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Five Truths about Fibromyalgia and Pain

Five Truths about Fibromyalgia and Pain

People who live with persistent pain can be suffering from a specific condition, whether it is arthritis, fibromyalgia, MS, or something else. But when you are living with pain that has lasted several months, you are actually suffering from another condition too — chronic pain.

Despite decades of study, chronic pain still seems to be misunderstood and hard to manage. As a result, there is much misinformation about chronic pain and stereotypes about the people that live with this condition.
Here are five truths to dispel the myths about chronic pain.

Pain is Real

For so many that live with illness and chronic pain, the pain they feel is often questioned. Doubt and misunderstanding come from loved ones, acquaintances and even members of the medical community. The reality is that pain is experienced differently by each individual.
Read more at http://www.fibromyalgiaconnect.com/fibromyalgia-articles/441-five-truths-about-fibromyalgia-and-pain#l8fUUt0JbGaFZB4W.99

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7 Strange Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

Learn about fibromyalgia symptoms that are rather bizarre.

7 Strange Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

The most common symptoms of fibromyalgia are pain, sleep disturbances and chronic fatigue, but these are not the only symptoms. In fact, there are many others that aren’t visible and aren’t easy to describe. These symptoms make daily living harder and they can affect patients on a psychological level.

Here are seven of the most common strange symptoms of fibromyalgia, the effect they have, and how they can be managed.

1. Allodynia

The medical definition of allodynia is pain experienced from non-painful stimulation, such as light touch, according to Merriam-Webster’s Medical Dictionary. Many fibromyalgia patients experience this symptom, but its extent depends on the frequency and severity of symptoms and the number of years living with the disorder.
Read more at http://www.fibromyalgiaconnect.com/fibromyalgia-articles/442-7-strange-symptoms-of-fibromyalgia#cDe5egryhkvIdc3R.99

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Recognizing and Dealing with Toxic People in Your Life

 

You deserve to surround yourself with people who love, accept and encourage you and your fibromyalgia diagnosis.

Recognizing and Dealing with Toxic People in Your Life

Living with fibromyalgia and other chronic illnesses means minimizing the things in your life that make your symptoms worse. Sometimes, it might even mean eliminating people, especially if those people stand in the way of your health. Other times, it means recognizing the ways in which you can minimize their effect on your life.

Toxic Relationships Worsen Your Health

People can be as toxic as chemicals. Toxic people will run drain your energy and ruin your self-confidence if you let them. “This person is not your cheerleader,” explains Ann Clark, MFT, a San Diego human services expert who has authored books on toxic relationships.

Steve Albrecht, PHR, CPP, BCC, instructor of stress management programs in San Diego, defines toxic relationships as being dominated by hurtful comments, constant sarcasm, passive-aggressive encounters and belittling behaviors.

Numerous studies have shown the damaging health effects of toxic relationships. One study from Michigan State University found out that people in toxic relationships have a 34 percent increased risk of heart disease. Another study out of the University of Copenhagen found that constant conflict in relationships was a cause of early death.
Read more at http://www.fibromyalgiaconnect.com/fibromyalgia-articles/445-recognizing-and-dealing-with-toxic-people-in-your-life#L786MXfvuHa5ZfBI.99

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11 Part Fibromyalgia Guide

Fibromyalgia Guide Part 1: Overview

In this guide you will find the latest information about fibromyalgia symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and how fibromyalgia affects other aspects of your life. You will also learn how to feel better and be active despite symptoms and pain while focusing on the future with hope and purpose.

What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is one of the most common musculosketal conditions in the United States, after arthritis. According to the American College of Rheumatology, two to four percent of Americans have fibromyalgia, and the majority of that population is women. Fibromyalgia is seen in all age groups, from children to the elderly. Most patients, however, begin to experience symptoms between ages 20 to 50. Fibromyalgia occurs worldwide and there is no specific ethnic predisposition to the syndrome.

Read More in this 11 part series.

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Acknowledging The Monster of Fibromyalgia and Pain

 

Learn how to accept chronic pain in your life with humor and gratitude.

Acknowledging the Monster of Fibromyalgia and Pain

My world has changed considerably since chronic illness. But even though I have had rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and fibromyalgia for nearly eight years, there are still times where I view my body as my enemy and I don’t know if I can be the “me” that I need to be.

How can I have a normal life, raise my kids, be successful professionally and find love again when my life is consumed by the monster that is chronic illness and pain?

It is has taken me time and real life comedic moments to come to terms with that monster, whom I call RAF (an abbreviated combination of my RA and fibromyalgia). And lucky for me, RAF is always around.

My Revolving Door Plight

RAF is part of my biggest daily challenge — that revolving door in my office building that I can’t always push. The non-revolving door, I feel, is for people with visible disabilities and I am not part of that reputable group. Most of the time, it takes all the strength I have to push my way out through the revolving door. And, there are times when I need help.

Read more at http://www.fibromyalgiaconnect.com/fibromyalgia-articles/425-acknowledging-the-monster-of-fibromyalgia-and-pain#cq0USJXBP3g5cDU2.99

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How to Handle Depression and Fibromyalgia

Learn the triggers of depression when living with fibromyalgia and how to overcome the symptoms.

How to Handle Depression and Fibromyalgia

For so many with fibromyalgia, depression is a fact of life. In fact, depression is one of the most common complications of chronic illness. Just the idea of facing a long life with illness brings about uncertainty, grief, anger and sadness. While some of this is a normal part of living with chronic disease, it is when you continue to experience these feelings and they start to affect your daily life that you should seek medical help.

READ MORE.

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Moody Foodie: Why Eating Well Is Crucial for Chronic Life Challenges

5970115488_583f929819_zMy favorite fifth grade teacher was Mrs. Harrison, who taught science. Really I should say she transmitted science, because we never for a moment suspected that we were learning something. She somehow exuded conceptual curiosity in a way that 10-year-olds could appreciate, enveloping us in an unfeigned cloud of passion for the laws of the universe, assuming we would come to find gamma rays and photosynthesis as mind-blowingly awesome as she did.

We did. One day we came to the classroom, avoiding the lettuce on the floor that she’d left for the large box turtle Edwina, who roamed freely and liked to pee directly in the doorways, and after we’d settled into our seats, Mrs. Harrison asked some poor sucker in the front row, “Do you eat sunlight?”

He stared back at her, clearly ill-at-ease.

I remember that the two smartest kids in the class — one of whom now holds an MD/PhD from Johns Hopkins, the other a hipster with a JD in Brooklyn — both kept their mouths shut. Because, as far as we knew, we ate cereal that grew in the shape of cookies, the breaded fingers off of chickens, and little pockets of pizza fabricated in hybrid textile/pizza factories. My parents had never served anything resembling sunlight.

So Mrs. Harrison moved on to the next student, pursuing the same question. It took us a long time, I’m sorry to say, for us to catch what she was trying get at, which tells you the state of food and farm education in the suburbs twenty years ago: largely non-existent.

What she wanted us to understand was that every molecule in our bodies came from outside of us. Sunlight makes the plants grow, which we in turn eat or which other animals eat until we eat them. I don’t want to make the annoyingly righteous statement that I know you might be waiting for: we are what we eat.  Because duh.  But I really don’t think we parse that idea often enough. Every one of our cells’ molecules, which give it structure and help it function, come from outside of us — the stuff we chew, swallow, absorb, inhale, and touch.

I like to think about how mind-blowingly awesome this is, especially when I consider our options for improving and maintaining mental health.

Despite the enduring myopia of western biochemical medicine, many of us understand that illness and disease are never purely a function of biochemistry. Likewise, mental health isn’t simply a function of genetics or chemical imbalance. So it would be silly to pretend that if we just ate right, our mental health would be perfect. That would ignore the role of trauma, for instance, in contributing to mental health crises, among other social and economic factors.

However, just as illness and disease are multi-factorial in origin, healing and recovery are multi-pronged processes, which is why “holistic” is such a buzzword these days — that is, like every medicine tradition prior to the current dominant western one, we are finally coming to relearn that we have to use multiple tactics to address the multiple origins and factors in any give health issue.

Which is why I want to talk about food.

6019925717_1c2662cfde_zI’m not an expert on many of the effective mental health therapies out there, but I do know that it’s really hard to get your body and psyche to do the work your therapist asks of you when it doesn’t have the building blocks it needs to function. If simply being alive requires a whole host of nutrition, imagine what we need to heal.

The thing that good food can do is make us more resilient. It can help our bodies and minds feel up to the task of doing all those (sometimes difficult!) things that can aid in healing. And so this article is a preliminary foray into using food and eating practices to create a resilient container in which to house your fighting and transformative spirit.

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ANATOMY & PHYSIOLOGY of MOOD & FOOD

In the emerging field of neurogastroenterology, researchers are acknowledging that the gut houses a “second brain,” the significant amount of nervous tissue and neural networks in the digestive tract known as the enteric nervous system.  95% percent of the body’s seratonin, a neurotransmitter necessary for feelings of well-being, is found in the gut, while 70% of the immune system exists in the digestive tract in the form of gut-associated lymphatic tissue (GALT). The digestive tract contains nearly 100 million nerve cells, more nerve cells than the peripheral nervous system does.

So clearly there is a link between digestion and nervous system function.

6433713773_932595f34a_zAlthough Dr. Natascha Campbell-McBride is famous for articulating one kind of dysfunction between the brain and gut in her GAPS diet protocol, many health care providers over millennia have observed the intimate relationship between food and mood. When foods cause recurring irritation due to upsetting microfloral balance in the gut, they damage the intestinal linings, causing cellular degradation, poor absorption, and most significantly, poor barrier function, or what some folks call “leaky gut.” In this situation, particles too large to handle enter the bloodstream, and the body sees them as foreign invaders, causing inflammation and autoimmune reactions, not to mention poor absorption of nutrients.

So it appears that sugary foods and unstable fats can alter your gut bacteria composition, which in turn can alter your mood and behavior.

In many traditions, digestion is viewed as the seat of healing. If struggling with depression is no fun, and pharmaceuticals are causing untenable side effects (not to mention effects on your body’s nutrient retention), it could make sense to investigate which foods are irritating to your GI function and which foods could help you better take in those building blocks your body craves.

ADD or AVOID?

I’ve found, when assisting folks in adjusting their diets, that it’s always more comforting to add elements into your daily nutrition than it is to take things out.

But some things are just not helpful to maintaining a healing digestive environment. You probably know which things I mean, and even why: sugar, transfats and hydrogenated oils, simple carbohydrates, preservatives. Some other food practices you may or may not have already considered relevant to well-functioning digestion is how hydrated you are, whether you have food sensitivities or reactions (gluten? dairy? nightshades?), how frequently you eat, and what conditions you regularly find yourself dining under (walking down the street on your way to a meeting while cramming your sprouted bagel with humus and veggies is not the same as sitting down to enjoy bagels with your favorite pal).

So, whew, now that we’ve gotten THAT out of the way (I’m so sorry! I’m not saying you should never eat a donut again, only that you might consider spacing out the frequency of this treat), on to the fun stuff: all the new foods you get to try.

Yes, it’s pretty overwhelming trying to keep up, or even coast on by, the food fads, superfood advertisements, latest research and people interpreting or disputing the latest research. Or maybe you’ve read enough Michael Pollan to feel like you have a handle on something (eat food, not too much, mainly plants). But if you need some support or reinforcement about what you probably already know, here are some of my simplest food rules, which I use every day as I’m trying to dodge the bewildering bombardments of products packed with monstrous combinations of AcaiGojiChiaQuinoaWhey.

  1. Eat Dense Food. No, I don’t mean the brick-like bread that my Austrian grandfather was so fond of. I mean nutritionally dense. Choose foods over supplements when possible, and choose foods that offer lots of deep colors, quality protein, fibers, good fats, and complex carbohydrates. Nourishing yourself is oodles more fun than depriving yourself. (Side Note: Always find a way to have treats, dense, empty, or otherwise.) And remember: It’s really, really hard to eat too many leafy vegetables.IMG_1688
  2. Get enough protein. Seriously, friends, shall we even begin to enumerate the roles that proteins play in daily maintenance, not to mention healing and recovery? Animal proteins are most similar to ours, and therefore the most easily assimilated, but plant proteins can be plenty nourishing. Stay away from protein shakes and drinks, especially those with whey; if you want a protein powder to add to your smooth, check out hydrolyzed collagen.
  3. Get enough (good) fat. Are we over the fat-phobic era of margarine and 0% milk yet? Please say yes. Fats like olive, coconut, avocado, pastured butter and other grass-fed animal fats keep your ratio of Omega3s to Omega9s in a happy balance closer to how our foraging and herding ancestors ate, which you are all sick of hearing about on account of the Paleo fad. But like every fad, sometimes there’s something to it. EFAs are so crucial to good nervous system function and moderating inflammation in the body, a lack of them can precipitate immune and emotional melt-downs of the highest order.
  4. Eat things that are still alive. Maybe this sounds gross, but that’s what fermented foods are: packed with beneficial microbiota, tiny living things. While fermented foods have certainly been making a comeback of late (kimchi tacos, yum!), the standard American diet has yet to incorporate this traditional dietary practice. In 2014, in a paper titled “Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry,” researchers Selhub, Logan, and Bested review the epidemiological and trial evidence for the impact of living foods on mental health. The authors posit that the effect of fermented foods on human health could “manifest, behaviorally, via magnified antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, reduction of intestinal permeability . . . improved glycemic control, positive influence on nutritional status (and therefore neurotransmission and neuropeptide production), direct production of GABA, and other bioactive chemicals, as well as a direct role in gut-to-brain communication via a beneficial shift in the intestinal microbiota itself.” They conclude, “When researchers make discoveries such as that showing that a Lactobacillus pentosus strain derived from fermented cabbage (kimchi) can improve mental functioning and hippocampal BDNF production in animals. . . (it) suggests that we are only scratching the surface in our understanding of the relationship between potentially beneficial food-derived microbes and brain health.”
  5. Supplementation. To many folks, doesn’t seem like the most sustainable method of nourishing the body or the environment, nor is there much research on supplementation without controversy. However, we live in a post-industrial society where organic foods are expensive, sometimes difficult to access, and often not as nutrient-rich as they once were, as our planet is currently home to some of the most depleted soils in the history of cellular life.

So it’s often not a bad thing to supplement with high quality supplements from scrupulous and ethical companies. B-Complex supplements can be helpful since B vitamins, among other things, act as cofactors for methylation during the Krebs Cycle, which is the way in which our cells metabolize glucose to produce ATP, which in turns give our bodies energy to do all the things.  B vitamins are also required for DNA synthesis and production of phospholipids such a myelin, the fat that coats your nerve cells.

Research has shown Vitamin D, the only vitamin that is a hormone, to have essential functions in nearly every system in the body; every kind of tissue in the body bears Vitamin D receptors. One link researchers have found between Vitamin D and mental health is the effect of Vitamin D on gene activation, in particular the genes which regulate immune function and neurotransmitters which affect the function of the central nervous system. Several studies have linked low serum levels of Vitamin D with depression, and some clinicians believe Vitamin D supplementation to be an essential element in aiding some patients’ recovery from depression.

Magnesium affects our sense of restfulness and calm — epidemiological studies suggest that most Americans experience magnesium deficiency through poor nutrition, drinking caffeine, and aging. We know that one effect of gut microflora imbalance is systemic inflammation and cell-mediated immune response — both also associated with depression, which is itself associated with magnesium deficiency.  Animal trials indicate that enough magnesium may protect the brain from depression and anxiety after experiencing traumatic brain injury. Whether our magnesium levels are depleted by over-active stress response or whether depleted magnesium causes us poor resilience in times of stress, magnesium is an available and affordable supplement that most of us could use more of.

5741616162_0f4487467b_zCurrently much research supports the importance of omega-3 essential fatty acids found in fatty fishes and grass-fed animal products to the function of the central nervous system. The two primary omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA is a structural component of nerve cell membranes; when the body’s balance of omega-3 to omega-6 is upset, the change in the composition of neuronal membranes can effect activity of proteins embedded in the membrane. Many studies have shown association between depression and low dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids, and EPA treatment has proven beneficial in helping individuals experiencing depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety.

While supplements can be useful, I like to remember that foods beat supplements nine times out of ten, as Dr. Howard LeWine writes in the Harvard Health Blog on the question of whether supplementing with fish oil could replace your seafood intake: “It’s more than likely that you need the entire orchestra of fish fats, vitamins, minerals, and supporting molecules, rather than the lone notes of EPA and DHA.”

So much more!

There are of course things I didn’t talk about here, like nutritional regimens for specific mental health situations, how to choose supplements and dosages, recipes and how to incorporate new foods into your day, eating quality food on a budget, and how particular foods or supplements may or may not interact with medications or other supplements you may already be taking. These are important considerations!  I always recommend making an appointment with a health care provider you trust. In the meanwhile, if you’re hungry for more, check out the links and articles below.

Naomi Ullian is an herbalist, writer, and performance artist currently living in the rolling hills of southern Vermont. Check out her health writing at http://www.proseforpeople.com and her work in herbal medicine and nutrition at http://www.collaborativemedicine.cf.

RESOURCES

Sathyanarayana Rao, M. R. Asha, B. N. Ramesh, and K. S. Jagannatha Rao. Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses. Indian J Psychiatry. 2008 Apr-Jun; 50(2): 77–82. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738337/

The Psychological Consequences of Vitamin D Deficiency. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-breakthrough-depression-solution/201111/psychological-consequences-vitamin-d-deficiency

Magnesium and the Brain. Evolutionary Psychiatry. 1 October 2010. http://evolutionarypsychiatry.blogspot.com/2010/10/magnesium-and-brain.html

Eby GA1, Eby KL. Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment.  Med Hypotheses. 2006;67(2):362-70. Epub 2006 Mar 20.

  1. Newbold, M.D., William H. Philpott, M.D.and Marshall Mandell, M.D.

Psychiatric Syndromes Produced by Allergies: Ecologic Mental Illness. http://orthomolecular.org/library/jom/1973/pdf/1973-v02n03-p084.pdf Harvard Health Publications, http://www.health.harvard.edu/nutrition/food-allergy-intolerance-and-sensitivity

Food and Your Mood. Building Healthy Inclusive Communities through the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD). http://www.nchpad.org/606/2558/Food~and~Your~Mood~~Nutrition~and~Mental~Health Mental Health Net America.  http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/healthy-diet-eating-mental-health-mind

Mental Health Foundation. http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/mental-health-a-z/D/diet/ Food Matters. http://foodmatters.tv/wellness-guide/mental-health

Selhub, Eva M., Logan, Alan C., and Bested, Alison C. Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry. Journal of Physiological Anthropology. 2014, 33:2  doi:10.1186/1880-6805-33-2  http://www.jphysiolanthropol.com/content/33/1/2 Peet M1, Stokes C.

Omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Drugs. 2005;65(8):1051-9. Genuis, Stephen J. and Lobo, Rebecca A.

Gluten Sensitivity Presenting as a Neuropsychiatric Disorder. Gastroenterology Research and Practice.Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 293206. http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/293206 LeWine, Howard, MD. \

Fish Oil: Friend of Foe? Harvard Health Blog. Harvard Health Publications. 12 July 2013. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/fish-oil-friend-or-foe-201307126467 Deans, Emily, MD.

Fish Oil and Anxiety: A randomized controlled trial shows omega3s decrease anxiety and inflammation. Evolutionary Psychiatry. 10 November 2011. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201111/fish-oil-and-anxiety

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Employment Barriers for the Chronically Ill

When you have a chronic illness, you can face troubles in the workplace.

Employment Barriers for the Chronically Ill

We often associate chronic illness with the elderly, but chronic illnesses are widespread among the working-age adult population. In fact, the number of chronically ill working-age adults grew by 25% in the United States from 1997 to 2006. According to the CDC, as of 2012, half of all American adults—117 million people—have one or more chronic health condition. This increase has created many more barriers for chronically ill workers, especially when their disabilities are invisible.

Employment Burdens When You Are Chronically Ill

Ryan, now 28, was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) when she was just 15 months old. She shares some of her experiences seeking out employment while trying to cope with JRA.

READ MORE.

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Three Things No One Shared About Finding Peace in Living with Chronic Illness

No one tells you how to find peace in living with chronic illness. You have to seek that peace out on your own.

finding-peace

Imagine waking up every morning as if you hadn’t slept. Add intense pain that feels as if you have been run over by a monster truck.  And nausea and dizziness either as a result of your illness or of the medication your doctor has prescribed to treat your illness.  Imagine living like that every single day of your life for years and for the rest of your life.  That is the reality for people living with chronic illness and pain. And it has been my reality for nearly seven years.

When you live with a debilitating health condition, finding peace seems nearly impossible.  That is because pain and sickness leaves your mind and body in a constant state of alert.  No one tells you about this reality nor do they share with you that you will eventually find peace in the midst of sickness and pain.

How I Found Peace

Over the past several years, I have worked very hard to find some of kind of harmony amongst the chaos that chronic illness has brought to my life. And throughout my journey, I realized that peace is, in fact, a great possibility.

Here are three things I found out on my own about finding peace in living with my chronic illnesses.

I Can Seek Religious and Spiritual Guidance

Our days are often busy and filled with activities and responsibilities. It can help to find peace and clarity when you connect with a higher power or spiritual connection.  Every day, take the time to stop what you are doing for at least ten to fifteen minutes to meditate, pray, or enjoy nature.  It is vital to set time aside to break away from our busy and chaotic lives and seek a connection – spiritual or religious.

I have learned to look for quiet moments. I use these to reflect upon my life, my day or strengthening my connection with a higher or spiritual power.  Mostly, I just bask in the quiet.  I have learned that making this time and taking it is the best gift I offer myself as I seek peace in the middle of a life that isn’t easy with chronic illness and pain.

I Should Choose Gratitude

It is easy to get lost in your pain and illness and you lose sight of the big picture. We can find peace when we allow ourselves to grieve our losses and embrace the changes that illness imposes.  Everything in our lives will change – from our careers to our families to our finances and even our bodies.  And change happens whether we choose to accept it or not. But when we decide we can love ourselves just as we are and we grateful for all life gives us, we truly find peace and contentment.

I choose to be more than my pain and illness.  And I believe that I am perfect as I am. Moreover, I accept whatever life gives with an attitude focused on gratitude.

I Can Lean on Loved Ones and Friends for Support

It can be difficult to ask for help from others especially if we are asking for help with activities and tasks we used to do with ease. We may accept help because we desperately need it but we carry guilt and shame for needing assistance.

I have found I often carry unrealistic expectations when it comes to those closest to me handling tasks differently than I do.  In my frustration, I have either lashed out at loved ones or performed tasks when I was not feeling up to par. But I have found peace in letting go of imperfection and I respect those offering support. I now ask for help when I need it and accept it graciously. Mostly, I am appreciative of loved ones and friends who allow me to lean on them on them for support.

You Deserve Peace

After seven years of living with chronic illness and pain and the challenges posed, I am grateful for finding peace in at the center of all of the turmoil.  Each of us deserves peace, including you. Giving up is easy but fighting for what you deserve takes courage and determination. And you deserve to have the best version of yourself regardless of your illness, pain levels or disability. Once you see that having peace is your right, you will be happy even when life isn’t easy.  It is all worth it and you are worth it.  Fight to find peace so you can have the life you deserve.

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Chronic Illness: The Don’ts of My Successful Journey

You would think writing about my journey with chronic illness would be easy. After all, who else would know my journey and the struggles that came with being sick better than me? But it was not until I sat down to put the words on paper that I realized that journey was a chaotic and crazy but one that I have learned from and can laugh at now. But seven years ago, I wasn’t confident or laughing. Back then, I was scared, angry, and full of grief. I was wallowing in self-pity, riding emotional rollercoasters, and dwelling on the past while fearing the future.

A Successful Journey Thus Far

My chronic illness journey hasn’t been easy or smooth sailing. But it hasn’t been a complete utter nightmare either. If anything, it has allowed me to grow into a person who might fear the storms ahead but who is willing to ride through those storms with strength and determination. And for that reason alone, I consider my chronic illness journey, at least from my perspective, to be quite successful thus far.

You might think that acceptance, strength, and perseverance aren’t easy feats.  And you are absolutely right because it has taken me a long time to get to a point in my life where my two chronic illnesses, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and fibromyalgia, don’t dictate my life’s path. They don’t determine my abilities as a mother or friend or daughter or sister or employee.  They don’t decide my career path and my ability to love or be happy. If anything, there are minor obstacles in life full of many bigger obstacles. And truth be told, I wasn’t always this self-assured and sometimes, I can’t be but there is a journey that got me here and lessons I take with me as I live a rather unordinary and sometimes, difficult life.

Here are three don’ts of my successful journey with chronic illness.

Don’t Wallow in Self-Pity

The late Christopher Reeve a.k.a. Superman was great example of someone who didn’t allow self-pity to consume his life.  After breaking his neck in a horseback riding accident and becoming a quadriplegic in 1995, he choose to not see himself as a patient but a person and he did not allow self-pity to dictate his day-in-day. In a 1996 New York Times interview, he shared the following: “Yes, it was terrible what happened to me. But why should I be exempt? I had one very unlucky and unpredictable moment. The choice is whether to wallow in self-pity and musings about the past or to take a pro-active stance about the future.”

Mr. Reeve was a superman both on the screen and off.  His story inspires me along my journey with chronic illness. We don’t have to be disabled or sick to understand that self-pity is a small thing in the grand scheme of it all. We don’t all have to have the same adversities but we can acknowledge struggle and realize that triumph is even bigger and greater.

My struggle with chronic illness may different than someone else’s hardship but whether you are in an abusive situation trying to get it or trying to raise your children without the help of another parent, or trying to escape the past or even addiction, it’s your choice to wallow in self-pity or to be proactive in making your life better.  We all get to be the superman or superwoman in our lives.

Don’t Forget To Get Off the Emotional Rollercoaster

Grieving any loss, whether it’s an illness, divorce or a loss of employment, can be quite challenging. However, I have learned how important it is to engage in some method of grieving to react and adjust to your situation. While grief is healthy, it can also be an emotional rollercoaster that includes periods of numbness and shock, anger, denial, intense emotional pain, and so much more.  If you don’t allow yourself to grieve, your emotional pain can become destructive.

Practice expressing your feelings of grief through writing, crying, music and talking to others about what you are feeling.   Watch out for symptoms of depression, such as trouble sleeping, extreme sadness, lack of energy and suicidal thoughts, and talk to your doctor if you are experiencing these.

My grieving timetable is different than the next person’s and changes to my health still provoke additional feelings of loss and force me back onto that emotional rollercoaster. While on that ride, I focus on grieving in healthy ways and then, I get off that rollercoaster as soon as I can.

Don’t Dwell on Past – Focus on the Future

One of my biggest fears was the facing the future with chronic illness. I couldn’t predict what my life would be like five years or ten years and that scared me. Once I connected with others who had been living with chronic illness for many years, I realized that a good quality life with and despite chronic illness was possible. Interestingly, my health challenges have taken my life in a direction I would have never taken without chronic illness. And that is has been a great thing.  However, it has not been all smooth sailing and I sometimes wonder what direction my life would have gone had I not gotten sick.  Would have been successful in law school and as a lawyer? What if my marriage had survived and if I had more children like I wanted? I could ponder these questions until I am blue in the face but I can’t change what’s happened. I can only move forward, not dwell on the past and focus on the future. We often miss out on the blessings of the future because we are too busy dwelling on the past, especially when that past involved good health. It is understandably difficult to focus on the future when your life is filled with pain and sickness. But hope for the future gives us the strength to face so many of life’s challenges – whether they pertain to our health or not. The past is dim, and sometimes dark, but the future can be quite bright.

Still My Life, Just a Little Altered

My life with chronic illness isn’t the life that I envisioned and often, it is out of my control. The only things I control are my behavior and my reactions and that where the “don’ts” of my journey come into play.  And while there are ways in which I manage my illnesses and cope, I don’t dictate the direction in which my health is headed. My life involves being sick and in pain every single day. But because I have lived with RA and fibromyalgia for almost seven years, I have learned to channel most of what I am feeling – both physically and emotionally – out.  Being sick has become one small obstacle in my life and unless I am having a bad flare day, I continue to march on. My normal is something that no one can see but it is still my life, just a little altered.