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!!!!