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.
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.
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.
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
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…
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:
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.
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.
So, what else is on that list. Ah yes, the ever lovely 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
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…
It’s December 29th and the year is drawing to a close. I want to take this time to simply recap the year and say thank you to my Dear Readers for spending your time with me in 2018.
From the beginning of the year, when I really got started blogging, I started out by writing Happy New Year . My main theme at that time was to talk about my hip replacement surgery which was the real reason this blog came into existance. I had been searching for personal stories of “younger” women who had undergone hip replacements but hadn’t found much, so I thought I’d share my story for others who might find it helpful for themselves. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was writing about my other health issues, including Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue and Invisible Illnesses.
I’ve had the opportunity to share my thoughts about body image, intimacy when you live with Chronic Pain, the sleeplessness that comes with Fibromyalgia and Invisible Illnesss, and how the simple loss of bathing can mean so much heartache. On the other hand, I’ve been able to share about gratitude and finding joy on more than one occasion, so I’ve tried to focus on the positives as much as possible, whenever possible.
I couldn’t do this without you. Without my Dear Readers, there wouldn’t be much sense in putting this out there, so I appreciate each and every one of you who comes to my blog and reads what I have to say. You may not comment on every post, heck…you may never comment on a post I write, but the numbers don’t lie. My stats show that you are there and that you keep coming back. In fact, when I took a week off and didn’t do a thing to market the blog…no Pinterest, no Twitter, no Social Media at all, the numbers dropped, but a bunch of you still came by to see if there was anything new.
You can see where I was away for the week. On Nov. 15th and 16th, I was in Vancouver for a volunteer meeting, and away from my computer the whole time. When I put the effort in, you do the same and come back to see what’s new…the numbers don’t lie, and I am forever grateful.
So, to wrap up 2018, I want to say thank you. You’ve helped me reach a far greater level of success than I ever thought I’d make, simply because you like to read my thoughts. That’s pretty amazing to me. I just want to provide as much information as I can to anyone who is living with Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue or Invisible Illness. I want you to know you’re not alone. I’m right there with you and for as long as I’m able, I will continue to write and bring you articles and information to help you thrive.
I wish each and every one of you a very Happy New Year. May you be blessed in 2019 with the very best the year can offer. Remember…
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.
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.
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.
As a person living with Chronic Pain from Fibromyalgia and a host of other conditions, I tend to live with a lot of shame. I blame myself for not being able to keep up with the chores around the house that I should be able to do. I blame myself for not being able to work as an Administrative Specialist, a job I adored. I had a pity party about a lot of things as I stared at the dust on the TV stand. That’s right…I should upon myself today. I do it often. Too often.
Most people with Chronic Pain do the same thing. When we lose the ability to stay on top of the chores we used to do easily before, we start to feel guilty and ashamed. Dishes pile up, laundry goes unwashed, showering and personal grooming falls by the wayside and moving from bed to couch often becomes our biggest accomplishment. It’s not that we want to feel this way, but pain and the side effects of medication often make us this way. Most of the medications we are given include fatigue as one of the side effects. Others include weight gain, which can slow us down tremendously, nausea, constipation and/or diarrhea, dizziness, and other unpleasant things.
And that brings up another issue. All of these side effects do little to help us feel pretty. In addition to feeling pain and fatigue, we’re often left carrying extra weight so now we feel even less attractive than before. It’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.
So how do we get over “shoulding” on ourselves. We feel like we should be able to keep up with the chores around the house, while we’re still taking care of making dinner and watching the kids and staying on top of their activities and doing everything else expected of us, plus making sure our spouse’s needs are met.
What happens when you live with a spouse who expects you to manage everything exactly like you did before you became sick? A spouse who doesn’t believe that you’re really ill and who thinks it’s all in your head? What if you live without a spouse – if you’re a single parent with no support? Who takes care of you?
In order to find victory in the midst of this shame, try answering some of these questions*, being as honest as you can.
What three words/phrases best describe you in a POSITIVE way? Don’t settle for neutral or slightly positive words to describe yourself. Be bold.
What do you do best? Everyone has unique talents and abilities — find yours by taking an accurate inventory of your life.
What is your biggest accomplishment in the last year? If fibro and depression have been a longstanding part of your life, you likely feel that the last year has been void of any accomplishments. Look deeper — achievements come in all shapes and sizes. Depression works to minimize your triumphs, but shedding light on them magnifies their impact.
What are three successes in your life? When you look at your lifetime successes, you begin to see how effective and valuable you can be. You understand your value and build your self-esteem.
What are you working on? Having goals and direction in life limits depression. Completing those goals adds another accomplishment to your list and boosts esteem.
Fibromyalgia may change many things in our lives, so it’s important that we remember to find the positives and celebrate them. No more shoulding on ourselves!
So, I’ve decided to give up the guilt about what I’m NOT able to do around the house. I’ve even found new hobbies and activities that I’m passionate about and that I’m actually good at! I’ve become a volunteer for an organization in BC, my home province in Canada, that uses Patient Partners to work with Health Care organizations to help make real change in how health care is delivered. The Patient Voices Network has given me opportunties to speak in front of large crowds, attend educational events and become part of several committees. I’m careful to choose to become engaged according to how I’m feeling and I don’t take on engagements that require weekly participation. Most of what I do involves 3-4 hours of my time per month which is manageable. Twice I’ve had to regretfully pull out of engagements that became too involved for me to manage. Even at the last conference I attended which lasted for 3 days, I was able to build rest time into the daily schedules. I wouldn’t have been able to manage otherwise.
That being said, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m underestimating how awfully painful it is to be forced to change yourself or how hard it is to find new passions to give you a sense of purpose. These are not simple to apply or instant fixes. Please don’t think I’m minimizing the pain of the loss. I want you to know that I think you’re incredible because of the fact that you’ve survived those things and have continued moving forward, no matter how slow. That is victory!
Even when you’re sick and you haven’t found new activities or even if you can’t get out of bed, what I just said about you being incredible is still true. You’ve survived so much and you’re still here fighting! I mention finding new things to do as a way to better self-esteem because I know it’s something helpful when possible, but there are so many things I feel are more important and that have been more fulfilling for me.
Being sick has forced me to learn a lot of lessons that other people might not ever learn – lessons about patience, how to deal with pain and difficulties with grace, good humour and empathy. I’ve learned that the little things are often the big things in life.
All That Matters
It’s the Little Things That Matter
They’re the things that mean a lot
They’re the things that I can count on
When I’m giving things a thought
Oh there’s lots of big grand gestures
That are meant to mean big things
But in the end, they aren’t the ones
That tug at my heartstrings
I prefer the smaller hidden ones
The things that seem quite shy
The little acts that are given out
Not meant to catch your eye
It’s the little things that matter
That make a quiet sound
I love them best from all the rest
They make the world go round
Also, I think I understand more about pain and can truly empathize with others who are hurting. I feel like I can truly help people because of the pain I’ve experienced. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty darn cool. And I feel like it takes immense strength to not only survive chronic illness, but to continue appreciating life and showing love to others when in constant pain. It’s also taken strength to rebuild myself and my self-esteem. I have to give myself credit for that. And finally, as much as I wish I was healthy, I fight for my life every day and I’ve won every single time. If that’s not victory then I don’t know what is! And the last thing I know is that if I’m capable of all this…you are too.
Who Was I Kidding?
I’m mad. I’m mad at my body, I’m mad at the way I’ve been let down, and I’m mad that I’ve lost my freedom, once again. What am I talking about?
For those who don’t know, I used to sing in a women’s barbershop chorus as well as in a quartet. I love to sing but I haven’t done it since 2007. Recently, I heard about an opportunity to join a group called the South Island Care Choir, made up of Doctors, Nurses, other Health Care practitioners and Patient Partners from Patient Voices Network, the group I volunteer with. I immediately jumped in and said YES!! I would love to join this group, not even thinking how unrealistic this might be for me healthwise.
Well, I’ve just made the unfortunate realization that it’s not going to be feasible for me to do this, and I am totally pissed. The main reason why I won’t be able to sing? My stupid left foot and it’s stupid Haglund’s Deformity that we’ve just confirmed. I literally can’t walk on this foot for more than 10 minutes without being in agony, let alone stand on it for 90 minutes to sing. I would have to walk to the bus stop there and back to where we would rehearse, and I am NOT paying the $50 it would cost for a taxi each way. Even using my walker or my crutches wouldn’t make a big difference…I would still have to be on my feet to sing properly and I just can’t manage it right not. Plus, the only way that this Haglund’s Deformity can be managed is with surgery. I’ve already tried the other measures to treat it…ice, elevation, anti-inflammatories, rest…everything.
I am so mad at myself for getting my hopes up and then realizing that this just isn’t going to work. I wanted so badly to be able to sing again because I miss it so much…the camaraderie of being in a group environment, creating harmony together, performing for people…just everything. Singing in the past brought me so much joy…I really wanted to re-create those feelings again. Unfortunately, if I’m totally honest with myself, I would end up being in too much pain and too tired to really enjoy myself and now is just not a good time to do this.
I’m going to send a note to the director and ask if it’s okay to put this off until the Spring and then perhaps re-join at that time. Hopefully my foot will be dealt with by then and I’ll be recovered from surgery and no longer in pain. My regular pain I can manage, but if I can’t stand on my own two feet with just my cane, then there’s no sense in pretending. I don’t want special accommodations, I just want to be like everyone else on the risers; a regular singer.
From my Sweet Adeline Barbershop days – the link below is my quartet Quintessence singing Marshmallow World. It’s from the Christmas CD “Jingle Belles” that my chorus Rhythm Of The Rockies put out, I believe in 2004. This was when I was living in Calgary where I was a founding member of the chorus.
In 2005, Quintessence competed in Sweet Adelines Region 26 (the All Canadian Region!) composed of choruses and quartets in BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Every year there would be Regional Competitions held to pick winners to go to International Competitions. Out of 16 Quartets, we placed 10th overall in the competition and we won Novice Quartet of the Year which was a real honour – the best of all the new quartets!! One of my favourite memories was when we entered the theatre after coming off stage, people were applauding as they did for all the competitors, and the reigning Quartet Champions stood and applauded for us – again, as they did for each quartet, but it made me feel so special, like our quartet was so amazing. I’ve never forgotten that feeling, something likely so insignificant to them, but has had a lasting impact on me all these years later.
And that was another reason I wanted to sing. I wanted to be able to influence other singers who maybe were in a choir for the first time. I wanted to be able to encourage and inspire someone who was trying something new for the very first time. But no…my stoopid body refuses to cooperate and so once again, that freedom to do what I want when I want is gone.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy our version of Marshmallow World. I realize it’s not Christmas yet, but the weather is changing and some people Edmonton have already had snow so it’s not totally inappropriate either. Marshmallow World
And as for me, like I said, I guess I’ll revisit singing in the Spring and see how things are at that point. Hopefully I’ll be in a better place physically to be able to sing without pain and I’ll enjoy the experience even more.
there is always hope
Oh boy…do you ever get those loaded questions? I do and as much as I appreciate that people care and want to know how I am, I also wonder if these are “polite” questions, or do these people genuinely want to know how I am. It’s so hard to know how to answer.
So, generally, I respond with, “I’m doing okay thanks”.
But what if I told the truth?
The truth is, I’m struggling right now. I’m struggling physically with pain and exhaustion and I’m struggling with my blogging and I’m struggling with feeling lonely and housebound, but I’m pretty sure no one really wants to hear about all that when they ask me how I’m doing so I don’t tell them.
But I’m going to tell you.
I’m averaging about 2-3 hours of sleep a night right now. I manage about 45-60 minutes at a time and then I wake up. I feel like I’ve slept for hours, but I look at the clock and barely any time has passed at all. I’ve always struggled with insomnia and I’m going to be trying some new meditation music, but it’s frustrating to not be able to get decent rest. It doesn’t allow my body to heal, which contributes to my overall pain. As I type this, I can feel my hands and legs and feet throbbing with pain. It’s almost like a drumbeat – thump THUMP thump thump, thump THUMP thump thump, thump THUMP thump thump, over and over again. My legs muscles feel tight and almost crampy and my fingers and toes feel swollen. My back is tight and tense and I can also feel the tension in my jaw and neck. My vision is blurry and I can feel the spot just under my cheekbone where my Trigeminal Neuralgia flares up – it’s gently pulsing, almost like it’s teasing me.
Now, I don’t tell you this to ask for sympathy. It’s just stating the facts. The same as I’m struggling right now to come up with various subject matter to blog about. With two blogs on the go now, I’m working at how to monetize one of them, and keep this one for posting on. I’m taking some courses about how to make money blogging and I’ve signed up to review a couple of courses as well. In the midst of that, I’m also taking a general writing course, plus I’ve applied for a new volunteer position – another committee that I’d like to be a part of. I’ll be back to work on one of my current committee assignments soon, which I’ll write about, but it still leaves me struggling with core subjects to blog about. It’s not for a lack of writing prompts, that’s for sure. Generally, what happens is I get an idea in the wee hours of the morning and then I write like crazy and bang out a post in about 30 minutes. It happens when I write poetry too. It just comes to me, I don’t plan it. When I wrote Wistful Thinking, I literally had the idea and the concept and completed poem done in 10 minutes.
The other issue is that I’m housebound for the most part. It’s because I don’t do enough to get out and about, because of pain and exhaustion (and because I’m busy blogging). Well, no more excuses for that. I just bought a new walker/rollator to get me out moving again. She’s a pretty silver/blue Xpresso and I’ve named her Bluebird:
Isn’t she lovely!! So much nicer than my old one, as there are no exposed cables, the basket is deeper, the seat is thicker and so is the backrest, and the wheels are designed to go over gravel and other rough surfaces. The handle area is large and smooth and she rolls beautifully, plus it’s still a one-handed close…I just pull up on the handle in the middle of the seat and voila! she folds sideways, so easy to transport when needed on the bus!! Hopefully, this will be the incentive to get me out and about more often…there is a gorgeous lake just 15 minutes from my house with a perfect walking path around it and I’m making it my goal to get down there at least once a week.
I also plan on getting back in the pool, and Bluebird will be great for walking to the bus and back. I’ll be speaking with my new doctor in the next week about taking an Aqua Therapy course at our local Pool and Fitness Centre. It’s a specialized one-on-one program for People with Chronic Pain, working with a registered Kinesiologist to help with rehabilitation in the pool, so it’s easy on the joints and muscles. By getting my doctor’s approval, there’s a good chance I can have the costs paid by my Long Term Disability provider. I’m excited about it and even though I have to take a bus to get there, it’s only a 20-minute ride. I’m sure there’s parking available for Bluebird as I’m not the only one who takes these types of classes.
I’ve also been trying to be more physical at home, and not just sitting in my recliner all day (although it is rather molded to my butt shape). I’ve been doing wall push-ups and bicep curls and was trying to do squats as well, but those became too painful for my knees and ankles. I’m going to start doing planks to see if those work and maybe some gentle lunges with no bouncing. Everything hurts my joints so much, but I need to become more flexible. I think my Achilles Tendon is ultimately going to need surgery as it’s responded to nothing else we’ve tried – no physio, no stretching, no taping. I’m not sure what else is left, but I see Dr Winston soon, my Physiatrist and we’ll talk about options. It’s slowing me down and affecting how I walk and causing my left hip to have even more pain than necessary, which is going to increase the time before needing a hip replacement on that side as well. I’ve also developed some painful Neuropathy in the left foot, on the top and into the big toe, that might be related to my Type 2 Diabetes, so more to talk to my new doctor about. This just came on in the last few days, while on the motorcycle trip.
Mentally, I’m worried because I think I’m going to have to come off the drug I take for my Bipolar Disorder and it’s the med that has given me all the energy I’ve had lately, Abilify. It’s causing me some major side effects; brain zaps, tongue trembling, handshaking, vision blurring and an uncomfortable amount of weight gain. I’m only 5’2″ tall, so any weight gain over 145lbs is too much and I’m up to 160lbs. It’s the brain zaps that are the worst though…I can actually feel them…they’re like an electric shock in the brain, but in high speed, and you can both feel them and hear them – a lightning bolt that goes right through the head from one side to the other. If I had to describe them based on something we physically have, I’d say it’s like one of those electronic fly killers that buzzes when it kills a fly…same sound, that bzz-zap!
There are good things happening in my life though. Ever since we bought our new motorcycle, I’ve been able to get out for more and longer rides with my husband Ray, which is a real treat for me. Our new bike is a 2007 Yamaha Venture and more of a cruiser than the sports bike we had before, a Kawasaki Concours.
The Venture is super comfortable for me and I’ve been able to go for longer rides each time we’ve been out, including a very recent Grand Adventure! Ray and I took the bike and went to Mt. Vernon, Washington to visit an online friend of mine named Maura so I could hang out with her and binge watch the second season of This Is Us, a tv show that I started watching on Netflix, but is no longer being carried there. Maura is a huge fan as well, so I spent 2 days with her watching the show while Ray went off exploring on the bike, then we hung out with her and her hubby Paul for dinner the first night (and with their daughter Anna – their son Matthew was out), and on the second night, we took them out for dinner at a local pub. On Saturday morning, Ray and I left at 5am to head for home, taking the I-5 freeway to the Blaine border crossing and then the Tsawwassen ferry home to get back to our cat Dorie at just after 9am.
Altogether, I’d say I spent 2 hours in the saddle but every second was great!! I know I can go for longer now and be comfortable. I can get on and off the bike easily, and it just feels good to ride. As an added bonus, I have a new leather jacket and gloves! Ray bought them for me on Saturday, August 25th here at a leather shop close to home. I really wanted pink, but decided this black jacket was too sexy to pass up! It has just enough detail on it to make it look sharp without being tacky. The leather is buttery soft with black stitching up the sides on the back, and on the back of the arms from the wrists to the elbows. Ray will have to put a new snap in at the wrists to make them tighter (I have short arms and tiny wrists) but it fits beautifully everywhere else and I’m delighted to have it. I also bought proper bike gloves – I got gauntlets, the kind that goes over the jacket sleeves to protect me from bees flying into my sleeves, etc.
I’m still keeping busy with my volunteer work and have applied to sit on a new committee for Island Health’s Laboratory Services Quality Council. I access Lab Services every three months for blood work, so thought it might be fitting to be a part of their quality control council. I’m also waiting to hear back on a couple of other opportunities I had my name in for so it could be an exciting fall!
So there you have it…a bit more about me and what’s been going on in my life and how I’ve been truthfully feeling. The next time someone asks you “how are you doing”, how will you answer them? With a short predictable answer? Or will you tell the truth?
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 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
A sense of safety and security
A roof over your head
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
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.
there is always hope!
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.
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…
Here’s a quick question for you. When you are a patient in the hospital, what do you do for entertainment? Do you watch TV? Read a book or magazine? Surf the internet or check out Facebook? Go for walks or check out the Gift Shop? Or are you mos….woah, woah, WHAT????
GO BACK…surf the internet? Check out Facebook? Don’t you use up a lot of your Data that way? Or does your hospital provide free Wifi?
I was recently invited to be interviewed for a news article about the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, as it’s the first hospital in BC to offer free Wifi for patients and visitors. Now, we’re not talking blazing fast for video downloads, but good basic Wifi for surfing the Internet while you are in the hospital. I don’t know if this is offered where you live, but it’s brand new for us. There is one other BC hospital trialling this, and the BC Ministry of Health hopes to roll the program out to the rest of the province, though there is no set timeline.
I can tell you from my own experience that this is a very welcome move. I’m not a TV watcher (I don’t even watch at home) and I often don’t feel like reading. So what’s left? I listen to music a lot, but when you hallucinate music, that’s not always the first choice either. Having the chance to message chat with a friend or to be on Facebook or Twitter really appeals to me and I think this will be a very popular decision.
Here are the transcript and sound bytes from the interview:
~~~~~ Patients and visitors to Nanaimo Hospital can breathe easier knowing they won’t have to worry about racking up high cell phone bills.
Island Health announcing today they’re introducing free wi-fi at the hospital.
Patient partner Pamela Jessen says when it comes to Data usage, it removes a heavy burden from people already in a stressful situation…
Island Health says they hope to expand free Wi-Fi to more of their sites, but there’s no timeline yet in place.
Free Wi-Fi at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital means patients won’t have to feel isolated and disconnected.
Island Health announced the service today, saying the Wi-Fi will be for keeping in touch and using the internet but won’t be able to handle high-def video streaming.
Pamela Jessen with the Patient Voices Network says it removes a great burden from patients but also their visitors…
The service is expected to cost roughly five thousand dollars a year. It’s paid for by the Nanaimo Hospital Auxiliary, who raise funds for the hospital.
What about you? Your thoughts in the comments would be appreciated!