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Boo. Hiss. Ugh.
While I laude the benefits of going outside time after time, there are moments and experiences that make me contemplate living a leisurely indoor-only life. Many of these issues are primarily due to my broken body, but so1me are applicable to aging and really, just being a human.
Bugs. Specifically biting bugs. Yes, they are a literal pain in the ass for all of us. The amount of bug repellent sprays and technologies on the market will attest to that common experience. But, butt, buttttt, when it comes to those of us who have insect allergies, that extra pain can be a knockout. Bugs have always loved me, the common sweet blood myth I suppose. However, I wasn’t allergic to much as a kid. Dust (aka dust mites) were my only enemy. As I got older, and my body decided to become a battlefield, I developed allergies to most bugs, all selfish, and random other items. Pretty much anything which naturally elicits a slight immune response in an average person gets my system turned up to 100. Now, those annoying mosquito-filled days have become a horror show. Bug spray offers little reprieve. Especially, since I can’t use strong chemicals such as DEET (many of us get noticeable immune responses to this one). So… I wear long pants, long sleeves, a hat, carry a face bug net, and spray myself from head to toes every 30 minutes with the best natural repellent that I have found. They still bite me through my clothing.
At the end of a mosquito outing, I’ll have bites all over my body. After about 2-4 hours they turn into welts. They are more painful than itchy. I will start feeling achy and sore, especially if I am bitten around my joints. The area will swell and get hot. For about 48 hours, I will be extremely uncomfortable with noticeable welts where the bites happened. Sometimes they blister. The bites always leave a bruise on my skin which lasts for weeks. No, I’m not itching them. I take care to ingest antihistamines, take cold showers, wear loose clothing, etc. The results are inevitable.
Stinging insects cause more harm. Freak’n spiders can be real jerks. I carry an epipen for possible bee/wasp stings. Thankfully, I’ve been able to mostly avoid them while exploring outside.
Pain. Existing causes me and most with chronic illnesses to be in pain. It’s just a part of our lives. Extra or intentionally created pain, is more difficult to handle. I know that when I’m going to play outdoors, I will be causing myself to have that experience. It becomes a game of odds. What are the risk verses rewards of this activity? Most of the time, being outside wins. I’m wiling to suffer through a lot just to swim in the ocean or climb a mountain. With autonomic small fiber neuropathy, foot and leg pain occurs with simply the pressure of walking. Throw in slippy joints and fragile skin from Ehler-Danlos Syndrome and you’ve got a gnarly combination. At the end of, say a hike, I won’t be able to put on shoes or stand on my feet for at least 30 minutes. I will always have a rash and indentations from my socks and shoes. Sometimes, I will even have more pain from the after effects of wearing my knee braces than the joint pain they were initially slowing.
Of course, there is always full body pain. The effects of heat and cardiovascular exercise on someone with autonomic dysfunction are notable. Don’t forget about the extra stress on the heart and lungs which are running at double time of the average person. I’ll barely notice the shoulder pain from carrying a pack or doing strokes in the ocean, the hand pain when holding hiking sticks or trying to grip something, the nausea from pushing legs beyond their capacity or generally overloading the body’s nervous systems.
Oh and don’t forget about the: itching, dizziness, dehydration, asthmatic response, inflammatory response, stressed joints, injury for no understandable reason, and so very much more.
While it has been cathartic to write this and complain a bit, all the pain and aggravations are worth it. Go outside. Lay in the sun, play in the water, and take some deep breaths in the forest. I’d rather have a body full of scars and a protocol for after care than spend my life hiding away from the beauty, peace, and education that I get from being out in nature. We can rest and we can accept our bad days with grace, but don’t stop spending time outdoors. Get your hands and feet dirty for a few minutes. Squint at the sun and sigh that it’s too hot out. Bundle up and rub your gloved hands together as you watch your breath leave you in the freezing cold. Put your head under the water and listen to how loud that silence can sound. This planet is awesome.
I’ll be here if you want to complain or exclaim joy about it. We all need to be a little more okay with the duality of existence. There is space for all the weird feelings and confusing parts of having a busted body here. It’s okay.
Green and Black Poison Frog. Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute