Canaries Are Us

Have you ever heard of how miners used to use canaries to test the air in mines? The birds would get ill, or even die, from bad air much more quickly than humans would realize that the air was bad, allowing the humans to get out of the mine.

Those of us who have serious cases of FMS and CFS/ME are human canaries. We often react far more sensitively to EVERYTHING—medications, weather changes, temperature changes, drafts, outgassing from new upholstery or carpets, VOCs in fresh paint, cleaning chemicals, pesticides, air pollution, preservatives—you name it. Anything which puts any kind of stress on your body or your psyche can provoke a flare. Most of us react by trying to avoid stressors as our main strategy.

We can’t avoid all stressors. We can’t mandate that everyone at the grocery store refrain from using fragranced products. I’m finding that we can’t always count on vital parts of our support network to stay in place, because people change. We can’t avoid the weather and its effects on us.

And sometimes we need something, like radiation therapy or chemotherapy, to treat another condition, and we know that it will be a major stressor. There is no guarantee as to whether or not you’ll have a flare provoked by radiation therapy, of course. If your oncologist says that you need that in order to treat cancer, it isn’t wise to refuse it. 1This isn’t theoretical, but a response to a reader. However, what you should do is make sure that you take really good care of yourself otherwise, and reduce your body’s overall stress load.

The best way to deal with being a canary is to take good care of yourself. Take care of the basics by doing all of those things you know you should do anyway.

  • Establish a regular sleep schedule that ensures that you get plenty of quality sleep, and stick to it. You may need regular naps as part of your sleep schedule. My rheumatologist prescribed brief hourly naps for me at one time. Do what you need to do.
  • Eat enough of the right kinds of foods to nourish your body and spirit, and make sure that they’re of good quality, as fresh and free of chemicals as possible. Many people find it better to eat multiple small meals throughout the day rather than to have three larger meals separated by many hours of nothing.
  • Make sure that you have a safe, quiet retreat that is clean, free of pollutants, and quiet. If you’re prone to migraines or otherwise sensitive to light, put in blackout curtains so that you can control the light in your safe space.
  • Get enough light. Your body needs it to produce vitamin D. If you don’t get out in the sunshine very often, use a lightbox. There are some very good, inexpensive ones available now.
  • Get in touch with nature if at all possible. Even if you only go outside for five minutes a day, you’ll feel more grounded and refreshed due to that time.
  • Move. Be gentle with yourself, but get up and move at least once every hour. Stretch your muscles and get your blood moving. It will help.
Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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