Overcoming Fibromyalgia

 

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Found via Google image search.

Over the years, I have found that physical illness involves three aspects of self: body, mind, and emotion.  It is not  just about the body healing itself.  It is also about the health of the ongoing dialogue that occurs between the body  and the mind, and the resulting emotions.  Of course, the body heals in its own time, but our thoughts can also assist in how healthy we perceive ourselves to be and ultimately are.  This is what might considered as “thinking our way to good health.” Visualizing a healthier version of ourselves can do wonders to begin or continue the process of actual healing.  However, the reverse is also quite true.  Beyond whatever factual illness we may have, our minds can contribute a hefty dose of additional symptoms, with which we must also contend.  Some might refer to such occurrences as psychosomatic symptoms.  For example, depression is not just something that impacts the mind.  It impacts the body’s ability to function effectively as well.  Depression is associated with physical symptoms, such as chest pains, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, digestive issues, headaches, weight loss and gain, and even back pain.  Add to that sleep disturbances and sexual problems, it might seem as though I have been describing fibromyalgia because the symptoms are quite similar.  These physical symptoms of depression are temporary, however, while fibromyalgia symptoms are chronic.

For a long time, the general consensus among doctors was that fibromyalgia was all in the mind, that it was merely psychosomatic, that it was not real.  Although there are still some who maintain disbelief, research has shown that fibromyalgia, the second most common rheumatoid disorder, is “now considered to be a lifelong central nervous system disorder, which is responsible for amplified pain that shoots through the body of those who suffer from it.”  Fibromyalgia is not something that you can just think away. No amount of visualization will permanently remove the impact that fibromyalgia can have on its sufferers.  That is the reality.

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The Broken Column, 1944 by Frida Kahlo. Image from noijam.com, found via GIS.

As the illness progresses, daily life can feel quite surreal. Perhaps you felt great yesterday, but today you feel as though you are broken in many places.  It may feel that there is no way to hold yourself together.  It is not just the pain that hurts.  It is ever-increasing isolation, diminishing self-sufficiency, and the loss of words that comes with the fog that overtakes the mind.  It is also the ongoing disappointment as you begin saying “no” to work, loved ones, and even yourself.  Having fibromyalgia means being broken, being scattered into tiny fragments of self that you try each to recover and bind together

S0, how does one overcome this?

Until there is a definitive cure found by medical experiences, there is no way to overcome fibromyalgia.  At least, not in the sense of the illness ending.

Instead, see overcoming fibromyalgia as a daily process.  For example, on days when you wake up to a flare, challenge yourself to do more than you think you can–perhaps that might be sitting up in bed, or talking to a friend on the phone.  On days when you feel great, challenge yourself to do less than you think you should–perhaps that might be leaving work on time or a little early (if you are still working), instead of staying late because you are trying to make up for lost time.  This is basically opposite to emotion action, a DBT skill that asks practitioners to 1) acknowledge and allow for their emotional state, and 2) act in the opposite manner than their emotional urge would prefer. For example, if you are angry and your emotional urge is to hit someone, opposite to emotion action would have you choose an action that is opposite to your emotional urge, so perhaps hug someone.


When we allow ourselves (mind, body, emotions) to give into illness, we allow for that illness to have enormous control over how we experience life.  Yes, you may feel ill today, but instead of focusing on feeling physically ill, try focusing your mind on what can you can do (in spite of your illness).  Contrarily, you may feel physically great today, but instead of focusing on feeling great, try focusing your mind on what you can do to ensure that you feel better tomorrow (this may mean holding yourself back a bit).

 

If we acknowledge our limitations and challenge our thinking, then this may be helpful in avoiding compounding our physical illness with our emotions.  Depression can be resulting factor of chronic illness.  For those of us living with fibromyalgia, learning how to cope with feelings of depression is vital to our survival.  Thus, finding ways to celebrate ourselves and the steps we take to feel better is key. Every day try doing to following (in no particular order):

  • Create an action plan (a.k.a. To Do List) based on your current physical state
  • Journal about your physical symptoms and your emotional state
  • Exercise in whatever way possible, whether that is doing a light stretch or going for a walk.
  • Eat well. Avoid foods that exacerbate symptoms.
  • Talk to someone, whether in-person, on the phone, or online.
  • Smile for no reason. Trust me, it helps.
  • Be mindful in each moment. Be aware of your thoughts and how your thoughts are influencing your emotions and actions.
  • Pay attention to the calendar. Know the month and day you are in.  It is very easy to lose track of time.
  • Set long-term achievable goals (but challenge yourself).  What is it that you believe you can no longer do/achieve because of fibromyaglia? Try to find ways to modify what you wanted to do so that it accommodates your illness.
  • Feed your spirit.  This does not mean join a religion. Do something to help others.

There is no guarantee that the above will work for you.  These are just the steps that I have found helpful along the way.  Yes, every day, I find that fibromyalgia diminishes some aspect of me.  Sometimes it is very difficult to see the positives in each moment. Still, if I do not try to make my reality better for me, then who will?

I hope these words offer comfort to anyone who is having a hard time today.

Until Next Time,

D.

 

 

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Fibromyalgia | Feeling Stuck? Try These 3 DBT Tips

Image from ThisIsYourConscience.com

Image from ThisIsYourConscience.com

It’s no joke when you wake up to feeling that there is nothing you can do to make your life better. This may be especially so when you have a chronic illness like fibromyalgia.  There are just sometimes when your life seems to be going nowhere and the only thing you have to look forward to is another day of symptom management.  Such moods can pass quickly, i.e. given your temperament and support network.

Still, what if it doesn’t?  What if you continue such negative self-talk and feel unable to break the cycle that you’re in? Well, the outcome surely isn’t going to be of benefit to you, your self-esteem, and achieving your goals.

So, before you get to that point, I wanted to share with you 3 tips from DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) that may get you out your rut.

I’ve discussed DBT in various posts, so I won’t go into full details here. Suffice to say that DBT, developed by Marsha Linehan, is a form of therapy that uses the Buddhist practice of mindfulness and incorporates a cognitive behavioral approach to making positive change in your life.

Of course, there is a great deal more that goes into DBT.  The 3 tips below, however, might just be ticket to making this day one that lives you feeling inspired to do more and experience more in your life.

  • Opposite to Emotion Action – Although one of the last suggested techniques to changing your emotional circumstances, Opposite to Emotion is the first technique I turn to when needing to motivate myself.  Opposite to Emotion (from the Emotion Regulation skill set) asks of you to do the contrary action to your present emotion/thoughtsSo, let’s say that your mood is so low and the last thing you want to do is to take care of yourself.  Well, do exactly the opposite, i.e. take care of yourself. In this case, taking a shower, eating well, taking a walk, etc.

 

  • Nonjudgmental Stance – This is one of the last skills that is learned in the first DBT skill set of Mindfulness.  Taking a Nonjudgmental Stance means taking an objective distance from your present circumstances.  It asks of you to 1) observe your experience nonjudgmentally, i.e. without trying to change them, 2) describe your experience nonjudgementally, i.e. without condemnation or praise, 3) participate in your experience nonjudgementally, i.e. allowing yourself to be wholly involved in whatever you are doing.  I use nonjudgmental stance when I find myself in confusion about the actions or inactions I’ve taken in my life.  I aim to get at the heart and mind of my present circumstances, so that I can better understand how to change them.

 

  • Improve the Moment This is one of the four basic skills learned in the Distress Tolerance skill set.  Simply put, do what you can to make the moment better and not worse.  Focus on decreasing levels of stress and, if possible, removing yourself from the environment that may be contributing negatively to your experience.  This is where techniques such as imagery, finding meaning in the moment, utilizing prayer, practicing relaxation skills, taking a one thing at a time approach, taking a literal vacation from the place, seeking or remembering encouragement. 

 

Individually, each one of these 3 tips works wonders.  However, when put all together, I believe that you may experience even a greater shift.  I would add to the tips helping others.  I find that when I take the time to help someone else, it helps me to feel less stuck and more motivated to experience positive change.

 

Until Next Wednesday,

D.

Fibromyalgia & the New You: How to Begin Restructuring Your Life After a Loss of “Self” (Part 1)

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A decade ago, the word fibromyalgia didn’t exist in my vocabulary.  To be honest, my relationship with illness was that I was never ill in any serious way.  I lived to work and study, which eventually jeopardized relationships.  That way of functioning, however, was what I was taught growing up.  You were suppose to disregard all else in favour of work, whether physical or mental.

I saw my body and my mind as tools to be used relentlessly.  I would work from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. at one job, then jump in my car, drive one hour, and then work from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. I worked every holiday–a habit that I did not break until I moved to Italy. I volunteered to work when someone else didn’t want to, or called out, or whatever.  I made myself overly reliable, and everyone knew they could ask me to step in to help at any time.

Work trumped all else.

So, what happens when a person who self-defines through excessive work (“workaholic”) loses the ability to overwork or even work?  In Rome, we say sono distrutta/o (“I am destroyed”) when something happens that is overwhelming and/or devastating.  I think this expression is apt: you feel a huge part of you has been destroyed.  There is a shattering of the self, a destructive blow to one’s inner worth.

However, the blow doesn’t happen just once.  There are many blows, one for each thing you realize that you can no longer do.  Moreover, the blow aren’t just internal.  You receive external blows that land in the form of judgement, dismissal, and utter disregard…even from the people for whom you once bent over backwards to help when you were well.

That, sometimes, isthe harsh reality of having this illness.  Some people may begin turning their backs on you as they come to realize that you can no longer do what they want/need.  Although such experiences can hurt, they offer you the great opportunity to begin understanding who your real supports are, who you can really trust, and where you actually stand.

Knowing where you stand with yourself and with others, I think, is the one of the most fundamental aspects of beginning to restructure your life after any sense of loss of “self.”   In an earlier post, I wrote about reality checking, i.e. making certain that you understand what is happening in you and around you. Knowing where you stand with yourself and with others is, in essence, reality checking.  One might even call it being mindful to self and environment. Regardless of what you choose to call it, simply do it.

First, take stock of you, what’s going on within you.  Open yourself up to a non-judgmental inner dialogue, and encourage yourself to express all that is challenging you when it comes to your illness and the impact that it has had on your life thus far, or even what fears you may have about the future. Be honest with you.

Second, speak directly with those around you. Open yourself up to non-judgmental external dialogues, and encourage others to express to you how your illness challenges them, what scares them about it now and what they worry about in the future. Of course, make sure you express your thoughts and feelings as well.

Remaining in a non-judgmental stance is vital, in my opinion, to understanding 1) where you are, 2) where you are going, and 3) where you might prefer to go instead. It keeps you here and now, but with a distance that allows for some objectivity about your life.

It’s true that having fibromyalgia can suck the life out of you. However, you do not have to allow fibromyalgia to suck you out of life. Yes, things are different now. Yes, you have no idea how it’s all going to work out.  Yes, you are scared.  All of those things are okay. Your feelings are you feelings and they should be owned you.

Still, having fibromyalgia isn’t the end of the world.  It may be an ending of a chapter of your life as you knew it.  And now you can write a new chapter.

Until Tomorrow,

D.

FMS | The Necessity of Positive Self-Value

DSC001732Just a quick thought for today.

Remember that taking care of yourself, recognizing your strengths, working on your weakness, celebrating your small steps (and big ones) are necessary part of maintaining positive self-value.

It’s easy to get caught up in the what you can’t do or the  what you should do, instead of looking at what you have done and what you want to do.

Take a moment before the end of this day to check in with yourself.  Challenge yourself to acknowledging your positives, and then see how those positives can be extended to touch the lives those around you.

Until Tomorrow,

FMS | Fibromyalgia is Not the Enemy. Your Attitude Is.

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This is what we need to aim for every. single. day.

Beyond medical research, I spend a lot of time reading personal stories of people who have fibromyalgia.  After all, I have the illness, and it feels good to have a sense of belonging. However, there is a problem.

What I’ve noticed is that many of these stories, including some of my own, focus on the (for lack of a better word) negative aspects of the illness.  There is nothing wrong with that. Of course, we all need a place to share our grievances, our challenges, and our pain.  This can help those without fibromyalgia understand a bit more about our experiences with the illness.  Sharing, however, the negative of our illness is not always helpful…to us.

What I mean is: isn’t it about time that we share the positive? Share our successes?  If nothing else, in both my personal and professional lives, I learned that focusing on what works helps us to feel better about ourselves and our circumstances.  (Also, reading about the success of others in overcoming their challenges is helpful to those who are struggling.)

For example, let’s say you’ve been waking up every morning (if you even slept) and have felt so tired that the idea of getting up is too much.  Okay, that’s fine. Now, instead of focusing on feeling so tired, how about focusing on the simple pleasure of I woke up today. Perhaps that may seem a bit morbid.

The reality is, however, that if we can take a moment to focus on what is good/positive/working, then what is bad/negative/broken begins to matter less.

So, to give you a boost, I thought I would share with you my 5 steps to feeling motivated for each fibromyalgia day:

  1. Appreciate. Every morning and for the rest of my day, I take moments to simply express gratitude for the simple things in life, whether internally or externally or both. The sun is shining. I am breathing. The birds are singing, etc.
  2. Celebrate. Even if I am stuck in bed all day long, I celebrate myself and my achievements for the day.  Perhaps the only achievement I can point to is my self-care, i.e. not pushing myself beyond my limit and not beating myself up because I can’t do what others can.
  3. Life-dream. Okay, so it’s a rough day today, but guess what? Tomorrow might just be better, and what do you want to do? I take time to make small and big plans for my future. I keep in mind something that YouTuber CharlyCheer expressed in one of her videos: if you can spend 10 minutes today working on a goal, then you are that much closer to achieving it.  So, dream and dream BIG.
  4. One-step.  I take the foot-in-the-doordoor-in-the-face compliance strategies. What does that mean? I negotiate with myself. I ask myself to do something either so small (foot in the door) that I know I can do it, or I ask myself for something so grand that I know I will reject in favour of something smaller. In essence, I force myself into complying with taking a positive action.  What the video below.
  5. Laugh. I spend a great deal of time laughing.  Sometimes it is because of something I make myself watch (cartoons, comedies, etc.), sometimes it’s a memory of something I did (I can be very clumsy), or sometimes it’s listening to or reading something funny (whimsical music, comic strips, joke books, etc.).  The point is, I force myself to experience a positive emotion. Check out DBT technique  Opposite to Emotion Action.

You know, having fibromyalgia does not have to suck.  It’s true sometimes it does, and when it does…man, well…you get the idea.  Fibromyalgia is just an illness. It’s not the bogeyman, nor the devil or some demon meant to torment you.  It’s nothing to really be sad about, in my opinion.

Yes, your life has changed.  However, focus on how you can compensate for those changes/challenges.  Make having fibromyalgia a positive for you.  When people say, “I’m so sorry you have fibromyalgia” (I hear this a lot), respond with “I’m not! It’s one of the best things that has happened to me and has helped me change my perspectives on life!”

And that’s the truth. Fibromyalgia does teach you many wonderful things about life, especially because it forces you to slow down, to pay attention, and to take care.

Until Tomorrow,

D.

 

Out of the Closet | My Struggle with Object Permanence

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Object Permanence:  it’s a topic that I never imagined that I would write about…at least, not in relation to myself.

I’m still uncertain about how much I would really like to share about it.  So, please, bear with me.

First, if you are unfamiliar with the concept of object permanence, here is a definition by Kendra Cherry, psychology expert on About.com:

The term object permanence is used to describe a child’s ability to know that objects continue to exist even though they can no longer be seen or heard. If you have ever played a game of “peek-a-boo” with a very young child, then you probably understand how this works. When an object is hidden from sight, infants under a certain age often become upset that the item has vanished. This is because they are too young to understand that the object continues to exist even though it cannot be seen.

This ability to understand that objects continue to exist even after they “disappear” is something that is successfully learned by most infants.  What happens, however, if there is an interference in the development of ability?

 

Photo by Gabriella Di Bari, edited by D. Blake

Photo by Gabriella Di Bari, edited by D. Blake

Something’s Missing

As a therapist, empathy is an important aspect of the client-therapist relationship.  For the most part, I considered myself to be quite empathetic, except in one regard:  the experience of missing.

For a very long time (and even now), I have struggled to understand what it means to miss.  I miss neither place nor people. They are simply present or absent.  Whatever feelings I had attached to them when they were present disappear when they are absent…as though they never existed at all.

Why am I writing about this?  I’m writing about this because I imagine that I cannot be the only person who struggles with object permanence issues.

What’s the big deal? Well, in some ways, it’s not a big deal.

To be frank, in many ways it has a been a major positive in my life because it has allowed me to transition from one place to another with ease (because the other place/life simply ceases to “exist”).  Also, I am forever in this moment, not the last, which makes practicing mindfulness a breeze. 😉

On the other hand, it has meant that I struggle with maintaining connections (or even knowing that I should).  More than relationships are lost.  Memories do not yield nostalgia, and who, how or what I was before loses meaning because that version of “me” no longer exists.

For now, I’ll wrap it up here. I would like, however, to open up a dialogue about this.  Do you struggle with object permanence or with attachment? Have you ever had experience with someone you think does?

Until Next Time,

D.

Young infants do not yet possess the ability to remember or even think about things they cannot see. And this ability actually goes beyond ‘out of sight, out of mind’ because to them, if they cannot see it, it simply does not exist.

In other words, their entire world is only what they can see at any given moment. Or to use a spiritual terminology, young infants live completely in the NOW. Past and future doesn’t exist as conscious concepts. – Positive Parenting Ally.com on Object Permanence

FMS | Challenge Yourself to Do Less: Expect Nothing, Celebrate Everything (Fibromyalgia)

8f304-blackwomansick1Being in pain, bedridden, forgetful, and generally low-spirited can seem to be the name of the game when it comes to having fibromyalgia–It doesn’t have to be.

It’s super-easy to get bogged down in the reasons why having fibromyalgia sucks: you can’t do this, you can’t do that, etc., etc.

Well, how about focusing not on the moment that’s sucking the life out of you, but the possibilities of the next moments?

I’m usually big on being mindful to moment, but let’s be serious: there are some moments that it’s just not worth it. And reflecting on the past can be a double-edged sword. You can begin to mourn who or how or what you used to be, instead of focusing on the positives of the past.

So, it might just be useful to look forward to the unknown future. Allow yourself to dream your possibilities, and then…

let them go.

Yes, let them go.  Whatever you imagine that you can or will do and that you can or will be, let it all go. Why? Because in letting go of having to do or be something, you begin welcoming freedom into your life.

Imagine not having to live up to anyone’s expectations, not even your own. Imagine not having to live in the shadow of your past self or in the pain of your present self. Can you imagine that? I can and do.

Now, when I imagine what I can/will (a.k.a. should be able to) do something, I take several steps back, and tell myself two words: do less.

For example, If I tell myself I can/will do 10 minutes of yoga, then I tell myself I shall do 5 minutes of yoga. If after 5 minutes, I can actually do more, then that’s a bonus.

In other words, challenge yourself to create opportunities for success.

Everyone needs that, especially we who have fibromyalgia.

Take small steps. Expect nothing of yourself. Celebrate everything that you do.

D.