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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