One of the hardest parts of living with an Invisible Illness such as Fibromyalgia, MS, Ehlers Danlos, etc. is that you quite often look just fine on the outside, while your insides are screaming in pain. This leads many people to wonder if you truly are ill, or how serious your illness actually is. How do you handle this, as a Person with Chronic Pain (PwCP)?
For one thing, you should never have to make excuses for your pain to anyone. What you feel is what you feel, and there is never a reason to justify it or prove it, not even to your doctors. For years, people with Fibromyalgia went undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because Pain was often the only symptom a patient could describe. There are no other outward symptoms and nothing comes back in the blood tests or x-rays that a doctor might order. It’s only through using the 18 Tender Points and determining how many of them you have that a definitive diagnosis can be made for Fibro.
Other diseases often come with outward symptoms – the “butterfly rash” of lupus, the enlarged joints of Rheumatoid Arthritis, the dislocating joints of Ehler Danlos, the varying symptoms of MS – all of them a visual reminder that there is something wrong with a person. Fibro doesn’t present itself that way, and so a person can often look “normal” like everyone else, yet be in a flare up.
So how do you handle it when the people who are closest to you don’t believe you are ill or doubt the severity of your illness. The first step is to educate them on what Fibromyalgia is: a disorder characterized by widespread pain, which causes many symptoms like extreme fatigue, sleep issues, memory loss and mood issues. It is essentially a very painful, exhausting disease, for which there is no cure and few treatments.” It is becoming much more recognized in the Medical field, unlike in the past, and is well accepted as a legitimate condition, just like arthritis, Lupus, MS, etc.
Basically, your brain miscommunicates with the nerves in the spinal cord and sends out the wrong messages to your body, resulting in an overload of symptoms. This graphic may be helpful in showing you just some of what you can experience:
And this is the reason it’s such a hard disease to diagnose because these symptoms are often looked at just on their own, and not seen as part of the bigger picture. It’s no wonder people look at us and think we’re crazy. To have all these symptoms and yet still look perfectly normal on the outside…well, I’d wonder too perhaps. That’s where the education comes in. The more we teach people about Fibromyalgia and how it mimics so many other diseases, the more people will realize just how huge a burden we are carrying every day.
Nobody wants to be told they look awful though, so how do you break this Catch-22? You want people to see you as you really are, but you don’t necessarily want to look ill at the same time. Are you obligated to dress up and put on makeup everytime you go out, just to look “good” for strangers? Of course not, but I am advocating that you do it for yourself if you’re able. Run a brush through your hair, throw some lipstick on, go for a trendier haircut or a manicure. Never do it for someone else though and never let a stranger’s comments get to you. Only you know how you’re feeling at any point and sometimes it’s just not possible to do these sorts of things. Pain may get in the way, or finances or depression…in these times, just do the best you can with what you have in the way of energy and time and desire.
Remember…you are perfect just the way you are…everything else you do is a bonus.
Education of others is key, and I truly believe that the more we can share about Fibromyalgia and other Invisible Illnesses with them, the more they will understand what we are going through, and the more compassionate they will become. Perhaps then they will stop commenting on how “fine” we look, and will start seeing us in a true light. Maybe they will see our struggles, our problems, our symptoms and what we have to go through on a daily basis just to survive and finally understand how difficult our lives truly are. Then and only then will come the appreciation and admiration we’ve been waiting for.
I’ve been thinking lately of how lucky I am that despite the fact I live with Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and Invisible Illnesses, I’m actually quite healthy. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but I rarely come down with colds, I can’t remember the last time I had a flu or stomach bug or even when I could say I was “sick”. I try to remember to get a flu shot each year because I’m Diabetic, but it didn’t happen last year and so far this year, I haven’t made it to a clinic either. It’s also in my best interest to get one, because since having surgery for severe Gastric Reflux Disease in 2004, I am unable to physically vomit – if I get sick where vomiting becomes an issue, I have to go to the hospital and have a nasal gastric tube placed to remove my stomach contents. Not fun!!
As the old saying goes, aging ain’t for sissies! When you live with Fibromyalgia, you live with all sorts of “side effects”. This diagram displays some of the many “extras” a Fibromite can expect to experience:
These are all common symptoms and it can be difficult to tell them apart from other illnesses, which makes it extremely important to be aware of your body and to note when something feels “off” or different than what is normal for you. We are generally quite in tune with our own bodies and are quickly able to determine when a new symptom appears that doesn’t fit in with our usual symptoms.
What happens though when you do experience something that you’re unsure of? Your first step should always be to see your Primary Health Care Provider anytime something comes up that is markedly different than your normal. It could be one of Fibromyalgia’s many symptoms, but it’s always better to be safe. I remember one time many years back when I started having severe pain in the lower left quadrant. It happened when I was living in Calgary and I had just finished a volunteer shift at the Calgary Stampede grounds. I’d eaten a corn dog and a few minutes later, was suddenly hit with terrible pain in my lower left side. I could barely walk but managed to make it on to the C-Train (the Lite Rapid Transit) and then called my husband to pick me up at the station to take me to the hospital. It turned out that a cyst that I didn’t know I had on my ovary had burst. I was prepared to put it down to something Fibro related and the only reason I got the proper diagnosis is because the pain was so bad, I went to the ER.
It’s easy to be dismissive of everything we feel and call it Fibro related, so we have to be careful not to fall into this trap. How do you tell the difference between Fibro related pain and something new or different for you? Here is a checklist to use:
Familiar or not – have you felt this same symptom before, or does this feel like something “new” to you?
Does it last longer than usual? This could potentially be a new situation that needs attention
It it more intense than usual? This could be the sign of a new problem
Is it in a new part of your body? This is more likely the sign of something new
Did it start suddenly or gradually? Gradual pain is more likely to be Fibro related.
Does something just feel “off” to you? Trust your instincts!
It’s recommended that everyone go for an annual checkup, but it’s especially important that you and your doctor stay in touch with how you are doing, outside of your Fibromyalgia. Don’t forget about the rest of your health.
Speaking of health, I want to share this new Health Alphabet. It may be helpful in future medical discussions, especially if aging is becoming a concern for you:
Okay, a little humour never hurts, but when it comes to Fibromyalgia and changing symptoms, you do need to be careful not to overlook something that could have the potential to be serious. Always trust your instincts about how you’re feeling and see your doctor if something just doesn’t seem right. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
I thought I’d start out the year with a refresher course on the conditions I live with and how blogging has had such an impact in my life. Because of my blogging, I have had chances to be interviewed in a Canadian National newspaper, on two different podcasts, and several different articles online. The various conditions I write about are because of the fact I live with them and am personally acquainted with them. So, without further ado, here we go:
So I’ve talked about my Chronic Pain from Fibromyalgia and Osteoarthritis, and when I say I have arthritis in all my major joints, I’m serious. I have it in my shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers, my cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, left hip (right hip has been replaced), knees, ankles and toes. Some areas like my left hip and right knee are quite serious and will need replacing, but the rest I’ll have to live with.
Meanwhile, my thoracic spine has a different type of bone condition called Forestier’s Disease or D.I.S.H., which stands for Diffuse (Widespread) Idiopathic (Of Unknown Cause) Skeletal (Referring to the Skeleton) Hyperostosis (Excessive Growth of Bone). It forms in the shape of a bone spur, but instead of a normal spur that could be removed, it looks more like melted candle wax on the spine, so nothing can be done about it.
I also have regular bone spurs on my right hand – I had one removed from inside my pointer finger as it grew through a tendon, and there is a second one on the outside of my middle finger growing through the knuckle. Both have been very painful and interfere(d) with typing and writing.
My Type 2 Diabetes has been with me for 8 years now and is mostly under control. I go for regular blood tests every 3 months, to get my A1C numbers that show my average blood sugar levels for the previous 3 months. Generally speaking, I average around 6.9 to 7.2 which is slightly higher than the 5.9 – 6.2 my doctor would like, but I do my best. I use long acting insulin at night, 14 units which does a good job at helping to keep things under control. I’m trying to eat better, but I’m a sucker for sweets and it’s hard to be disciplined.
So, what else is on that list. Ah yes, the ever lovely Gastroparesis
Now, the way they determine if you have this or not is through something called a motility test. In my case, they wanted me off ALL of my meds first to make sure they weren’t contributing to the problem, so for 2 days prior to my test I had to quit my medications cold turkey. That included my meds for Fibromyalgia, my anti-psychotics AND my opioid narcotic for pain. Do you have any idea what going through withdrawal is like? It was horrendous. I had the shakes, the runs, I couldn’t eat or sleep, and for those 2 days, I alternated between thinking I was dying and wanting to die to having to feel better in order to die.
On the day of the test, I went to the hospital to where the Nuclear testing is done. I knew that I was going to be eating an egg sandwich with a radioactive tracer in it and that tracer would be monitored through a series of special x-rays, but I explained to the nurse that everything I ate was immediately running right through me like water. She was so sweet…she “reserved” me a private bathroom, brought me my sandwich and told me to eat as much as I could while I sat there. Talk about embarrassing!!! It’s embarrassing writing about it!!! But, I managed just over 3/4’s of it, which she said was enough. She brought me into the x-ray room where there was a gurney to lay on, and then gave me a warm blanket.
The first pictures were taken every 2 minutes, so I just sat. Then they took them every 5 minutes apart, then 10 minutes apart, then 15, then 30 and finally 2 pictures 1 hour apart each. In between, I slept on the gurney, and my nurse brought me as many warm blankets as I wanted. She also brought me a cold wet face cloth for my forehead. When it was all over, I gave her a big hug and thanked her for being so kind. Then I took my medications asap!!!!
The tests showed that I have a moderate degree of low motility so my food sits in my stomach for a long period of time before moving on to the intestines. This explains why I always look bloated and pregnant. There are medications that can be taken, but I’ve asked my doctor if we can just hold off and wait on that for now. This is more of an inconvenience than anything right now, and I just don’t want any more drugs in my system than I absolutely need. If the problem becomes hugely bothersome, we’ll revisit it, but in the meantime, I’ll just try to watch what I eat, drink more water and try to exercise a bit more.
The Internal Pelvic pain is because I have had a number of pelvic surgeries over the years, so there is a lot of internal scar tissue left over that has attached itself to things like my bladder and bowel, etc. There are occasions when I move a certain way, and those adhesions stretch very painfully – it feels like velcro being ripped apart except it’s my body doing the ripping. It takes my breath away sometimes, it’s so painful, but it only lasts for a minute or two, then it’s gone.
Which leads to Hypothyroidism. For a long time, I assumed that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was the only reason for my constant exhaustion, as my Thyroid numbers always came back normal on blood tests done every three months. One day though, my thyroid went rogue and those numbers were crazy. I had been especially tired…like dragging my ass tired, needed toothpicks to keep my eyes open tired
Oohhh, that is NOT a good look on me!!! My doctor put me on meds and I could feel a difference in a very short period of time. On my next 3 month course of blood work, everything was back to normal, so now I take Synthroid on a daily basis for the rest of my life, to ensure I have a properly working system. So glad that was an easy fix!!
So there you have it. It’s a tough road to walk, I have to be honest. I live with pain 24/7 and have for almost 30 years now. Suffice it to say that you have to be mighty strong to live like this, to get through the day-to-day of actually living in pain. I know some people who just couldn’t. They tried so, so hard, but in the end, their pain was too much for them, and they took their own lives.
I’m a huge advocate for assisted suicide for people who live with severe, intractable pain. We take better care of our pets when they are hurting than we do our humans, and I think that is just plain wrong. I believe every human has the right to choose to die with dignity and I’m glad our Government has come on board with this. I know it’s not perfect, but at least things have started and that’s the main thing.
One thing having all these conditions HAS done though is that it’s given me a platform to blog about them and to discuss them as a Patient Partner in my volunteer work. I live in Langford, BC Canada and I belong to an organization called Patient Voices Network. They help take the voice of the patient and partner us with Heath Care Organizations who need Patient Advocates for the work that they are doing. I’ve been involved in committee work, focus groups, conferences, quality assurance forums, seminars and more because of PVN. The educational experience I’ve received is on par to anything I attended in my working life and in fact, when I attend anything in their offices in Vancouver now, it’s like being greeted by family – I know everyone and they all know me, I’ve been there so often for meetings.
I currently sit on 4 different committees: I am a member of the PVN Oversight & Advisory Committee, I currently sit on the Clinical Resource Committee for the BC Emergency Physicians Network , and I accepted a role with the Laboratory Quality Council Committee. We are responsible for all Labs on Vancouver Island as well as all Medical Blood Collection Stations.
Most recently, I took on a new role as committee member on the Measurement System for Physician Quality Improvement- Surgical Group. I am surrounded by top surgeons in Cardiac Care, Orthopedics and Neurology, plus high-ranking members from the Ministry of Health, the BC Patient Safety & Quality Council and other Health Organizations – and then there’s me. The lone patient voice to represent the masses. It’s a huge responsibility and one I take very seriously. I’ve already spoken out to let them know that while they see quality one way, I as a patient see it differently, and I expect my voice to be heard. It was empowering to have them tell me that I am the whole reason the others are there, because it’s all about the patient in the end.
So all this adds up to some pretty amazing experiences for me because of the pretty extraordinary pain that I live with on a daily basis. I have been truly blessed in my life, and I’m fortunate to be able to share it with you, my Dear Readers. Thank you for taking this journey with me. I hope to bring you more articles this year about Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia and other Invisible Illnesses. And remember…
Do you find yourself feeling more pain after the holidays are over? More physical pain seems natural because of all the running around that we do with Christmas and New Years and the extra work that happens to make the holidays special. What about the post holiday blues? Do you find yourself feeling more mental pain when the holidays are over? More depression, or more Seasonal Sadness? How do you manage that and where is it coming from?
Some of it comes from the Holidays themselves. Often, we project what we want them to look like instead of accepting the reality of what they actually are for us. We want the perfect family around the perfect tree with perfect presents and everyone getting along in perfect harmony. What happens instead is the stress of buying, decorating, cooking and cleaning all while appeasing children, spouse and family members who may or may not be speaking to each other on the big day. No wonder you’re left with a huge let down after the New Year rolls in.
Financial stress plays a huge role as well, once those credit card bills start showing up in January. Even if you swore you wouldn’t have a credit card Christmas or Hanukkah, chances are you’re still looking at some expenses that you weren’t expecting, and now you need to do some budget adjusting. That’s enough to make anyone feel blue. And if you’re one of the many people who put your entire holiday shopping on your credit card, you’ll be feeling the hit even harder.
The weather also plays a huge part in how we feel in the New Year. Depending on where you live, you could be seeing sunshine and cold temperatures, mild temperatures and rain, or bitterly cold and snow, or any combination in between. The days are short and darkness prevails. Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder is a real condition that deeply alters the lives of more people than we realize. Getting out into the natural sunlight is the best remedy, but the alternate is to use a special lamp to get the light you need to function properly during the winter months.
How else can you combat these Post Holiday Blues? Here is a list of suggestions that might help:
Limit alcohol – Now that the holidays are over, start to limit your alcohol intake, and try not to keep it readily available around your house. Drink lots of water to flush your system and get back to good nutrition.
Get plenty of sleep – Try to go to bed at a specific time each night. Being well-rested can improve your mood and help you feel ready to take on the day.
Exercise regularly – Plug in your headphones and pop out for a walk around the block a couple of times a day. A quick 10-minute walk will get your heart rate up and release mood-boosting endorphins.
Learn to say “no” – Overscheduling and not making time for yourself can lead to emotional breakdowns. Learn how to say “no,” and stay firm on your decision.
Reflect on the Special Moments –
Grab a hot tea or hot chocolate, sit by the fireplace, and reflect on what you loved about this holiday season.
What was the best conversation you had?
What was the most thoughtful gift you received?
What was the funniest thing that happened?
What was one disaster that turned into a blessing or a great memory?
Try Something New – New Year, new hobbies! Make up your mind to try something new this year. Take a class, return to an old hobby, or pick up a new one.
Make a Budget – No one likes to dwell on financial stuff, but vow to make a budget this year and then stick to it. You’ll be amazed at how much stress relief this can offer you when you see exactly where you money is going and how much you can actually save every single month. Buy software for your computer to help you, download an app or get a book to make it easier.
Volunteer – If you can spare a bit of time each week or each month, consider doing some volunteer work in an area that interests you the most. From working with kids, seniors, or animals to helping with community arts and theatre, health organizations or your local Downtown Business Association, there are so many places that can use your help. Even just a couple of hours a month makes a difference when we all pitch in together.
Give Blood – Another way to help others, if you are physically able to donate blood, please consider giving. There’s nothing like being a Lifesaver to make you feel good!
Keep a Gratitude Journal – Each day, write down three things you are grateful for.
Can you come up with your own suggestions for this list to make it your own? If and when you do, share your ideas with your friends and in the comment section below. One thing I do want to remind you of is that if the Post Holiday Blues tend to linger on for longer than a month, you may want to speak to your doctor. You could be experiencing something more than just “Post Holiday Blues” and require proper medical care. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help if you feel dark thoughts or deep depression. There is help available and absolutely NO shame in asking for it. I live with Bipolar Disorder and have to be very careful during and after the holidays that my mania isn’t triggered because I would go on shopping binges.
It’s December 29th and the year is drawing to a close. I want to take this time to simply recap the year and say thank you to my Dear Readers for spending your time with me in 2018.
From the beginning of the year, when I really got started blogging, I started out by writing Happy New Year . My main theme at that time was to talk about my hip replacement surgery which was the real reason this blog came into existance. I had been searching for personal stories of “younger” women who had undergone hip replacements but hadn’t found much, so I thought I’d share my story for others who might find it helpful for themselves. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was writing about my other health issues, including Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue and Invisible Illnesses.
I’ve had the opportunity to share my thoughts about body image, intimacy when you live with Chronic Pain, the sleeplessness that comes with Fibromyalgia and Invisible Illnesss, and how the simple loss of bathing can mean so much heartache. On the other hand, I’ve been able to share about gratitude and finding joy on more than one occasion, so I’ve tried to focus on the positives as much as possible, whenever possible.
I couldn’t do this without you. Without my Dear Readers, there wouldn’t be much sense in putting this out there, so I appreciate each and every one of you who comes to my blog and reads what I have to say. You may not comment on every post, heck…you may never comment on a post I write, but the numbers don’t lie. My stats show that you are there and that you keep coming back. In fact, when I took a week off and didn’t do a thing to market the blog…no Pinterest, no Twitter, no Social Media at all, the numbers dropped, but a bunch of you still came by to see if there was anything new.
You can see where I was away for the week. On Nov. 15th and 16th, I was in Vancouver for a volunteer meeting, and away from my computer the whole time. When I put the effort in, you do the same and come back to see what’s new…the numbers don’t lie, and I am forever grateful.
So, to wrap up 2018, I want to say thank you. You’ve helped me reach a far greater level of success than I ever thought I’d make, simply because you like to read my thoughts. That’s pretty amazing to me. I just want to provide as much information as I can to anyone who is living with Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue or Invisible Illness. I want you to know you’re not alone. I’m right there with you and for as long as I’m able, I will continue to write and bring you articles and information to help you thrive.
I wish each and every one of you a very Happy New Year. May you be blessed in 2019 with the very best the year can offer. Remember…
If you’ve been to my blog before, you know that I live with Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Invisible Illness. If this is your first visit, you now know something about me. I want it made very clear that YES…Fibromyalgia IS REAL.
Here are just some of the MANY symptoms that people with Fibro have reported experiencing:
Walk a mile in my very painful shoes and you will know exactly how painful it is to live with Fibro. Every one of my muscles feels like it’s being dragged in concrete and every joint feels like it’s been twisted, then put into a mechanical vise and clamped as tightly as possible. I get shooting pains in parts of my body that I didn’t even know existed, for no reason at all. My arms burn and my hands and feet tingle or go numb.
The brain fog is awful…forgetting what you’re saying in the middle of a conversation is so embarrassing. I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast. I can’t remember if I ATE breakfast. I take medications that cause horrible side effects like weight gain and shaking hands and brain zaps…a sensation like an electrical shock that runs across your brain and where you can feel AND hear a literal buzz. I am constantly exhausted by the lack of sleep that comes with Fibro. It’s never refreshing and it’s never enough.
Yet, with all of this that I and my fellow Fibromites go through, there are still doctors who say “it’s all in your head” and “it doesn’t exist”. Well, tell me then…what DO I have wrong? All my tests come back negative for everything you tested me for…but I have all
18 of the 18 tender points that indicate Fibromyalgia is what I have.
Here are things I’ve had to say to friends and to DOCTORS who have questioned me about Fibro and Chronic Pain at various times over the last 10 years:
1. This is not “just in my head”. My pain is real.
2. I wish Fibro came with bruises, that way, you could see how much pain I’m feeling just so you could believe me.
3. It never goes away. My pain is always there, even when I’m acting “normal”. Don’t let my smile fool you, I am always in pain. Always.
4. There is no standard day or week or month with Fibromyalgia, It changes from hour to hour sometimes. Some days are better than others. Some days I think I want to die (this one always gets me in trouble).
5. Staying home instead of working or doing something fun isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
6. You think I’m faking being sick, but really I’m faking being well.
7. The Brain Fog is terrifying. You try forgetting what you’re saying in the middle of a sentence and see how it makes you feel – you feel stupid and old and easy to dismiss. I lose things easily and am easily distracted. It’s so frustrating.
8. Day to day activities are exhausting. Heck, getting out of bed is exhausting.
9. Even if there were drugs that worked well, I am not a drug seeker and my history will show that. I have ONE Family Doctor and use ONE Pharmacy! I just want relief from the pain.
10. What part of “chronic condition” are you having a hard time understanding? I am not going to get better. I am going to live with this for the rest of my life. I hope to get better but it’s never going to go away. Don’t give me false hope.
11. I’m willing to try just about anything, but just because something worked for some Aunt’s friend’s cousin’s sister doesn’t mean it’s going to work for me. We’re all different and treatment isn’t a one size fits all option. But, whatever…I’m willing to listen.
12. Sometimes, I have to cancel my plans at the last minute. Sometimes, I cancel my plans with the same friend 2 or 3 times in a row. It’s not a reflection on the friend. It’s my body.
13. I wish more doctors understood Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain and took us more seriously. Do you see me as a drug seeker too? What about when my x-rays show a body filled with arthritis? How do you deny my pain then? I just want you to help me find answers and relief.
14. Some days, even my hair hurts
15. There are days when the most I can accomplish is moving from the bed to the couch, and that’s okay. At least I did something.
16. On the days I feel good, I push myself too hard to get things done, even though I know I’m going to pay for it later. I hate being thought of as lazy. When my husband comes home, I can honestly say to him, “honey, today I cleaned up, did the dishes, vacuumed the house, did the laundry, baked cookies and scrubbed the bathroom”. And then I know I’ll be bed-bound for the rest of the week.
17. What you see on the outside doesn’t necessarily reflect how I feel on the inside.
18. My chronic fatigue is at times overwhelming and I can’t push past it. It’s exhausting to be this exhausted.
19. I wish a simple nap would help to relieve my pain, but it will not disappear if I lay down and have a rest.
20. I’m a real person with real pain. I didn’t ask for this but I’m being forced to live with it. I didn’t do anything to get this, but sometimes I feel like I’m being punished.
Research has now shown that Fibromyalgia is NOT an inflammatory condition like so many doctors first thought. It is technically NOT an autoimmune disease. What Fibro IS, is a NERVE disease where the brain misreads the pain signals going to the body through the spinal cord. This causes widespread pain throughout the body that can be felt in many different ways, and these include the various symptoms shown in the chart above.
Oh, it can be so frustrating having an Invisible Illness like Fibro. I truly do wish there were outward signs of this illness so that people could see that you’re ill. Something like bruises or a rash, or big F’s showing up on your body would be perfect (“oh look…she has F’s all over her…poor thing, she has Fibromyalgia…go get the door for her”). I truly wouldn’t mind that if it would help a doctor believe in what I’m going through, trust me.
As a person living with Chronic Pain from Fibromyalgia and a host of other conditions, I tend to live with a lot of shame. I blame myself for not being able to keep up with the chores around the house that I should be able to do. I blame myself for not being able to work as an Administrative Specialist, a job I adored. I had a pity party about a lot of things as I stared at the dust on the TV stand. That’s right…I should upon myself today. I do it often. Too often.
Most people with Chronic Pain do the same thing. When we lose the ability to stay on top of the chores we used to do easily before, we start to feel guilty and ashamed. Dishes pile up, laundry goes unwashed, showering and personal grooming falls by the wayside and moving from bed to couch often becomes our biggest accomplishment. It’s not that we want to feel this way, but pain and the side effects of medication often make us this way. Most of the medications we are given include fatigue as one of the side effects. Others include weight gain, which can slow us down tremendously, nausea, constipation and/or diarrhea, dizziness, and other unpleasant things.
And that brings up another issue. All of these side effects do little to help us feel pretty. In addition to feeling pain and fatigue, we’re often left carrying extra weight so now we feel even less attractive than before. It’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.
So how do we get over “shoulding” on ourselves. We feel like we should be able to keep up with the chores around the house, while we’re still taking care of making dinner and watching the kids and staying on top of their activities and doing everything else expected of us, plus making sure our spouse’s needs are met.
What happens when you live with a spouse who expects you to manage everything exactly like you did before you became sick? A spouse who doesn’t believe that you’re really ill and who thinks it’s all in your head? What if you live without a spouse – if you’re a single parent with no support? Who takes care of you?
In order to find victory in the midst of this shame, try answering some of these questions*, being as honest as you can.
What three words/phrases best describe you in a POSITIVE way? Don’t settle for neutral or slightly positive words to describe yourself. Be bold.
What do you do best? Everyone has unique talents and abilities — find yours by taking an accurate inventory of your life.
What is your biggest accomplishment in the last year? If fibro and depression have been a longstanding part of your life, you likely feel that the last year has been void of any accomplishments. Look deeper — achievements come in all shapes and sizes. Depression works to minimize your triumphs, but shedding light on them magnifies their impact.
What are three successes in your life? When you look at your lifetime successes, you begin to see how effective and valuable you can be. You understand your value and build your self-esteem.
What are you working on? Having goals and direction in life limits depression. Completing those goals adds another accomplishment to your list and boosts esteem.
Fibromyalgia may change many things in our lives, so it’s important that we remember to find the positives and celebrate them. No more shoulding on ourselves!
So, I’ve decided to give up the guilt about what I’m NOT able to do around the house. I’ve even found new hobbies and activities that I’m passionate about and that I’m actually good at! I’ve become a volunteer for an organization in BC, my home province in Canada, that uses Patient Partners to work with Health Care organizations to help make real change in how health care is delivered. The Patient Voices Network has given me opportunties to speak in front of large crowds, attend educational events and become part of several committees. I’m careful to choose to become engaged according to how I’m feeling and I don’t take on engagements that require weekly participation. Most of what I do involves 3-4 hours of my time per month which is manageable. Twice I’ve had to regretfully pull out of engagements that became too involved for me to manage. Even at the last conference I attended which lasted for 3 days, I was able to build rest time into the daily schedules. I wouldn’t have been able to manage otherwise.
That being said, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m underestimating how awfully painful it is to be forced to change yourself or how hard it is to find new passions to give you a sense of purpose. These are not simple to apply or instant fixes. Please don’t think I’m minimizing the pain of the loss. I want you to know that I think you’re incredible because of the fact that you’ve survived those things and have continued moving forward, no matter how slow. That is victory!
Even when you’re sick and you haven’t found new activities or even if you can’t get out of bed, what I just said about you being incredible is still true. You’ve survived so much and you’re still here fighting! I mention finding new things to do as a way to better self-esteem because I know it’s something helpful when possible, but there are so many things I feel are more important and that have been more fulfilling for me.
Being sick has forced me to learn a lot of lessons that other people might not ever learn – lessons about patience, how to deal with pain and difficulties with grace, good humour and empathy. I’ve learned that the little things are often the big things in life.
All That Matters
It’s the Little Things That Matter
They’re the things that mean a lot
They’re the things that I can count on
When I’m giving things a thought
Oh there’s lots of big grand gestures
That are meant to mean big things
But in the end, they aren’t the ones
That tug at my heartstrings
I prefer the smaller hidden ones
The things that seem quite shy
The little acts that are given out
Not meant to catch your eye
It’s the little things that matter
That make a quiet sound
I love them best from all the rest
They make the world go round
Also, I think I understand more about pain and can truly empathize with others who are hurting. I feel like I can truly help people because of the pain I’ve experienced. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty darn cool. And I feel like it takes immense strength to not only survive chronic illness, but to continue appreciating life and showing love to others when in constant pain. It’s also taken strength to rebuild myself and my self-esteem. I have to give myself credit for that. And finally, as much as I wish I was healthy, I fight for my life every day and I’ve won every single time. If that’s not victory then I don’t know what is! And the last thing I know is that if I’m capable of all this…you are too.
I belong to a Facebook group called the Fibro Blogger Directory and we’ve been challenged to send in and answer questions relating to Fibromyalgia in the month of November. I wanted to share this question and then answer it:
What is a typical day like in your life?
From Pamela in Langford, BC Canada
It’s 2:30 in the morning and the house is quiet. I’m sitting in my recliner with Dorie, my cat on my lap, and the TV on the CatTV channel on YouTube. I went to bed at midnight but I only managed a couple of hours of sleep before I woke up, so here I am again, back on the computer in a quiet dark house. The only sound I hear is snoring – from both husband and cat, and I shake my head, not quite laughing as I listen to them both. I wish it was me, but once again, this means Wakefulness has won this battle and persists in keeping me away from Dreamland. I hurt all over, every muscle is aching and Painsomnia wins again.
So starts a typical day in my life. I live with the Chronic Pain of Fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis and several other conditions and it’s often the painsomnia from these conditions the keeps me awake at night. At this point, I’ll probably just stay awake until Ray wakes up in the morning at 4:30. There’s no sense trying to sleep now because I’m too awake. So I do what I always do; I surf the Internet, I go on Facebook and I write; either on my blog or for one of the various articles I’ll be submitting to other publications. I often find it easiest to write in the middle of the night; my thoughts flow freely and things come to the surface that are easier to write about, whether they be memories or new subject matter.
At 4:30am the alarm in our bedroom goes off and Ray wakes up. I head to the kitchen and put the dishes away from last night and make a cup of coffee for myself before heading back to my recliner while he finishes showering. I stay here until he leaves for work, so I’m out of the way. He finishes his shower and comes to kiss me good morning, then makes his breakfast while I stay out of the way. I am busy updating my Facebook page and morning Devotionals. We exchange kisses and he heads out, and then I force myself up from the comfort of my recliner. I have some cereal or yogurt for breakfast and enjoy another cup of coffee before I get serious about doing some work. Much of my day is spent on the computer generally taking care of blogging, moderating a forum I belong to, checking my email and visiting Facebook. No real change from the wee hours of the night!
At 7am, I take my first dose of medications for the day. Every hour, I make myself get up and do some stretching. My body screams back in pain, but if I don’t do this my muscles will atrophy. I also try to get one major chore done around the house, whether that be sweeping the floors, scrubbing the bathroom, vacuuming, etc.
Lately, I’ve been dealing with back pain and spasms in my SI Joint on the left side and an area around the left facet joint in my lower back. The pain has lasted for 2 weeks and I’m off to see my Pain Specialist on the day of writing this (Oct. 22nd) as well as my family doctor, plus I’m meeting a friend for lunch. It’s a much busier day than usual. Normally I would eat lunch around noon, and then check the mail at 2pm – the highlight of my day!
While most days are spent at home, I do have doctor appointments on a fairly regular basis. I also have work that I do for my volunteer positions, including conference calls that happen in person and online. As part of my health journey, I go for regular massages as well, and there will probably be some physiotherapy appointments coming up too so my calendar will start getting busier. My rule of thumb is to keep an open day after every day that has something planned so I can rest, otherwise, I become too fatigued to manage.
At 3pm, my alarm goes off to take my afternoon medication.
I often lay down for a nap at this point and can usually sleep for about an hour. When I wake up, I’ll read for a while, or watch something on Netflix, and if I have the energy, I’ll start prepping dinner. We do a lot of prepared food in our house as I don’t always have the energy to do a lot of cooking. M&M Food Stores get a lot of business from us! Tonight though it will be leftover Chinese food, so no worries about having to cook! I’ll get back on the computer until Ray is home, and then we’ll sit down for dinner and talk about our days.
The evening is quiet. Ray plays a game on his computer and I continue to work on blog posts and hang out on Facebook, etc. or read a book or magazine. Dorie, our cat curls up with me and it’s a comfortable place to be. I take my evening medications at 7pm and by 8:30pm, Ray is heading to bed. I’m tired, but I know I’m not ready to sleep, so I tuck him in with a goodnight kiss and head back to my recliner. I’ll do up the dinner dishes shortly and then spend the rest of the evening on the computer, chatting with friends, reading magazines, and unwinding. I take my final medications at 11pm and turn off the computer. Sometimes I read, and sometimes I just listen to relaxing music until midnight. That’s the end of the day for me. I crawl into bed, my body aching all over, and pray that sleep will come. I drift off, finally and start dreaming…
It’s 2:30 in the morning and the house is quiet. I’ve just woken up…and there will be no more sleep tonight.
I went to bed around 9:50pm feeling pleasantly tired. I was yawning after a long day and having been up since 4:30 am. I followed my nightly routine, got into bed, got comfy and drifted off to sleep.
When I woke up to pee, it was no big deal…I’m not a great sleeper and I figured this was my usual “90 minutes later” wake up call.
I’d slept for 72 minutes. I think that’s a record for shortest time at night. And the worst part was I was wide awake. Like…wide awake. There was no chance I was going back to sleep.
I hate having insomnia. I don’t know if it’s Fibromyalgia induced, or if it’s because of my sleep apnea or if it’s because of the medications I take, but I haven’t slept for more than 2-3 hours a night in over 5 years now. And once I wake up at 4am-ish, that’s it, I’m up for the day. I get the house ready for the day before my hubby gets up for work – the blinds open, the kettle ready, last nights dishes put away, the cat fed…those sorts of things. I make a coffee, come sit in my recliner and then hubby is up and I’m out of his way while he starts his morning routine. It works for us, and nobody gets hurt! Once he leaves for work, I have my breakfast and then I look at the long day ahead of me and figure out what I’m going to do to fill it.
Do I go back to bed after that? No, because as tired as I am, the best I’ll do is sleep for an hour and what’s the point? If I’m going to nap, I’d rather try to save it for later in the day, when there’s a chance I might sleep longer. That’s my hope anyways, Besides, if I sleep in the morning, I might miss the hummingbirds who come to the feeder on my back deck
Sleep, or the lack of it, is a major side effect of having Fibromyalgia. Statistics show that people who have Fibro never make it into the deep REM sleep the way they need to so they miss the restorative sleep phase so necessary to feel rested:
It’s no wonder I can never feel rested! I never get to the restorative stage! I also know I have sleep apnea. I have a CPAP machine and I have tried so many times to use it but I just can’t get used to the mask. I’ve tried a few different ones too, including over the face, and the current choice of the nasal style, but the longest I’ve lasted with wearing them is 4 hours before I wake up ripping them off of me. The worst part is that I am a side sleeper and trying to keep the damn things in place while on your side is next to impossible. Okay, maybe I’m just complaining because I don’t want to use the machine…how incredibly unsexy is that thing! but Hubby should be using one too and he refuses so part of the problem is also resentment.
So, after waking up after my glorious 72 minutes of sleep, and in the interest of good sleep habits I got up. At least I know better than to lay in bed, just hoping I’ll fall back asleep again. Here are some of those good sleep habits I’ve learned about over time:
Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends or during vacations (hello 4am!)
Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get at least 7 hours of sleep (does 5pm count?).
Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy (I could be there 24 hours a day)
If you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed (but I’m sleeping!)
Establish a relaxing bedtime routine (I do this part well)
Use your bed only for sleep and sex (well, the sex part at least works)
Make your bedroom quiet and relaxing. Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature (no problem here)
Limit exposure to bright light in the evenings (no problem here either)
Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime. (oops, big problem here!!!)
Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime. If you are hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack. (I’m okay with this one)
Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet. (I do okay with this too)
Avoid consuming caffeine in the late afternoon or evening. (I sometimes mess up with chocolate)
Avoid consuming alcohol before bedtime. (I don’t drink)
Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime. (usually not a problem)
One thing I have been trying lately is listening to sleep meditation music. There are some really relaxing ones out there that work on the Delta Waves of the brain and you can also find good Apps for your phone. I have an iPhone and one app in particular that is receiving great reviews is CALM by Apple. The other is Spotify which has wonderful playlists of calming music already set up or you can create your own from the many tracks available. I love listening to sounds…the rain falling, trains in the distance, things like that, so I love that option with Spotify. YouTube also has many videos of sleep meditations and if you use a YouTube to MP3 converter, you can also download these to listen to on your phone, whether it’s an iPhone or Android.
Hopefully some of these suggestions will be helpful. I don’t want to be sleepless in any city, anymore. I have slept, it’s happened a few times…I’d just like it to be more:
Are you grateful for your life? Are you grateful for the things you’ve been given? Are you grateful for Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue? What about your other Invisible Illnesses? For Fibromyalgia? I am, and let me explain why.
I have had my Invisible Illnesses for over half my life now, and they have been a predominant part of my life since 2004 when I went into a major flare that I’ve never recovered from. That was the year I had stomach surgery for severe Gastric Reflux disease – a procedure called a Nissen Fundoplication. The surgery itself was successful, but I suffered nerve damage in the sternum area from where an instrument being used was pressed too hard against a nerve for an extended period of time, causing it to be pinched for over an hour. This caused me excruciating pain that didn’t resolve for almost a year and had me addicted to morphine pills to the point that I was hallucinating. In fact, at one point, the general surgeon called in a Thoracic surgeon, who was going to crack open my sternum to try and fix whatever the problem was – a drastic solution indeed.
I’m grateful this didn’t happen and the Thoracic surgeon had the sense to suggest a drug called Gabapentin for nerve damage which is what he suspected was the problem, and he was right.
I spent almost a year in a hunched over position, trying to “contain” the pain, it was so bad. I ended up having to go for physical therapy and massage in order to loosen up my muscles to where I could stand in a straightened up position again.
I’m grateful for the therapists that helped me.
I’m grateful there are medical teams in place when we need emergency surgery, such as when a cyst I didn’t even know I had on my ovary burst, causing me horrid pain. It needed immediate removal and there was a team to do that. Just like there was a team to remove my gallbladder and my other ovary when it went rogue as well.
And I’m grateful for my three doctors who have worked with me and my overall health issues over the last five years, Dr Leong, Dr Winston and Dr Burnett, my orthopedic surgeon who did my hip replacement.
Okay, you say…it’s easy to be grateful to the people who help us, but how can you be grateful for having Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia and all the other stuff. Well, I’ll tell you.
When you have Invisible Illness, you tend to miss out on a lot of life. You may have to give up your job or volunteer activities, your hobbies and family life. You end up losing a lot more than you seem to have left. But what having a Chronic illness does is force you to dig deep to FIND what you’re grateful for. I made a list:
Sunrises and sunsets
Quiet mornings after a good sleep
A perfect cup of coffee
A day where the kids get along and no one is fighting
A day where the cat or dog doesn’t barf all over the place
Feeling energetic enough to accomplish a few things on the “to do” list
Feeling less pain than normal
Being able to go for a coffee date with a girlfriend or two
Having dinner with your family together instead of needing to lay down
Date night with your spouse
Watching a movie together instead of early to bed
Having a bath or shower
Having enough food on the table and money in the bank
A sense of safety and security
A roof over your head
Having a close friend you can confide in
Books to read and art to admire
Social media like Facebook and Pinterest
Ice cream or a favourite treat
Family and friends to share memories with
I could go on and on…the point is, there is so much to be grateful for, but when you live with Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue and Invisible Illness, it’s easy to get stuck wallowing in the negatives, to the point you forget to stop and remember to be grateful. Take a moment now to list a few things that you’re grateful for and make it a habit each day to say thank you. An Attitude of Gratitude is easy to cultivate, but like a good garden, you need to tend to it every day.
there is always hope!