Interview April – Terri Sutula

Readers, thank you for checking out our final Interviewee – the fabulous Terri Sutula. 

TerriSutula

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…

Hi, I’m Terri Sutula, and I currently live in the state of Virginia, USA. I’ve been married to the love of my life for the last 21 years, and I’m the Mom of a fabulous grown son. I served 20 years in the Air Force, and after I retired, I went back to school and received my degree in Religion (emphasis church ministry), then obtained my certifications in Personal Training and Health Coaching with the goal of developing a whole-person health ministry. Those plans took a bit of a turn in 2011…. Now I consider my blog to be my ministry, and I hope that by sharing my journey, setbacks and all, I can let people know that there is still life – a great life – after diagnosis, and help them avoid the hopelessness I felt at one point during my illness.

One fascinating fact about me is:

I don’t know if I’d call it fascinating, but it’s something my family loves to tease me about…. I’m constantly making up silly songs to popular tunes. I just can’t seem to help myself haha.

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have…

My main issue is fibromyalgia, though I’ve suffered from migraines my entire life, and have also lived with endometriosis, early osteoporosis (probably from the endometriosis treatment), and irritable bowel syndrome for years.

My symptoms/condition began…

Around 2011, my primary fibromyalgia symptoms began after a “snowball” of illnesses, accidents, and a stressful move. I got the flu and soon after that, was diagnosed with subacute thyroiditis, which resolved after about a year. During the same period, I had a couple of bad falls which ended with me doing a face-plant on the pavement. My second fall ended in a trip to the Emergency Room and pain in my ribs for months afterwards. Then, about a year later, we moved to another city, and everything that could go wrong did. I became extremely stressed out, my abdominal symptoms got worse and worse, and the fatigue and whole-body pain became overwhelming.

My diagnosis process was… 

Surprisingly enough, my diagnosis process was pretty quick and easy. I went to my Primary Care doctor, explained my symptoms and my accompanying illnesses, and he checked me for tender points, did some bloodwork, and confirmed what I suspected – that I had fibromyalgia.

The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is…

The hardest thing for me to come to terms with is my physical limitations. As I mentioned earlier, I was in the military for 20 years, stayed mentally and physically strong, and was capable of doing pretty much anything I put my mind to. Learning to work within my revised capabilities has really been a challenge, but it has also been a time of growth. It’s given me greater empathy for others and I’ve discovered a new sense of purpose.

 A typical day for me involves…

I’m not sure I have a really “typical” day – I just do whatever needs to be done on a given day. I do try to do some blog work most days, and I break my cleaning chores into different days so I’m not trying to do everything at once. We’ve started picking up groceries for a few days at a time rather than doing a “big” shopping trip once a week. It gets me out of the house and helps me work with my energy levels. It’s a lot easier to run into the store for a few things than to spend a long time shopping. I guess I’d say I do all the “normal” things others do, just on a smaller, more relaxed scale. I’ve learned that pacing my activities is key to keeping flares at bay.

 The one thing I cannot live without is…

 I have to say that there are actually two things I can’t live without, my faith and a sense of humour. Both of these are my keys to not just surviving, but thriving, with fibromyalgia and any other adverse event or circumstance that comes my way.

Being ill/disabled has taught me…

This illness has taught me that it’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to not be okay sometimes. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be strong all the time; it’s okay to share the load with others and asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s actually a sign of strength.

 My support system is…

My absolute biggest supporter is my husband, and I’m so grateful to have him. I’m very fortunate to have a really supportive family in general, but he’s my day-by-day, minute-by-minute supporter. He sees what I go through many days and is always willing to do whatever I need him to do.

If I had one-day symptom/disability-free I would…

I would go hiking on one of the beautiful trails we have around here. My hubby and I used to love to pack a picnic lunch and go hiking, and unfortunately, my pain and energy levels don’t allow us to do that right now. My goal is to work my way up to at least some of the easy trails.

 One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

You find out what’s really important to you when you have a chronic illness/disability. When you aren’t in such a place of “doing” all the time, as I was before I became ill, you can concentrate on the things that really add the most value and joy to your life.

One final thing I want people to know is:

There is hope, and there is a fulfilling life after diagnosis. Your life might not look exactly the way you imagined and you might have to learn to adjust to your “new normal” but this new phase of your life might open up even greater opportunities for you to live a life of joy and purpose.

My links are:

Blog: https://reclaiminghope.blog

Facebook: https://facebook.com/hopereclaiming

Twitter: https://twitter.com/hopereclaiming

Pinterest: https://pinterest.com/reclaiminghopeblog

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I Need You To Need Me

intimatecouple

I’m tackling a tough topic again today – intimacy when you live with Chronic Pain. If you remember the Cheap Trick song, it’s been on my mind lately:

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I’d love you to love me.
I’m beggin’ you to beg me.
I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I’d love you to love me.

How do you enjoy an active and healthy love life when you’re in pain all the time. How do you appease your partner, who may not understand what it’s like to be in pain 24/7. Even when you’ve explained it a million different ways, when it comes to talking about sex, and how painful it can be, it’s not an easy conversation, no matter how long you’ve been a couple. And your sexual orientation makes no difference either.
Intimacy is the fuel that keeps a good relationship running. It encompasses so much more than just sex. Think about the different ways it’s defined in the Thesaurus:

  1. the state of being intimate.
  2. a close, familiar and unusually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group.
  3. an act or expression serving as a token of familiarity, affection, or the like, to allow the intimacy of using first names.
  4. an amorously familiar act; liberty.
  5. sexual intercourse.

Intimacy is also about being close emotionally. When was the last time you went on a date? When was the last time you actually sat and talked to each other ABOUT each other? Not about work or the kids, but about the two of you and how you’re doing. What’s new, what’s real, what you love about each other? When was the last time you looked into each other’s eyes and said “I love you” and really meant it?
If you haven’t dated for a while, maybe it’s time you did. Here are 25 easy date ideas that might get you started in the right direction:

  1. Go furniture shopping at a thrift store
  2. Volunteer in your community
  3. Go Whale Watching together if you live in an ocean town
  4. Or go to the Zoo or Aquarium
  5. Go to the Library
  6. Play hide and seek in your local park
  7. Go to a Psychic together
  8. Go on a Scavenger Hunt
  9. Try Rollerskating at your local rink
  10. Host a dinner party
  11. Go to an Improv show
  12. Go Camping
  13. Host a Board Game party
  14. Have friends over and play board games
  15. Look at Adoptable Pets online. You know, for “someday”
  16. Do a classic Dinner and a Movie date
  17. Go Berry Picking or Apple Picking for whatever is in season
  18. Go to the beach if you have one
  19. Try out a local Bed & Breakfast
  20. How about Trivia Night at a local bar?
  21. Be a Tourist in your own City
  22. Check out your Local Theatre scene
  23. Work out the clues in an Escape Room
  24. Try out a Brewery Tour
  25. Go to Karaoke together and sing the cheesiest songs

So once you’ve reconnected and you’re ready for sex again, the Mayo Clinic offers these suggestions when you have a partner who lives with Chronic Pain*

Sexual intercourse is just one way to satisfy your need for human closeness. Intimacy can be expressed in many different ways.

  • Touch. Exploring your partner’s body through touch is an exciting way to express your sexual feelings. This can include holding hands, cuddling, fondling, stroking, massaging and kissing. Touch in any form increases feelings of intimacy.
  • Self-stimulation. Masturbation is a normal and healthy way to fulfil your sexual needs. One partner may use masturbation during mutual sexual activity if the other partner is unable to be very active.
  • Oral sex. It can be an alternative or supplement to traditional intercourse.
  • Different positions. Lie side by side, kneel or sit. Look in your library or bookstore for a guide that describes and illustrates different ways to have intercourse. If you’re embarrassed to get this kind of book locally, try an online book retailer.
  • Vibrators and lubricants. A vibrator can add pleasure without physical exertion. If lack of natural lubrication is a problem, over-the-counter lubricants can prevent pain from vaginal dryness.
*https://www.mayoclinic.org/chronic-pain/art-20044369

The key factors to intimacy are trust, respect and honesty. You need to be able to trust your partner won’t push you into something you’re not physically able to do and will respect your limits. There needs to be honesty between the two of you and with yourselves as well. Don’t use your Chronic Pain as an excuse to get out of sex if it really isn’t a problem…that’s not fair to your partner. If you’re avoiding sex for another reason, then be honest. If you’re mad at your partner for something they’ve done, then say so.

Tell them what and why and talk it out.

Don’t use your health to avoid other issues, because you’re simply breaking the trust and respect factors when you do that. You already have enough physical pain in your life – don’t add mental pain as well. Intimacy is too valuable a commodity to just throw away. Keep working on it and before you know it, you’ll be building and rebuilding the relationship of your dreams. And that’s no Cheap Trick!

There is always hope

Fifty Reasons To Keep Going

If you are going through a hard time right now, I want to give you 50 good reasons why you need to be strong and why you need to stick around.

  1. You are a soul worth having on this earth
  2. Long hugs (my favourite)
  3. Cute baby animals
  4. You are so loved
  5. Staying up all night just to sleep in
  6. Making babies smile and laugh
  7. Sharing secrets with your best friends
  8. You will be missed
  9. Sunsets
  10. Late night phone calls
  11. Cuddling
  12. You are needed
  13. Doing stupid stuff with your best friends
  14. Laughing so hard that you cry
  15. Seeing yourself recover
  16. Crunchy leaves
  17. Knowing all the lyrics to a song
  18. Stargazing and cloud watching
  19. You are important
  20. Tomorrow is a new day.
  21. Chocolate exists.
  22. There are people out there who truly love you.
  23. At least a thousand other people at this very moment feel sad, too — you’re not alone.
  24. There’s help out there no matter how big or small your problem is.
  25. There’s music out there that totally captures what you’re feeling, which means you’re not the first or last to feel it.
  26. Everything is temporary.
  27. Unconditional love exists.
  28. Puppies.
  29. Nobody else knows what they’re doing either.
  30. Trying never hurt anyone.
  31. Smiles are contagious.
  32. You have a right to feel what you’re feeling.
  33. Anything can happen with a pen and blank sheet of paper.
  34. You’re not this person.
  35. Animals love you no matter what.
  36. The best lessons come from the worst mistakes.
  37. Netflix has so many shows you need to watch.
  38. All good love stories have a “goodbye” before the happy ending.
  39. Just being alive means you’ve beaten the odds.
  40. There’s a plethora of cliche quotes to make you feel better.
  41. Like “Nothing worth doing is ever easy.”
  42. And “Quality is better than quantity.”
  43. Also, “Everything happens for a reason.”
  44. Whatever you’re going through is making you “you.”
  45. Nothing feels better than a good cry, so don’t feel bad about it.
  46. You will always have control of your choices.
  47. Forgiving does bring healing.
  48. Simba lost everything and still became king of the jungle.
  49. You’re becoming stronger every moment you pick yourself back up.
  50. You’ll be OK.

Please reach out for help if you need it.

Text CONNECT to 741741 in the United States or phone:

1-800-273-8255

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In Canada

Call 911 or use the following link for help in your province:

https://suicideprevention.ca/need-help/

 

There is always hope

Communication Skills

Ah, communication. What a tricky thing you are.

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When you’re a person living with Chronic Pain (PwCP), you get asked the same question quite frequently.

How are you?

And my standard response has always been, “I’m fine”. But what a lie that is, when clearly, I’m not fine, or I’d be living a different life. If I was fine, I wouldn’t be on disability, using a cane or a walker everywhere I go. If I was fine, I wouldn’t be in constant pain from my Fibromaygia, or my D.I.S.H. or my osteoarthritis in every joint, or experiencing the issues that go along with my Bipolar Disorder or my Diabetes Type 2 or my Trigeminal Neuralgia.

If I was fine, I wouldn’t have insomnia, and be up 22 out of every 24 hours, even after taking valium to help me relax and sleep. If I was fine…I wouldn’t be blogging about being fine.

So why do I respond that way?

People Don’t Want To Hear The Truth

People don’t want to hear the truth. It makes them uncomfortable to know that someone is hurting when there is nothing they can do about it. It makes them feel weird, to hear about someone else’s pain. They get antsy, thinking they’re in for a long diatribe about medical procedures and doctor visits as if they’re at risk for catching something themselves. They get nervous thinking they’ll hear about your emotional state. And to be honest, a lot of the time, people don’t really care how your feeling. They ask you how you because they’re polite. It’s the right thing to do.

So, I’ve decided to stop telling people that I’m fine. I’ve decided to come up with a new response, and that new response is:

“Part of me is great, and part of me is not so great.”

I’ve decided this gives people an out. If they don’t want to know more, they can simply reply “well, I’m glad part of you is great” and carry on with their own lives. If they genuinely want to know more, they can ask about the parts that aren’t doing well. That way, I know that they’re sincere about how I truly am instead of just making polite conversation.

I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m being sarcastic, because I’m not. I’m genuinely trying to help people be more comfortable around People with Chronic Pain and to find a way to make it easier to ask and answer that question of “how are you”. It’s a tough one because there is no one good answer. The PwCP doesn’t know if you’re sincere and we don’t know how much information you truly want. The last thing we want to do is bore you with the latest in our medical news, and trust me…it’s truly devasting for us when we think you’re interested and then we find out you’re not.

Showing Real Interest

I doubt seriously there’s any malicious intent in your question either, but again, it comes down to being polite and being interested. I would rather give you a polite answer and have you ask for more information if you really want it, but that comes with its own complexities as well. Suppose I say “I’m fine” and you hear “oh, she’s fine, I guess everything must be okay” when what I really mean is “I’m fine, but not really and I wish you would ask me more about my day and how I’m feeling”.  It’s a communication breakdown because I don’t feel I can ask for what I want in case you’re not really interested, and you don’t feel like there’s necessarily anything else worth asking about.

If you ask me if I’m fine though and I tell you “actually, I’m not doing so great”, how would you respond? If you’re simply being polite, now you’re stuck. You either have to listen to what’s wrong or say something trite like “oh, I’m so sorry to hear that” and change the subject. Neither of us leaves the conversation satisfied, so my response, even if it’s the truth, isn’t the best one either.

i_m_fine_by_black_avenger-d60mqnl

Two small words with so much meaning behind them.  That’s why you’ll be hearing a different response from me going forward. I’m going to try my best to stay away from those two words to make it easier on all of us and start answering with my new response:

“I’m doing as well as expected given the number of health issues I’m living with.” That leaves it open to the person to expand on the subject if they wish or to simply say “oh, that’s good” and move on.

I appreciate your thoughts and comments about this subject. And for those of you without chronic pain, I hope you’re doing fine – really!

There is always hope.