Hi! So.. I try to keep the posts on my blog mostly cheerful. I always want my blog to be a place that reflects a sense of hope and healing, where people can come to feel uplifted.
But… I also blog to share my truth with people, and to connect.
I’ve been concentrating so much on writing my SI joint blog recently that I haven’t been writing so much about pain science, in general.
But the past few weeks, it’s been hot. Really hot.
And now I’m reminded, on a personal level, how central sensitization really isn’t just about pain. Instead, it’s about everything our central nervous system is responsible for regulating… and the fact that our ability to regulate it has been thrown off.
Something that should be so small, for another person… for people with central sensitization, it can be huge.
I’m about to tell you why I’ve been so miserable, and why, so far, I’ve spent most of the weekend just lying on my bed.
As I write this, I feel like what I’m going to say sounds so silly, so benign. But this is the reality of struggling with central sensitization– our symptoms can sound ridiculous to other people. They can even sound ridiculous to us. But they are still happening.
So I will tell you that my apartment is too hot.
I should spare you the boring details, but this post won’t make sense if I don’t explain that this is my first summer in this new apartment. I don’t have central AC in this place, as I have in summers past. I’ve been trying to get away with one small window air conditioner for my whole place, and it’s been an epic fail.
I know what I’m saying might sound ridiculous to the average person. Because it’s not really a big deal, right? Just buy another air conditioner and move on.
But for me, this situation is reminding me, so strongly, that I really do have a problem with central sensitization.
Because sometimes, my body doesn’t let me just “move on.” It’s not just like I just noticed that I felt hot. I’ve been exhausted.
I feel like I didn’t get any warning. I didn’t just have some mild discomfort and then think “oh, I should probably do something about the fact that my apartment is so hot.”
Instead, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Like a virus.
Originally, I’d wanted to wait and see if one AC was enough, before buying a second. When it first started to get hot a few weeks ago, I thought I could just spend most of my time in the bedroom (my air conditioned room) and limit my time in the rest of the place.
As the summer’s gotten hotter, I’ve found that I don’t just get hot. I get exhausted, quickly: I can’t think clearly. I go on anxiety spirals.
I’ve constantly felt like I’ve been coming down with something… but I haven’t actually gotten sick.
If I leave my air conditioned bedroom and walk into the 82-degree living room for 5 minutes, I get dizzy.
This is crazy, right? I know it sounds crazy. It doesn’t make sense!
But that doesn’t mean I’m not also experiencing it.
I noticed that if I retreat back to my 74-degree bedroom, after about 20 minutes, I’ll start to feel calm again. My anxiety will go away, and my thoughts will become rational again.
But apparently, I really can’t handle even the back and forth to the rest of the apartment, even if I have my cool bedroom to go back to.
I know plenty of people who live this way, no problem.
And I know a few people who barely use their air conditioners at all.
I know that what I’m experiencing sounds extreme. And yet, it’s happening.
I think it’s a heightened version of the way everyone gets tired, when they’re overheated. It’s how our body protects us, by forcing us to stay still and keep cool.
Only my body is perceiving the walk from my bedroom to the kitchen as a threat to homeostasis– or, in other words, its ability to keep things regulated.
Honestly, I was getting pretty upset, when I remembered to do what I always do, in the end: slow down. Take a deep breath. And do some reading. Remember that there is a name for what I’m experiencing, and that I always feel better when I try to learn about it.
So I went back and watched my favorite video from Dr. Sletten at the Mayo Clinic:
I shared this video in my last post too… I guess I probably can’t share it in every post (or can I?!). But it really pulled me out of the depths of despair right now, so of course I had to share it again. (Thank you, Dr. Sletten! I’ve never met you but I feel like I’m your biggest Internet fan!).
This video is really the most reassuring thing I’ve found out there.
In the first screenshot, which I took at the 2:30 mark, Dr. Sletten outlines some of the various systems our body uses to maintain homeostasis:
He explains, “If you’re too hot, you might to go to a place to cool off. If you’re thirsty, you might drink some water. If you have to go the bathroom, you go to the bathroom.” These are all ways in which we respond to the input that our peripheral nervous system gives us, in order to take care of our body.
As he says, “The signal itself is not abnormal.”
The problem sets in when these signals get upregulated– meaning a stronger and stronger signal gets sent to the brain.
The somatosensory cortex is the part of our brain that processes all of these sensations coming from our body. When these signals are upregulated, that means they’re stronger and more uncomfortable.
In the red marker below, you can see where he wrote a list of some of the sensations and triggers that can arise when the nervous system has been sensitized. He included temperature as a potential trigger, as well as a change in barometric pressure (which I, personally, haven’t experienced, but I would imagine this would make people feel as crazy as I feel right now).
So, honestly.. I don’t really know how to fix this.
I’ve come a long way in managing the chronic musculoskeletal pain aspect of this, using an awesome approach called pain neurophysiology education. But that doesn’t mean that central sensitization is completely reversible (although new treatments are being researched every day!).
For now, I personally feel better if I can just learn about it.
To know there are other people out there going through the same thing, and that there are doctors and researchers out there who won’t think I’m crazy. To know that it’s not “in my head,” although it is in my nervous system.
I just need to know this about myself. I have symptoms of central sensitization, and one of them is that I don’t handle heat well. Temperature is not something I can be too flexible with.
Does anyone else out there experience this?
I know this post was not my normal cheerful, upbeat post. I’m genuinely curious if anyone else out there goes through this.
Dr. Sletten’s video helped me a lot, but if anyone else out there feels the same way, please let me know!
And, whether or not heat is a factor for you, I hope you’re enjoying the summer!
Me… I’ll be off to buy another air conditioner now. :)
- What is central sensitization?
- Central Sensitivity Syndromes
- How to find help for Central Sensitization
- What I really want you to know about how central sensitization has impacted my own life
- Learning about central sensitization: the power of naming, and the future of pain treatment: Reasons to be optimistic as awareness grows