Friday, April 27, 2018

Diagnosed by Poetry

It is all too tempting to diagnose people, real and fictional, from afar based on incomplete and sketchy data. Marfan syndrome can explain Abraham Lincoln's hight and appearance. Sherlock Holmes may have been bipolar or autistic.

Every week someone offers up a new medical explanation for our current president.
This may be Emily Dickinson (left).

Poor Emily Dickinson has already been posthumously diagnosed with epilepsy, tuberculosis, and agoraphobia. I'm going to add to her ghostly burdens by suggesting she might have had an autoimmune disease.

That she and I are both vaguely unwell on a regular basis is probably not good enough evidence. Emily lived at a time of extreme propriety when talking graphically about health problems was not done.

But this poem sounds a lot like my life:

For each ecstatic instant
We must an anguish pay
In keen and quivering ratio
To the ecstasy.

For each beloved hour
Sharp pittances of years--
Bitter contested farthings--
And Coffers heaped with Tears!
--Emily Dickinson

Whenever I get overly energetic, physically or mentally, there is a disproportionate price to pay in tiredness and pain. 

Last week illustrates this. My step counter looks really good. The goal for most days is 5000 steps, about 2 miles. Monday, despite horrible wind storms, I walked over 7000 steps, so Tuesday I was good and rested.Wednesday, after resting, I felt good and went to the aquarium and the store and ended up with over 9000 steps. That was not smart. My body reacted with pain, nausea, hot flashes, itching and sleeplessness.

But I had planned a trip to the zoo with a friend on Thursday. I didn't want to cancel, so I persuaded myself that if I wore my hat for the sun and used a walking stick, I'd be fine.

I wasn't. Even though it was a pleasant, uncrowded day at the zoo, I couldn't enjoy myself.

 I was peevish. Everything bothered me and everything hurt. Smells hurt. Sounds hurt. I would have been miserable at home that day too, but I would have been resting instead of walking another three miles

I was violently ill afterwards, projectile vomiting all over myself and the inside of my car.

 Too overwhelmed to deal with it anywhere but home, I kept driving so I could get to my shower and my bed. 

(My reaction at the zoo and after is classic fibromyalgia. Here is a good article about fibromyalgia pain.)

I've been tiptoeing around myself ever since. Symphony tickets Friday night meant spending that day in bed. I skipped church on Sunday because the chairs there really hurt. Today (Wednesday) I'd like to go to the aquarium, but I'm walking the mall with my friend tomorrow and I've been writing all morning, so I think I'd better take my dog out to run around in the yard and then maybe lie down and listen to podcasts for a few hours. We may be bicycling on Friday or Saturday and I need to save up for my next ecstatic instant.

Speaking of ecstasy, this week's PODCAST is about Emily Dickinson's sex life.

Actually, we don't
really know if she had one, but she did write about desire and the double standard, all with pretty metaphors and omitted details, so there is no danger of me getting in trouble for explicit language yet. 


My bright blue cotton vest is coming along quickly. I am about 1/5 finished and hope I am about 1/5 through the yarn. It is always a little nerve-racking watching yarn being used up and worrying if there will be enough.

I look at the pattern for every stitch of my vest, so this is only a project for when I can concentrate. For social knitting, I am making a purse for one of my nieces.

And even though it is far too hot today for heavy wool, I had to wear the new skirt at least once before bagging it up with the winter sweaters.

Notice that my old dog and I are staying in the shade. Spring this year is jumping right into summer.


  1. Emily Dickinson did not have a sex life. Otherwise I could not have read her poetry in high school. I mean we were not heathens after all. LOL

  2. I don't know how my senior English teacher kept her job. She said, "All good poetry is about sex or death," and introduced us to D.H. Lawrence.