Happy Monday!…Are You Happy?

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“Happiness is letting go of what

you think your life is supposed to

look like and celebrating it for

everything that it is.” – Mandy Hale

– Mandy Hale

Being happy, walking that path, has been my primary goal in life.  For a long time, I thought that being happy meant being a part of something or living wholly for someone.  In essence, I thought that being happy meant being in a relationship.  What I did not realize was that, although happiness can be found interpersonally, it must first be found intrapersonally.  I needed to learn to be happy with me.  Moreover, consistent self-happiness can take incredible daily effort, especially if your environment is far from conducive to promoting a healthy mental state.

Still, I believe that experiencing happiness can be as simple as taking your next breath or becoming aware of your senses. Self-happiness does not have to start with an internal examination of self, where you check off all the ways that you are sound psychologically, intellectually, and spiritually.  No, it can begin with an external examination, i.e., physically.  That you physically exist, regardless of form, is something about which you can be happy.  Paying attention to and celebrating how your body

Paying attention to and celebrating how your body does work, instead of how it does not, is important to feeling happy, especially if, like me, you have a chronic illness.  For example, I find joy in wriggling my toes when I’m wearing socks.  The sensation of the cloth restricting my toes makes me aware that I have toes, and that is something for which I truly grateful.  When I experience gratitude, I also experience happiness.

Starting off this Monday, why not take a moment, in whatever way, to show yourself gratitude that you are, that you exist.  And by just existing, despite the opinions of others and your physical surroundings, you have the potential to create an even greater happiness for yourself.

I know that I will be doing that.  I hope you will, too. 🙂

Until Later,

D.

We are given names when we are born. They are important.

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I believe that we are all trying to find a place in the world, one in which we are recognized not only for what we do but for who we are, have been and are trying to become. It saddens me that some spend their time reducing the totality of themselves or others to perceived accomplishments (or lack thereof), rather than appreciating the totality of the experiences that encompasses and informs individuality.

We are given names when we are born. They are important.

However, as we grow older, we learn that for our names to retain meaning we must add to letters to them: BA, MA, MS, PhD, PsyD, ED, MD, JD, etc. For those letters to have meaning, we must license and/or certify them.  We bury ourselves in debt and play the Russian roulette-styled game of one-upmanship, risking our self-esteem, just to prove one point: our existence is meaningful.

Our existence does not boil down to answering: what school or what job or what house or what car or, even worse, who we know.

That we have the privilege of and are aware of our existence gives our names meaning enough.  Even without names, we are still enough.

At least, this is what I believe.

-D.

(From a note to a young friend)

Writing, Fibromyalgia & Building Confidence Byte by Byte

typing on the computer“Just what could you be doing for so long on the computer?”

It was an unexpected question, but it was not surprising, especially coming from my mother. It is true that I spend many hours strapped to my laptop, either clicking the mouse or clacking away at the keyboard every day.

So, just what could I be doing?

The simplest answer would be “Communicating.”

I am communicating with the world around me and with myself.  I am allowing my voice to travel to places where my legs, at the moment, cannot take me.  I am building confidence in my presence in society and my voice.  I am reshaping my identity instead of fighting my reality.

My reality is that of being a person with a chronic illness who, despite her desire for it to be otherwise, cannot rely on her body to function at 100%. For whatever reason, something inside me has become knotted and twisted, broken and weary, and likely will never heal.  That is just the way it is.

Also, it does not help that I currently live in a small town with limited public transportation, and I dislike driving.  Still, living in a small town has its benefits, especially for writing, which is what I have been doing since I returned home.  Moreover, it is forcing me to reach out more and be a part of communities, even if they may only be virtual at the moment.

Although having a chronic illness can be an isolating experience, it does not preclude me from understanding and achieving my goals, one of which is to be a published author and poet.  My illness is forcing me to deal with my worst enemy: myself.

 

 

For most of my life, I have been called an overachiever. I can be obsessive and perfectionistic, but I did not always realize that. I prefer solitude in most aspects of life but am loyal to my associations and make a good team player. My creativity is stifled when I am stressed, and  I am prone to high-level procrastination.  Without structure and goals, I become self-hindering.  In other words, having fibromyalgia has meant dealing with the perceived weaker aspects of my personality.

Fibromyalgia is not just confronting the reality of pain, fatigue, and fibrofog.  It puts center-stage your very self.  And if you happen to have Type A more than B personality, then having fibromyalgia might cause you to feel a bit like Alice falling down the rabbit hole and landing in an unrelenting and even more nightmarish version of Wonderland.

Still, living in surrealism is not so terrible, if you keep hold of yourself and continue to build self-efficacy, which brings me back to spending a seemingly inordinate amount of time in front of my laptop.

Writing, communicating with others, researching and even watching my favourite cartoon or comedy–all of these things are available to me online.  However, the internet has also become my temporary legs to take me to places known and unknown.  Through it, I am able to keep my eyes and my world open.  I can explore different aspects of self and remain (almost) free from judgement.

Ultimately, it reminds me that there is a world beyond my illness, whether that is a fictional world created through storytelling or the real world filtered through a screen. This mishmash of zeros and ones and  bundles of connected wires is allowing me to rebuild myself and to shape my future.

And there is nothing wrong with that. 😉

Until Next Time,

D.

Fibromyalgia: What They Don’t Tell You.

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Even before you have a name for your illness, you know how lousy it makes you feel.  Naming it fibromyalgia does not change much of anything.  You will still be bombarded with more medications to try, more questions to answer, and have days when you imagine that being run over by a bus would feel better.  You get accustomed to the pain, the tiredness, the nausea, the insomnia, the forgetfulness, the isolation, the medications, the questions, and the never-ending worry.  It becomes the lens through which you greet life and life greets you.  There is nothing rose-tinted about this.

During the period when most aspects of life seem to be one giant flurry, your mind may lose track of one certain factor: you have been forever changed.  However you have understood yourself is now, at best, moot.  Of course, this does not have to cause despair. It simply means making adjustments, challenging yourself to seeing you in a new light.

This is what the doctors will likely never tell you.  This is what loved ones may not understand.  This is what you could struggle to accept. You will never be the you you once knew.

Fibromyalgia is an illness that takes.  Yet still, even as it takes, it gives. What the doctors may never tell you is that it is your job to discover what fibromyalgia gives. It is your job to learn how fibromyaglia helps you to grow as an individual, how it gives you the opportunity to understand the world around in new ways.

I have met women who believe that fibromyalgia is a sort of death sentence.  I have even met women who see it as their ticket to receiving permanent care from others. Personally, I cannot fathom living like that.  Fibromyalgia is but one aspect of who I am.  It does not define me.  Do not let it define you.

Until Next Time,

D.

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.

 

 

Three Days Grace + One Song = Instant Catharsis?

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Three Days Grace

Can someone explain to me how one song can undo a good decade of indifference to the rock scene?? Yes, I’m really going to talk about music in this post.  Sort of.

First, let me be quite clear: I’ve been listening to this one song on repeat for a good 24 hours. Yes, I’ve got it bad for a song, bad enough to write this post, and equally bad enough that I’ve even been revisiting my adolescent self with new eyes, seeing her with more compassion, and relating to her distress and internalized rage.

It’s music therapy…rock-style.

To say that these past 14 months have been a roller coaster ride would be an understatement:  I’ve moved approximately 6 times, graduated from university, resigned from a job, had family emergencies on an international level, gained twenty pounds, watched my health deteriorate further, and entered into a pretty severe depression (that I’m only coming to fully acknowledge now).

It’s been a long and ridiculously heavy period.

My life’s been the kind of heaviness that is embodied in the driving guitar riffs and heavy drumbeats of the song “I Am Machine” by Canadian rock band Three Days Grace, from their fifth album Human that was apparently released in March 2015 (the song was released in late 2014).  I had heard the song play on the radio station WJRR a few times over the past month and had abstractly connected with the sound of it.  Yesterday, however, was the first time I really listened to the lyrics.

And, oh boy, the lyrics…

In the first verse, lead singer Matt Walst (who also fronts the Canadian rock band My Darkest Days) sings:

Here’s to being human
All the pain and suffering
There’s beauty in the bleeding
At least you feel something

I wish I knew what it was like
To care enough to carry on
I wish I knew what it was like
To find a place where I belong, but…

Listening to and reading these lyrics hit me hard, but I didn’t quite understand why until I listened to the chorus, in which he sings:

I am machine
I never sleep
I keep my eyes wide open
I am machine
A part of me
Wishes I could just feel something

I am machine
I never sleep
Until I fix what’s broken
I am machine
A part of me
Wishes I could just feel something

I shan’t post the remaining lyrics. You can find them on Google Play. I think the first verse and chorus are satisfactory for illustrating what opened my eyes to a truth that I’ve been ignoring for some time:

I am machine…

I hadn’t realized that I had stuffed down and shutdown whatever emotions I felt threatened the little stability I was managing to maintain.  Of course, the emotions have become somaticized: weighing down my body, and taking away even what little precious sleep I used to manage to get.  I think the lyrics “I never sleep, I keep my eyes wide open” and “I never sleep until I fix what’s broken” sum up the situation quite clearly.

Yes, some part of me broke last year to the point where it has become quite numb, cold to the outside world, empty and devoid of life. It’s the part of me that is telling me quite clearly that it “wishes I could just feel something.”

You see, at some point, the things I had been experiencing were filled with too much “pain and suffering”–truly much more than I could handle–and as a result I shutdown through repression and intellectualization.  They are two self-defense mechanisms (among others) I know well and have employed since childhood. One would think given my education and profession that I would have found better methods of coping–and I do have better methods, and I did employ those first. However, it’s when we run of the best tricks in our bag that we engage our last resort: our oldest tricks, the maladaptive ones, that ensured self-preservation in the face of our gravest moments in childhood while sabotaging our adult selves.

Back to the song.

The second half of the first verse expresses the thoughts (however dark) that have gone through my mind throughout this period: “I wish I knew what it was like to care enough to carry on” and “I wish I knew what it was like to find a place where I belong.” Quite dark stuff, right?

I felt myself entering into a void, trapped between nothingness and more nothingness, emptied of all feelings, thoughts, and sense of purpose.  Yes, it was that harsh. It still is.

Of course, now that I realize where I have been and am, I can do something about it. I can mourn my losses: friends, home and purpose I found living in Rome. It’s the place where I learned to smile, learned to hug, learned that I had people who would be there to support me whenever I felt broken and in tears. I guess, you could say that I had found and felt my most “human” self there.

It’s a sad revelation, but a necessary one. Still, enough words for one post .:)

If you like rock, then watch the official video for “I Am Machine” below.

Until Next Time,

D.

Support the band, buy the album! 

ConsumerAffairs, Online Dating & Why I’m Still Single.

concepts of online dating, with message on enter key of keyboard.You’ve probably heard about these dating sites: OkCupid, Match.com, eHarmony, Tinder (mobile app), and Plenty of Fish.  With millions of daily users and new subscribers, these sites are the standouts in online dating.

And no, you don’t have to be desperate to try them…even if 23% of Americans still believe that you are, according to the latest findings of Pew Research Center.

As of 2015, approximately 15% of adults in the US have used online dating to find all levels of romance: from the meet-and-sheets to the celibacy makes the heart grow fonder and keeps away STDs.  After all, just with a click your dating pool can extend as far as…the entire world.

Isn’t that awesome? Well, definitely yes and possibly no.

Although online dating can provide more options in finding a potential partner, it also comes with the drawback of potentially exposing yourself to predation of all kinds: particularly romance scams and even physical violence.

Of course, this isn’t to create or increase fear. Being aware and taking precautions, however, diminishes risk. In fact, I have been an advocate of online dating for some time, especially for LGBTQIA* community–you just have to be smart about it.

That’s where ConsumerAffairs comes in.

Who knew ConsumerAffairs offered a free guide to online dating? I certainly didn’t. And looking back I wish I had.  Well, thanks to ConsumerAffairs’ Kessler McLaughlin, now I do.

Written by online dating expert  Mark Brooks, the guide is very user-friendly and uses tabs for easy access. It covers the above-mentioned sites as well as others that are lesser known or geared toward a niche market (e.g. JDate, ChristianMingle, PositiveSingles, Geek2Geek, DatingforSeniors, etc.).

For most sites, Brooks has included his own review at the bottom of the site page, providing  important facts, such as search algorithms, email network systems, location and language accessibility, and target audience. Moreover, beyond expert reviews, the guide includes user reviews, when available, for each site: Match.com alone has 1,859 reviews.

About the reviews…well, they are quite direct. Some online dating users are quite disgruntled: some complained of scammers and limited dating pool in their areas.  Still, there were those who were satisfied with their experiences.

I think it’s a matter of what you’re seeking, which brings me to being single.

I have used online dating for over a decade: from PlanetOut (defunct) to OkCupid.  I owe a major thanks to Match.com for my marriage and POF for disillusioning my belief in both meeting someone online or in-person.

Still, I have been very successful with online dating. The shortest relationship (OkCupid)  lasted just over a year. The longest (Match.com) was 5 years. So, it’s possible. 😉

If you’re interested in online dating, but don’t know where to begin or wish to see what services are available now, check out ConsumerAffairs’ guide:

Best Online Dating Sites and Services for 2016

While you’re at it, read Pew Research Center’s  5 Facts About Online Dating

*LGBTQIA – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/sexual, questioning/queer, intersex, asexual.

Valentine’s Day–What Is It Again?

DSC_0030I’m lucky–I’ve always dated people whose birthdays were close to Valentine’s Day.  Even better, I married someone whose birthday was on Valentine’s Day itself.

Of course, I didn’t always realize my luck.

But first, let’s have a Sophia Petrillo moment, and “picture it”:

Valentine’s Day, 2014, a not-so-little Indian restaurant in the heart of Rome’s Monti district, a solitary woman dressed in bright colours walks in and asks for a table–alone.  Already the front room is crowded with couples, but there is one table tucked away in a corner where the woman can sit…completely observed.  It’s perhaps not the strangest sight that the diners will see for the night, but it’s definitely contrary to what’s expected.  Where’s her date? or Is she waiting for someone? or Has she been stood up? they might wonder.  Nope. She’s there on her own, taking herself out for Valentine’s Day.

—-

Of course, I’m not the only one who does this. I’m sure many people do, regardless of gender/sex.  It’s just not what others apparently expect.  What they seem to expect is that you ought to be at home, complaining to fellow single friends about your single status, drinking your sad singleness away, pining after an old lover or unrequited love, shoving a ton of chocolate down your throat, and then chasing it with a tub of your favourite Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream (or gelato if you’re in Italy).  What they don’t seem to expect is that you can celebrate Valentine’s Day all on your own and love doing it.  If you’re single, then help me to disspell that misguided notion.

After all, let’s consider what Valentine’s Day really is: a day dedicated to Saint Valentine of Rome, who was executed just outside the Flaminian Gate on February 14, 269 for refusing to renounce his belief in Christianity.  His feast day is February 14th, hence we celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Moreover, he’s not just about candies and hearts. Saint Valentine is the patron saint of “affianced couples, bee keepers, engaged couples, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, love, lovers, plague, travellers, and young people.” (Catholic.org)

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So, this brings me back to being lucky.  I’ve been lucky because I’ve never really had the thought that Valentine’s Day was something do with my receiving anything (be it candy or flowers).  It was always a day about my remembering someone special to me and showing them my gratitude for their existence.  Being single doesn’t change that.  Valentine’s Day continues to be a day that I remember someone special and that I show gratitude for their existence…it just happens to be me. 😉

This Valentine’s Day, try to remember that it’s a day to:

  1. honour your faith (if you are Christian)
  2. remember a saint (if you are Catholic),
  3. thank the universe for the existence of bees (if you are bee keeper),
  4. ask for relief from suffering (if you have epilepsy or fainting spells or the plague),
  5. pray for a safe journey (if you are a traveller),
  6. embrace your youth (if you consider yourself young),
  7. say hello to people around you (if you are not alone, and if you are, then go find someone to say hi to),
  8. remember that someone has decided to put up with your crap (if you are engaged),
  9. remember that someone has been putting up with your crap for some time now (if you are married),
  10. work on having great sex (if you have a lover),
  11. and love yourself and those around you (if you aren’t already doing it).

So, what will you do this Valentine’s Day?  I know I’m looking forward to going to church (since it falls on a Sunday–lucky!) and thanking the universe for all that I have.  To top it off, I’ll likely have a piece of chocolate, give my mom a hug, make plans to travel in the near future, and wonder about the beauty of bees.

-D.

In the meanwhile, check out this video 🙂

 

Motivation…Oh, Where Did It Go?

Image found on GIS

Image found on GIS

I’m stuck…sort of. It’s the end of August in Rome and I’ve been living through Attack of the Mosquitoes and Sweat World.  The fan I had for two days died. It’s not its fault. It was pretty old.  Still, I need a new one.

My manuscript remains unfinished and I toy with a few stories in my mind. At the same time, I think about getting older and failing to meet external expectations.  I wonder about my internal expectations.  What do I expect of myself?  How do I define that?

It’s hard remaining in that in-between state, that cocoon, like waiting to be born again, except it has nothing to do with Jesus. I’m there, I’ve been there for some time now, and I know I’m getting close to the end of that stage…but it’s terrifying.  It’s terrifying knowing that it’s impossible to go back, or stay where you are, or do anything else other than move forward.

Still, terror can maintain stasis, paralyzing the motivation to either fail or succeed–yes, you can be motivated to fail.  The more we try to push terror away, the more intense it seems to become.

So, I’ve decided to embrace my terror. All aspects of it. The terror of success and of failure that is embodied within.

I’ll have a talk with the twin parts of myself: talent and self-sabotage. I’ll let them know that it’s okay to be terrified.

I’ll let them know…

It’s okay to fail as long as I (we) continue aiming to succeed. 

Until Wednesday,

D.