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:

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 2.31.07 AM

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

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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.

 

Refresher Course

I thought I’d start out the year with a refresher course on the conditions I live with and how blogging has had such an impact in my life. Because of my blogging, I have had chances to be interviewed in a Canadian National newspaper, on two different podcasts, and several different articles online. The various conditions I write about are because of the fact I live with them and am personally acquainted with them. So, without further ado, here we go:

  • Chronic Pain
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia / Myofascial Pain
  • Osteoarthritis (in all my major joints)
  • Forestier’s Disease (aka D.I.S.H.)
  • Type 2 Diabetes (on insulin)
  • Trigeminal Neuralgia
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Gastroparesis
  • Internal Adhesions/Scar Tissue/Chronic Pelvic Pain
  • Hypothyroidism

So I’ve talked about my Chronic Pain from Fibromyalgia and Osteoarthritis, and when I say I have arthritis in all my major joints, I’m serious. I have it in my shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers, my cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, left hip (right hip has been replaced), knees, ankles and toes. Some areas like my left hip and right knee are quite serious and will need replacing, but the rest I’ll have to live with.

Meanwhile, my thoracic spine has a different type of bone condition called Forestier’s Disease or D.I.S.H., which stands for Diffuse (Widespread) Idiopathic (Of Unknown Cause) Skeletal (Referring to the Skeleton) Hyperostosis (Excessive Growth of Bone). It forms in the shape of a bone spur, but instead of a normal spur that could be removed, it looks more like melted candle wax on the spine, so nothing can be done about it.

Diffuse-idiopathic-skeletal-hyperostosis-DISH-of-the-spine-grave-290-male-50-60-yrs

I also have regular bone spurs on my right hand – I had one removed from inside my pointer finger as it grew through a tendon, and there is a second one on the outside of my middle finger growing through the knuckle. Both have been very painful and interfere(d) with typing and writing.

My Type 2 Diabetes has been with me for 8 years now and is mostly under control. I go for regular blood tests every 3 months, to get my A1C numbers that show my average blood sugar levels for the previous 3 months. Generally speaking, I average around 6.9 to 7.2 which is slightly higher than the 5.9 – 6.2 my doctor would like, but I do my best. I use long acting insulin at night, 14 units which does a good job at helping to keep things under control. I’m trying to eat better, but I’m a sucker for sweets and it’s hard to be disciplined.

My Trigeminal Neuralgia is something I’ve talked about before so you can read the article about it here.  The same goes for my Bipolar Disorder.

So, what else is on that list. Ah yes, the ever lovely Gastroparesis

what-is-gastroparesis

Now, the way they determine if you have this or not is through something called a motility test. In my case, they wanted me off ALL of my meds first to make sure they weren’t contributing to the problem, so for 2 days prior to my test I had to quit my medications cold turkey. That included my meds for Fibromyalgia, my anti-psychotics AND my opioid narcotic for pain. Do you have any idea what going through withdrawal is like? It was horrendous. I had the shakes, the runs, I couldn’t eat or sleep, and for those 2 days, I alternated between thinking I was dying and wanting to die to having to feel better in order to die.

On the day of the test, I went to the hospital to where the Nuclear testing is done. I knew that I was going to be eating an egg sandwich with a radioactive tracer in it and that tracer would be monitored through a series of special x-rays, but I explained to the nurse that everything I ate was immediately running right through me like water. She was so sweet…she “reserved” me a private bathroom, brought me my sandwich and told me to eat as much as I could while I sat there. Talk about embarrassing!!! It’s embarrassing writing about it!!! But, I managed just over 3/4’s of it, which she said was enough. She brought me into the x-ray room where there was a gurney to lay on, and then gave me a warm blanket.

The first pictures were taken every 2 minutes, so I just sat. Then they took them every 5 minutes apart, then 10 minutes apart, then 15, then 30 and finally 2 pictures 1 hour apart each. In between, I slept on the gurney, and my nurse brought me as many warm blankets as I wanted. She also brought me a cold wet face cloth for my forehead. When it was all over, I gave her a big hug and thanked her for being so kind. Then I took my medications asap!!!!

The tests showed that I have a moderate degree of low motility so my food sits in my stomach for a long period of time before moving on to the intestines. This explains why I always look bloated and pregnant. There are medications that can be taken, but I’ve asked my doctor if we can just hold off and wait on that for now. This is more of an inconvenience than anything right now, and I just don’t want any more drugs in my system than I absolutely need. If the problem becomes hugely bothersome, we’ll revisit it, but in the meantime, I’ll just try to watch what I eat, drink more water and try to exercise a bit more.

The Internal Pelvic pain is because I have had a number of pelvic surgeries over the years, so there is a lot of internal scar tissue left over that has attached itself to things like my bladder and bowel, etc. There are occasions when I move a certain way, and those adhesions stretch very painfully – it feels like velcro being ripped apart except it’s my body doing the ripping. It takes my breath away sometimes, it’s so painful, but it only lasts for a minute or two, then it’s gone.

Which leads to Hypothyroidism. For a long time, I assumed that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was the only reason for my constant exhaustion, as my Thyroid numbers always came back normal on blood tests done every three months. One day though, my thyroid went rogue and those numbers were crazy. I had been especially tired…like dragging my ass tired, needed toothpicks to keep my eyes open tired

DraggingMyButt

Oohhh, that is NOT a good look on me!!! My doctor put me on meds and I could feel a difference in a very short period of time. On my next 3 month course of blood work, everything was back to normal, so now I take Synthroid on a daily basis for the rest of my life, to ensure I have a properly working system. So glad that was an easy fix!!

So there you have it. It’s a tough road to walk, I have to be honest. I live with pain 24/7 and have for almost 30 years now. Suffice it to say that you have to be mighty strong to live like this, to get through the day-to-day of actually living in pain. I know some people who just couldn’t. They tried so, so hard, but in the end, their pain was too much for them, and they took their own lives.

I’m a huge advocate for assisted suicide for people who live with severe, intractable pain. We take better care of our pets when they are hurting than we do our humans, and I think that is just plain wrong. I believe every human has the right to choose to die with dignity and I’m glad our Government has come on board with this. I know it’s not perfect, but at least things have started and that’s the main thing.

One thing having all these conditions HAS done though is that it’s given me a platform to blog about them and to discuss them as a Patient Partner in my volunteer work. I live in Langford, BC Canada and I belong to an organization called Patient Voices Network. They help take the voice of the patient and partner us with Heath Care Organizations who need Patient Advocates for the work that they are doing. I’ve been involved in committee work, focus groups, conferences, quality assurance forums, seminars and more because of PVN. The educational experience I’ve received is on par to anything I attended in my working life and in fact, when I attend anything in their offices in Vancouver now, it’s like being greeted by family – I know everyone and they all know me, I’ve been there so often for meetings.

I currently sit on 4 different committees: I am a member of the PVN Oversight & Advisory Committee, I currently sit on the Clinical Resource Committee for the BC Emergency Physicians Network , and I accepted a role with the Laboratory Quality Council Committee. We are responsible for all Labs on Vancouver Island as well as all Medical Blood Collection Stations.

Most recently, I took on a new role as committee member on the Measurement System for Physician Quality Improvement- Surgical Group. I am surrounded by top surgeons in Cardiac Care, Orthopedics and Neurology, plus high-ranking members from the Ministry of Health, the BC Patient Safety & Quality Council and other Health Organizations – and then there’s me. The lone patient voice to represent the masses. It’s a huge responsibility and one I take very seriously. I’ve already spoken out to let them know that while they see quality one way, I as a patient see it differently, and I expect my voice to be heard. It was empowering to have them tell me that I am the whole reason the others are there, because it’s all about the patient in the end.

So all this adds up to some pretty amazing experiences for me because of the pretty extraordinary pain that I live with on a daily basis. I have been truly blessed in my life, and I’m fortunate to be able to share it with you, my Dear Readers. Thank you for taking this journey with me. I hope to bring you more articles this year about Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia and other Invisible Illnesses. And remember…

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!

Medication Frustration

It’s a frustrating thing when the medications you’ve come to rely on suddenly decide to stop working. Pain meds no longer manage your pain, and brain meds no longer manage your brain. It’s no fun to find yourself in this situation, but for People with Chronic Pain (PwCP), it happens all the time.

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 6.16.50 PM
There are only 3 medications that are specifically prescribed for Fibromyalgia: Lyrica, Savella and Cymbalta. Lyrica, in particular, is known for weight gain as a side effect and when I first started taking it, years back, I gained 30lbs in 2 months time. I’m a short girl (5’2″) but I have a large frame, so I didn’t want to gain anything…I’m already stocky. I told my doctor that I couldn’t handle being so heavy (I think I went up to 160lbs), so she took me off the Lyrica and put me on the Cymbalta instead. I lost some of the weight and for a long time, seemed stable at 140lbs which I was okay with. I was still working out at the time and had a muscular body thanks to my trainer and her torture sessions every week (hi Terrianne…love you!).

Fast forward 10 years and I’m still on the Cymbalta, but I don’t think it’s as effective as it used to be. The problem is, science hasn’t kept up and there is nothing newer to try. Even though I continue to take my daily doses on schedule, I find that I develop brain zaps in between and my Fibro pain seems to have increased over the years as well. Part of it might just be from ageing, and part might be from my Osteoarthritis getting worse as well. I’ve also noticed that since I had my right hip replaced and I developed this Haglund’s Deformity in my left foot, my legs are constantly achier than they’ve ever been. I’ve always put that down to walking with a different gait, but I wonder if that’s my Fibro flaring up as well.

The other medication that has been difficult to regulate is what I take for my Bipolar Disorder. I was on Seroquel for a couple of years with good success, until I started having auditory hallucinations. I would be hearing music where other people heard nothing. It took a long time before we determined it was my medication causing the problem, including a visit to a Psychiatrist to determine that I didn’t have Schizophrenia. Once we realized the Seroquel was the problem, we switched to a new drug called Abilify. That worked great for the first several months, providing me with energy that I hadn’t had before and a whole fresh outlook on life.

Unfortunately, it also brought some side effects like shaking hands and trembling tongue and brain zaps – those internal lightening-fast buzzes in the head. We cut the dosage in half and then in half again, but to lose the side effects meant to lose the benefits as well. I see my doctor again soon and I think we’re going to have to try something new. The problem is, everything new is in the same general category as what I’m currently taking, so not sure what type of success we’ll have.

Speaking of seeing my doctor, I have to say that my new doctor is lovely. Dr Penny Wilson is from Australia and is in Canada for a year at least (with the promise that if she decides to go back to Australia at the end of the year, my care will be taken over by another doctor in the practice so I won’t be left stranded). She prefers to be called Penny rather than Dr and she’s simply delightful to talk to. She’s matter of fact and down to earth, and genuinely wants to see me as healthy as possible, so on my last visit there, to get the results of blood work and to get a prescription refill on my opioid medication, she decided she wanted me to book another appointment asap for what she called a Complex Care Review. As she said, “if anyone is complex, it’s you”. How true!

Basically, this appointment will be a chance to sit down for 30 minutes to go through EVERYTHING that I’m experiencing healthwise so we can triage what’s important, what can wait, what Dr Winston, my Pain Doctor, is dealing with, and what needs to be sent off to other doctors. For instance, I’ve had ongoing pelvic pain, likely due to a build-up of scar tissue/adhesions from several previous abdominal surgeries. I do know that when I had each of my ovaries removed, there was scar tissue attaching my bladder to my bowel. When I move certain ways, it feels like my insides are ripping apart, like velcro being torn open and it’s crazy painful. This is something I haven’t dealt with yet, because there have been too many other things wrong with my body. Penny will likely refer me to either the Gynocologist or to a General Surgeon to have a laparoscopic procedure done to see if they can remove some of the adhesions so that pain can be eliminated. Yes, a surgical procedure will cause more adhesions, but if they can get rid of 90% and have only 10% more grow, then those are good odds for me.

It feels weird to be looking forward to a Dr appointment, but I think this will be one of the most beneficial ones I’ve had in ages. I’m also taking in all my medications, so we can do a review and see if there’s anything I can stop or any dosage changes I need to incorporate. Yes, Penny is very thorough and for that, I’m very grateful. I have a feeling that when the appointment on the 27th is over, I’ll no longer have medication frustrations. What an answer to prayer!!

there is always hope!

Feelings…Nothing More Than Feelings

I’ve been wrestling with my emotions lately and wasn’t sure if I was even going to post about them. I’ve gone from feeling quite happy about how things are going in my life to outright despair over situations I have no control over. Because I am a Christ Follower, I do pray, but there are so many times I wish I could do more for the people in my life that are suffering. It’s especially hard when my own life is going so well.
Physically, I am doing better than I have been in a really long time. My Fibromyalgia pain has been well controlled lately, without any major flare-ups, my right knee has been doing well since the Synvisc injection finally kicked in, and although the Botox didn’t work for my Trigeminal Neuralgia (I had several flare-ups after it was done), I haven’t had a major problem in the last two months. The only real problem I’m having right now is with my left foot, and what I thought was a problem with my Achilles Tendon. Overall though, my energy has been good and since my dose of Abilify was cut in half, the shaking hands and the tongue tremors and brain zaps seem to have eased up as well. My Bipolar Disorder has been well controlled and other than the fact my insomnia continues to cause major problems and I still average 2-3 hours of sleep at night, overall, I can’t really complain. I feel about as good physically as I have in the last few years and this is a real blessing.
What does have me troubled is that I have several friends who are going through really difficult times right now. One has a daughter in her 20’s with cancer, one has a young daughter with digestive issues and one has a husband with cancer. It’s hard to be so close to people emotionally and yet not able to do anything for them to help them in these battles. So, I’ve done the only thing I know how to do. I’ve sent them each a cow.
A cow named Courage.
Let me explain. I love cows…I always have. I collect them…stuff ones and china ones and figurines and you name it. I have a small collection now, but once upon a time, I had over 400 cow-related items. Now I just keep it to the figurines and stuffies, and Christmas tree ornaments. Courage the Cow was born when my very dear friend Kevin was diagnosed with Lymphoma several years ago. I sent him a stuffed cow from my personal collection to help him through his battle and now Kevin is cancer free. When I heard about my friends and the battles they were going through, I thought that perhaps a Courage Cow of their own might be a good idea. So, that’s what I’ve done. I have taken stuffed cows from my personal collection and sent them on, with a note indicating that Courage is especially talented at eating cancer cells.
Courage also brings great comfort to young children with tummy troubles – that is another speciality of his. I’ve boxed up each of these cows and sent them off and so far, two people have received theirs. The young lady with cancer has had many cuddles with her Courage Cow and has said she already feels better. She will be undergoing a third Chemotherapy treatment soon. My small friend with the digestive problems loves her Courage Cow and wouldn’t put him down. She even made room on her bed for him and apparently that was QUITE the big deal as she’s very particular about who sleeps with her. She will be going to Boston Children’s Hospital in October for a complete digestive workup to see why her bowels don’t work properly and why eating is such a problem for her. She’s 5 years old and has had problems all her young life, so hopefully, Courage will be a comfort for her. As for the final recipient, I’m waiting to hear if Courage has been delivered yet or not…I expect any day now. He discovered he had Stage 4 prostate cancer out of the blue after having no previous symptoms at all.
I’m very thankful that despite my chronic illnesses, I’m healthy in the sense that I need no ongoing treatments such as chemo, or IViG, etc. Sure, I live with ongoing daily pain and I take a bunch of medications to manage my conditions, but overall, I’m healthy for a “sick” person. I just hope and pray it stays like that. I know that I have some surgeries in my future to expect, as my left hip needs to be replaced, and a possible surgery on my left foot where I thought my Achilles Tendon was injured. Instead, it turns out I have something else, called a Haglund’s Deformity. I’ll be seeing an Orthopedic Surgeon in the near future to discuss that further. Still, I can’t complain healthwise (well, I could, but no one would listen!). I know too many people who have things far worse than me. And for them, I listen, encourage and send out cows. And I try to remind them that even in the worst of times…
There is always hope
ps: As a reminder, if anyone is interested in taking the course 31 Days of Expressive Writing for Chronic Pain and Illness that I recently completed, I have become an Affiliate and will earn a small commission if you purchase the course through this link.
The price for this course is only $39.00. There are other courses available through Esther’s site, including What Really Helps People With Chronic Pain for only $99.00, and Pacing For Chronic Pain, priced at just $69.00. To sign up for these courses, please make sure you use my Referral Number 19f3aa. Thanks very much…if you do sign up, I hope you find the course as helpful as I did.

An Attitude of Gratitude

Are you grateful for your life?  Are you grateful for the things you’ve been given? Are you grateful for Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue? What about your other Invisible Illnesses? For Fibromyalgia? I am, and let me explain why.
I have had my Invisible Illnesses for over half my life now, and they have been a predominant part of my life since 2004 when I went into a major flare that I’ve never recovered from. That was the year I had stomach surgery for severe Gastric Reflux disease – a procedure called a Nissen Fundoplication. The surgery itself was successful, but I suffered nerve damage in the sternum area from where an instrument being used was pressed too hard against a nerve for an extended period of time, causing it to be pinched for over an hour. This caused me excruciating pain that didn’t resolve for almost a year and had me addicted to morphine pills to the point that I was hallucinating. In fact, at one point, the general surgeon called in a Thoracic surgeon, who was going to crack open my sternum to try and fix whatever the problem was – a drastic solution indeed.
I’m grateful this didn’t happen and the Thoracic surgeon had the sense to suggest a drug called Gabapentin for nerve damage which is what he suspected was the problem, and he was right.
I spent almost a year in a hunched over position, trying to “contain” the pain, it was so bad. I ended up having to go for physical therapy and massage in order to loosen up my muscles to where I could stand in a straightened up position again.
I’m grateful for the therapists that helped me.
I’m grateful there are medical teams in place when we need emergency surgery, such as when a cyst I didn’t even know I had on my ovary burst, causing me horrid pain. It needed immediate removal and there was a team to do that. Just like there was a team to remove my gallbladder and my other ovary when it went rogue as well.
And I’m grateful for my three doctors who have worked with me and my overall health issues over the last five years, Dr Leong, Dr Winston and Dr Burnett, my orthopedic surgeon who did my hip replacement.
Okay, you say…it’s easy to be grateful to the people who help us, but how can you be grateful for having Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia and all the other stuff. Well, I’ll tell you.
When you have Invisible Illness, you tend to miss out on a lot of life. You may have to give up your job or volunteer activities, your hobbies and family life. You end up losing a lot more than you seem to have left. But what having a Chronic illness does is force you to dig deep to FIND what you’re grateful for. I made a list:

  • Sunrises and sunsets
  • Quiet mornings after a good sleep
  • A perfect cup of coffee
  • A day where the kids get along and no one is fighting
  • A day where the cat or dog doesn’t barf all over the place
  • Feeling energetic enough to accomplish a few things on the “to do” list
  • Feeling rested
  • Feeling less pain than normal
  • Being able to go for a coffee date with a girlfriend or two
  • Having dinner with your family together instead of needing to lay down
  • Date night with your spouse
  • Watching a movie together instead of early to bed
  • Having a bath or shower
  • Having enough food on the table and money in the bank
  • Laughter
  • A sense of safety and security
  • A roof over your head
  • Feeling loved
  • Having a close friend you can confide in
  • Books to read and art to admire
  • Social media like Facebook and Pinterest
  • Ice cream or a favourite treat
  • Family and friends to share memories with
  • Vacations

I could go on and on…the point is, there is so much to be grateful for, but when you live with Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue and Invisible Illness, it’s easy to get stuck wallowing in the negatives, to the point you forget to stop and remember to be grateful. Take a moment now to list a few things that you’re grateful for and make it a habit each day to say thank you. An Attitude of Gratitude is easy to cultivate, but like a good garden, you need to tend to it every day.
Remember…
there is always hope!

Good Advice…

I want to share with you some valuable advice from another Pain Warrior. This is a person who lives with Chronic Pain from Fibromyalgia and his name is  Tom Seaman from The Mighty.  He just shared these thoughts recently and they struck such a chord with me that I had to share them with you.
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I used to blame myself for having Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain and not being able to do things like everyone else. I figured there must have been something I had done in my past to cause it. I was a pretty rebellious teenager and did a lot of heavy partying, including drinking and drugs. I was in a very abusive relationship with my first “love”, the man who became the father of my two children. I have no doubt these things may have contributed to the stresses in my life, along with a huge and ugly surge of hormones when I started my period at the age of 13 (and turned from a normal young girl into a rage monster…no lie, you can ask my sister!).

As other stresses entered my life, my Chronic Pain got worse. So did my Osteoarthritis and my Chronic Fatigue. I was a single parent for a period of time and worried about my kids being on their own so much while I commuted three hours a day and worked at a job I loved. There were other relationships including a marriage that didn’t work out before I finally met my (now) husband Ray who is the finest man I could have ever hoped for. All of it took a toll on my health though, and I believe that a surgery I had in 2004 was the catalyst for my real downfall.

I had been suffering from severe Gastric Reflux Disease…GERD. I thought it was normal to eat a handful of Tums at a time and so had done nothing about my heartburn until Ray convinced me to talk to my doctor. She sent me for tests that showed I had a very severe form of GERD and recommended that I see a surgeon to have a surgery called a Nissen Fundoplication. It was named after the doctor who invented it, and basically what they do is take the top of the stomach and wrap it around the bottom of the esophagus, effectively preventing anything from backing up into the esophagus again. This means no more acid reflux and no more heartburn. It also means you lose your ability to vomit, so if you ever come down with the flu or become pregnant, you are in huge trouble. If you are dry heaving or attempting to vomit, the strain on the Fundoplication can stretch it enough that it loosens so you do bring up the contents of the stomach, and need to have the surgery redone. In my case, I need to go to the hospital and have an NG tube placed down my nose and into my stomach to empty the contents…a procedure I’ve had done 3 times now, so I’m a pro at swallowing the NG tube now.

I went ahead and had the surgery, and for what it was done for, it worked extremely well. I’ve had no problems with heartburn except a very rare exception every now and then. Unfortunately, I suffered nerve damage in my sternum area where an incision was made to hold one of the instruments in the surgery and which caused me tremendous pain for many months afterwards. I was drugged up on morphine pills (plus pills for nausea and itching) for so long that my friends could barely recognize who I was. It got to the point that I had to be hospitalized to wean off the morphine because I was hallucinating that I could hear a band playing, and I kept looking behind my computer to try and find them. The doctors were at the point they were going to crack open my chest to try and find the problem when the Thoracic Surgeon suggested trying Gabapentin for nerve damage and it worked. Unfortunately, that 11 months of pain and misery put me into such a Fibro flare that I don’t think I’ve ever properly recovered from it.

I went into quite a depressive spiral during that time. I was off work for months…I tried to go back but had to take more time off. I missed working…it’s always been my passion and to not be there with my team was hard. I was missing church and my Lifegroup, and missing my friends and times of social gatherings…I was just miserable. Eventually, I got better – well enough to go back to work, etc. but I’ve never felt 100% again. A year later, my body decided to go rogue on me and I ended up in 2006/2007 having 3 separate surgeries in a 6 month period of time; my left ovary burst, my gallbladder gave out and then my right ovary burst, putting me into surgical menopause (I’d had my uterus out at age 28). That in itself was traumatizing, so again, my Fibromyalgia kicked into high gear and I was flaring badly. I had one more surgery in 2007 that actually had to be cancelled while I was on the operating table as the Anesthesiologist couldn’t find a vein for the IV. I have tiny crappy veins and I’d been left waiting all day without liquid. No wonder.

So, my poor body went through the wringer during that period between 2006-early 2008 and I blamed myself so much. I don’t know why, there was nothing I could have done to prevent anything, but still…it just seemed like I was constantly ill or recuperating and I was never able to go out with Ray when he wanted to. All I wanted to do was sleep or rest and I felt like the worst wife in the world. All the chores were left for him, I had no energy to do anything…and yet he never once complained. He truly is the most remarkable man, and I know God picked him especially for me. Ray takes the best care of me and I am so grateful.

When I read the words that Tom Seaman posted, I was reminded of all of this all over again. It’s easy to get into a “blaming yourself” mindset but nothing we’ve done is our fault. Fibro picks its own victims (ooh, I hate that word) and we have to live with the consequences. I know we all try our best to live with it and make the most of life, but we have a tendency to try and fault ourselves I think. We feel guilty that we can’t be there for our families, our friends, our employers, our volunteer work. We drop hobbies and things we enjoy because we just don’t have the energy to do them anymore. We see others picking up the slack for us, and there can be a sense of shame. And often, we retreat because depression kicks us hard.

Today, I say NO MORE!  We have been dealt an ugly hand, but IT IS NOT OUR FAULT. If you are feeling these feelings of guilt, shame, anger, depression or other negatives, STOP. Nothing you have done has caused your Fibro. If you are living with Chronic Pain or Chronic Fatigue, accept it. It is what it is. You can’t change it so you have to accept it. The only other alternative is to wallow in misery and I don’t think that’s an acceptable alternative…and neither do you, honestly. Take Tom’s words to heart, and my words too…

THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE!!!!