain.
I’m stuck in the alley and filled with fear, because the intensity of the warnings to escape have crippled me more than any potential danger could have: my legs hurt too badly to run away.
I have fibromyalgia. It doesn’t make sense, but I feel it all the same. You can’t understand it, but if you don’t believe it, please understand that I might come across as overly sensitive.