Cartoon borrowed from my favorite online strip, Savage Chickens.
I started to slide downhill at the beginning of the month, I think, with a sleepless night on July 2, and another on July 4, that one caused by my no-account neighbors, though it wasn’t until a week later – on the morning of the 12th – that I woke up and realized there was no chance of me going to work. I had taken Monday the 10th from home and struggled to come in Tuesday the 11th, but once Wednesday rolled around, I had no choice. I was flat on my back.
Today – Friday the 21st – is my first day back in the office. I came in the afternoon for meetings the past two days, both times feeling pretty dicey and with Chimp driving me there and back. I was in bed continuously from the 12th to the 18th. I managed ten minutes out of the house on Saturday the 15th when Chimp took me to the farmer’s market, but that was my only excursion during my confinement.
I’m still feeling worn out – I woke up this morning with my leg muscles as sore as if I’d run five miles without stretching before or after. In my dim consciousness, I thought Why do my leg muscles ache? and then realized that yesterday I’d been walking around the office – to get water, to go to the meeting room, to come back from the meeting room – and that was more walking than I’d done in the previous week.
When this happens, I worry that this will be the time I end up housebound or bedridden, that I will never get better; that it will swiftly turn out that my CFS/ME is progressive. It is terrifying to slide downhill, to watch your abilities leave you day by day – to go from going to work like a regular person to lying on the couch, unable to get yourself a glass of water because the energy required to sit up is more than you have.
When I can’t do anything – when it is exhausting or beyond me to talk, or turn my head, or hold the phone to my ear – the one thing that really feels good is to laugh. This relapse is the first time I’ve noticed how much difference it makes in the way I feel, at least for a moment, when I’m really physically suffering.
I don’t know if my friends, family, and colleagues have been funnier than usual these couple of weeks, or if I’ve just wanted to laugh more and as a result have done so, but for the few seconds that’s happening, it all recedes, like a cartoon window shade flying up and around itself, flap flap flap. Feeling my muscles move in laughter is wonderful. I miss terribly the feeling of having my body in motion, my muscles carrying me in space as in running, and laughing conjures that up for just a moment – I have never been a halfway-laugher, and throwing my head back and being able to move in a little moment of abandon makes me aware that my body can feel good. The emotional release of it sends a wave of endorphins through my brain, which I swear to you I can feel cascading down into my body, working on the heavy weakness, and the joke does something as well – whatever the image or words are that I’m laughing at, it’s as if the mental energy of figuring out the joke puts flint to stone and knocks sparks into my brain. For a minute, something rouses it from its fog, and I can think straight. After I get done laughing, eventually the leaden fevered feeling easing itself slowly back onto me, but it doesn’t tend to fall on my body and brain as hard in those moments when I’ve been laughing as it sometimes does at other times it comes on.
It feels like exercising used to feel, really – the satisfaction of having used my body well, to a purpose it was meant. And since I can’t manage the treadmill or sit-ups or roller derby for now, I think I’m going to stick to this plan for a while. More laughs, more often. I welcome all comers and I’m seeking them out wherever they hide – you name it, I’ll take it – shaggy dog stories, puns, satire, dry wit, even that lowest of the low, sarcasm. I have always loved to laugh, loved comedy, but I am now totally convinced that it is as important as good food for my health.