I’ve struggled with chronic illness in various forms for the last 20 years, and I’m 31 years old. I’ve had migraines for as long as I can remember, and my fibromyalgia developed eight years ago.
I like to think that, after all these years, I’m pretty good at managing my pain. In fact, you might say that I feel pretty chuffed with myself from time to time. I work full time, I socialize with my friends and family, and I have my coping strategies down to a tee. But behind the positivity and the smiles there are compromises, there are struggles, and there are moments of weakness. In fact, let’s be honest, at times there are moments of such exhaustion and frustration that only tears will do.
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But, while most hours are spent coping, there is one hour of every day that is the hardest of them all.
It’s 6 a.m.
My alarm goes off at 6 a.m. every day. I roll over and hit snooze, and have five minutes to hang on to sleep before the same infuriating tinny ringtone goes off in my ear once more. I hit snooze again, and we repeat this dance move for 20 minutes. I feel like I haven’t slept, I’m so tired I think it can’t possibly be morning, and yet my body aches so much I am desperate to get up just to give it a good stretch.
As my alarm goes off for the fourth time, I normally throw my phone on the floor and drag myself into the shower, wondering how I’ll keep my eyes open on the drive to work. I’ve fallen asleep at the wheel three times in the last month — a sure sign that I need to give myself some proper time to step out of the fog and in to the shower, bringing my mind and body in to the day.
It’s always difficult to explain fibromyalgia to people who haven’t experienced it — either directly or through a friend or family member. You tell someone that you’re tired at 6 a.m. and they tell you they are, too; they tell you they stayed up late binge-watching the latest Netflix drama, and you silently wish that’s why you were tired. Instead, you felt exhausted when you went to bed, exhausted when you woke up and the pain is stronger than it was the day before.
When I wake at 6 a.m., everything is at its worst. I feel like I went to a body pump class the night before and squeezed in a spin class before bed. My knee joints have pains so sharp that I feel like my legs could snap in half at any time. My bed is comfortable, my bedroom is calm, yet I feel like I’ve slept on a cold, hardwood floor for two nights. I try to stretch but bending feels like I’m trying to bend a plastic ruler, I can’t really do it and I fear if I force it, I may break. My bones feel bruised and my muscles are like jelly, and I’m still hitting that damn snooze button, waiting for the 6 a.m. pains to pass.
Let’s be clear; it’s not all doom and gloom. There are good days. There are days when I manage my health and I have a burst of energy, when I step out of that shower and feel I can run the world. Those are the days I truly appreciate because I know that, alongside them, there are days that are a bit more of a struggle.
I guess, overall, I’m pretty pleased that the hour of hell is 6 a.m. At least by 7 a.m., the worst bit of the day is already a thing of the past.