It’s Okay To Be Angry About Chronic Illness (I Am!)

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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

The Beginning

I want to tackle a hard subject today…the emotions that surround living with a Chronic Illness. Every day, we survive the physical pain, but we don’t always talk about the emotional pain that comes with being ill. Let’s change that now. 

When I first started feeling the effects of Fibromyalgia and Osteoarthritis along with my other Chronic Illnesses, I was generally able to function without a lot of changes in my life. I needed some pain medication but found that it helped and didn’t really alter my life, so ended up having some fairly easy years after my initial diagnosis. 

After a period of time, the medication needed to be increased and new drugs had to be introduced to help combat the increasing pain and symptoms. I started taking Lyrica for my Fibro  – a drug that saw me gain 40lbs in 3 months. This is when I first realized that having Chronic Illness was affecting me mentally – I was pissed about the weight gain but resigned to the fact I’d have to live with it. Thankfully my doctor worked with me to find Cymbalta instead and I managed to lose most of the weight I had gained. 

Thus began a pattern where the drugs would work for a while and then lose their effectiveness, necessitating an increase or change in meds, which triggered more anger and emotion. It was a vicious circle…I just wanted to be rid of the pain I was in, but it was getting harder and harder. The side effects of the various meds being introduced were also debilitating and my anger grew at what my body was putting me through. 

As Things Changed

Then came the point where my body had become so broken down that I needed to leave my job and go on long term disability. I can still remember to this day, 10 years later, how incredibly disappointed in myself I was. My body had betrayed me in every way possible. I was at the top of my career with the opportunity to move into some dream roles and suddenly that was all snatched away from me. Devastated doesn’t even begin to come close to how I felt and I ended up in a depression that was hard to come back from. 

It took me a long time to realize that my feelings were valid and I was entitled to feel how I felt. I thought I had to suck it up for everyone around me, and that just wasn’t a place I was ready for. I hadn’t processed my emotions, and they felt just as raw a year later as they had when I first left work. It was only through taking some Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) classes that I started to see how I could validate my feelings yet work through them and come out stronger. 

Having these strong emotions was scary though because I couldn’t separate them at first from the actions of being in pain, and just feeling like a failure as a person. It took time to realize that I had not failed, but my body had. Two very different things. By recognizing the difference, I was able to start accepting that I was not a bad person and that I had done nothing to cause this to happen.

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Image by Sarah Lötscher from Pixabay 

It’s Not Your Fault

I didn’t ask for Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue. I was simply unlucky enough to be a person to have to live with these conditions and that meant I had to find a healthier way of dealing with the emotions this generated. I was not unreliable, my health caused my reliability to suffer. My worth was not just because of my job, but by virtue of simply being here. I was still a good person who had something bad happen to her. 

Do you see where I’m coming from and what I’m trying to say? Just because you have a Chronic Illness doesn’t make you a bad person. This condition has happened to you and changed you, against your will. Learning how to live with it becomes the new normal. Once I recognized this, I was able to take a step back and start taking my life back again. 

Making Changes

I worked with my doctor to find a treatment plan that benefited me. This included some medication changes and additions, as well as adding healthy new components to my life such as meditation, music therapy, gentle exercise, stretching, beginners yoga and balancing my eating habits. I stopped feeling guilty when I had to cancel or change plans because Illness took over. I couldn’t help it when those things happened, so why blame myself? I put the blame where it belonged…on my Illnesses, and left it there. 

I was blessed to be able to start this blog, so I could reach out to others with Chronic Pain conditions and help them navigate their way through their experiences. It was very empowering for me and I gained back huge amounts of confidence as I wrote articles and posts. Knowing I was reaching others and actually helping them was a huge confidence booster. 

I also found myself able to start volunteering again, and now sit on 4 different committees, all devoted to aspects of health care. I am a member of a Provincial Measurement Working Group, creating a survey for patients in BC, Canada about their ER experiences. I continue to seek out new opportunities to volunteer and was recently nominated for two WEGO Health Awards – one for Best in Show: Blog and one for Best Kept Secret (regarding my blog). You can click here for more information about my nominations. 

To wrap this up, I want to reiterate that I think it’s important to sit with your feelings on a regular basis when you live with Chronic Illness. If you need the help of a professional therapist to process what you’re going through, do it. There’s no shame and definitely no harm in learning how to deal with all the emotions that come with a Chronic condition. In fact, I highly recommend it as a part of your overall treatment plan. 

We go through so much on a daily basis that the notion we’re not affected emotionally is ludicrous. Don’t fall into the trap of being “stoic” and taking the attitude that you can handle things on your own if you truly can’t. Reach out for help, whether it be a professional, a friend, or a spiritual advisor. The peace of mind of knowing you’re not alone in your feelings is precious. And remember…

There Is Always Hope

 

 

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10 Celebrities Who Live With Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a condition that affects millions of people in North America. While typically thought of as an “everyday person”s condition, there are a number of celebrities who live with Fibromyalgia who have talked about it in public. It’s helpful to know we’re not alone, and because of these people, Fibromyalgia is starting to gain more recognition.

Here is a list of 10 Celebrities who live with Fibromyalgia.

Lady Gaga

LadyGaga

Lady Gaga is perhaps the most well-known celebrity with Fibromyalgia. After struggling with chronic pain for many years, she confirmed in September 2017 that the cause of her pain was fibromyalgia.

In her Netflix documentary “Gaga: Five Foot Two,” released on September 22/18, Gaga opened up about the challenges of finding treatments and coping techniques to help manage her symptoms. She is seen using ice packs and trying deep massage and dry needling as ways to help manage the pain.

“I am praying that more and more people come forward and we can all share what helps/hurts so we can help each other” Gaga said in a recent tweet.

Morgan Freeman

Morgan Freeman Best Movies and TV Shows

Morgan Freeman is the actor best known for roles in The Shawshank Redemption, The Bucket List with Jack Nicholson and for winning an Academy Award for his role as a beaten up cornerman for Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby.

In 2008, Morgan Freeman was involved in a car crash that left him with multiple injuries, including a shattered left arm. He went through a 4-hour long surgery to save his arm and has talked in several interviews since he continues to experience “excruciating” nerve pain and now lives with fibromyalgia.

In 2015 he told The Daily Beast he treats the pain with marijuana. “Marijuana has many useful uses,” he says. “I have fibromyalgia pain in this arm, and the only thing that offers any relief is marijuana”.

Lena Dunham

Though she had previously been vocal about her struggles with endometriosis and chronic pain, Lena Dunham revealed in an Instagram post in October of 2018 that she has fibromyalgia. She described what it’s like to have an “invisible” illness like fibro, writing, “I appear to be totally able-bodied but it’s complex, and I am just trying to do everything required to maintain a life of joy and service. My work costs everything I have. This is fibromyalgia. It’s little understood and so even though I have a lot of knowledge and support it’s hard to shake the feeling I am crazy. But I’m not (at least not this way!) and you’re not.”

Dunham continued to say that pain, however it presents — whether it has a visible culprit or not — is valid. She wrote, “Your pain, whatever shape it takes, is yours and so it is real. I believe you when you say you hurt. I have learned time and time again how important it is to believe.”

Sinead O’Connor


Sinead O’Connor is an Irish singer-songwriter who stepped away from music in 2003 because she was struggling with fibromyalgia and wanted to take care of her children.

“Fibromyalgia is not curable. But it’s manageable,” O’Connor said in a 2005 interview with HOTPRESS. “I have a high pain threshold, so that helps – it’s the tiredness part that I have difficulty with. You get to know your patterns and limits, though, so you can work and plan around it. It is made worse, obviously, by stress. So you have to try to keep life quiet and peaceful.”

Sinead returned to the music scene in 2005. Despite numerous setbacks, she said she hopes to continue singing and doing what she loves but stays away from the parts that cause her excessive stress, which can exacerbate fibromyalgia symptoms.

Mary McDonough

“The Waltons” actress Mary McDonough has been very open about her battles with fibromyalgia, lupus and Sjogren’s syndrome. She believes she developed the conditions after having an adverse reaction to breast implants she had inserted in an effort to reinvent herself following the series’ end.

“Within 24 hours I broke out into a rash all over my back and my chest,” McDonough told Smashing Interviews Magazine. “But over the course of the 10 years, I just couldn’t put my finger on that. I just didn’t feel right. The chronic fatigue set in, the rashes, the rash across my nose and the bridge of my face which we now know is like a lupus rash, the joint pain, the muscle stiffness, eventually being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and then the collagen disorder called Sjogren’s syndrome, my hair fell out and I would be tired all of the time.”

McDonough is now a public speaker, author and workshop leader, often talking with young women about their struggles with body image and self-esteem.

Kyle Richards

“Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Kyle Richards said she first became sick while her mom was sick with cancer, but was initially told she was depressed because her mom had passed. 

A friend told her she might have fibromyalgia, so she went to a doctor who specializes in the condition who confirmed her diagnosis. “All of a sudden I felt like I had an answer and I felt better because it causes so much anxiety [not knowing],” Richards said.

Richards has since sought out alternative methods for treating her fibromyalgia pain — on “The Healer,” she worked with Charlie Goldsmith, an “energy healer” who aims to help people reduce their chronic pain.

Janeane Garofalo

Actress and comedian Janeane Garofalo has been very open throughout her career about her struggles with fibromyalgia as well as mental and emotional issues, including anxiety and depression. She has even incorporated her fibro into her stand-up routine, using humour and laughter to cope with the pain she experiences.

“I had no idea I was chronically dissatisfied,” she said about being prescribed an antidepressant for her fibromyalgia.

Michael James Hastings

Michael James Hastings, known for his role as Captain Mike on “The West Wing,” had to retire from being a school teacher at age 35 due to fibromyalgia. It was his chronic pain that led him to move to Los Angeles to pursue a part-time acting career.

Hastings has said that he copes with the symptoms of fibro with natural means, such as supplements, exercise, massage therapy, acupuncture and visits to the chiropractor.

“I also have learned to accept that some days I am not going to be able to keep up with my schedule or other peoples’ schedules and I just need to rest and ‘lighten up,’” he said in an interview with the website Back Pain Relief.

A.J. Langer

a.j. langer

Actress A.J. Langer, best known for her role on “My So-Called Life,” “Seinfeld” and “Three Sisters,” was diagnosed with fibromyalgia as a teenager but continued to pursue acting. After filming “Three Sisters,” Langer took a break to figure out how to manage her symptoms and put her health first. She has experimented with a number of alternative therapies to help her cope with fibromyalgia, including surfing, yoga and meditation.

In an episode of the Aches and Gains podcast with Dr. Paul Christo, Langer said, “There are different levels of learning you go through with fibromyalgia… One is I’m all alone, you know, no one else understands this pain. And then there’s a point you can get to where it becomes universal and you understand that everybody’s got something. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my body has a fragile ecosystem and I’ve gotta tend to it.”

Kirsty Young

Kirsty Young

Kirsty Young, a broadcaster on the BBC Radio 4 show “Desert Island Discs,” announced in 2018 that she would be taking a break from the position due to fibromyalgia. She explained: “Casting away some of the world’s most fascinating people is a wonderful job – however, I’m having to take some time away from Desert Island Discs as I’m suffering from a form of fibromyalgia.”

Young indicated that she hoped to spend some time healing and then return to the show.

 

It’s nice to know that celebrities are just like the rest of us and suffer through the same types of illnesses that we do. I commend all of these people for sharing their stories in the public eye. To them and to you, I say…

There Is Always Hope!

10 Things I’ve Learned About Chronic Pain

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I live with Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue. My pain comes from Fibromyalgia, Osteoarthritis in all my major joints, Myofascial Pain, a condition called Trigeminal Neuralgia, Diabetes (and Neuropathy that comes from that), Pelvic Adhesions, a spinal condition called Forestier’s Disease, aka D.I.S.H. which stands for Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis, Gastroparesis and several other medical conditions.

The author showing various pictures of her face in pain

My many faces of pain

I’ve been living with Chronic pain for over 30 years now, from the time I was a teen, and I’ve learned a few things in those years. I’d like to share 10 of those things with you now.

1. THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE

No matter how long I’ve been in pain for, I’ve never given up hope that things are going to get better. Some days I have are pure agony. Some days are pure delight. I cling to the good days as a reminder that things can be better and often are. There is always hope.

2. A GOOD DOCTOR IS TO BE TREASURED

Doctors have a hard time treating patients with chronic pain because they haven’t been trained well. They’re trained to diagnose a problem and solve it, so chronic pain is frustrating for them as well. If you don’t have a sympathetic doctor who is doing everything they can for you, find another doctor. When you do find one, be honest with them. Share everything…your depression, your anger, your worries. A good doctor wants to help you, but if you can’t share with them, you’re not giving them the chance to do all they can.

3. SUPPORT GROUPS AREN’T RIGHT FOR EVERYONE

Some people thrive in a support group. Others tend to get tired of the constant back patting and “Oh my gawd, I’m so sorry” conversations. Some are in the middle. I think a support group can be a great thing, as long as it’s the right fit. You want a group where you can feel heard and valued while offering support to the others as well – not just a one-way street. I also think it’s important to not jump into every group you hear about. That just becomes confusing and almost like a competition, to see how much sympathy you can drum up. You have to be willing to give back and you can’t forge honest relationships with people when you’re in a dozen active groups in my opinion. Unless that’s all you do all day long. And if that’s the case, I feel sorry for you, because you’re obviously not getting something you truly need.

4. CHRONIC PAIN IS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO EXPLAIN TO OTHERS

Despite having great tools like the Spoon Theory and the Battery Analogy to talk about how much energy it costs us to live with chronic pain, it’s almost impossible to get others to understand what it’s like to live with chronic pain day in and day out. Here’s the thing…THE PAIN NEVER GOES AWAY. I can’t make it any more clear than that. No matter what I’m doing, or not doing. I’m hurting. Sometimes I’m in agony, like when I get a Trigeminal Neuralgia Flare up. Try to imagine the last time you experienced brain freeze from eating/drinking something cold…do you remember that sensation? That agonizing pierce of pain in your brain?  Now try to imagine that same feeling but in your cheekbone…for 12 hours in a row. Can’t imagine it?? Go try and get brain freeze as a reminder. That’s what my TN flare-ups are like. They start in my cheekbone and spread to my sinus cavity and my eye, then down to my jaw, and to my esophagus. I get spasms in my throat and often I get chest pain as well. For 12 hours.

My Fibromyalgia pain feels like my limbs are in concrete…it’s a heavy throbbing sensation in my arms and legs that make them impossible to move. The Neuropathy I feel in my feet is like pins and needles that never go away. My back pain is so intolerable that I can’t sweep my floors for more than 5 minutes without my lower spine seizing up.

5. DID I MENTION, THE PAIN NEVER GOES AWAY.

Sometimes it lightens up a bit, maybe after I’ve had a rare good night’s sleep, but if I’ve done too much on a particular day, the next day will be agony. Every day is different, and I’ve learned that there is no rhyme or reason as to what might cause a flare and why some days are better than others. Even as I’m typing this, my hands and wrists are throbbing and I’m making more mistakes typing than I normally do. When I sleep, I have to make sure my fingers aren’t curled, or I’ll wake up and won’t be able to move them.

6. COMFORT ROUTINES FOR FLARE UP DAYS ARE LIFESAVERS

In order to combat chronic pain, you need to have an arsenal of weapons at your disposal. This can include medications, therapies like massage or chiropractic care, acupuncture, heat, cold, stretching, yoga, and other items that help you when your pain is flaring up. Warm fluffy blankets and socks, a TENS machine or massaging unit, a roll-on pain medication – whatever you find works for you is part of your comfort routine and it’s important that you use these items when needed before your pain becomes even worse.

Kitten resting in a fluffy blanket

7. PACING REALLY DOES WORK

One of the important things you learn when you have chronic pain is that you have a limited amount of energy and you have to pace yourself throughout the day/week, etc. in order to stay ahead of the pain. Pacing is critical in helping to prevent flare-ups or in helping to reduce the number of flare-ups you may experience. There comes a point when you may have to consider outside help for chores because you can’t do them all. Perhaps a teenage neighbour can help with cleaning or laundry or care in the garden. Maybe you decide to hire a cleaning service twice a month for a deep clean that you can’t get to. Whatever you need and whatever you decide, my best advice is to lose the guilt. It’s not your fault you have chronic pain. You do what you need to, in order to make your home a happy one again.

8. SLEEP IS A VERY GOOD THING

Most people with chronic pain struggle to get good sleep, just by the very nature of being in pain. Take the time to establish a good sleep routine and don’t be afraid to nap during the day if that’s what your body requires. Just sent a timer for no more than 90 minutes (one sleep cycle) and do it early enough that it won’t interfere with bedtime. If you need to ask your doctor about sleep medications, then ask. Don’t be afraid of them, but perhaps try the more natural solutions first, like melatonin. Your doctor can give you the best advice.

9. WE ARE ALL WARRIORS

Just by the mere fact you are reading this and identifying with it, you are a warrior. Living with chronic pain is no picnic my friend and those of us who do it struggle every single day of our lives. Some days are good, some days are bad and some days are too difficult to talk about. It takes a special kind of strength to manage chronic pain and life at the same time and I admire every single person out there who is doing it. You are a warrior.

10. I’VE FINALLY ACCEPTED MY BODY THE WAY IT IS

For all my bravado and positive spirit, it took me a long time to learn to love this pain-filled body of mine. When I was forced to leave my job at the top of my game in 2009 I was devastated. I didn’t think I’d ever be useful to anyone again and I sank into a deep depression over how my body had let me down. It took several years before I was able to accept that this truly was my “new normal” and that returning to work wasn’t going to happen for me. When I found myself in a place where my health had improved somewhat, and I felt I had something to give back, I started volunteering for the Patient Voices Network and that really helped me get back on my feet. I am able to take part in committee work again, but at a pace that works for me and my health. I’m better able to accept my body and all it’s medical failings because I’ve found ways to contribute again.

I’ve also been able to get involved in hobbies again such as crafting and reading. I’m learning how to crochet and do needlepoint, all things I didn’t have time for when I was too busy working. So accepting my limitations also opened the door to new things for me to try, which has been a blessing. Perhaps you’re in the same place now, ready to accept that this is your new normal, and it’s an okay place to be. If you’re going to be in pain anyways, doesn’t it make sense to accept it and find ways to make the best of it.

CONCLUSION

I’ve been blessed with a positive nature that has helped to get me through a lot of difficult situations in my life. Chronic pain and my medical conditions are part of that. I believe in God and trust Jesus every day to be there for me. I have wonderful family and friends who have been so supportive of me. I belong to a great support group online that genuinely cares about me. More than anything though, and as my first point says,

There is always hope