Managing My Mental Illness

I have Bipolar Disorder and have talked about it before on my blog. It’s not something I hide but I don’t really discuss it much either so I thought I’d share a bit more about what it looks like for me.

Although currently stable on medication, when I was unmedicated and undiagnosed, I would have the most incredible highs and lows. My manic highs would see me racing around the house, cleaning whatever I could, and cooking dinners every night and baking and crafting and never, ever sleeping…I would be up for days on end without any sleep at all. At my worst, I was awake for 8 days in a row – and I mean without a drop of sleep. I was unbeatable…I would shop online without realizing what I was doing, and then all of a sudden, these packages would start arriving and I would have no clue what was in them – usually jewellery (cheap stuff) or clothing from Zulily (an online store I love).

woman-shopping-online-sample-sale

On the other hand, when the inevitable crash came, I would crash hard. All I wanted to do was curl in the fetal position in bed and sleep…so that’s all I did. I didn’t bathe, I didn’t eat, chores went by the wayside, forget about cooking and crafting. I did the bare minimum to keep my cat alive and my husband had to fend for himself after a 12 hour day at work when it came to eating, plus do the dishes. I rarely left the bedroom, unless it was to spend mindless hours on the computer doing nothing.

Once we realized how serious the problem was, my husband and I realized it was critical that I needed to be on medication. I saw my doctor and was started on Seroquel. After that drug stopped working, I’ve been taking Abilify, which has been excellent for me in terms of managing my symptoms. Unfortunately, the side effects have been harsh and I’ve been paying the price.  I am not a vain woman, but I’ve put on 20lbs since using the medication (in 6 months) and it’s 20lbs I can’t afford to carry on my 5’2″ frame. I have no ability to exercise and lose the weight, especially now that I’m wearing an Air Cast on my left ankle to try to help reattach a tendon that has torn away from the bone. Plus I take other medications that all have their own side effects…so I have to be careful with those as well.

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I’ve also experienced some other unpleasant side effects including severe brain zaps, and I’ve been seeing shadows on the sides of my vision. These were enough to send me back to my Psychiatrist to discuss making another medication change – the dance that you tango when you have a mental illness. He’s decided to try me on one of the older drugs that is less likely to cause weight gain like so many of the newer ones do. It’s called Zeldox (my family doctor says it sounds like a cartoon character and I agree!) and the side effects listed are as follows:

  • constipation
  • cough
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • flu-like symptoms (e.g., fever, sore throat, chills)
  • leakage of fluid or milk from breasts (women)
  • menstrual changes
  • nausea or upset stomach
  • rash
  • restlessness
  • runny nose
  • sexual difficulties
  • vomiting

In general, most of these are mild and go away in the first couple of weeks of taking the medication, so I’m not too concerned. I’m just hoping that the brain zaps disappear as this is one of the most unpleasant of all the side effects that I experience. What is a brain zap you ask?

Brain zap or brain shiver is a term used to describe the sensation of a sudden jolt or buzz in the brain. It is also compared to the electrical shock, has no apparent cause and is brief in duration. In most cases, it’s relatively mild but people have reported the occurrences of very extreme and painful jolts. They are a temporary occurrence. Brain zaps can sometimes be accompanied by dizziness, tinnitus, mild pain and ache and a general sense of discomfort.

I experience mine as a buzz that goes across my head from ear to ear. I can hear the loud buzzing sound as well as feel it, but there isn’t any pain. It’s almost like the hum of an electric razor, but very quick and sudden. Sometimes it’s just one zap, sometimes it’s a series of them. They’re mostly just annoying more than anything but a side effect I can do without due to their frequency.  The shadowing I’ve been getting in my vision is more worrisome as I tend to freak out about anything to do with my eyes. I have no eye problems (other than wearing glasses) and I’d like to keep at least one body part in good shape for as long as possible if you know what I mean!!

I start the new medication on Monday, Dec. 17th but am writing this post to be read in February so I’ll add an update underneath so you know how it’s going.

Bipolar Disorder can be tricky to manage but with the right care, the proper medications and taking them at the right times, it can lead to a normal life. I’ve found the perfect balance between mania and depression. Now I’m able to function most days with the cooking and cleaning when my other health issues allow it and my poor husband can come home to dinner waiting most of the time. I feel more likely to work on a craft than when I was in a depressive crash, and while my sleep still isn’t the greatest, I’m not staying awake for days on end either.

Sometimes called Manic Depression, Bipolar Disorder causes extreme shifts in mood. People who have it may spend weeks feeling like they’re on top of the world before plunging into a deep depression. The length of each high and low varies greatly from person to person. If you are experiencing these symptoms, please see your doctor. There is help available and beyond that…

There is always hope!

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

Invisible Illness – But You Look Fine!

One of the hardest parts of living with an Invisible Illness such as Fibromyalgia, MS, Ehlers Danlos, etc. is that you quite often look just fine on the outside, while your insides are screaming in pain. This leads many people to wonder if you truly are ill, or how serious your illness actually is. How do you handle this, as a Person with Chronic Pain (PwCP)?Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 10.56.48 AM

For one thing, you should never have to make excuses for your pain to anyone. What you feel is what you feel, and there is never a reason to justify it or prove it, not even to your doctors. For years, people with Fibromyalgia went undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because Pain was often the only symptom a patient could describe. There are no other outward symptoms and nothing comes back in the blood tests or x-rays that a doctor might order. It’s only through using the 18 Tender Points and determining how many of them you have that a definitive diagnosis can be made for Fibro.

Other diseases often come with outward symptoms – the “butterfly rash” of lupus, the enlarged joints of Rheumatoid Arthritis, the dislocating joints of Ehler Danlos, the varying symptoms of MS – all of them a visual reminder that there is something wrong with a person. Fibro doesn’t present itself that way, and so a person can often look “normal” like everyone else, yet be in a flare up.

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So how do you handle it when the people who are closest to you don’t believe you are ill or doubt the severity of your illness. The first step is to educate them on what Fibromyalgia is: a disorder characterized by widespread pain, which causes many symptoms like extreme fatigue, sleep issues, memory loss and mood issues. It is essentially a very painful, exhausting disease, for which there is no cure and few treatments.” It is becoming much more recognized in the Medical field, unlike in the past, and is well accepted as a legitimate condition, just like arthritis, Lupus, MS, etc.

Basically, your brain miscommunicates with the nerves in the spinal cord and sends out the wrong messages to your body, resulting in an overload of symptoms. This graphic may be helpful in showing you just some of what you can experience:

FibroSymptoms2

And this is the reason it’s such a hard disease to diagnose because these symptoms are often looked at just on their own, and not seen as part of the bigger picture. It’s no wonder people look at us and think we’re crazy. To have all these symptoms and yet still look perfectly normal on the outside…well, I’d wonder too perhaps. That’s where the education comes in. The more we teach people about Fibromyalgia and how it mimics so many other diseases, the more people will realize just how huge a burden we are carrying every day.

Nobody wants to be told they look awful though, so how do you break this Catch-22? You want people to see you as you really are, but you don’t necessarily want to look ill at the same time. Are you obligated to dress up and put on makeup everytime you go out, just to look “good” for strangers? Of course not, but I am advocating that you do it for yourself if you’re able. Run a brush through your hair, throw some lipstick on, go for a trendier haircut or a manicure. Never do it for someone else though and never let a stranger’s comments get to you. Only you know how you’re feeling at any point and sometimes it’s just not possible to do these sorts of things. Pain may get in the way, or finances or depression…in these times, just do the best you can with what you have in the way of energy and time and desire.

Remember…you are perfect just the way you are…everything else you do is a bonus.

Education of others is key, and I truly believe that the more we can share about Fibromyalgia and other Invisible Illnesses with them, the more they will understand what we are going through, and the more compassionate they will become. Perhaps then they will stop commenting on how “fine” we look, and will start seeing us in a true light. Maybe they will see our struggles, our problems, our symptoms and what we have to go through on a daily basis just to survive and finally understand how difficult our lives truly are. Then and only then will come the appreciation and admiration we’ve been waiting for.

There is always hope.

 

Fibromyalgia – In Tune With Our Bodies

I’ve been thinking lately of how lucky I am that despite the fact I live with Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and Invisible Illnesses, I’m actually quite healthy. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but I rarely come down with colds, I can’t remember the last time I had a flu or stomach bug or even when I could say I was “sick”. I try to remember to get a flu shot each year because I’m Diabetic, but it didn’t happen last year and so far this year, I haven’t made it to a clinic either. It’s also in my best interest to get one, because since having surgery for severe Gastric Reflux Disease in 2004, I am unable to physically vomit – if I get sick where vomiting becomes an issue, I have to go to the hospital and have a nasal gastric tube placed to remove my stomach contents. Not fun!!

As the old saying goes, aging ain’t for sissies! When you live with Fibromyalgia, you live with all sorts of “side effects”. This diagram displays some of the many “extras” a Fibromite can expect to experience:

FibroSymptomsDiagram

These are all common symptoms and it can be difficult to tell them apart from other illnesses, which makes it extremely important to be aware of your body and to note when something feels “off” or different than what is normal for you. We are generally quite in tune with our own bodies and are quickly able to determine when a new symptom appears that doesn’t fit in with our usual symptoms.

What happens though when you do experience something that you’re unsure of? Your first step should always be to see your Primary Health Care Provider anytime something comes up that is markedly different than your normal. It could be one of Fibromyalgia’s many symptoms, but it’s always better to be safe. I remember one time many years back when I started having severe pain in the lower left quadrant. It happened when I was living in Calgary and I had just finished a volunteer shift at the Calgary Stampede grounds. I’d eaten a corn dog and a few minutes later, was suddenly hit with terrible pain in my lower left side. I could barely walk but managed to make it on to the C-Train (the Lite Rapid Transit) and then called my husband to pick me up at the station to take me to the hospital. It turned out that a cyst that I didn’t know I had on my ovary had burst. I was prepared to put it down to something Fibro related and the only reason I got the proper diagnosis is because the pain was so bad, I went to the ER.

It’s easy to be dismissive of everything we feel and call it Fibro related, so we have to be careful not to fall into this trap. How do you tell the difference between Fibro related pain and something new or different for you? Here is a checklist to use:

  • Familiar or not – have you felt this same symptom before, or does this feel like something “new” to you?
  • Does it last longer than usual? This could potentially be a new situation that needs attention
  • It it more intense than usual? This could be the sign of a new problem
  • Is it in a new part of your body? This is more likely the sign of something new
  • Did it start suddenly or gradually? Gradual pain is more likely to be Fibro related.
  • Does something just feel “off” to you? Trust your instincts!

It’s recommended that everyone go for an annual checkup, but it’s especially important that you and your doctor stay in touch with how you are doing, outside of your Fibromyalgia. Don’t forget about the rest of your health.

Speaking of health, I want to share this new Health Alphabet. It may be helpful in future medical discussions, especially if aging is becoming a concern for you:

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Okay, a little humour never hurts, but when it comes to Fibromyalgia and changing symptoms, you do need to be careful not to overlook something that could have the potential to be serious. Always trust your instincts about how you’re feeling and see your doctor if something just doesn’t seem right. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

There is always hope

Chronic Pain and The End Of Life

Helping hand

Chronic Pain can be so debilitating that you may sometimes wish for an end to it all. Although I will touch on assisted suicide in this post, it’s also never too early to have your plans in place for end of life care and preparations for what happens when you do pass away. It’s a difficult subject that no one wants to talk about but I’ve never been one to shy away from the hard topics before.

Wills and Financial Planning

Speak with your lawyer and make sure you have a current will. Discuss estate planning, trust funds, donations and any other legal matters so everything is up to date. Your Financial Planner can also help you set up your affairs so that it’s easy for your family to follow your plans. Make sure your financial planning is sound and in line with personal desires.

Make a Plan

To ensure your end-of-life care is handled the way you want, make a comprehensive plan. This allows you to outline everything about the care you wish to receive once you are no longer capable of making your own decisions (like pain management or DNR instructions). Involve your family and friends in your end-of-life plan so that anyone who might be responsible for your care knows exactly what your wishes are. Have them use it like a guide, and be sure to talk through anything they might not agree with or understand to make sure they know why you want things a certain way.

Keeping your loved ones in the mix serves multiple purposes: Not only does it help you better protect yourself, it helps them process and work through your ailing years and eventual passing. A plan you’ve discussed and prepared your family for will bring them ease and relieve a huge burden.

Talk to them about those feelings of loss. Make sure they have an understanding of what to do when that loss happens to help them cope; how to ask for help, how to get help with those feelings. Helping your loved ones can also help you come to terms with your own end-of-life process. You may have many years to live or your health may be such that you are facing the end of your life much sooner. Being prepared for death is perhaps the most difficult thing you will ever experience in your life. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Say the “6 Things” you need to say to your loved ones, friends and enemies. It is never too early to say these things.

“I’m sorry.”
“I forgive you.”
“Thank you.”
“I love you.”
“It’s OK to die.”
“Goodbye.”

  • What are my beliefs about death? Do I need to make peace with myself or a Higher Power?
  • Do I need psychological, emotional, spiritual care, counseling or support?
  • Have I left a legacy? Identify life lessons, advice, hopes and dreams that you would like to pass on to family and friends. Write or record these. Identify a person who can pass these along to the people to those whom you wish to receive your legacy.
  • Have I written my personal history? You can write it down, or record on audio or video tape, etc. Who is to get my personal history?

Funeral Arrangements

Many people decide nowadays to make their funeral arrangements in advance, to spare their family the task in their time of grief. Most reputable Funeral homes have options to pre-pay for services including cremation, caskets, urns, plots, etc., so you can rest assured that everything is taken care of in advance. Contact the Funeral Home of your choice to discuss your wishes with them. Most of them offer a free planning book as well to help you organize all your paperwork in the event of your death – your wills, banking information, life insurance, important contacts, etc.

Assisted Suicide

Assisted Suicide is a very controversial topic these days. I want to state clearly that I am FOR assisted suicide when every option has been played out and a terminally ill person has reached a point in their health journey where they have no further reason to go on. People who opt for AS are not looking for a quick solution – they have put a lot of time and thought into their decision and they know it’s the right choice for them.

We treat our animals more humanely than we do people, and when the time has come when a person is ready to die, I think we owe them the option to do so with dignity. I live in Canada, where Euthanasia became legal in 2016 for patients experiencing intolerable suffering. Strict laws govern access to legal assisted suicide in Canada and there have been at least 744 assisted deaths since the law was first passed.

These are hard things to talk about, but the fact remains that the more prepared you are in advance, the easier things will be in a crisis later. Just remember though that despite the nature of chronic pain, everything is worth fighting for… love, laughter and life itself. It is always my signature at the end of each post but today, I mean it even more…

There is always hope

 

 

Surgical Solutions And Resilience

If you read my last post, you know that I live with a number of health issues, and have for many years. What I didn’t talk about was a more recent issue that has come up involving a bump on the back of my left ankle and my Achilles tendon that is tearing away from the bone.

The bump is called a Haglund’s Deformity. I’ve had it for over a year now and it seems to have developed after I had my right hip replaced, perhaps in response to a changed gait in my walking. I didn’t notice it at first, not until it became painful. What my Physiatrist (my pain doctor) and I didn’t realize is that it was also affecting my Achilles Tendon and that tendon was slowly pulling away from the bone. It wasn’t until I could no longer walk without constant pain that we came to understand the full severity of what we were dealing with. 

I was sent for x-rays and the results showed the truth. Since November 2018. I’ve been wearing an Air Cast to help protect my ankle and reduce the pain when I walk. We’ve tried Botox in the calf muscles to try to tighten the tendon so it will reattach to the bone, but if this doesn’t work, it’s going to mean a complicated ankle repair in surgery. 

So, why I am I sharing this with you?  Because this isn’t the only surgery I’m facing in the next little while and I want to talk about resilience. 

Resilience is a funny word. The official definition is this: 

re·sil·ience
[rəˈzilyəns]

NOUN

1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
“the often remarkable resilience of so many British institutions”

2. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
“nylon is excellent in wearability and resilience”
synonyms:
flexibility · pliability · suppleness · plasticity · elasticity · springiness ·

Now, I wouldn’t say that definition number 2 is all that appropriate as I certainly don’t feel all that “elastic” or “springy”.  I do agree with the first one though. I think I have a remarkable ability to recover from difficulties. With everything I’ve been given in life to handle, and each new challenge I’ve been given to face, I’ve been able to rise to the occasion and deal with it as it’s happened.

As I said, I am facing another surgery this year and it’s one I never thought I’d hear myself say – Brain Surgery. Because of my Trigeminal Neuralgia, we have come to the point where I’ve exhausted every medication out there and I’ve been left with no other options for treatment. I am meeting with the Surgeon on April 30th and the surgery we will be discussing is called Microvascular Decompression. It has an 80% success rate, which is the highest of all the available surgeries, and is the least likely to cause lasting facial numbness afterward.

Trigeminal nerve branches

In Microvascular Decompression surgery, the Neurosurgeon creates an opening in the skull behind the ear on the affected side and using delicate tools, places a sponge between the nerve and the blood vessel causing compression, which in turn reduces the irritation caused by the nerve. It also prevents almost any facial numbness from happening which is a common side effect in most other surgical procedures, such as Sensory Rhizotomy, Gamma Knife Radiosurgery or Peripheral Neurectomy.  A small titanium plate is used to replace the bone removed and is put into place with tiny screws. 

A sponge is inserted between the nerve and the blood vessel, usually the superior cerebellar artery, causing compression.

MVD sponge placement

A sponge is inserted between the nerve and the blood vessel, usually the superior cerebellar artery, causing compression.

After the surgery, you spend a night in the ICU and then 1-2 days in hospital before being released to recover. 

It all sounds pretty scary, but it’s my best hope for relief from this insidious pain. I’m now averaging a flare up every week and they generally last for 12 hours at a time. It’s sheer agony when they happen – there’s a reason this condition is called the suicide disease. 

So, how do you bounce back from something like this? Where does the courage come from? Part of it for me is my faith in God. Part of it is my natural positive outlook on life. My Dear Readers know that my motto is “there is always hope”. I end each post with those words, they are tattooed on my left arm, they are my favourite words from the movie The Lord of The Rings, when Aragorn is talking to the young boy just before the Battle at Helms Deep. They remind me that no matter what we are facing in life, things could be worse. I know that might sound silly, but truly, they could be. I could be facing a terminal illness, not just an issue that causes tremendous pain. There could be NO solution for me at all.

The thing is, I believe we have a choice in how we react to news, good and bad. Being joyful is easy in good times, but I choose to be joyful in the bad times too. I choose to stay positive in the dark days. I choose to believe that things can get better. My attitude is one of gratitude despite the circumstances. And I encourage others to try to do the same thing. You have a choice. Be resilient. Fight with all you have inside you. Choose to find the joy in your circumstances, as small as it might be. Remember…

There is always hope.

 

Fibromyalgia and Dark Thoughts

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The following statement was made by a fellow poster and I want to address the subject. Here is what she wrote:

“I am living in constant pain, can’t sleep and often feel very low. Thoughts of not existing often creep into my head.”

Now, there is often a difference between wanting to commit suicide and simply not wanting to exist any longer. Wanting to commit suicide is a deliberate act that you want to take because you are in so much pain, you simply can’t bear to be a part of this world any longer. Thoughts of no longer existing are different. It’s not so much that you want to die, it’s just that if you didn’t wake up in the morning, you’d be okay with that.

Fibromyalgia and Chronic or Intractable Pain is a Life Sentence for the person who has to live with it. Imagine for a moment that everything in your life suddenly changes. You can’t work, you can’t go out to parties or outings with your friends. You have to give up your hobbies and all the things you enjoy. You can’t spend time with your family or friends or loved ones because you are in so much pain and are so exhausted every day, all you want to do is be in bed sleeping. Depression seeps in…you have nothing left to live for. Everything you’ve loved in life has been taken away from you. Why should you bother being alive…what’s the point? Every day is exactly the same as the next…pain and exhaustion, exhaustion and pain. There’s nothing positive to look forward to, so why bother? It would be a relief to just not wake up in the morning.

To just not wake up in the morning.

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These are the type of dark thoughts that can creep into the minds of people who live with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain. It’s important to find purpose in a life that has radically changed so you don’t find yourself sliding into this dark hole. Here are some suggestions that may help you find that purpose in your life.

Finding Your Faith

If you are a person of Faith, you may be wondering where God is in all of this. You may be feeling abandoned by God or feeling like you’re having to go it alone. Please know that God hasn’t left you at all, but perhaps you’ve left God. Now more than ever is the time to reach out to Him and to immerse yourself in the Bible. Read about Job again and all that he went through, and remind yourself how God didn’t abandon him and how He won’t leave you either. Now might be the time to start listening to some Christian music that helps you reconnect with your faith. If you engage in a different religion, you can reconnect to the ceremonies that enrich you from those practices.

If you are not Religious, but are Spiritual, there may be rituals of comfort that you’ve moved away from and it may be time to implement them again. Meditation, chanting, incense, sage, singing bowls, whatever you find comfort in – bring them back into your life.

Moving In Comfort

Often when we are in Chronic Pain, we forget that exercise is actually beneficial to us, both physically and mentally. Gentle exercise offers benefits to our body such as delaying muscle atrophy, increasing strength, and creating an environment to help us heal. Although exercise may hurt, it’s not causing us further harm and will inevitably help strengthen the core muscles, which benefit the entire body. Walking, swimming, Aquafit and bicycling are all good starts, even for just a few minutes a day. This post can help you with more detailed information. The bonus is the better you feel physically, the better you feel mentally.

Volunteering

It’s often been said that the more we give to others, the more we get in return. Volunteering is such an example. Mention volunteering to people who live with Chronic Pain, and the first thing they say is “oh no, I’m much to sick to volunteer”. Stop for a moment though, and think about it. You have the lived experience of a Patient and could be the perfect Patient Advocate for Healthcare Partners in your area. If there isn’t a dedicated organization where you live already doing this, call your local hospitals and ask if they ever need Patient Partners for their Health Care Initiatives. The same goes for the big medical organizations in the area…The Cancer Society, The MS Society, The Diabetes Association…and the list goes on. If you live with a health condition beyond Fibromyalgia, call your Organization and see if they need volunteers. You can specify the type of work you can do, and the hours you are available. Giving back fills a huge need in the community and in your own life.

Spend Time With Loved Ones Again

As awful as you may feel, cutting yourself off from family and friends actually makes you feel worse. Try to find times where you can get together with loved ones, even if it’s for shorter amounts of time. Have a coffee time in the evening instead of a longer drawn out dinner. Join a friend for lunch. Chat on the phone or via Skype and stay in your Pajamas! People want to spend time with you, they don’t care what you’re wearing. The ones who truly love you will understand the circumstances – the ones who don’t really don’t matter much, do they?

Finding purpose in life can help lift you from the darkness you may be encountering because of your Chronic pain. It is possible for you to find joy again, even in the simple things. I’d like to leave you with a list of 20 of my top items that bring joy – taken from a previous post I’ve written called That Which Brings Me Joy.

  1. Watch a sunrise or sunset
  2. Send someone you love snail mail
  3. Volunteer
  4. Get crafty
  5. Bake something
  6. Keep a journal
  7. Take a walk
  8. Do a good deed
  9. Read a novel
  10. Go to the museum
  11. Sing
  12. Take a class
  13. Enjoy a power nap
  14. Log off Facebook
  15. Practice positive affirmations
  16. Mentor someone
  17. Plant a garden
  18. Have a warm bath
  19. Go to an art gallery
  20. Give more compliments

And finally, remember…

There Is Always Hope

Let’s Find Out If Fibromyalgia Is Real.

If you’ve been to my blog before, you know that I live with Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Invisible Illness. If this is your first visit, you now know something about me. I want it made very clear that YES…Fibromyalgia IS REAL.

Here are just some of the MANY symptoms that people with Fibro have reported experiencing:

Fibromyalgia-Signs-Causes-and-Treatment

Walk a mile in my very painful shoes and you will know exactly how painful it is to live with Fibro. Every one of my muscles feels like it’s being dragged in concrete and every joint feels like it’s been twisted, then put into a mechanical vise and clamped as tightly as possible. I get shooting pains in parts of my body that I didn’t even know existed, for no reason at all. My arms burn and my hands and feet tingle or go numb.
The brain fog is awful…forgetting what you’re saying in the middle of a conversation is so embarrassing. I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast. I can’t remember if I ATE breakfast. I take medications that cause horrible side effects like weight gain and shaking hands and brain zaps…a sensation like an electrical shock that runs across your brain and where you can feel AND hear a literal buzz. I am constantly exhausted by the lack of sleep that comes with Fibro. It’s never refreshing and it’s never enough.
Yet, with all of this that I and my fellow Fibromites go through, there are still doctors who say “it’s all in your head” and “it doesn’t exist”. Well, tell me then…what DO I have wrong? All my tests come back negative for everything you tested me for…but I have all
18 of the 18 tender points that indicate Fibromyalgia is what I have.
Here are things I’ve had to say to friends and to DOCTORS who have questioned me about Fibro and Chronic Pain at various times over the last 10 years:

1. This is not “just in my head”. My pain is real.
2. I wish Fibro came with bruises, that way, you could see how much pain I’m feeling just so you could believe me.
3. It never goes away. My pain is always there, even when I’m acting “normal”. Don’t let my smile fool you, I am always in pain. Always.
4. There is no standard day or week or month with Fibromyalgia, It changes from hour to hour sometimes. Some days are better than others. Some days I think I want to die (this one always gets me in trouble).
5. Staying home instead of working or doing something fun isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
6. You think I’m faking being sick, but really I’m faking being well.
7. The Brain Fog is terrifying. You try forgetting what you’re saying in the middle of a sentence and see how it makes you feel – you feel stupid and old and easy to dismiss. I lose things easily and am easily distracted. It’s so frustrating.
8. Day to day activities are exhausting. Heck, getting out of bed is exhausting.
9. Even if there were drugs that worked well, I am not a drug seeker and my history will show that. I have ONE Family Doctor and use ONE Pharmacy! I just want relief from the pain.
10. What part of “chronic condition” are you having a hard time understanding? I am not going to get better. I am going to live with this for the rest of my life. I hope to get better but it’s never going to go away. Don’t give me false hope.
11. I’m willing to try just about anything, but just because something worked for some Aunt’s friend’s cousin’s sister doesn’t mean it’s going to work for me. We’re all different and treatment isn’t a one size fits all option. But, whatever…I’m willing to listen.
12. Sometimes, I have to cancel my plans at the last minute. Sometimes, I cancel my plans with the same friend 2 or 3 times in a row. It’s not a reflection on the friend. It’s my body.
13. I wish more doctors understood Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain and took us more seriously. Do you see me as a drug seeker too? What about when my x-rays show a body filled with arthritis? How do you deny my pain then? I just want you to help me find answers and relief.
14. Some days, even my hair hurts
15. There are days when the most I can accomplish is moving from the bed to the couch, and that’s okay. At least I did something.
16. On the days I feel good, I push myself too hard to get things done, even though I know I’m going to pay for it later. I hate being thought of as lazy. When my husband comes home, I can honestly say to him, “honey, today I cleaned up, did the dishes, vacuumed the house, did the laundry, baked cookies and scrubbed the bathroom”. And then I know I’ll be bed-bound for the rest of the week.
17. What you see on the outside doesn’t necessarily reflect how I feel on the inside.
18. My chronic fatigue is at times overwhelming and I can’t push past it. It’s exhausting to be this exhausted.
19. I wish a simple nap would help to relieve my pain, but it will not disappear if I lay down and have a rest.
20. I’m a real person with real pain. I didn’t ask for this but I’m being forced to live with it. I didn’t do anything to get this, but sometimes I feel like I’m being punished.

Research has now shown that Fibromyalgia is NOT an inflammatory condition like so many doctors first thought. It is technically NOT an autoimmune disease. What Fibro IS, is a NERVE disease where the brain misreads the pain signals going to the body through the spinal cord. This causes widespread pain throughout the body that can be felt in many different ways, and these include the various symptoms shown in the chart above.

Oh, it can be so frustrating having an Invisible Illness like Fibro. I truly do wish there were outward signs of this illness so that people could see that you’re ill. Something like bruises or a rash, or big F’s showing up on your body would be perfect (“oh look…she has F’s all over her…poor thing, she has Fibromyalgia…go get the door for her”). I truly wouldn’t mind that if it would help a doctor believe in what I’m going through, trust me.

But, as I always say…

there is always hope!