Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Parallels! Parallels Everywhere!

I am still astounded at how the "normal" things I used to do, that used to be no problem for me [like hefting a 50 lb JBL speaker over my shoulder], now cause me unreasonable amounts of pain. Not unbearable, but certainly unreasonable. Have you ever pulled a muscle climbing out of your car? I have. It was awful, and ridiculous. And for the most part, anyone with a chronic and invisible illness has certainly heard their share of "What do you mean that hurts?" "You must be exaggerating." "You just need to suck it up and quit being a wimp." "Wow, you must have a really low pain tolerance." BOOM, word choice, incorrect. Let's explore.

I read something a few days ago about the difference between 'pain threshold' and 'pain tolerance' in Fibromyalgia. I can't find the exact article I read, but I found similar ones here and here. If you don't want to click or it's a TL;DR situation, here's the gist of it: Pain threshold is more or less the point at which your body begins to interpret stimulus or signals as actual pain; Pain tolerance is simply how much pain you can tolerate--cumulative or in a specific instance. In Fibro, both can fluctuate. If you're super stressed out and extra emotional [ie, hormonal] your tolerance may be lower than usual--the pain you deal with on a daily basis may suddenly be too much to bear. Or maybe you've maintained such a high tolerance for so long that you have exhausted your reserves and you just can't take it any longer.

Anyways, point being. When I read about this, it immediately clicked for me. It made sense already; it was like second nature, a knowledge I already knew but didn't realize I knew. However. I was smack dab in the middle of a wonderful massage from Ms. Catalyst when my brain-gears started clicking into low gear. I had a low-grade epiphany.

The word 'threshold' as I usually know it is in regards to amplifiers and signals. This isn't the first time I've made a mental connection between the physical body and electronics--I could go on for days about how our bodies can resemble a regenerative feedback loop.  I'm also not the first person out there to make these connections. But I'm going to try and explain what went through my head as best I can, just in case maybe I dawn some light on someone else.

Use your imagination and work with me here. This represents a "normal" person's body's threshold and tolerance. The blue line is stimulus--whether it be external [exercise, wearing clothes, a kitty walking on your chest] or internal [nerve signals firing to your Central Nervous System despite the lack of external motivators]. So for whichever reasons, your neurons send the blue signal to your brain. The hard-to-see pink line represents the threshold, or, the point where stimulus becomes actually painful. Through no specific reason, I marked a 'normal' threshold at level 4. The tolerance, or the level at which the pain becomes unbearable, I have marked in red, at level 6. These levels are of course arbitrary and just for illustrative purposes. Tracking so far?

With Fibro, or really any disease that includes chronic pain, your graph may look more like this. Assume that the blue line is exactly the same as above--I did my best to replicate at least the general shape. For those of us with chronic pain, especially Fibro, our body switches from 'stimulus' signal to 'pain' signal at a much lower level--illustrated here at level 2. However, since we spend most of our days in pain, our tolerance actually is higher, marked here around 8. [If I had drawn this more accurately, the tolerance line would actually slant from about 5 to 8, noting how our tolerance changes over time. Or for some people, the reverse would be true, and the line would start at 8 but dwindle down to 4 over time, showing how chronic pain compounds upon itself.] So, we have a much wider range of stimulus-as-pain. It may be the same amount of stimulus, but our bodies perceive more of it as pain than "normal" people would. 

I suppose part of the reason I am dwelling on this is because I received my report from the civilian docs working for the VA. The doc, a retired HMC, older gentleman, claims that I sounded like I was "reading a description" of Fibromyalgia. I'm sorry that I'm educated and like to use precise words? I'm sorry that I've done research on my condition? The other part of his report that rubbed me the wrong way--and is much more relevant to this post--is that he claimed I flinched at "even the slightest touch," therefore, he could not apply the "required" 4 lbs of pressure to confirm a diagnosis of Fibro. I am pretty bad with estimating measurements, but I'm pretty sure that even a "normal" person wouldn't enjoy being poked and prodded with 4 lbs of pressure on a point like someone's fingertip. I mean, if my kitty walks across my chest, as she often does before laying down to cuddle, even her little paws are enough to cause me unreasonable pain. And for the record, she is not a large cat.  

Anyways, somehow I went from imagining these graphs, to imagining others. I remembered my recording days, and the concept of a Master Limiter. This is when you take a signal [ie, a song] and compact it all down to a predetermined limit, shown here as like, 2-8 pretend-decibels. What this does is essentially compact the signal, and prevent clipping and/or distortion. This is kind of what medications like Cymbalta and Gabapentin do--they take the edge off. The prevent the pain signal from "clipping," but honestly for me, they also take away some of the nuances of other stimulus.

At this point, I managed to get distracted by a post about 20 adorable baby pandas. No joke, they are cute as hell!!

Okay, all cuteness aside.  For those of you who want to argue with my premise, here is one last graph. It's my poorly executed example of a Gate concept. A gate is similar to a Master Limiter, it just works a little different. A gate can require a certain level of signal [ie, volume] or a certain type of signal [ie only certain frequencies] before it allows the signal to be recognized or passed on. This would be for example, in recording or in live scenarios--it basically mutes unwanted "noise" [yes, noise is a technical term!]. In a live scenario, a gate pedal would basically eliminate feedback from a guitar because the strength of the signal is not enough to overcome the resistance of the pedal and get pushed through the amplifier. For recording, it would serve to hide things like the singer's breathing or clearing her throat. In my graph below, the original signal is now shown in orange--the gate is set for the blue line, and the red line is the part of the signal that gets passed on to be amplified or recorded. Or both. 

 Last point before I wrap this up. Or I guess, two points. The first thought that got me on to drawing these graphs was the concept of a Clamper. It's kind of like a limiter, but a little different. A Clamper is a circuit that takes a signal within a range of frequencies and essentially ctrl-C/ctrl-V's it to another range. The signal retains the same shape and contours, the same dynamics, but it's just moved. Actually, I'm pretty sure auto-tune is an example of a clamper circuit. The other thought I had... was kind of hard for me to grasp again, but I remember that it had to do with amplifiers--cutoff and saturation points. I wish I wasn't so rusty on the theories behind amplifiers so I could keep rambling about this topic, because it really does intrigue me. And I really do think that the Fibro body has cutoff and saturation points that are abnormal. Saturation being the point at which there is too much signal, therefore the amplifier begins to spit out distorted signal, and cutoff being the point set before saturation, or sometimes afterwards, in the case of Marshall tube amps--that's basically where Fibro people live their lives. High gain.

I hope this made sense to someone besides me. I know a lot of fellow IC's can probably fill in the gaps of what I mean but am not remembering to say. I already had a hard enough time explaining today why electronics and such made so much sense to me as an English major with little experience in the field, yet push-pull amplifiers just seem like common sense.

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