Fibromyalgia and Loneliness

Having a chronic illness like Fibromyalgia can be a very isolating experience. Many of us used to work and found a lot of our social life revolved around our jobs, whether it was getting together with the gang after work for drinks or volunteering with a workgroup for a community project. Often, a best friend was made at our jobs whom we would hang out with more frequently, and those sorts of friendships became treasured relationships to us.

group-work-best

After you become chronically ill though, you often have to give up working, and those relationships no longer exist, not even with the “best friend” that you made. How do you handle the loneliness that comes from that? We tend to not go out a lot in the first place, because of pain and fatigue, so without a reason to get together with former co-workers, there’s now more reason to isolate ourselves than ever. It’s depressing to know that you’re no longer “part of the gang”  and that you don’t fit in anymore. It’s even more depressing to know that your former friends don’t even realize that they’ve shut you out. It’s just the natural progression of you no longer being at the job, and nothing personal.

Reaching Out

But what happens when you try to reach out, to make plans, and people don’t return calls? Or when people reach out to you, but you’re unable to go, because their plans are too ambitious for you? I’d love to see people for coffee, but they always want to combine it with shopping followed by dinner and drinks afterwards, and that’s too much of a day for me. Lunch and shopping, I can do that on a good day, but then I want to go home. And if it’s a bad day, then I have to say no right from the start. And what happens if I start having too many bad days when friends want to get together? They stop calling, period. I am “too sick all the time” and no longer any fun to be with.  It’s easy to get depressed when this happens.

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It’s so frustrating when friends give up on you. I can’t control my good and bad days. I have no idea when a good day is going to go bad. I can feel great in the morning and then start to go downhill by the early afternoon. I try to explain that to people, but they don’t always understand how unpredictable Fibromyalgia can be. Sometimes it can change from hour to hour and even minute by minute. It’s like going outside in changing weather and never being sure of how many layers you should wear. Will you be too hot, too cold or just right? And what do you do with all those layers if you don’t need them?

There’s also the other side of the coin though. What if your friends continue to invite you out, but you keep turning them down? Your reasons seem valid; you’re in pain, it’s too much of a hassle, the weather is too difficult, you’re tired, or you just don’t feel like it. It’s easy to make excuses, but you also need to search the real reasons for saying no. Are the reasons you’re giving valid? Or are you turning down invitations because of depression?

Signs to Watch Out For

How do you know if you’re becoming depressed or socially isolated? Here are some signs to watch for:

  • Being less motivated to leave your home
  • Feeling more anxious or worried when leaving the house
  • Declining invitations from friends or family to meet or attend gatherings
  • Planning fewer social opportunities for yourself
  • Ignoring supports when they reach out to you
  • Seeing only negatives associated with social connections

If you recognize any of these symptoms, please see a doctor in order to be treated appropriately. If you want to be more socially active, but find your friends are not as available as they’ve been in the past, the following suggestions might be helpful for you:

  • Volunteer with like-minded people
  • Help out in an animal shelter
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  • Take up a new hobby
  • Join a support group (in person or online)
  • Join a Social Group in your City (look on Craigslist)
  • Keep a journal – it can help put things in perspective

Loneliness can be hard to deal with, but with the right understanding and support, you can overcome it. Make sure you’re staying in touch with people and not isolating yourself, and reach out to others if your friends have stopped reaching out to you. It’s okay to move forward and make new friends. Listen to your body and do what’s right for you. If you’re feeling up to it, go out and make new friendships through volunteer work or so social groups. If you need to take a break from socializing, that’s fine. Just don’t fade into the woodwork. Remember, your presence is valued no matter how much of it you are able to give at any time. You are loved. And as I always say…

There Is Always Hope!

 

 

Chronic Illness and Anxiety

When you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness, you may feel as if you’ve lost control over your future. The stress of learning to deal with doctors and specialists, coping with physical changes, and managing daily life can often lead to excessive worry or stress. Researchers have found that experiencing a chronic illness puts a person at increased risk for developing anxiety or an anxiety disorder. Roughly 40% of people with cancer report experiencing psychological distress that often takes the shape of excessive worry or panic attacks.* People with ongoing, or chronic pain are three times more likely to develop symptoms of anxiety.**

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The daily demands of living with a chronic illness continues to present challenges and generate anxiety long after the diagnosis has been given. Loss of mobility or other abilities can lead to worry about employment or financial concerns. Depending on others, worrying about becoming a burden or even intimacy with your partner may also be concerns. Some people are more easily able to adapt to the changes in their lives. Others may feel overwhelmed with anxiety and struggle to cope. Still others may be in limbo, unable to make decisions about their future.

The Most Common Anxiety Disorders are:

1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) involves excessive and uncontrollable worry about everyday things, such as health, money or work. It is accompanied by physical symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, fatigue and difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
2. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) entails persistent, recurring thoughts (obsessions) that reflect exaggerated anxiety or fears. Someone with OCD often will practice repetitive behaviors or rituals (compulsions). For instance, obsessing about germs may lead someone with OCD to compulsively washing hands—perhaps 50 times or more per day.
3. Panic Disorder includes severe attacks of terror or sudden rushes of intense anxiety and discomfort. Symptoms can mimic those found in heart disease, respiratory problems or thyroid problems, and individuals often fear they are dying, having a heart attack or about to faint. The symptoms experienced during a panic attack are real and overwhelming, but not life threatening.
4. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can follow exposure to a traumatic event, such as a car accident, rape, a terrorist attack or other violence. Symptoms include reliving the traumatic event, avoidance, detachment or difficulty sleeping and concentrating. Though it is commonly associated with veterans, any traumatic event can trigger PTSD.
5. Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is characterized by extreme anxiety about being judged by others or behaving in a way that might cause embarrassment or ridicule. People who have SAD have what feels like exaggerated stage fright all the time. SAD is also called social phobia.

Specific phobias are intense fear reactions that lead a person to avoid specific objects, places or situations, such as flying, heights or highway driving. The level of fear is excessive and unreasonable. Although the person with a phobia recognizes the fear as being irrational, even simply thinking about it can cause extreme anxiety. I personally am terrified of the Dentist, even though they treat me gently and with compassion. I have to take medication to help relax me in order to go for a simple cleaning.

Fortunately, anxiety is treatable with therapy, medication and complementary and alternative treatments (i.e. acupuncture, massage therapy, ). But when the focus is on the chronic illness, anxiety is often overlooked. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor about your emotional and cognitive health, and to speak up when you experience signs of anxiety.

Emotional symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Becoming easily agitated, frustrated, and moody
  • Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control
  • Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
  • Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed
  • Avoiding others

Physical symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Low energy
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
  • Aches, pains, and tense muscles
  • Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent colds and infections
  • Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
  • Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet
  • Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
  • Clenched jaw and grinding teeth

Cognitive symptoms of stress include:

  • Constant worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Forgetfulness and disorganization
  • Inability to focus
  • Poor judgment
  • Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side

 

What You Can Do

Challenge negative thinking. When you’re anxious, your brain may jump to conclusions, assume the worst, or exaggerate. Catastrophizing and ignoring the positives in your life may occur when you live with the challenges of a chronic illness. One way to manage anxiety is by being aware of the negative thinking, examining it and challenge the irrational thoughts. Counselors/therapists can play an important role in teaching you this important coping skill.

Calm your mind. Relaxation techniques can be an effective way to calm anxious thinking and direct your mind to a more positive place. Consider whether mindfulness meditation, yoga, or other breathing and focusing practices can still your body. Taking  time to relax, increases your ability to think objectively and positively when it comes to making choices about your health and life.

Find a good Doctor. If you take medication for both mental and for physical health, it’s important to that your doctors are aware of all your medications. Some medications may actually escalate anxiety, so it’s essential to work with a prescriber who can make informed choices that address both conditions without worsening either.

Find a support group. Managing a chronic illness can be a lonely job as it may be difficult for loved ones to understand the unique challenges. Support groups, whether online or in person are wonderful for creating community but also for providing information that can help reduce worry. They can also connect you to valuable resources for treating your illness.

Acknowledge successes. Anxious thinking about chronic illness can keep you from feeling that you have control over anything in life. It’s important to acknowledge all successes, both big and small. Keep track of the healthy things you do for your mind and body. Exercising, going to counseling, spending time with a friend–these can all help. Keeping these successes at the front of your mind can help you combat worry. They can remind you that you do have the power to affect your present and future.

If you think that you might have anxiety in addition to chronic illness, be honest with your doctor. Ask for help. Anxiety is highly treatable, so remember…

There Is Always Hope

*https://adaa.org/serious-chronic-or-terminal-illnesses
**http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/depression_and_pain

Interview October – Maya

Today on Interview October, we’re meeting Maya Northen Augelli . Let’s get to know her better:

MayaNorthenAugelli

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…  

My name is Maya and I’m from Philadelphia, where I live with my husband and our dog. I run a travel planning company, and also work with a local consulting company. I became a mental health and chronic illness advocate in 2009, after being diagnosed with a relatively rare mood cycling disorder. When I’m not working or advocating, you can often find me traveling, hiking or otherwise enjoying nature, reading, writing, or doing yoga – in fact, I’m just starting Yoga Teacher Training this fall!

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

I have Rapid Cycling Cyclothymia, a rare mood cycling disorder that’s similar to, but technically “less mild” (in quotes because it definitely doesn’t feel mild at times) to Bipolar Disorder. I also struggle with anxiety as part of this disorder, though not technically diagnosed with a separate anxiety disorder. In addition to my mental health condition, I  battle IBS and Migraines

My symptoms/condition began… 

I am told I was most likely born with cyclothymia. I started exhibiting symptoms of hypomania as early as two years old, though of course they didn’t know what it was at the time. Symptoms progressively increased in frequency and intensity through my teen and early adult years. I was finally diagnosed just shy of my 30th birthday. The migraines I have been getting since I was a teenager – tough to really say when they started, but I can definitively say I can’t really recall a time when I wasn’t prone to migraines. They’re not continual, but I have consistently gotten them at least a few times a month since I was a teen. The IBS symptoms began around the age of 23, and I was diagnosed shortly thereafter.

My diagnosis process was… 

I’ll speak mainly about my cyclothymia diagnosis process here, as they others were pretty straight forward – went to the Dr, was referred to a specialist, had a couple of tests (colonoscopy/upper & lower GI tests for the IBS) and was diagnosed.

The cyclothymia diagnosis was trickier. I’d been seeing therapists on and off since college. I had only found one I’d really trusted, but long story short, at the time my symptoms weren’t as prominent, and I was more seeing her post-divorce than for my specific mental health symptoms. In the summer of 2009, my GP put me on a low dose of antidepressants, which at first helped, but soon made me feel worse. In August 2009, I was hospitalized for two days with what I thought were non-stop anxiety attacks. The hospital increased my depression medication, and I felt worse. When I got out of the hospital, I went to the one therapist I’d trusted from past years, and we began working through things – including the fact that the medication was making me worse. I even brought my mom to a session, in which she described the symptoms I’d exhibited as a very young child (since I couldn’t quite as accurately describe them, having been a toddler when they started). It was during these visits that I was finally diagnosed with rapid cycling cyclothymia. My therapist explained that the antidepressants made me worse because I cycle so rapidly that basically, by the time the medication that’s supposed to “lift” my mood (for lack of a better phrase) hits my system, I’ve already cycled up, and the effect is compounded. So in essence, the antidepressants were putting me in almost continual hypomania (what I had thought were anxiety attacks). She subsequently brought me down off the antidepressants and we began mood stabilizers.

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

It’s two fold for me. One is the feeling of lack of control over my brain. I feel like I often can’t trust my own mind – because I cycle so quickly, literally every day is a complete surprise. I never know how I’ll wake up feeling (depressed, hypomanic, anxious, none of the above), and how often it’ll change each day. Not being able to trust my own brain, or feeling like I can’t, massively affects my self-esteem and often makes me feel hopeless and worthless.

The second is the stigma. The fact that people think you can just smile, change your attitude, be more grateful, look on the bright side, or choose to not feel this way is awful. When this happens, not only do I feel hopeless and worthless, I’m being told it’s my own fault, and shamed for how I’m feeling.

A typical day for me involves… 

I have a full time job, so on weekdays, my day of course involves that. But in terms of illness and coping strategies, I get up early to exercise most weekdays before work – it helps my mood, and it helps me to keep a consistent schedule. I spend time writing each morning – mostly journaling. This helps me brain dump, more or less, so that I can try to sort through the mish-mosh of feelings, emotions, thoughts all going through my brain. Without this outlet, it feels like non-stop stimulation inside of my brain, before even getting much input from the “outside” world, and it makes concentration and focus extremely difficult. Most evenings after dinner, I try to meditate, and/or do some yoga. It’s a wind down for my day, and helps settle my brain, so that I can hopefully get some sleep. If it’s not a work day, I try to spend as much time in the sunshine and fresh air as I can – especially in nature. I’ve been slacking in that lately, and really need to get back into it.

The one thing I cannot live without is… 

My loved ones. They’re my rocks. But if I had to choose an actual thing… I’d be tempted to say my medication, but I’ve had to go temporarily off of it for personal reasons, so technically, I’m living without it for the moment.  So, I’d probably have to say my journal. Writing is my solace. My journal will “listen” to my thoughts and emotions and feelings with no judgement, and it lets me get it “out of my head” without having to actually direct it at anyone, which is huge in helping my relationships with loved ones and friends (note: I’m far from perfect in this regard, but it helps). I work through so much in the pages of my journal, and I can’t imagine not having that outlet on a daily basis.

Being ill/disabled has taught me… 

That I am not alone, and that so many people struggle with their mental health. You hear the statistics, that one in five Americans have a mental health condition, but when you begin talking about your illness and advocating, and you have people you would never have thought coming to you and saying, “Thank you so much for speaking out, I struggle too,” it really hits home. That “one in five” goes from being a statistic to something tangible that you can feel in daily life.  My illness has also given me a purpose. In my adult life, I feel I’ve floundered a bit in really finding where I feel I belong. But utilizing my illness to help others has, from the very start, always felt 100 percent like it’s my purpose and a path that I have to follow. It feels such a natural part of my life, almost an extension of myself, when so little else does sometimes.

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed… 

I have so much to say here, but I’ll try to condense it!  First, I would tell them to learn everything they can about their illness (from credible sources of course), and that when they’re ready, finding support with others who have the same/similar illness  – whether they find this in an official group or among friends or on social media/online – can make a world of difference. I’d also remind them how often depression and anxiety lie, and that there may be days that their illness wants them to believe every terrible thing about themselves, but that these aren’t true, no matter how convincing the lies sound.  I’d want them to know that there’s hope, there are others who “get it” and are here to help, and that they are not alone. Finally, I’d tell them to make sure that they have a healthcare team that they trust, and just as importantly, that trusts them. We know our bodies and our brains better than anyone else because we have lived with them our entire lives, and it’s important that our health professionals understand this – we deserve that respect as patients, to have our voices heard and not to be discounted.

My support system is…

My husband, my family, my friends, my therapist, my social media/online spoonie family.

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

Live as fully as I could – do activities I love to do, with people I care about, and try my hardest not to, as so often happens, let the anxiety of “Ok, I feel good now, but when is the proverbial other shoe going to drop”  creep in. Afterall, if I let it creep in, I’d cease to be symptom free!

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

For myself, I’d say that it’s helped me to be more understanding and empathetic. Because I know I’m often struggling with a lot that others can’t see, I try to also remember this when the situation is reversed, and I try to put myself in their shoes before passing judgement. For instance, if someone’s speaking to me badly, I try to ask myself “what might they be going through that I can’t see that’s causing them to act this way?”.

In addition, as mentioned above, it’s given me a purpose and direction. Without my illnesses, I wouldn’t be an advocate, I wouldn’t be involved in so many various organizations and causes, and I wouldn’t have met so many amazing people through these.

My links are:

https://spreadhopeproject.com
www.liliesandelephants.blogspot.com
Twitter: @mayanorthen
Instagram: @myohmy23

Interview October – Jenni

Our Interview October series continues with our next guest, Jenni Lock. Let’s meet her now:

JenniLock

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…  

My name is Jenni Lock.  I’m 43 years old and hail from Ohio. I created Jenni’s Guts blog in 2008 and write about my journey with intestinal nonsense and other health issues.  My sense of humor and sarcasm are all part of my charm. I have a deep love for animals, learning about everything, socializing from a far, and my beautiful daughter.

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

Crohn’s disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Bile Acid Malabsorption, chronic nausea and diarrhea mainly. However, I also suffer from Fibromyalgia, Anxiety, Depression, Insomnia and struggle with a touch of PTSD.

My symptoms/condition began… 

I started having health problems in roughly 1990, though I wasn’t officially diagnosed with Crohn’s until 1995.  Everything else wrong with me just snowballed over the years after that.

My diagnosis process was… 

Difficult. I suffered from a lot of stomach pain, back pain, joint pain and lost about 15 pounds due to running to the restroom about 15-20 times a day. My family doctor told me I was depressed and needed Prozac. That didn’t help so I went to a specialist. The specialist told me I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome and needed to eat more fiber and scheduled me for a sigmoidoscopy, but everything came back normal so I was, again, told to eat more fiber and decrease my stress. I quickly found out fiber made things worse and I continued to get sicker and sicker. I went to a different specialist who did many more tests but everything came back normal except for one blood test. It showed an inflammation/infection rate of seven times the normal rate. I exhausted all the testing options so I was scheduled for surgery to figure out what was happening inside me.  During surgery they found I had about 3 1/2 feet of severely inflamed small intestine and the final diagnosis was Crohn’s disease.  The whole diagnosis process took about 2 years.

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

My inability to do things with my family and friends because of being tied to a restroom and not feeling well enough.  Especially not being able to travel and go to fun events.  I’m not able to do a lot of things with my daughter because of this and it is really hard for me to continually have to say, “No, I’m sorry but I’m too sick” or “I can’t because of the bathroom situation.”

A typical day for me involves… 

After an exhausting night of not sleeping well, or even at all, the mornings are usually met with many trips to the restroom which continues throughout the day but most of the time tapers off at least a little throughout the day.  I watch a lot of movies and television, read and research, or put on music and draw.  I’m unable to work so I mainly just try to keep myself from going stir crazy.

The one thing I cannot live without is… 

Laughter.

Being ill/disabled has taught me… 

I can be a person with a disability (or many actually) but it doesn’t define who I am.  I’m so much more than just someone with medical problems.  And it has taken struggling with so many things wrong with me to actually figure that out.

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed… 

This diagnosis isn’t the end of you. Study and learn as much as you can about your illness from every source you can get your hands on (except WebMD!!).  You have an inner strength that you never knew you had so use it to fight for proper health care and proper treatments and don’t ever, EVER settle for less – not from your doctors, healthcare professionals, or anyone else.  You’re worth it!

My support system is…

My family and friends.  And a furry little friend or two always make things better!  (Shoutout to all the pets I have had along the way – I miss you guys!)

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

Grab my daughter, get in the car and just drive.  We would go to all the places she always wanted to go and do all the things she wanted to do that I couldn’t because traveling, for me, is so difficult.

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

All the communities out there that have allowed me the opportunity to meet people and learn about their stories.  I’m so fortunate that my blog has reached so many people and we all get to help each other cope.  I think it is so important to have a community of people who understand, even if they are hundreds of miles away from you and you never physically meet each other.

My link is:

JennisGuts.blogspot.com