Restorative Powers of the Icelandic Sundlaug

Last night, in an attempt to ease the stress of the work week out of my tight and sore fibromite muscles with a mild back massage, my husband gently pressed in the middle of my back.

I screamed.

Um, hold up a moment, where did that bundle of pain come from?

As he gingerly tested other regions of my back, we discovered I was hiding a lot of tensed, knotted muscles, and any amount of light massage was so unbearable, I almost writhed off the bed.

Oww.

As I drifted off to hazy sleep, a question flitted into my brain – “Where did that unbearable pain come from?” When I woke up, the question still hovered, persistent and unanswered. I stewed over it in the shower, as the warm jets of water failed to soothe the pain, and again as I sipped my morning coffee and failed to read my magazine. You know, that scary realization that you just read four pages of which you cannot recall a single thing. Obviously, I needed to figure this out.

Normally, I would not obsess so much over muscle and back pain. By now I am acclimated to fibromyalgia’s whims of fancy – knotted up feet one minute, arm muscles heavy with unliftable fatigue the next. My back has always been the biggest repository for fibro pain. I don’t like this, but I accept this. It is my “new normal” living with fibromyalgia.

Yet this time I am really bothered.

What did I do this week to amass such a high level of pain in my back? On my doctor’s pain scale, I would rate this a 10 – truly unbearable. Yet, when I look back to life before Iceland, I realize this level of pain was not uncommon. Only a couple months ago, I would have rated this a level 8. Is my threshold for pain lowering?

In fact, I think Iceland was incredibly good for my fibromylagia. I look back over the past few weeks and realize I have never felt so little pain since my diagnosis. Something about my Iceland life soothed the fibro beast, even if just by small degrees. I think I have the answer.

Iceland’s social life revolves around their natural wonders, especially their geothermally-heated pools. Children are practically fish, spending much of their school and family lives splashing in the pools, sliding down water slides, and soaking in 40 degree celsius waters with their elders. Icelanders – young and old, single, families, even multiple generations – congregate at their local public sundlaug for a calming soak and gossip session. Some people go every day before or after work. Even the smallest communities have a pool with assorted hot pots.

I always try to fit the local routine into my traveling – attending church on Sunday, grocery shopping, riding public transportation, leisure activities. In the course of my travels, I became addicted to a daily session of geothermal simmering. Learning from my observation of the locals, I switched between super hot waters (42 celsius) to cooler warm waters and back, letting my mind wander into a relaxed stupor or, as my language skills developed, diving into conversation with the locals. Over the course of my travels, slowly, imperceptibly, my muscles eased and my fibro pain melted off in tiny degrees. Coupled with my incessant walking, I arrived back in the States in the best shape of my fibro life.

In one week of daily American life, I seem to have reversed weeks of effort. Part of me wants to scream not just from pain, but frustration.

The other part of me wants to puzzle this out. Can I find a way in my daily life – sans geothermal pool access – to incorporate the Icelandic sundlaug into my routine? Tonight’s test run #1 – draw a hot bath and soak until the heat dissolves to luke-warm tepidness.

I’ll keep you posted.

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About chronictraveler

Chronic Traveler starts as a dream, one that I thought I had lost, but that has slowly changed into a mission to realize and live that dream every day. In December 2007 I became seriously ill and the doctors did not know what was causing my illness. I had to stop teaching as my life tumbled into a never-ending nightmare of doctors, hospitals and tests. Finally, in May 2008 I was diagnosed with a chronic condition - fibromyalgia. I was only 26 years old at the time. I have had to give up teaching, and now work part-time at a performing arts center as I learn how to manage my condition and improve my quality of life. What helped me through the months of uncertainty and sickness, and continues to inspire me, was a new focus on what truly mattered to me: family, friends, gardening, the arts, and especially travel. I have always fed my soul by traveling, ever since I first stepped off the plane at age 16 in Kathmandu, Nepal to help with an orphanage's building project. Meeting new people and experiencing how they live and how they view the world infuses my life with a richness I was so afraid I would lose when the doctor first said, "You have fibromyalgia". This blog is my story, as I begin to forge a new path. I am embracing my life as it is, with the fibromyalgia pain and fatigue, and learning to do what I love regardless. It may mean I have to go slower and take more naps or breaks! But I am determined to learn how to travel and experience the world, and hopefully what I learn will help others like me who believe their medical condition stands in the way of their travel dreams.
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2 Responses to Restorative Powers of the Icelandic Sundlaug

  1. inretrospect21 says:

    Did the warm bath help? Do epsom salts do anything for your fibrio pain? What about a chiropractor?

    • chronictraveler says:

      I am still tinkering with my tub’s temperature levels, but my goodness, is it helping!!! Yesterday I pushed myself too far by tackling one chore too many. So I decided I need the hottest hot pot Iceland has to offer, jacked up the temperature in my tub, and soaked for as long as I could bear it (about 10 minutes). Normally I would then rotate to a cooler hot pot, but I only have one tub. However, that really did the trick. This morning I am vibrating with energy.

      I have to be careful with massage, acupuncture, chiropractors, all of that. If they are experienced with fibromyalgia patients, it’s beneficial, but otherwise it can actually exacerbate my symptoms. Plus my health insurance covers none of it. 😦 I suppose the bright side is I actually have health insurance. Count my blessings, right?

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