10 Tips to Improve Your Mental Health

Previously posted on The Zebra Pit

Mental Health is a hot topic these days. More and more people are recognizing that they suffering in some way with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or other mental health issues.

Today I’d like to share 10 things that can help to improve your mental health. I hope you find these helpful.

1. Recognize There’s A Problem

The very first step to improving your mental health is recognizing there’s a problem. You may be feeling a sense of the blues that you can’t shake, or a generalized anxiety that you can’t control.

Perhaps you’re feeling out of control and going through severe mood swings from mania to depression. All you know for sure is that something is “off” and you need to figure out what it is. Whatever the case may be, recognizing something is wrong is the first step to making things better.

2. Ask For Help

Perhaps one of the hardest things we face in life is asking for help. We like to think we’re capable of handling whatever life throws at us, but it’s not always that simple. You may find that at work, you’re more than capable of tackling whatever you face, but at home it’s a different story. Or, perhaps you’ve faced challenges at home that seem easy, but at work, you’re struggling to find your place.

When you’re dealing with your mental health, you may already feel like you’re a failure. Asking for help could prove to be a very difficult thing to do, but if you don’t ask, you tend to stay stuck in the situation you’re finding hard to manage. Talk to your doctor about what you’re going through, or find a counselor or trusted friend that you can share your concerns with. Sometimes just the very act of sharing with someone can help you feel better without further steps.

3. Accept Help

Once you’ve asked for help, the next step is to actually accept the help that’s offered. This might mean medication for depression or Bipolar Disorder if diagnosed, or your doctor could have other recommendations such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Meditation, Yoga for stress, etc.

Accepting help doesn’t mean you will end up with a mental illness diagnosis. However getting a diagnosis simply means that your body may not be producing the right chemicals to help you feel the best you can. There are hundreds of diagnoses, including Depression, Schizophrenia, Narcissism, Bipolar Disorder, and more.

Basically, your mental health can be simple or complex. A doctor or counselor can help to diagnose what’s going on and offer you treatment options. There is no shame in having problems with your mental health. Mental health issues are not your fault and are no different than having a medical condition. With changing times, terminology should no longer hold the stigma it used to. We live in an age where awareness is everything and more and more people are admitting to mental illness in the hopes that we can eliminate the stigmas all together.

4. Get Active

It’s time to get active with your mental health treatment plan. Exercise is a great place to start and many doctors will encourage you to get out and do something physical to help you feel better. Biking, walking, swimming, golf, tennis…whatever you like to do is the best fit. Even 30 minutes a day of exercise can help to balance hormones, improve mood, lessen anxiety and encourage better sleep. Especially if you can do it in the sunshine!

5. Explore Medication

Your doctor may recommend that you start on an anti-depressant or other medication for your symptoms. Please realize that taking medication is not a sign of weakness…it simply means your brain isn’t producing the right chemicals and needs a boost.

I liken it to other diseases…you wouldn’t refuse medication for heart disease or a kidney problem and you wouldn’t have an issue taking something for Diabetes, so why would this be any different? If your brain isn’t creating the right chemical mix, medication is an easy way to correct the problem and bring things back into balance.

Of course ultimately, it’s your choice. Psych meds can have a range of scary side effects and it can sometimes take years to find one that will work right for you. There are also alternatives to medication use. For a list of options, click here.

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6. Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) focuses on challenging and changing unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors, improving your emotional response and aiding in the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems.

CBT rests on the idea that thoughts and perceptions influence behavior. Feeling distressed, in some cases, may distort one’s perception of reality. CBT aims to identify harmful thoughts, assess whether they are an accurate depiction of reality, and, if they are not, employ strategies to challenge and overcome them.

CBT is appropriate for people of all ages, including children, teens, and adults. Evidence has mounted that CBT can benefit numerous conditions, such as major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and many others. Research also indicates that CBT can be delivered effectively online, in addition to face-to-face therapy sessions.

This link gives you a quick overview of what CBT is and how it works. Ask your doctor for a referral to a certified CBT professional if you think this type of therapy could be helpful for you.

7. Yoga* and Tai Chi

As discussed, exercise is a good way of helping you feel better about yourself. Some people find Yoga and/or Tai Chi to be of great benefit when they are struggling with mental health issues.

The discipline involved with following regulated steps in a slow and deliberate fashion helps to calm the mind and put the focus on your overall well-being. Feeling your muscles working together can be very soothing and the slow movements are safe for just about everyone. Mastering the various forms gives you a sense of success which can be great incentive to keep going.

*Please note: Yoga is not recommended for people with hypermobility. Thank you.

8. Nutrition

Your body needs fuel to function and good nutrition is key to feeling well physically and mentally. By following a healthy eating plan and getting plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and protein, you are aiding your body in running in top condition.

Caffeine may or may not fit into your life – some people find it makes them jittery, others have no problems. Try adding more water to your daily intake – it helps lubricate your brain and joints and keeps you hydrated for optimal function. Avoid sugary beverages as much as possible – they don’t add any value to your health.

9. Spiritual Practices

Being spiritual doesn’t mean being religious, but both can have a place in your life. If you are religious, you may find prayer to be of comfort while you deal with your mental health. If religion is not your thing, spirituality can come from the sense of a Higher Power, Nature, Music or other practices.

Try to engage in your Spirituality/Religion on a daily basis – you may find a time of prayer, being in nature or listening to music to be of value when done at the same time every day. Some people like to do this in the morning, when the day is fresh in front of them. Others prefer to do this at night, so they can reflect on the day.

Whatever time you choose, it’s your time to be honest with your beliefs and to honor them in a way that feels authentic to you.

10. Journaling

Many people who live with mental health issues find journaling to be of value. Being able to honestly reflect on your life without fear of others reading your words can bring great comfort. The key is to write honestly about your feelings, not worrying about recriminations and criticism.

Choose a time to journal when it’s quiet and you won’t be interrupted. Set the stage with a cup of tea or other beverage, find a quiet writing nook and let yourself go. Don’t worry about impressing yourself with perfect grammar – just let yourself go and free flow with the writing. Unless you choose to share your journal with others, this is for your eyes only.

The freedom that comes with writing can bring clarity to your life and help you recognize areas that might need improvement, which then leads to greater understanding and happiness.

A Few Final Thoughts

I hope these 10 steps help you to realize that mental health issues are important and need to be taken seriously. You deserve to feel your best and when you’re not, everything else seems to get bogged down.

By attending to your mental health, you are actually doing your physical body a favor as well, since you’re bound to feel better in all ways when you’re feeling better mentally.

Recognize the problem, ask for help and try some of the steps above and see if things improve. Your doctor is always a great place to start and counseling is almost always worthwhile. You owe it to yourself to be your best version of you. Remember,

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10 Symptoms You May Experience with Fibromyalgia

Previously posted on The Zebra Pit

Let’s start the New Year with a review of 10 Symptoms you may experience with Fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is a tricky condition to live with as there are many symptoms you can experience beyond Pain and Fatigue. Here are 10 of the top symptoms you may experience and how to manage them.

Symptoms_of_fibromyalgia

Symptoms

1. Brain Fog

This is a cognitive impairment that causes problems such as temporary loss of memory, forgetting words or mixing up words, losing your train of thought, or saying things that don’t make sense. It can be frightening when it happens, as these are also signs of other conditions, such as Alzheimers Disease.

Your doctor can do some mental testing to make sure the symptoms you’re experiencing aren’t being caused by some other condition. Ways you can help yourself include keeping a notebook with you to write down important information, taking a moment to pause and collect your thoughts, and keeping a sense of humour about the situation. If you tend to panic about having this happen, laughing is a good way to keep things light while allowing you to start over with what you were saying.

2. Jaw Pain

Jaw pain in the joints on either one or both sides can be mistaken for TMJ (temporomandibular joint disfunction). Pain and swelling are the common symptoms of jaw pain along with stiffness and being unable to open the mouth without pain.

Gentle stretching exercises and muscle relaxants may be helpful in managing the pain. If only one side is affected, try chewing on the other side to relieve pain. If you hear popping or clicking, or if your jaw seems to be “out of joint”, see your dentist to rule out TMJ or other conditions.

3. Urinary Problems

If you are having difficulty with urinating, whether it’s a problem with urgency, leakage or straining, it’s good to check with your doctor to make sure there’s no underlying problem.

Having Fibromyalgia can affect the bladder and kidneys, causing the above symptoms. Some solutions include urinating on a schedule, doing Kegels, seeing a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist, and using bladder control products for leakage issues.

4. Body Temperature

People with Fibromyalgia may have difficulty in regulating their body temperature. In my case, I can have cold skin and goosebumps, yet be sweating from overheating at the same time. It’s a very disconcerting feeling.

Things that may help include keeping a light blanket or sweater nearby for chills and a fan for when heat becomes a problem. I have found that keeping my feet warm helps with the chills and then using a fan helps ward off the sweating.

5. Weight Gain

Weight gain is often caused because of medications you may be taking for your Fibromyalgia. Even if you’re not taking prescriptions, you may find you’re still gaining weight – it’s one of the anomalies of having Fibro. The only way to lose weight is by taking in less calories than you are expending. Fad diets may work for a short period of time, but in general are unsustainable.

Following a proper eating plan from all 4 food groups is essential and exercise is as well. You may find walking helpful (consider using walking poles for extra stability) or water activities, such as Aquafit, Deep Water Workouts, or Pool Walking to be helpful.

6. Chest Pain

Chest pain can be a scary symptom of Fibromyalgia and should always be checked out by a medical professional if you experience the following:

  • Pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back.
  • Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Cold sweat.
  • Fatigue.
  • Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness.

The cause of chest pain in Fibromyalgia is often because of something called Costochondritis, which is an inflammation of the cartilage around the ribs. The condition usually affects the cartilage where the upper ribs attach to the breastbone, or sternum, an area known as the costosternal joint or costosternal junction.

Treatment includes anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as Ibuprofen or Naproxen and using either heat or ice (which ever feels best for you).

7. Sleep Disorders

Pain can keep you from getting the sleep you need. You may also be experiencing Restless Leg Syndrome and not even be aware of it. Sleep Apnea is another problem that you may be facing and all of these issues can prevent you from getting the deep REM sleep that is necessary to repair the body.

Good sleep hygiene is important to follow. You may want to keep a notebook to jot down your thoughts when you wake at night to see if there is a pattern. Keep the room cool, avoid using electronics for one hour before bed, and try using a weighted blanket to see if that helps.

8. Digestive Problems

When you have Fibromyalgia, you may experience digestive disorders including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation (or occasionally both), heartburn and a general sense of feeling “unwell”.

Drinking peppermint tea can help with nausea, eating smaller more frequent meals might make a difference and trying to set up a schedule for bowel movements can help relieve discomfort. Metamucil or other Fibre supplements every day can be helpful for the bowels without resorting to laxatives.

If symptoms persist, see your doctor to rule out other potential problems.

9. Skin Problems

Itching, rashes, hives and tiny red marks can often show up when you have Fibromyalgia. Skin may become more sensitive to soaps and fragrances and you may discover that your normally dry skin has become oily or vice versa.

Use of a mild cleanser for face and body is imperative, especially ones containing oatmeal. Antihistimines are suggested when hives and itching become a problem and the tiny red marks that might show up on your skin are harmless.

If you have problems with skin rash, see your doctor who may recommend a dermatologist for further treatment.

10. Depression

Depression and Fibromyalgia may go hand in hand without you realizing you are showing signs. If you are finding yourself struggling to maintain interest in former activities, you’re isolating yourself, eating less or more than usual or have been unable to shake “the blues”, you may be experiencing Depression.

Treatment includes Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and often, medications. There is no shame to having Depression – you haven’t done anything wrong. You’re not weak, your body is showing signs of a chemical imbalance which should be treated like any other medical problem.

If you are feeling so depressed that you are suicidal, please call a hotline for help. You can find more information on hotlines here for Canada and here for the United States. In the UK, you can use this page for help.

Conclusion

There are over 60 different symptoms that relate to Fibromyalgia. These 10 are just the tip of the iceberg, but are the ones more commonly experienced.

Fibromyalgia is hard to explain

If you are experiencing something new, or if a symptom you’ve had for awhile changes, it’s always important to see your doctor, to rule out anything outside of Fibromyalgia. Better safe than sorry is certainly the key here. And remember…

Gratitude – Finding the Good in the Bad

Previously posted on The Zebra Pit

When I wrote my post An Attitude of Gratitude, I received a lot of good comments on it, both those left with the post and in other formats. I meant every word of that post and I wanted to expand on that today, and THANK my body for all it does, despite Fibromyalgia (and several other health conditions). Here are some of the reasons I have to thank my body (and my mind!)

I Have A Strong And Compassionate Heart

Physically, my heart is in tip-top shape. After experiencing some chest pain a few years ago, I was put through a battery of tests including a heart scan and an ultrasound. Everything came back showing my heart to be in excellent shape and my risk of heart attack to be at approximately 1% based on all factors in my life.  Now that’s pretty amazing when you consider all the health conditions I live with, but I trust the tests and the monitoring.

What I tend to be most concerned with when it comes to my heart is how compassionate am I? Do I care about others? Do I show it? Do I reach out when others need a hand or a shoulder to lean on? Those are the heart conditions that I worry about and I work hard to make sure I’m staying heart-healthy in this area too.

I’ve Been Blessed With Common Sense

Not many people know that I never graduated High School. I only finished with a Grade 11 education, and while I’ve taken College courses to complete a Certified Event Planning Certificate, I’ve never furthered my formal education. I was able to get a good job in a field I loved by working hard and having common sense, which I believe is something sorely lacking in many people these days.

I don’t know if common sense is something you’re born with or something you learn. I only know that it comes naturally to me. It’s intuitive, it’s part of me and I don’t struggle with it…it’s just who I am. I may not be the most well-educated person in the group, but at least I have this gift.  I’m always thinking and strategizing about scenarios and how I would handle them. I rarely panic anymore about things…I just seem to know how to get on with it. I’m eternally grateful for this ability and I don’t take it for granted.

I’m Able To Give Back To Others

Volunteering is hugely important to me. Having the ability to give back to others makes me feel good and that’s why I sit on committees and working groups, so I can make the improvements that enhance the lives of others. My involvement with Patient Voices Network was a game-changer from the first time I attended the orientation session. PVN is an organization in British Columbia that allows ordinary citizens to have a say in how health care is delivered in our province.

Through my involvement with PVN, I’ve been able to attend conferences and education sessions, sit on committees (4 of them at the moment!) and take part in surveys, including being part of a group that is actually creating a Provincial survey for release in the next year. I’ve traveled for my volunteer work, met incredible accomplished people at all levels of business and government and work alongside other Patient Partners who, like me, are out there making change happen.

I Can Spend Time with Loved Ones

Being able to spend time with my husband and kids and friends is critical to my overall wellbeing. Ray and I have a motorcycle and we love to go for rides around Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. When I travel with my volunteer work, I’m often able to meet with our daughter Ashley for lunch or dinner in Vancouver where she works, and this is a huge treat. Our son Troy is in Calgary and I am able to see him when I travel there to stay with a dear girlfriend Charlotte twice a year. These are great blessings to me!

I don’t have a lot of friends who live near me, but I treasure the ones I can get together with all the more, especially Lorna. My online friends play an important part in my life as well –I’d be lost without them. I belong to a few online groups who fulfill a need in me that only they could meet. My body and mind function better because of all these interactions and I tend to forget that sometimes, especially when I’m having a high pain day. I can get very reclusive, but it’s good to know that loved ones are there when I need them, just as I am there for them.

I’m Still Able To Read And Listen To Music

I consider myself lucky that none of my health conditions have taken away the deep pleasure I get from reading and from music. I love reading the life stories of others in the form of biographies and autobiographies. Great fiction warms my heart. True Crime stirs my compassion for others. Reading a good book of any genre is a total act of joy for me and to lose that ability would be heartbreaking, even with all the other options available.

The same goes for music. I don’t listen to music every day, or even that often, but when I’m in the mood for it, it completely fills my soul. My tastes are eclectic, running from Acapella to Zydeco and I’m grateful there are so many ways to be exposed to music in this digital age. The internet has been a wonderful source of entertainment in my life and I’m thankful my body allows me to enjoy the endless variety it brings.

I’m Grateful To Be Able To Blog

No matter what my body throws at me physically, I’m still able to write and for that, I have no words. Writing is very personal for me, as it’s all based on my life and what I’m going through. My thoughts and hopes and disappointments are all shared in equal value and it’s a unique feeling to expose myself like that. I don’t mind the scrutiny at all, because I do this of my own free will, but there are times I wonder if I should censor myself more or be even more open.

No matter how bad things get for me physically, I cling to the knowledge that it can get better. Yes, it might get worse, and often does, but even in the worst of my pain, when I’m writhing in bed in agony, there’s a part of me that refuses to give up or give in. That tiny stubborn piece of me that says “hold on, pain ends.”  HOPE.

It’s an honour to know that you, dear reader, are taking in my words and finding something useful. That’s something I’m grateful to my body for, too. No matter how bad things may get physically, you can’t take that away from me.


Season of Miracles

Thoughts

As we enter the Season of Miracles, I wanted to write today about something that’s been on my heart. Joy and Miracles and hope for the future.

There is so much hope that comes with Christmas and Hanukkah – the Birth of the Christ Child, the Miracle of the Oil burning for 8 days – and I want us to see that despite Chronic Illness, there can still be joy and miracles and things to look forward to.

After living with Chronic Illness for over 30 years, my list of physical ailments is long and continues to grow. I also have a mental illness to deal with which will be with me for the rest of my life.

Having Bipolar Disorder was a frightening diagnosis for me, but after finally getting it under control with the proper medications, it’s become a real non-factor in my life and I often forget that I have it.

To me, that’s a miracle.

Each year though, my physical pain gets worse, and so does my Chronic Fatigue. I struggle more with pain management and all the side effects, but I’ve also learned new tips and tricks to help deal with my days – another reason to feel hopeful.

Making Changes

In a previous post, I wrote about complementary medicine and how it can help with Chronic Pain. I am a true believer in trying new solutions for old problems and had some great feedback about this article. I hope you were able to incorporate some of these ideas, or will look at the post to give them a try.

Living with Chronic Pain can be a bittersweet encounter – bitter because of the pain and side effects and all the negative changes in your life, but sweet because there are still things to be grateful for.

Research

There is new research on the horizon for diagnosing Fibromyalgia – the work being done to develop accurate blood testing has never been more exciting, and with science on our side, things are bound to have a positive impact in our lives.

The sooner we get a true diagnosis, the sooner treatment can start.

Treatments themselves are becoming better too, now that we understand that Fibromyalgia isn’t an autoimmune disorder and that its roots lie in the nervous system and the inability to communicate properly with the brain and spinal canal regarding pain signals.

Although there haven’t been any new medications released to treat Fibro, Gabapentin is being used more commonly in conjunction with the approved medications (Savella, Cymbalta and Lyrica) with good results.

More and more patients are becoming involved in Research for their health conditions, and Clinical Trials are being held across North America on a regular basis.

For more information about clinical trials, you can sign up here at ClinicalTrials.gov to see if you qualify for studies on a variety of health issues, not just Fibromyalgia. Another good spot to try is Patients At Heart. For Canadians, this link takes you to the Health Canada Clinical Trials website.

Advocacy

Another area where I’m seeing hope and miracles is in Patient Advocacy. This is a fast growing area where Patients become involved as authorities in their lived experience and work together with Health Care Partners to make changes in how health care is delivered.

One of the largest national organizations in Advocacy is WEGO Health. WEGO Health works with Patients in a wide variety of areas, offering opportunties to share you stories and help to impact change in a number of different ways.

They highlight a number of different annual conferences that take place in North America, and provide opportunities for you to share your story and get involved in various projects.

Patient Advocacy at an organizational level is becoming extremely important as well. If you want to be involved, simply contact the health organization of your choice, and ask them how you can become a Patient Advocate.

Volunteering your time to share your health story and help others is a great way to give back, beyond simply “making a donation”. Financial help is always needed and appreciated, but you can make a real difference as well in sharing your experiences.

Volunteering

Speaking of volunteering, this is an activity that has given me the greatest joy since becoming disabled. I do volunteer work for a group in BC, Canada called the Patient Voices Network, where I act as a Patient Advocate for a variety of Health Care initiatives.

I currently sit on 5 health-related committees,. Two are with the BC Emergency Medicine Network. Another is a Surgical Quality Improvement committee and another committee is devoted to ensuring Quality Control for all the Laboratories on Vancouver Island, BC.

Finally, I am a member of the Oversight & Advisory Committee for the Patient Voices Network, a role I’ve held for 3 years now. We oversee the activities of PVN and ensure that Patients are getting opportunities to share their voices in making change in health care.

I have also recently been working on becoming a Coach for PainBC.ca, allowing me to work directly with people with Chronic Pain and helping them find solutions for situations in their lives that they require some guidance with. I expect that work to start in 2020 when my training is complete in mid-December.

These volunteer opportunities allow me to give back to the community in a variety of ways while still taking care of my health. I devote approximately 20 hours a month to all of these committees which is manageable without overdoing it.

I love the variety of experiences I get to be involved in, the people I work with (surgeons, Government officials, other patients, etc.) and the opportunity to stretch my wings and try new things beyond my day to day life.

I’ve even been sponsored to travel to various conferences and to take courses such as the San’yas Indigenous Cultural Training.

I share this with you to show you that even if your health isn’t the greatest, you can still participate in volunteering in ways that make a difference.

Another volunteer suggestion is this: if you are a crafter, find out if your local hospital has need for knitted or crocheted items and take on the challenge. Blankets, baby items and more are often for sale in the Hospital Gift Shops and you can have a real impact on someone’s life with this kind of giving.

I know I’ve been very comforted in times in the hospital when I’ve been provided with a beautifully created blanket!

Season of Hope

I trust you are getting a sense of the hope and miracles I started this post with. There is so much potential in our lives even if we are disabled by pain and our physical and/or mental illnesses.

We must let go of the old ways of thinking that our good days are behind us, and start celebrating the wonderful things we have yet to accomplish.

Think about what you’re good at and find a way to incorporate it back into your life. What makes you smile? What makes your heart skip a beat? Find a way to bring that joy back into your life and see what changes.

Pain is easier to manage when you have good things to look forward to. Fatigue seems easier to handle when you’re active and busy, both mentally and physically.

I hope this post was helpful. I appreciate your comments below and look foward to sharing a magical Season with all of you! Remember…

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Common Questions About Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a complex condition that affects millions of people around the world. There are many questions that people ask when they first find out they have Fibro, and I thought I’d answer some of the more common ones, to help provide some education.

What Are The First Signs Of Fibromyalgia

There are many signs of Fibro but the ones most people experience first is widespread pain and tenderness throughout the body. You may experience pain in only one or two areas, or it may be your entire body. Typically, there are tenderpoints at 18 specific sites on your body, and these are used to help determine if you have Fibro.

Other symptoms of Fibro include:


What Are Tender Points?

Tender points refer to 18 locations on the body that are ultra-sensitive to pain when touched or pressed. Fibro is frequently diagnosed using the Tender Point Test…if you have 11 of the 18 points, you are considered to have Fibro.

Is Fibromyalgia An Autoimmune Disease?

Fibromyalgia is NOT considered an autoimmune disease. Instead, researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.

Fibromyalgia doesn’t qualify as an autoimmune disorder because it doesn’t cause inflammation. Fibromyalgia is difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are similar or associated with other conditions, including some autoimmune disorders.

In many cases, fibromyalgia can occur simultaneously with autoimmune disorders.

How Does A Person Get Fibromyalgia?

Healthprep.com offers this information on how a person gets Fibro.

Emotional or physical trauma can cause the development of fibromyalgia and trigger symptom flare-ups. The mechanism behind this is associated with the affected individual’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Emotional stressors can cause the physiological stress response to become activated, and lead to the delivery of sensory input information to the brain.

Repeated and excessive stimulation of the functional units of this response in an individual can cause their effector systems to become more sensitive. Greater sensitivity causes alternative or less significant stressors to activate the stress response easily.

The combination of the stress response, emotional reactions, physiological responses, and biological reactions that occur and interact with each other due to physical and emotional trauma can cause the development of fibromyalgia.

Of the population of fibromyalgia patients, around half has existing post-traumatic stress disorder, and two-thirds of these individuals had developed fibromyalgia after the commencement of their PTSD. Some individuals may be at an increased risk of developing fibromyalgia due to the failure of certain psychological buffers to work effectively on emotional stress that is caused by everyday life events.

Physical trauma contributes because it causes emotional stress. These mechanisms related to the patient’s brain may primarily drive the chain of neurophysiological responses known to cause fibromyalgia.

Is Fibromyalgia Real or Fake?

Doctors and patients alike state that fibromyalgia is a very real condition. Pain is often subjective and can be difficult to measure. Because there are no lab tests that can show Fibromyalgia, people assume that it is fake. As a result, the most common misconception about fibromyalgia is that it isn’t a real condition.

In both Canada and the United States, fibromyalgia is now considered a condition that qualifies for Disability. The European Parliament has signed a declaration calling for the recognition of fibromyalgia as a disease which causes disability with a right to claim exemption.

What Are The Best Medications For Fibromyalgia?

NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) don’t appear to work for fibromyalgia pain. Opioid narcotics are powerful pain-relieving medications that work for some types of pain, but they don’t always work for fibromyalgia. They can also be harmful—and addictive.

The narcotic-like Tramadol (Ultram) has been shown to have some effectiveness with Fibromyalgia for pain relief. Low-dose amitriptyline can also be helpful. Tizanidine and cyclobenzaprine are muscle relaxants that help treat muscle pain from fibromyalgia.

There are three medications that have been approved for use for fibromyalgia. These medications include Cymbalta (duloxetine), Savella (milnacipran) and Lyrica (pregabalin).

Each of them works in the brain: Cymbalta and Savella belong to a class of medications called serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) whereas Lyrica is a drug that targets nerve signals. It has long been used to relieve nerve pain in patients with shingles and diabetic neuropathy. It is also used to treat partial seizures.

For other treatments, this post offers several suggestions for ways to help with Fibro pain. Another option is to try Cannabis or CBD Oil.

How Life Changing Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia can affect you in both mild and severe forms. You may find that with medication, you are able to continue to work and engage in other activities without discomfort. Other people find that even with medications, they are in too much pain to maintain their previous lifestyles.

Disability may need to be sought if you are unable to continue working because of your Fibro. You may need to modifiy activities, use mobility aids or adaptive devices or otherwise change your lifestyle to accomodate your pain and fatigue. Every individual will feel their Fibro differently and you may find that your condition changes constantly as well.

What Helps Fibromyalgia?

Good Nutrition Month

Rest, good nutrition, mild exercise and a positive frame of mind all go a long way in helping to live with Fibromyalgia. Lack of movement is one of the biggest mistakes you can make if you have Fibro. It causes your muscles to tighten even more, so exercise such as walking, biking or swimming can be helpful in keeping you flexible and having less pain.

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean protein and good carbohydrates is essential. If you are overweight, you might want to try losing some extra pounds to help with joint pain.

Getting the proper amount of sleep can be very difficult with Fibromyalgia. Follow a sleep plan at night to get your best rest possible and nap if you need to during the day in moderation. A well-rested body is better able to function fully.

Finally, try to maintain a positive perspective. If you find yourself struggling with negative thoughts, it may be helpful to seek counselling or coaching. Support groups either in-person or online can also be very helpful.

Conclusion

Fibromyalgia can be a very difficult condition to diagnose and treat, but as you can see, there are things you can do that make a difference. The more you can educate yourself, the better your outcomes can be. Remember,

There Is Always Hope

It’s A Bad Pain Day (Coping With Chronic Pain)

Note: this post contains Affiliate Links which provides me with a small income at no cost to you. Clicking on the links will take you to specific products I suggest. You are under no obligation to purchase, these are simply my recommendations. 

When you’ve been living with Chronic Pain for an extended period of time, you know that you’re going to have good days and bad days. What do you do when you start worrying about the bad days – when they’re going to hit, how long they’re going to last and how can you manage to get through them?

I think one of the most important things you can do with Chronic Pain is to acknowledge it. Just because you live with it every day doesn’t mean you’ve come to peace about it. You may try to ignore it, hoping it will go away or you may confront it head-on. It’s important to recognize it for what it is though…pain that disrupts your life and causes your world to spin on a wobbly axis.

Chronic Pain is a force to be reckoned with. You may live most of your time with your pain at a manageable level, but inevitably, there comes a time when a flare-up happens and you find yourself struggling to manage. There are tips and tricks for flare-ups that might help and I’d like to suggest the following:

Relax

Easier said than done, but when your body has launched into “fight or flight” mode, you need to find a way to slow that adreneline down to where you are back in control. This is a good time to try some deep breathing techniques such as the 7-4-7 approach.

Breath in for a count of 7, hold for a count of 4 and breath out for a count of 7. Do this several times until you are able to feel your body starting to relax a bit. By focusing on the breathing, you trick the body into believing the danger is over, so your heart rate returns to normal. You will likely still feel pain, but it should be more manageable.

Heat and/or Cold

Heat and cold are both equally good for dealing with pain. I personally prefer heat as it helps to relax my tense muscles. Cold is better for acute injuries or when inflammation is a problem. Using a heating pad like this one can offer the benefits of a steady source of heat without injuring the skin:

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Cold Pack

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Essential Oils

Many people find that Essential Oils offer them benefits to help relieve their Chronic Pain. Certain blends of Essentials can help to control pain, relax you and ease your state of mind. There are many sources of Essential Oils – I like these ones on Amazon.com:

Healing Solutions Blends

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Knowledge

Knowing more about Chronic Pain can help you deal with it better. There are numerous books out there that serve as excellent resources for knowledge. I personally have read these two and found them extremely useful:

Managing Chronic Pain

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You Are Not Your Pain

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Yoga

Therapeutic Yoga has many benefits, including enhanced sleep and general well-being. This book provides you with the basics of a beginning yoga practice to help you manage your pain.

Yoga For Pain Relief

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Support Groups

Support Groups, either in person or online can be so valuable when it comes to dealing with Chronic Pain. Just knowing that others are going through the same thing as you can be empowering. To find a support group in your local area, trying Googling “Pain Support” and your city’s name.

Online, I suggest finding a good Facebook group. There’s one for almost every Invisible Illness (and Visible Illnesses as well) and can be easily found by searching by name in Facebook. One that I recommend is here:

Medical Musings With Friends

Based in Australia, they have members from around the world, but predominantly Australia, the USA and Canada. I am a member here and the group is extremely outgoing, friendly and they “get it”. Everyone lives with their own medical challenges, so they understand what you’re going through and are super supportive.

For Fibromyalgia, you can check out Fibro Connect, for EDS and POTs, try The Zebra Pit and for all Spoonies, you can visit Connected Spoonies. I belong to all of these groups and find them all wonderful and helpful.

Remember,

There Is Always Hope

chronic pain and addictions (4)

Positive Things About Chronic Illness

Living With Chronic Illness

Note: This post contains affiliate links. I will receive a small percentage from the total purchase price at no extra cost to you.

Living with a Chronic Illness such as Fibromyalgia, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, Ehlers-Danlos, etc. can be a challenge. So much of your time is taken up with medical appointments, tests, daily pain and discomfort, mobility issues and more.

We sometimes forget to take time to spend on positive, “non-medical” moments. Maybe it’s because we have to look for them, rather than have them always there. Maybe it’s because we’re so tired from being ill that it’s too much effort.

I believe it’s important though, to find those good things in the day or to create moments when necessary. I’d like to share a few ideas with you today to help you fill your time with positives.

Moments

Pets

Our pets bring us so much comfort, whether you live with Chronic Pain or not. If you do live with an Illness of some sort, this is especially true. Pets seem to have a way of knowing when we need an extra cuddle or two, and they’re always there for us. I have a wonderful cat named Dorie, who loves to lay on my legs when I’m on my laptop (like right now)

Dorie my cat, sitting on my legs, and bringing comfort from Chronic Pain

I can feel my stress dissipating as soon as Dorie lays with me. It’s a tangible and therapeutic benefit of cat ownership and a wonderful feeling period. If you don’t currently own a pet, it’s something to consider.

Books

I love to read and a good book can completely transport me away from a painful day. I get so caught up in the story I’m reading that everything else fades into the background.

My personal preference for books is stories of people who have overcome challenges, especially Chronic Illness of their own. I also love autobiographies and biographies in general, and books on True Crime. Ann Rule is a favourite author in that category.

A couple of suggested books and authors I adore:

Salt In My Soul is a wonderful book about a young woman who lived with Cystic Fibrosis. Mallory’s story is both joyous and sad as she talks about being a young woman with a fatal disease. Her mom takes up the story when Mallory can’t and shares her daughter’s life and dreams.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened is by one of my favourite author’s, Jenny Lawson. This is a true account of her life growing up with mental illness and is absolutely laugh-out-loud hilarious. I also recommend her second book, Furiously Happy as a follow up!

You can also follow Jenny on her blog site, The Bloggess

Music

Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to music that makes them feel better. I have one friend who loves to rock out to death metal and another who prefers classical music.

I find that listening to the old classics is what works best for me, to distract me from pain and discomfort. I love Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, Electric Light Orchestra and so many more. When I can sing along with the songs, it’s easy to put pain behind me.

Choose a gendre that suits your style, or even your particular feelings for the day. Light and upbeat or dark and moody, the goal is to move beyond pain so your focus is elsewhere. Living with Chronic Illness is never easy, so music can often be a great distraction.

Videos/TV/Movies

Living with Chronic Illness often leaves you with a lot of free time. Some people are more visual than others and find that movies and/or TV are what helps them best. With services such as Cable, Hulu, Netflix and more, there’s an endless variety of content available.

One new thing that’s all the rage is ASMR videos. ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and is a sensation of tingling that you get in the head and spine after viewing/hearing certain sounds or sensations. Hair brushing can bring this on, along with many other stimuli.

This Wikipedia article sums up ASMR nicely and you can find many videos on YouTube to help you experience the sensation. I haven’t personally tried it yet, but if you have, I’d love to hear about it…just leave a note in the comments section.

Another way of relaxing is by sitting outside and soaking up the sounds of nature. Birds, crickets, frogs…all of these can be peaceful and induce a sense of calm in the body.

Hobbies

I am just starting a new hobby of “Paint By Numbers” and have been given this kit by a company called Winnie’s Picks. I will be doing a full review of this product at a later date, when my painting is complete, but I wanted to share with you here what a wonderful kit this is.

Inside the solid mailing tube is everything you need to complete a full size painting. There is a canvas as well as a paper copy of the painting, several different sized brushes and all the paint you can possibly need to complete the work. You do need to frame this yourself when it’s done, but everything else is there. The prices are incredibly low for the quality of product too!

There are many hobbies that you can do when you live with Chronic Illness. You want to be able to work on things that you can pick up and put down when needed, but that still give you a challenge at the same time.

Some of the best hobbies to consider are needlework, knitting, crochet, felting, colouring, painting and working with paper, such as cardmaking. You can also get into more detailed work, such as embroidery, jewelry making, candle making, soapmaking and so much more. Tell me about your hobbies in the comment section. I’m always up for learning new things!

Conclusion

I love watching the hummingbirds that come to our feeder. They bring me such joy as they sip at the nectar I’ve left for them, and I can almost feel my blood pressure going down as I observe them.

Finding ways to live with Chronic Illness doesn’t have to be difficult. We generally have everything we need for distraction in our own homes. Sure, there are days when we just feel too ill to watch a movie or play around with a hobby, but for the most part, we can use the above techniques to distract ourselves.

What sort of things do you do on a daily basis, to manage your Chronic Illness? Share with me in the comments so we can all benefit. Remember,

There Is Always Hope

Interview October – Elisa Austin

Today we meet my final guest for Interview October, the wonderful Elisa Austin. Please join me in welcoming her!

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…

I am a 50 year old, mother of eight and grandmother. I’m a photographer and writer.

One fascinating fact about me is:

I am still existing. 

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

I have underactive thyroid (Hashimoto’s), Fibromyalgia, and IBS

My symptoms/condition began…

The thyroid condition was diagnosed in 1999 because I was just “off” and “dragging.” Fibromyalgia was diagnosed in 2004 although I believe symptoms began earlier.

My diagnosis process was… 

My doctor ruled out most things with blood tests and sent me to a rheumatologist. The rheumatologist ruled out RA and by process of elimination Fibromyalgia was diagnosed.

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

Knowing there is no cure and I will have to deal with the pain every day for the rest of my life.

A typical day for me involves…

Medication, necessary appointments or activities, and with luck some housework.

The one thing I cannot live without is…

It rotates through warm baths, heating pads, aromatherapy, family, exercise

Being ill/disabled has taught me…

That I’m stronger and more determined than I had originally thought. 

My support system is…

My family and an online group

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

I don’t even know. I no longer make plans or have dreams.

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

I am more supportive of others

One final thing I want people to know is: 

I refuse to give up.

Interview October – Shantay Marsh Thompson

I have another great interview to share with you today…please meet Shantay Marsh Thompson!

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…

My name is Shantay Marsh Thompson, and I am 42 years old. I have two grown kids that are working, and one is in college. I spend my time taking online classes since I am not able to work. I spend my time in the house the majority of the time because walking too much makes my back hurt. I do not go to stores to shop. I shop online or if it is something personal that I need, I will go to Dollar General so I can get in and out. My mother does the grocery shopping for me. 

One fascinating fact about me is:

That even though I am down with this illness, I continue to learn academically.  

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have…

I have Fibromyalgia with chronic back pain, depression, Neuralgia, Arthralgia, and Dyslipidemia. The pain in my back is worse. I have trouble sitting and standing for long periods.

My symptoms/condition began…

In 2013 after being diagnosed with endometriosis. After I had my procedure, I started hurting badly after a month. I went back to my gynecologist and asked him to please give me a hysterectomy because I needed to work. I had to wait four months before I could get the hysterectomy, so I continued to work in pain. After I had my hysterectomy in 2014, the pain was still there. I worked for about a month then had to quit my job because I could not stand nor sit for long periods. 

My diagnosis process was… 

Terrible. I went through several doctors in Tuscaloosa, AL. Nobody would give me the help that I needed. I cried every day because my pain was so bad. The medicine they gave me, such as Tramadol did not do anything for me. I had to move back to Mobile County to find me a doctor that could help me. I found one, and he gave me some medicine that would help me reduce the pain some. It was June 2015 before I got a diagnosis.

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

Dealing with the pain in my back. I have tried Fibromyalgia lotions and nothing seems to work good.

A typical day for me involves…

Laying in my bed watching tv or doing some schoolwork. I make myself go to the gym to at least once a week to do strength training and walking but I pay for it the next day. 

The one thing I cannot live without is…

My Lyrica. I have bad nerve pain so I take Lyrica. After my daughter turned 19 in April, my medicaid ended so I had to go without Lyrica for some weeks and I was in pain. 

Being ill/disabled has taught me…

How to appreciate life more and do not take anything for granted. I have worked since I graduated in 1995 and I never thought my working career would end in 2014.  

My support system is…

My one friend, my family, my fiancé, my church family, and the  FIBRO CONNECT Group.  

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

Get out the house and treat myself. 

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

Being thankful that it is not a deadly illness.

One final thing I want people to know is: 

Fibromyalgia is real. I would not wish this pain on no one.

My Links

https://www.facebook.com/Health-Wellness-108684490547162/?view_public_for=108684490547162

Interview October – Jennifer Van Haitsma

I’m excited to share my next guest’s story with you…please meet Jennifer Van Haitsma!

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…

Hi! My name is Jennifer Van Haitsma, the writer behind the blog Diffusing the Tension. I am 33 and I live in Northwest Indiana (about an hour from Chicago). I’m married to my love of 14 years, and we have 2 amazing children. (They are 4.5 and 2.5). In my spare time, I love to watch TV. I’m an avid binge watcher when I can. I especially love British period dramas, procedurals, and true crime documentaries. I also love to read. My goal is to read 35 books this year. I try to workout several days a week as well. 

One fascinating fact about me is:

I am terrified of heights. It is strange because I am not afraid of rollercoasters or airplane rides, but any other situation involving heights petrifies me. 

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have…

I live with bipolar disorder and chronic fatigue. Originally, I was diagnosed with depression, but my diagnosis changed about 10 years ago. 

My symptoms/condition began…

I began to exhibit symptoms of depression when I was 9 years old. I was a little more withdrawn at school and acted out a bit more at home, from what I can remember. 

My diagnosis process was… 

When I was 12 or 13 my mom took my to my first therapist. I remember not even wanting to talk to her at first. I had a lot of anger after my cousin’s death in 1995 (when my symptoms started) and really didn’t want to let a stranger climb the walls I had built inside. But ultimately, I was diagnosed with depression. In 2009, at age 23, I began to exhibit symptoms of mania (hyper productivity, irritability, and sabotaging relationships.) I sought treatment again, and in 2010 I was labeled bipolar 2 with rapid cycling mixed episodes. 

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

Definitely the effects it has on those around me. I sometimes lose my patience when it’s not necessary, and take it out on my husband and children, which makes me feel deeply ashamed. Another incredibly hard part is the fatigue. I am so tired that it is hard to stay awake past 7:30pm. 

A typical day for me involves…

Taking the day an hour at a time. I make the kids breakfast, then we do whatever we can to pass the time until lunch, etc. My fatigue makes it hard to stick to a schedule with them currently, as I often need to lie down for prolonged periods of time. 

The one thing I cannot live without is…

My phone! It is where I store my pictures, others’ phone numbers, others’ address, where I get my entertainment, where I keep my to do lists… My phone is the central hub of my daily activity. 

Being ill/disabled has taught me…

It had taught me resilience in a way that nothing else could. I have had to learn that each day is a fresh start, and it is possible to make the most of my situation. It has also taught me the power of speaking about my journey so that I can help others through theirs. 

My support system is…

My biggest supporters are my husband and parents. My husband is my best friend, and he is always patient with me when my illness gets bad, and always stays by my side. My parents provide a lot of support where my husband can’t. The girls get a lot of play time with their grandmas during the day when he is working and I need the help. 

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

It’s funny how hard it is to imagine myself without my illness! I think I would get in a long workout and then spend the day doing fun things with the girls. Maybe a trip to the zoo or a local amusement park, if the weather was good. 

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

It helps you have more empathy for others who struggle. Before my diagnosis, I’m sure I often looked down on people with chronic illness. Now, I know they are just that: people. 

One final thing I want people to know is:

I am not my illness. I am so much more than just bipolar. I am a wife, a mom, a bookworm, a TV addict, a fitness nut, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a person. 

My links are:

Blog: www.diffusingthetension.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jvan3610

Facebook: www.facebook.com/diffusingthetension

Instagram: www.instagram.com/diffusing_the_tension

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/diffusingthetensionblog