When I was preparing to write a series on how our difficult times are like a fairy tale, it occurred to me that you might assume me crazy if I compared a debilitating, chronic pain condition to a term that is usually seen in a positive light.
And a quick search of the Google-sphere tells me I’m not alone in feeling a little bit (okay a lot) like the Hans Christian Andersen story of the Princess and the Pea.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the story, it tells the tale of a prince who wanted to marry the princess (of course). But not any princess would do. It had to be a REAL princess.
This was tested by the prince’s mother, who placed a single pea underneath a rather large stack of mattresses and blankets for the princess to sleep on.
In the morning, when asked how she slept, she bemoans her night sleep. “Oh, very badly!” said she. “I have scarcely closed my eyes all night. Heaven only knows what was in the bed, but I was lying on something hard so that I am black and blue all over my body. It’s horrible!”
Her extreme sensitivity to a small and unobtrusive stimulus is, in the end, the evidence that she was a ‘true princess’.
There are several theories behind what causes the pain experienced by those with FMS. I discuss the most prominent in the Complete Beginner’s Guide to Fibromyalgia.
One thing is for certain though…Fibromyalgia causes pain in ways that healthy people do not experience.
This feeling of pain from non-painful sources is described by the term hyperalgesia.
It is what makes a hug feel like a vice grip. Or a waistband feels like sandpaper. Or a pea feels like a battering ram.
Unlike the princess, however, those with Fibromyalgia are not any more likely to show signs of bruising. As a matter of fact, Fibromyalgia is often described as the ‘Invisible Illness’ because of the lack of physical evidence.
I admit to being a little jealous of the princess in the story. At least she has “black and blue all over [her] body” to show as a result of her pain.
The similarity between Fibro and the fairy tale princess does not stop here, though…
The tie between sleep disturbance (non-restorative sleep, insomnia, Restless Leg Syndrome, etc) and Fibromyalgia are well documented.
You could almost go as far as to say the two are guaranteed to exist together. Lack of restful sleep relates directly to the body’s inability to heal properly and reduce pain. It also impacts mental functioning that makes it more difficult for our brain to handle the pain. It’s a full circle!
In the case of our fairy tale, the poor sleep brought on by the princess’ travels and the pain from the pea left her unrested and unwell.
Anyone who battles Fibromyalgia is very aware of the painsomnia experience, just like our princess.
In the story, the prince and princess get married and the pea is removed from the bedding to be displayed in a museum. We can assume they lived happily-ever-after, as most fairy tale couples do.
But what about those of us whose pea is not going to be moved to a museum?
Can we live happily ever after with our prince?
Well, yes. But it’s going to be a bit more of a battle for us. We will have to actively seek out ways to improve sleep and relieve pain. Our mental health cannot be a secondary consideration, either.
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