Restless Arm Syndrome

Some weeks ago, as I was lying on my couch and undertaking my age old stress management of eternal scrolling and listening to murder / accidents / plane crash investigations, when my left arm twitched. It crept up on me. What I can only describe as a burning anxiety set in to my shoulder and upper arm. It went away for a few brief seconds when I moved my arm or tensed the muscle, but otherwise it just sat there, fat and heavy, destroying all my attempts at relaxation.

At first it was only there when I was incredibly relaxed. I’d begin my relaxation routine, and it was only when I was well and truly relaxed, body pliable and muscles limp, that it would come.

Then it came as I was relaxing. Then it came whenever I just lay down and stopped for a few minutes.

It was at that point that I really started to notice it and pay attention and catalogue it. It felt like a bad case of anxiety energy – that one you get where you have burning need to do something, anything but you can’t make yourself do a damn thing, so it sits in your chest and tightens until you want to explode. My shoulder and upper arm muscles spasmed more frequently, and the only relief I got was from moving my arm. It didn’t matter what position it was in, once it stopped moving, the burning sensation came back. I tried to google “anxiety in my arm” which, understandably, didn’t produce many results. I kept digging and came across Restless Arm Syndrome. I’d only ever heard of Restless Leg Syndrome, which is a common enough comorbidity to Fibromyalgia.

Restless Arm Syndrome is typically where Restless Leg Syndrome progresses to. When it’s really bad, it can involve more areas of your body than just your legs. But I’ve never had this feeling in my legs before, and no other body part has ever been involved, so it couldn’t be that, and I really struggled to find any information on primary Restless Arm Syndrome.

Regardless I went to see my GP who advised that, fortunately, the treatment for Restless <Insert Limb Here> Syndrome was pregabalin. The pregabalin that I’d just finished weaning down from 300mg twice a day to 150mg twice a day. As soon as I’d increased my dose back up to 300mg twice a day, however, the arm stopped burning and twitching.

I think it may be creeping back in lately – there are a lot of unavoidable stressors in my life at the moment, which could be contributing to it – but it is still considerably better than it was. I’d love to be on less pregabalin, it makes me feel emotionally flat, but I really like not having anxiety arm!

Taking A Break From Reality

2020 has been a shitter of a year, and I don’t think anyone has come out of it unscathed. I know I certainly haven’t.

Earlier in the year I damaged my wrist to such an extent that I need surgery to fix it. Unfortunately for me, the first surgeon I went to is faffing about and, as far as I know, still hasn’t even seen the MRI I provided him with. So I’m off to see a second surgeon in the new year, hopefully with a view to getting this thing fixed some time in the next 6 odd months. The result of this is that I haven’t been able to use my dominant wrist – and therefore dominant hand and arm – properly since the start of June. I can’t type much, I can’t hand write, I can’t hold things heavier than my cellphone … in fact, I can’t even hold my cellphone when my wrist is turned at certain angles. I can’t even chop vegetables!

What this means is I basically have a dud dominant hand, and in my line of study, you can’t have a dud dominant hand. And since the surgeon has been faffing about humming and hawing over whether or not to do the surgery (for the record, it does need surgery to reconstruct the ruptured ligaments and tendon sheaths), I’m not able to continue my course of study. At least not until my wrist is fixed.

So I’m taking the year off. And I may not work at all.

I cannot recall a time where I have not had something looming over me, whether that be university obligations or work obligations. There has always been something on the near horizon, or something I should be doing instead of relaxing. It’s a hazard of life, unfortunately. We are only valuable when we are productive, and for many, work is a matter of survival. I’m in the entirely privileged situation where I can afford to not work for a year, to not earn for a year. I mean I’d love to keep that money for other things (like vet bills, or, if I’m really lucky, maybe even part of a house deposit), but I will survive if I don’t.

So I’m going to. I’m going to take this year off, and I’m going to enjoy myself without the need to find a job and work. I’ll keep my eyes and ears out for a part time one that I might enjoy, because it would be nice to work for pleasure instead of need, but it’s not going to be my goal. No, my goal this year is to relax and unwind, sort my life and my health out, and maybe even reconnect with that creative part of me that loves to write.

But most of all, I am going to appreciate this opportunity to do nothing. I’m going to enjoy getting bored. I’m going to relish the feeling of having no obligations to work or to university. I’m going to live.

An Injury Is Never Just An Injury

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When you have fibromyalgia, or trigeminal neuralgia, an injury is never “just” an injury.

Three weeks ago a door viciously attacked my little toe.  It was … well it wasn’t broken, and that’s the only positive thing I can say about it!  So the next day my fibromyalgia goes “HAH, PETTY TOE, LET ME SHOW YOU THE TRUE MEANING OF PAIN” and everything from my waist down felt swollen and heavy and on fire.  My joints all the way up to my hips were stiff.  I lay in bed and read trashy fanfiction to distract myself from the pain.  The day after that the burning heavy stiff sensation was only in the leg with the bung toe, and after that it went away completely.

So fibromyalgia is a real asshole when you get hurt.  But to top that off, whenever my fibromyalgia does a flareup, my trigeminal neuralgia does a flare up!

Well today, while sorting rams, I got smacked in the nose.  Fortunately by a hand and not a ram, but still, it was a good thwack.  I went and put cold water on it (the best we could do out on farm) and promptly had a meltdown.

The injury is on my face.  The injury is, specifically, on my nose.  The inflammation will put pressure on the second branch of both trigeminal nerves, and that’s likely to set off my trigeminal neuralgia which I had only just settled down after a volcano pimple on my jaw decided to set the whole thing off (why, oh why, does my face do this to me?).

So I had an anxiety attack, which is kind of understandable.  I don’t want my fibromyalgia to flare up.  I don’t want my trigeminal neuralgia to flare up.  I don’t want to be in pain.

But I don’t really get much of an option, and not doing the things that I love to keep myself safe from injury is also not an option … so I have to be kind to myself when I am injured.  And reduce inflammation as much as possible!

For now it is definitely setting off both trigeminal nerves, but it’s only set off the third branch of one side and mildly set off all three branches on the other.  Here’s hoping fibro doesn’t kick in tomorrow and make all the joints in my upper body stiff and achy!  I’ve got stuff to do!

My Head Is Not A Safe Place Right Now – And That’s Okay

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I went on holiday last week to the most beautiful place on earth, the one place that has stayed with me throughout my life.  The one place that I truly feel at peace.

I had this grand idea that I would spend my days relaxing, spinning, and otherwise existing in a zen-like state.  In my head I was going to become one with myself and reach … while not quite a higher state of being, certainly a more peaceful state of being.

It, um, did not go well.

The first two days I was just so relieved to exist in my little slice of heaven that it filled me with a false sense of security and achievement, because I was almost zen-like.  I was decompressing, and I was able to spend a good 30-40 minutes just staring at the ocean in a state of quiet.  I think it was more that I was shell-shocked at the sudden change in stresses that my brain just blanked out on me, leading me to a false quiet.

Then my brain came back, and with it my anxiety, and oh boy it was not a nice place to be!  I hadn’t brought any reading material with me, so I vainly scrambled for some fanfiction escapism, but even that fell flat.  I had a burning need to be doing anything but what I am currently doing in my chest, and my brain bounced around the walls of the cabin maniacally.

But I continued to push for that zen aesthetic, that peaceful state of being.  I was firm in this belief that this is the state I should be in, it was the correct state, and I was wrong for not being able to achieve it.  It took me two days of struggling to correct my thinking.  My head is not a safe place to be in alone, and that’s okay.  With that admission, with the acceptance of this fact, I was able to relax once more and implement my distraction regime.

Distraction helps.  Depending on how bad my brain is depends on what kind of distraction I use – I have ‘high value’ distractions and ‘low value’ distractions.  I chose to hit it with all I’ve got.  I’m on holiday, after all, I want to be enjoying myself!

So I cracked out my gaming laptop and put on Two Point Hospital (the spiritual successor of Theme Hospital, my favourite game ever) and listened to podcasts.  With their powers combined I was not left alone in my head and all the bad thoughts ricocheting around quietened down.

Sure, I felt guilty about spending my time inside playing computer games instead of sitting peacefully and admiring the beautiful view, but I realised that my mental health needs were more important than my belief that I must make the most of my location.

I’ve just realised, as I’ve been typing this out, that I have a big Fear Of Missing Out.  It has been drilled into me that I must make the most of every opportunity I have been given.  If I am in a new place, I must always be out exploring it.  If I am in a beautiful place, I must always be out admiring it.  If I am invited out to dinner with friends (which never happens because all of my friends are students, so we’re either too broke or too busy), I feel like I must go to not miss out.

It’s all a lie.  Because while I may be constantly out exploring a new place, I am also missing out on wellbeing and ensuring my physical needs are balanced.  While I may be constantly admiring a beautiful place, I am also missing out on ensuring my mental health needs are met.  While I may be going out to dinner with friends, I am missing out on storing energy to deal with things the next day.

So I guess what I’m saying is – it’s okay to not be okay.  Do what you need to do, regardless of where you are.  If you can’t do the zen thing, don’t force it!  Work with what you have, rather than what you think you should have.

And anyone who says otherwise is wrong.

The Importance Of The Outside

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I moved house three months ago.  Well, I should say, we moved house three months ago.  We moved from a small, 70s built house with a very small lawn (2x3m, with a 1.5x10m run down the side) into a large, 60s built house with retrofitted double glazing, a catio (a patio that’s fully enclosed to allow cats outside time without them being free-roaming), three lawns, multiple edged and established (but overrun and very confused) gardens, a rose bush taller than the house, and two raised garden beds fenced off down the back.  We have apples and pears, an olive tree (I still don’t get this one), so many magnolias of different colours, roses popping up out of trees, and a loquot.  We also have a fig tree stump with a lone fig stubbornly growing on it.  Oh, and a grape vine!

This garden is a mishmash of things and it is very overgrown with ivy and jasmine and weeds and I have never gardened before in my life.  The closest thing I had to a garden before now is my small collection of succulents who, despite all neglect from me, have continued to survive.

Now I have an established and overrun garden to manage.  And I never knew how much I needed it until I had it.

I grew up in a large, old, draughty villa with a 1/4 acre section and a veggie patch.  There were trees I would scale all the way up until I was too “cool” to do so (around aged 15-16, I was a slow bloomer), a cinderblock I would use to contain any fires I lit just because I could, and an overgrown section down the back end of the garden that I could hack at with my trusty home made wooden samurai sword (whittled out of a branch courtesy of one of my friends).

My holidays were spent at the beach.  We had a small, lockwood holiday home within 5 minutes walk of a quiet beach.  There was no TV, no dialup internet or world wide web (in fact, some of this took place before those days!), and mobile phones were still a pipe dream.  We had to make our own fun.

What I’m trying to express here is that I grew up in and around nature in every part of my life.  I was a hippy child, a wild child – give me some rocks and I’d scramble up them faster than you could say “that’s a big rock”, and I would try to climb every tree.  Most of the time I was even successful.

As I got older I withdrew from the outside more and more, finding solace for my teenage angst on the internet and the people there.  I had an Angelfire Page – actually I probably had about five.  I was onboard when MySpace first came out, and Live Journal.  I was on Yahoo Groups and DeviantArt.

I stopped going to the beach for the holidays.  I stopped going outside.

I moved into a tiny little cupboard of a room in an awful little apartment with only concrete and horrifically overgrown “gardens” to speak of.  Then into a house with a single tree and a lawn you couldn’t even swing a cat in.  Next up was a house with a bush back section and a small raised lawn, then apartments.  I became “modernised”.

That little wild child who lit fires in the garden and ran on the beach and screamed into the wind because it was fun just … withered.  And died.

Looking back knowing what I know now, I suspect a lot of that was to do with my fibromyalgia, the incredible stress of working full time in a highly demanding job, and the stress and anxiety of being with a narcissist.

Regardless, I neglected an important part of me, that little hippy girl, and it took moving to this house to realise it.

She’s slowly coming back, that dirt grubber, with every step I take on soil without shoes and every weed I pull out without gloves.  With every time I sit in front of the open doors to the catio and breathe in the fresh country air and admire the green that creeps everywhere.

She is slowly coming back, and with her, I become more grounded.  More robust and at peace with my life.

The importance of the outside is, to me, immeasurable.