Martha Beck's bete noir
Illustration: Guy Billout
Right now I have two cliché pains: one in my neck and one in my butt. Both are the result of my learning to ride—and I use that term loosely—a horse. The butt pain is no big deal; just chafed skin. I'm told it can be avoided by wearing a padded undergarment, brand-named Comfy Rump, which I'm sure they carry at Victoria's Extremely Dark Secret. My neck pain, on the other hand, could mean trouble. It started when my horse jumped a little, causing my head to lash around on my vertebral column like a bowling ball on a Slinky. Though this was a new experience, the afterpain is all too familiar. You see, I have fibromyalgia, a chronic pain syndrome no one really understands. My neck may heal normally, or "fibro" may be triggered by the bruised tissue, making the injury debilitating.

Fibromyalgia is my bête noire, a French term for "black beast" that has come to mean something to be avoided because it frightens us or can cause us harm. Many of us have bêtes noires: dark moods (Winston Churchill called depression his "black dog"), addiction, self-loathing, a tendency to lurk in the shrubbery near former lovers' homes holding a machete in one hand and The Complete Works of Keats in the other. Whatever your bête noire might be, you may think it will ruin your life. I beg to differ. Like other wild animals, your bête can be studied, understood—even tamed. If you want to be the handler of your beast, instead of its prey, grab a pencil and prepare to learn a bête noire tracking exercise that I call the Lifeline.

Download the Lifeline graph here PDF


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