Mechanism of a flare-up – how understanding can lead to relief

I could feel it coming on last night, the extreme tiredness, the classic temperature disregulation (ice cold waves but then red hot flushes), really spongy sore knee, intense headache and head pressure in waves, head too heavy for shoulders, sudden neck tension and swollen glands behind the ears, vision issues, a “weak heart” sensation and feeling of low blood pressure, my hip joints extremely sore and prone to hypermbolility so that it was hard to sit in any position without over-extending, deep pain in all my joints generally, an electric sparky brain from trying to concentrate on a highish octane program in the evening (wrong choice) and feeling so dog tired I desperately wanted to go to bed at 9.30…unheard of.

In fact, I so desperately longed to sleep, immediately, that I could hardly keep my eyes open for a second but knew if I did it there, on the sofa, it would be worse as I would struggle to wake up. There could be no going back from surrendering to the torpor I felt coming, and I would inevitably feel awful when I tried to rouse myself again to crawl to bed so I mustn’t let that happen but I already felt on borrowed time like my head was shutting down. Also of note is that I had been experiencing odd waves of dizziness and vague nausea all day, a bit like travel sickness, along with powerful urges to gorge carbs for energy only to feel overly full and tummy-achy once I did.

So, we compromised on going to bed at 10, meaning lights out at 10.30 once I’d struggled to go through my routine. I felt initially too wired and electric to sleep and then I fell…deep. The night was full of fitful, energetic, frustrating dreams. I needed the loo, urgently with an interstitial flare-up, several times but went straight back into my franetic dream every time. I woke up at approximatley the usual time but knew I was in no state to get straight out of bed today (Saturday) plus it was icy cold or did it just feel that way to my discombobulated temperature regulation. I could feel the certain energy in the air that I know of old; like a high note, an intensity, a sort of direct-hit that had occured in the night.

So I stayed in bed for about 45 mins longer than usual then did an abbreviated yoga routine with no meditation, feeling I couldn’t cope with “diving back in” again, or the sitting posture. An absolute rarity, the garden was full of goldfinches as I stood on my mat (interesting coinicidence as I started painting two of them yesterday) and it helped revive my spirits. I’ve noticed they always tend to be about more, though seldom this many, on these energetic-feeling mornings; perhaps the energy stirs up particular insects that they like because they were darting about everywhere, excitedly, as though having a fiesta. If I could just see the exceptionally strong energy, the very thing passing through me that is so tangible it burns and hurts inside my body, as the very same thing that so animates my favourite type of bird then maybe I could transmute it…

Anyway, what I realised on the yoga mat, on the back of this thought, was this.

I feel it when a certain, to me very strong, energy comes into the atmsophere, the kind that registers in the body and “triggers” me (and we each have our own particular triggers, thus we get to know them, though they may not be so easy to explain to other people). For some people, it migth be something more straightforward…bright lights, certain noises, crowds of people but I suspect the mechanism is the same and, for me, it happens to be geomagnetic transitions that I feel so strongly…I really do…because its part of my extra-sensory profile. Whether its to do with autism or being HSP, really a combination of both…and because I’ve had past history of such strong energies causing, or at least coinciding with, trauma and pain…its as though my entire system flinches and “goes soft” when this happens, just as you might if you knew you were falling or about to take a hit.

In other words, its a reflex to avert unnecessary pain when you land or the blow strikes and, to an extent, that body response is correct, if not always convenient and probably rather too exagerated. Taking that as the hypothesis, the evening before’s events can be re-evaluated as this chain of events:

So, in my case, with that “something’s a-coming, quick go soft” instruction taken very literally by my body when I register an energetic shift in the air, my entire system seems to default to an EDS flare-up and, suddenly, its as though my joints are elastic, the vessels transporting blood and fluid to my cranium atrophy triggering increased pressure and neck pain, swollen bumps in the lymph glands behinds my ears, head pressure and pain, vision issues, tooth pain, shrill tones in my ears, etc…

And, to compensate for soft ligaments and in order to move around or hold together at all, my muscles try to overcompensate, feeling stringy and foreshortened for all my joints feel like they are held by chewing gum (the paradox of EDS but it helps to understand this is just the muscles “trying to help”). So, they suddenly ache intensely as though I’ve been walking through deep snow and a sort of rigamortis-like tension builds up in the body, adding to the increased pressure and pain. Likewise, if I can retain the observer stance, I can sense the white-knuckle grip I now have on everything at these times, even my emotions, so my voice flattens and I cope poorly with other people being around, even with gestures of affection, as though I have retreated into fight-or-flight mode and just want to be left alone in my sensory overwhelm; so, yes, its a kind of autistic burn out, only its physical as well as emotional.

In the midst of all this, my body regulation goes completely off, probably because these functions have been sidelined in all the hullabaloo; first I’m shivering then I’m red hot and throwing off clothes, also my appetite sends crazy signals to eat too much or I have the feeling of excessive fulness after an ordinary meal. My brain so often goes into brain fog at this point, so I can’t concentrate or make appropriate decisions easily. Added to fuzzy vision, it’s as though I am suddenly rendered unable to do any of the things, even the relaxation tasks, that I’d planned for and all that is left is to succumb to a sort of dozing sleep.

These are old symptoms, ones I had…and very frequently for the first couple of years after they started…about 10 or 11 years ago and they went on and on as occassional flare-ups, or a new kind of “normal” in my life, until they let up somewhat for 2 or 3 years in the middle before coming back more intensely as of a couple of years ago (I suspect hormone shifts, removing the buffer of oestrogen, have not been on my side since menopause). I won’t mess around by pretending I don’t already know they are connected to the solar cycle thus, when that cycle is in minimum, I experience these kinds of flare-up much less. They began again when cycle 25 started two years ago and are becoming much more frequent with the current increase of solar activity, which has been quite lively for the past few weeks. When they “hit” last night I just knew that a geomganetic (GM) storm was in the offing and I was right; the announcement flashed into my notifications as soon as I loaded my Mac this morning…KP3 threshold reached at 3am. It had been building for hours prior to that. It was much the same earlier this week when we had the biggest GM storm of the current cycle, with a powerful KP6 storm level reached; yes, its been an eventful week and I’ve been strapped to the front seat on its ride.

I used to feel so frustrated that no one else seemed to register these particular “events” in their bodies, they clearly weren’t paying attention, but now I suspect its my foible, you could call it a “special interest” my autistic wiring has developed. I was born at a time of such extremely high solar activity and maybe the trauma of that additional to being born into a room full of bright lights and screaming, also (I retrospectively suspect) to circumstantially overwhelmed parents charged with a mixture of emotions, added to the effect that somehow embedded itself into my autistic nervous system but there it is, my particular trigger, now wired deeply into the dysautonomia of my middle aged body. Its an effect-route hypothesised by psychologist Michael Jawer in his studies of the HPA axis and the effect of early life experiences on later life extra sensory awarenesses (see Heath Resources above for his recommended book). Perhaps EDS was built in later to help, like a sort of “crash suit” to break my frequent falls.

The thing is, now I know about it and have pieced this much together there are things I can do about it. One is to encourage that softness, to a point, by allowing that I just stop and supporting the nervous system to do that in a healthy way, not trying so hard to over-ride the natural impulse with, say, caffeine or making myself push even harder to do the tasks I had made my mind up to do that day. Time is not in shortfall in my life so if I need to pull back for a few hours or a day, that’s what I can do. I find regular dosing with l-theanine and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) really help and CBD to a point, also muscle relaxants (I use one that combines CBD, MSM, curcumin and arnica). Magnesium is also key (every day, much more so during a flare) as it will relax the nervous response and the brain’s attempted over-engagement as much as the muscle rigidity. Heat is my go-to, keeping those over-stimulated nerves warm above all things, so a hot water bottle is a permanent fixture along with layers of clothes, always socks and even an indoor hat if it feels good. Earplugs or ANC (active noise cancellation) headphones too; mine really help when the neighbours or traffic decide to get noisy at these triggered times. Importantly, train people around you that you need comfort but not too much close coddling at these times if your response is the need to withdraw. Teach them not to interpret your silences adversely but to allow that you know best what you need to do.

The other is to recognise that, not only do my muscles try to overcompensate when these flares happen but so does my “intellect”…the only problem being, because my higher intellect has largely been put to sleep by the effect of so much softening (hence “brain fog”) my amygdala takes over!

So, in the past (and I include in that the fairly recent past!) its at these times of crash that my brain often fires up, in pure survival mode, and even though I am feeling lousy, I am suddenly researching the hell out of my symptoms and plummeting into fear and overwhelm, right on top of my physical flare-up. In fact, this behaviour has been the pitfall of my last decade or so; there is a great deal of difference between balanced and highly circumspect research conducted at times of calm compared with the knee-jerk variety dived into at these times (and, by the way, you will always find someone or something to suport your most fear-inducing theories if you look for it hard enough)!

My advice: put the gun down and turn to gentler pursuits.

Once the trigger event is over, I gain far more circumspection in hindsight but the damage is often done by then if I have already unleashed a whole new strain of fearful overthinking along the lines of peak symptoms and possible labels and conclusions, “have I got this, could it be that…” and then its very hard to put that jack-in-the-box back in the container once its sprung out. Peak symptoms are just that – the rarities, the occassional one-offs, the dip days, and they don’t have to make up anything like the majority of your experience unless you take yourself there all the time, in your thoughts!

So, as well as reducing how much my muscles have to do at these times and supporting them when they do (a good range of elasticated supports for ankles and knees have now made it into my sock drawer) I take steps to actively reduce how much my intellect has to deal with at these times. I don’t expect myself to be sociable, I don’t tackle executive function tasks that can be postponed and I seriously don’t allow myself to get into any kind of rumination or research.

Instead, I apply myself to soft pursuits; listening to music, looking at the birds, watching soothing videos and, if I must “do” something, art. In fact, art has been my most consistent help-mate through all the many years of these symptoms, long before I understood their mechanism to this degree.

Now that I do, its a bonus to be able to appreciate that not only is art my happy place but its a necessity, you could call it a therapy, and also…a real bonus…these times of increased softness actually feed into the artistic flow, inspiring me even more than I am capable of being inspired at other times because, somehow, they speak the same language.

For those of us who count ourselves as “sensitive”, we all have our own triggers for a flare-up of the kind I describe and I’m not suggesting anyone else responds to environmental factors as subtle as GM values to the degree that I do yet I wonder if the mechanism might be somewhat the same, as well as the remedies. Once you start to understand such a mechanism, its as though the wizard with the booming voice behind the curtain is revealed and, no longer the mystery, is also not so very scary anymore. Its a great start to managing your traits so much better and with that comes some quite significant relief.

2 thoughts on “Mechanism of a flare-up – how understanding can lead to relief

  1. We both feel this, too, or something analogous, in my household. We associate with the weather and pressure changes (or the jet stream, back when it was stronger and less wavy). Once I noticed how my cello responded to weather and pressure changes, and it became clear to me: our bodies are like cellos, lots of space inside, so it takes a while to adjust to changes. Go soft to recalibrate is a great approach!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s always an odd sense of relief when others can relate to this phenomenon as it can be a lonely and bizarre-sounding trait to have. I used to be part of a worldwide study group a woman was running to compare these sensitivities and the timing of them but her website is no longer active, however there were quite a few of us worldwide. There are some very arbitrary studies of SW and/or geomagnetic effects related to things like epilepsy or heart conditions but nothing more general seems to have generated any curiosity, or funding, in the scientific community. My husband is feeling it much more these days too…he has had similar (if much milder) versions of my symptoms today as in inexplicably tired, heavy limbed and achy and occassional lightheaded feelings, and he often gets intensely itchy skin during these events. I also know I’m affected much more intensely in late August into September and late Feb into March as we approach the equinox events and assume this is due to the cracks in the earth’s magnetic field at these times (a well-known phenomenon in space weather circles).

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