Fibromyalgia | Its Impact on Body Image & How to Improve Yours

Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Pexels.com

Scale? Check. Tape measure? Check. I’ve got some basic tools for body assessment. Oh, I forgot…I have a full length mirror, too. Check. My eyes, armed with a pair of glasses, seem ready for the task of looking, with extreme subjectivity, at my physical self.

Body image. I’d like to spend time talking about my own today.

Over the past decade, there have been some studies done on body image and women with fibromyalgia. What the research shows is that women with fibromyalgia experience a disturbance in their body image due to how fibromyalgia negatively impacts “self-identity, mental function, activity limitations, healthcare experiences, and quality of life.”

First, however, what is body image? The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) defines body image as “how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind.” This encompasses 1) what you believe about your appearance, 2) how you feel about your body overall, and 3) how you sense your physical experience of your body within space. The story that accompanies our perception stems from the messages we received in childhood about our body and the bodies of those around us. Body image, whether positive or negative, can change over time due to various factors. Body image isn’t static, it’s a journey that we are all on throughout our lives.

Given my background as an expressive therapist, specialized in the treatment of eating disorders, I have avoided discussing my body image journey. However, in light of the growing awareness and conversation about this topic, I would like to share some aspects of my experience.

The Journey

Prior to my diagnosis, my body image was more on the positive side of the spectrum. I saw my body as quite strong, flexible, and healthy, having spent the years prior devoted to weight training, yoga, and maintaining a fairly decent diet. My weight would have been considered on the higher end of my weight range for my height. However, I was not concerned about this due to my muscle to fat ratio. In essence, I perceived myself as a healthy 20-something-year-old with love for dancing as many days of the week as I could.

When I began feeling ill for the first time in 2006, I felt confused and tried to find answers. My weight began to steadily climb upwards while my body’s abilities began a downward spiral. By 2008, I could barely recognize myself in the mirror. My body was no longer fit and the scale showed a number that I could never have imagined at that time. More importantly, my body couldn’t do what I expected it to be able to do.

For the first time, as adult, I felt ashamed of my body…and at a lost as to what to do.

Photo by SHVETS production on Pexels.com

The immense daily pain was unreal and unwelcomed. The fatigue, however, was the thing that made life unbearable. In my mind, I thought I could push through the pain. However, if I couldn’t even get up to begin that process, then what was the point? Luckily, my resilience has always been high. I made a plan to take control. Unfortunately, my focus was solely on my weight, not on the impact that my illness was having on my mind. Furthermore, I didn’t considered the consequences that losing weight would have on my intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships.

I became vegan and began walking for an hour every day. Over a period of two years, I lost twice the amount of weight that I had gained. I removed the word strong from self-description and added weak. I felt weak, tired, and in pain. I was, however, not as heavy as before. However, the years spent with the scale as a companion had had a severe impact on my mind. In addition, when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize myself. It didn’t help that, at that time, I was also in the midst of some major life changes (separation, resignation, moving abroad, etc.).

I made the one mistake that I knew better not to make: I thought, “I don’t have time right now. I’ll have to figure it out later.”

It took almost a decade, but later finally came.

I prioritized creating my new life in Italy, leaving the old life in Massachusetts behind, and disregarding the reality of my increasingly fragmented self. In essence, I didn’t want to deal…and so I didn’t. The alarm bells began sounding about 5 years later when I found myself living in America once again. My weight had dramatically increased once again due to poor self-management while living in a stressful environment. Still, I decided to take the old approach–focus on the weight gain and not the mind. It was easier to focus on that rather than unravel the chaos of my internal and external world. As such my weight went down then up and then down again, while my body image continued its descent to rock bottom.

When You Hit Rock Bottom: There is Only Up

Just over two years ago, I hit rock bottom in multiple areas of my life (with the exception of work). I became aware that I had been choosing a very toxic, self-sabotaging path. So, I decided to change one thing at a time, including my relationship with my body.

If you do a quick internet search on improving body image, you can find countless articles on what steps to take. From what I can see, most of the advice is on point and doable. They are effective, if you are in the mental space and emotionally regulated enough to do them consistently. Fibromyalgia, however, can leave your mental space feeling limited and your emotions seriously dysregulated. So much of your time is spent managing fatigue or pain or both…and trying to manage the emotions that arise as a result.

Once I made my decision to improve my body image, I started with only one thing in mind:

shifting my focus.

I shifted my focus to what my body can do in the moment (not yesterday or tomorrow, etc.)–just here and now. In addition, I created goals, answering the following question: what do I want my body to do?

I put away the scale. I returned my tape measure to my notions container, put a message of affirmation on my mirror. I realized that I had stopped looking at myself in the mirror. Now, I make it a point to look at myself twice a day in the mirror. This is done with curiosity and without judgement.

I decided to become friends with my body. It’s a pretty cool body that can do many things. I want to learn more about what it can do, what it likes, and what it needs. I have also started getting clothes that fit properly and feel good. I want to understand more about my body’s style preferences.

Most importantly, I am grateful to my body for its strength. Despite the high levels of stress, the ongoing pain, and staggering fatigue, my body keeps going. Thanks, body!

Improvement Tips

Beyond the many lists I have only two tips:

1) become curious about your body, and

2) become your body’s best friend.

We spend a lot of time within our minds instead time within our bodies. We try to use our minds to control our bodies. We may think that we have a problem with discipline, not exercising enough or eating too much. Well, how about just stopping to listen to our bodies? How about letting your body tell you what it needs? Maybe it needs more sleep, massage, acupuncture, stretching, or to go for a nice walk.

You won’t know until you to stop to listen to your body.

Fibromyalgia | 15 Years Later…

Orchid and Droplets

Recently, as in today, I have been listening to the music of Wardruna, a Norwegian band focused on sharing Old Norse traditions, reclaiming it from those who have misappropriated it. Let’s make it quite clear, I am rather ignorant of many aspects of Old Norse traditions.

The closest I came to learning anything about Old Norse tradition was taking a course on Germanic languages (thank you, Professor Robinson) and studying the rune poems to learn about the runic alphabets. That’s it.

Still, I found myself entranced by the voice of Einar Selvik singing the poem “Völuspá,” which tells the Norse creation myth. Certainly, I understood nothing of the words, but the passion of his voice brought tears to my eyes. Such is the power of music.

Völuspá tells not only of the birth of world, but also its death and rebirth.

Fifteen years ago, I realized that something was terribly wrong. I felt tired, sick, and in pain. For two years, I searched for an answer. At various points, I was convinced that I was just psychosomatic, it was all in my head–it didn’t help that my doctor was dismissive of my condition and did little to help. Ultimately, I learned the name of my condition: fibromyalgia.

I wrote quite a bit about my journey with fibromyalgia between 2011 and 2015. For the past six years, I have remained relatively quiet on the topic and this blog for a variety of reasons. However, I would like to share with you a little about my journey.

Contrast Petals

If I think back to 2008, when I first received my diagnosis, my mind immediately remembers the laundry list of medications I was asked to take just to function. I spent more time at hospitals and clinics than at any other time in my life. I joined a support group that caused me to realize that there was some other way that I wanted to live…

I wanted to find a path to living a life that held meaning to me and not one defined by my illness. I believe I found it.

I became vegan (now pescatarian), started meditating, doing yoga, and taking walks regularly, and began scaling back on the medications I was being asked to take. Ultimately, I went from taking approximately eleven medications to taking three. And for the past four years, I take only one…and it’s not for fibromyalgia. Instead, I go regularly for acupuncture or massage to help with pain management.

Choosing to Do Things Differently

Living with fibromyalgia means living with uncertainty: uncertainty of what one can do, how one will feel, etc. It is understanding that one’s sense of self-efficacy will be shaken if not shattered. There is nothing quite as humbling as waking up to realize that one can neither move because of pain nor remember a particular word (or two) due to brain fog. One’s body can become an enemy as it seems to work against one’s mind. As a result, one’s self-concept may begin to unravel–it certainly did for me.

I’ve spent the past decade redefining myself, constructing a new self with the fragments of self that survived pre-fibromyalgia, filling in the missing parts with who I have become. Certainly, everyone changes over time. However, developing a chronic illness in adulthood, in particular, means having to accept a change in a well-established sense of self-concept as well as deal with the potential fallout of being ill. A long-term battle between who one is and who one used to be can ensue.

Blossoms…Warmth

So, what can you do?

Choose to experience life differently.

For a long time, I was unhappy with my very nomadic life of living for only few years in any one place. However, now, I believe that my nomadism has been beneficial to my understanding my life with fibromyalgia. With each new place I have lived, I have had a chance to experience the world in a new way. Eventually, I came to the thought: why not remain open to experiencing myself differently, not just the world?

The challenge was no longer to hold on to an old concept of self, an old identity–it was to see and embrace a new aspect of self. Who am I now? How have I changed? What have I learned? Where do I want to go now on my journey?

Choose to ask yourself questions that open yourself to a newer you.

I realized that there was nothing to fear in being different from who I was. In the uncertainty of my condition, I found certainty. Having fibromyalgia has taught me (repeatedly) to be mindful of my physical and mental limits. It has confirmed for me certain goals and allowed me to discard others. I have become a kinder person to myself. Also, I am very curious about how my illness will continue influencing my perception of the world around me.

Remember: be who you are, embrace who you will become. In the interim, work on creating a life full of meaning for you. Let it be a life not defined by, but informed by your challenges.

Look forward to your rebirth.

Until Next Time,

Diedre

Today On My Kindle:

The Silence of Passing Time

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Veins stark against skin.

Winter’s shadows, vision dims.

My voice, ticking clock.

The other day a younger friend said, “D, I wonder why your life has been filled with so many challenges.” We’ve known each other for almost four years. It’s a fair statement. It’s true, my life, over the past five years and longer, has seen its share of ups and downs.

Still, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Who I am now is a far better person than who I have ever been. And the person I am crafting myself to be will better than who I am now. This is the process of choosing personal growth above all else.

Challenges can be presented or self-generated. However they present themselves in my life, my goal is to face them and learn from them. Since 2015, I have been confronting the special challenges of my mother’s aging process. It is a delicate and difficult situation for her as well as her children. It is a part of the human experience. As we become elderly, the likelihood of our needing support from those around us increases. Typically, we look to our children, who are likely middle-aged (around ages 40 to 60). I am 42. My sisters are 48, have children and are experiencing being in the sandwich generation, having to provide care to their children and parents. With the pandemic, the situation has only become more stressful for them.

Self-portrait, 2020

Back to my younger friend, who, in her twenties, has yet to but will likely experience the challenges that come with parents aging. Our conversation took place just three days ago. Since then, I’ve spent time pondering about the other challenges I have faced since we met: issues related to fibromyalgia, dealing with seasonal affective disorder, working through likely C-PTSD, rebuilding financial stability after being mostly unemployed for 6 years, and choosing to be in a romantic relationships that included narcissistic abuse.

Those last two points were completely self-generated. So, I’d like to address them.

Yes, I am dealing with the fallout from a 10-year-old decision to leave my position as a full-time employee, move to Italy, and become a full-time student. There are many reasons why I made the decisions, some relating to health, some relating to relationships, and some relating to fear. I do not regret it.

Looking back, would I have made the same decision? Yes. However, I would have gone about the process differently. Thus, I gladly accept the responsibility of rebuilding my professional life and financial wellbeing, and I am enjoying the process of doing so…even if the path is not always easy or clear.

For all the knowledge I have related to psychology, it is true that I have not always chosen relationships that promoted mental and emotional wellbeing. I admit that I have not had clear and healthy personal boundaries. It is easy to find an answer as to why by looking at my childhood. However, my goal is to look forward. I know my past fairly well. I’ve spent decades unraveling it. So, the work now is setting boundaries within self and with others. The challenge for me is learning that I don’t have to deal with abusive behavior just because I am used to it. I can walk away from it. It’s taken me a while to get to this point, but the most important part is: I am here now.

I’ve been hibernating for several years, silently listening to the passing time. I’ve been busy rebuilding my inner strength and outer resources. I am not where I aiming to be. I am, however, much farther along the path than when my younger friend met me.

So, to my younger friend, thank you for your question and concern. Your question positively provoked me to this craft this response.

My life of so many challenges is one that leads me to continue my self-exploration and healing. It would be and will be great when there are fewer. For now, I gladly face each that life presents.

Until Tomorrow,

D

Self-Care| Letting Go of Promises & Finding Peace of Mind

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Untitled. D. Blake, 2017

It’s a grey day, I’m at Starbucks, eating a strawberry cheesecake scone and drinking iced tea, and I feel a little tired. I started my morning by taking a long walk, looking at flowers, and listening to The Tao of Fully Feeling by Pete Walker. Yesterday, I finished Walker’s Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving. On a daily basis, I consume books, articles and videos on childhood and adult trauma, self-care, fibromyalgia, personality disorders, and how to keep it together when you’re broken and involved. It’s a healthy diet of I’m ready to change.

This year marks a decade since I received my diagnosis of fibromyalgia. However, it’s been a life marked by a host of diagnoses: depression, SAD, OCD, PCOS, IBS, Raynaud’s syndrome, overweight, underweight, high blood pressure, etc.; and I was a walking pharmacy–there always seemed to be some new and improved medication to fix whatever was broken inside me.

All the while, I was doing the arduous work of unpacking my childhood, being therapized and therapizing myself, while codependently trying to fix everyone else’s problems, whether they wanted me to or not. I was without clear boundaries in my personal life, struggling with a compulsion to solve sadness, my own and others.

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Places to go. D. Blake, 2017.

Letting Go of Promises

You see, I made two promises a long time ago–not to myself, but to my family. I can’t recall my exact age, but I remember the moment with clarity. An incredible argument took place between one of my older siblings and my parents. Without going into the details, that moment represented the totality of my family’s dynamics: unbounded dysfunction.

Nothing was ever a discussion, always a war zone…and the children were used as  landmines against each other and seen as acceptable collateral damage. I made a promise aloud to my mother on that day. I told her that I would 1) become a therapist and 2) fix my family.

I had forgotten about those promises for two decades. Unearthing them again in a therapy session, back in December 2014, shook my world. I had to face the fact that I had been unconsciously living a life based on these promises…

In 2006, I became an art therapist and mental health counselor. I spent years, prior to and thereafter, confronting my parents on their unacceptable behaviors towards my siblings and me. I tried to create dialogue. I tried to be a bridge. I tried…until I realized, in 2016, that I couldn’t do that anymore.

I can’t keep these promises that my younger self made. I can’t undo what was done to my siblings and me. I can’t fix my parents, nor do I wish to anymore.

Still, I was raised to cater to others. I was raised to take the blame for others. I was raised to disregard myself and defer to others. It’s no simple task living within and for myself.

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Self-portrait, D. Blake, 2017

Peace of Mind

So, I’ve been reading, watching, confronting and comforting myself. I take daily walks, I remind myself that change is a moment by moment act of meeting yourself wherever you are. I can’t walk back my childhood nor the harrowing moments of my adulthood. However, I can walk toward the type of future I would like to have and the future self I would like to be.

In the past, fixating on the emotions of others and even myself, and trying to control the outcome of everything was what brought me a sense of fragile peace–as long as I knew what someone was going to do or what was going to happen next, then everything was okay.

Now, it’s the simple things that give me peace of mind: flowers, stones, water, changes in the weather, the sound of laughter, singing, and dancing–flowing with what is rather than what I would like to be.

Change seems to happen with the smallest and simplest of actions…at least, this is what trying to live within myself has been showing me lately.  If you’re on a similar journey, then I hope it’s the same for you.

Until Next Time,
D

Reflection | From up high…

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View from Keisoku Mountain, Japan, March 2018

Many things seem so small, especially problems.

Every couple of months, I find myself standing on top of a mountain somewhere in Japan. Each step upwards feels like torture…and an accomplishment.  I look toward my fellow climbers in awe, at their speed and the seeming ease with which they climb. Of course, I don’t know what their experiences are–they could be suffering as much as I am. The climbing could be a testimony for each one of us that we are alive and still trying.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the past decade of my life. At this moment in 2008, I was planning a wedding and preparing for a future that certainly isn’t the one I’m living now. By this time in 2009, I was dreaming of living in the house that I would eventually call home before the year’s end. In 2010, I had lost 80 pounds, was trying to save my dying marriage, and by Thanksgiving, was mourning the death of my beloved pet.

The end of March 2011 found me preparing for my third visit to Rome, trying to figure out how to live life as a single and mostly jobless person. I was still dreaming–this time, of living in Rome. By 2012, I was a full-time undergraduate, living, studying and working in Rome. The following 4 years were marked by a series of avoidable and unavoidable events, all of which left me pretty broken but with a good deal of insight.

By the end of March 2016, I had been living in the U.S. full-time for 6 months. I had gained back half the weight that I’d lost, was in the throes of a serious depression, and living in a highly psychologically toxic environment. Something had to give–I had fallen to my lowest point.

When you’re at the bottom, seeing or even imagining the top can be difficult.

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Keisoku Mountain, Japan, March 2018

 

 

I couldn’t see up or even imagine what life could be like beyond what I was experiencing at that time. However, I knew that there had to be some other kind of life for me.

Where I was, how I was, who I was, and what I was doing…was not my final destination.

I didn’t know if I could ever be happy. I didn’t know where I could go or even what I would be capable of doing. I just knew that I no longer wanted to be a participant in prolonging my circumstances.

I had to take a step forward and upward, even the smallest one. And so I did.

On Friday, March 17, 2017, I began a new journey. I boarded a flight to Japan, a country I’d never been to before. I didn’t speak the language and knew very little about the culture. Still, I knew that I had to take the chance, to give myself the opportunity to change, to begin climbing out of the deepest hole that I’d ever stumbled into.

When you’re climbing a mountain, you have to use both your hands and feet. 

Now, it’s Friday, March 30, 2018, and I’m sitting in a Starbucks somewhere north of Tokyo. My partner is working on her laptop, and I’m listening to The War on Drug’s “Pain.”  I haven’t reached the top of my mountain. Still, I am no longer at the very bottom. It’s a start, and that’s always the hardest part when you’re climbing–at least, for me. There are times when it feels like I can’t catch my breath, like my feet won’t take another step, like my hands won’t support me as I reach upwards. Still, I try.

That’s what I’ve learned over the past decade. All you can do is try and never give up. Every problem is a mountain. Tackling each one means getting to the top. Getting there, however, means looking ahead, taking each step carefully, being prepared to use whatever means necessary to secure yourself…and definitely having those who care about you by your side.

Until Next Time,

D.

 

On silence, healing fibromyalgia, dealing with narcissism, and learning a whole heck of a lot about myself

First, thank you to my followers, both new and old, for continuing to bless me with your support.  I have not been around much, nor have I posted much of anything personal. Still, you continue to stick with me. Thank you!

 

“If you have nothing [nice] to say…”

Over the past year and a half, my life has changed dramatically. Some of those changes were good, others were not so good. Still, I try my best to take changes as they come, learn from them what I can and keep taking steps towards achieving my goals. In my opinion, that’s the most effective approach to living my life.

Part of the process of accepting change is observing change. And I truly believe that observation is a silent process. It’s hard to observe and act at the same time–at least it is to me.

So, I’ve been in observation mode, mostly observing myself and my reactions and actions in dealing with myself in my environment, as well as just the environment itself. I’ve spent a lot of time in my head and subsequently in my body, i.e. I’ve been sorting through my mental blocks (negative self-talk/thinking) and how they impact my health and prevent me from quickly reaching my most important goals.

On the subject of health: I’m glad to state that my health has been truly awesome, and that my fibromyalgia symptoms have diminished significantly. I’ve had fewer flares, fibrofog moments and have been getting enough normal/restful sleep (between 7-9 hours). Also, I’ve been walking for about 1 hour almost daily and have recently started the BeachBody On-Demand 30-Day Free Trial that has a great deal of exercise programs for people of all levels.  If you have fibromyalgia and are interested in starting or improving an exercise program, I would say check it out because it allows for you to select programs by type: cardio, muscle building, less than 30 minutes, slim and tone, dance, low impact, and yoga. Personally, I am sticking with less than 30 minutes, low impact, dance and yoga.

I think my greatest challenge is that I consume news and, as a person of colour, it stresses me out…then again, who isn’t stressed when watching the news. Still, it’s important to stay informed, and I try to do so without being inundated.

So, what have I learned during my silence? A whole heck of a lot. Here is a list:

So, that’s it. It’s good to be writing again.

Until Next Time,

D.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIBROMYALGIA & BEING A SOCIAL PARIAH: REINVENTING YOURSELF AFTER LOSING EVERYTHING (PART 2)

typing on the computerWhat if you never had fibromyalgia? How would you have lived your life up until this moment? What dreams would you have already fulfilled? Better still, who would you have created yourself to be?

Here’s the deal, regardless of whatever your chronic illness is, there are likely many questions like the ones above that you have asked or are actively asking yourself right this very minute.  It’s human nature to wonder about the possibilities, especially when it comes to your own life (and if you aren’t wondering, please, ask yourself why).  Maintaining our curiosity, that element of wonder, about ourselves and our the world around is key to making any significant change in the way we live.  When we shut ourselves down and shut out the world, we are essentially denying ourselves access to the power that subjective and objective knowledge can bring to furthering our self-understanding.  And increasing self-understanding means increasing our ability to achieve self-mastery.

When we think of self-mastery, we may think of complete control of the self, i.e. control of thought which leads to control of actions, which means better ability to respond (not react) effectively to the world around us.  Simply put, self-mastery, self-understanding, and self-awareness go hand in hand, best summarized by this quote:

Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

14533091400317-e1453308786450If you have fibromyalgia, then you know that one of the first thing you lose is control.  You lose control over your body and your mind.

The physical activities that you used to do with ease now prove difficult. The memory that you once prided yourself on now has sticky notes all over it marked fibro fog.  That’s just the way it is. There’s no shame in it. Having fibromyalgia means 1) losing control over the physical vehicle that transports who you are (body), and 2) losing control over the mental vehicle that relays your who you are to the world around you and to yourself (mind).  Of course, the severity of the loss depends of the severity of your fibromyalgia…and your engagement in self-care.

You’re Not Broken, Just Different

Anyone who knows me well knows that I do not believe in regret. Truly, I don’t. I believe in lessons learned.  I think regretting your life, in any shape or form, does not help you to move forward from wherever you are, especially when you have a chronic illness. The fact is the past is in the past. Yesterday is already the past. And today will be the past quite soon. So, here are the only questions that you need to ask yourself today:

What step(s) will I take to move my life forward today?

What step(s) have I taken to move my life forward today?

They are really simple questions with big implications. They imply choice.

You did not have a choice in having fibromyalgia. You do have a choice in whether or not you will allow it to control your life. Although you may feel broken, unwanted, used up, without purpose, or simply helpless, you are not.

You are not broken. You are different. 

The person you knew yourself to be is in the past, along with yesterday and all the days before that.  The high points and the low points of that person is gone. Keep her or him in your memory with fondness, but do not dwell.  Like how you may think fondly upon your teenage self or child self, think so upon who you were. But get excited about who you are and who you are crafting yourself to be.

Remember how when you were a teenager or a child, you couldn’t wait to see what type of adult you would be? Perhaps you became that adult, perhaps not. Either way, it’s time now to tap into the curiosity, to apply today that wonder that you had about the unknown you. It’s time to tell yourself that there is nothing to fear in being someone you don’t know or cannot yet imagine.

This is the first step in reinventing yourself: getting to know the new you. 

How do you do this? Ask yourself the first question I proposed above (What step(s) will I take to move my life forward today?), then take the quote above as inspiration: watch your thoughts. Listen for an answer. What does your new self want to do? Be curious about that self. Work to understand that self.  Be kind to that self.

Look out for Part 3: The Naysayers & Other Emotional Vampires

Read Part 1:  Reinventing Yourself After Losing Everything

Fibromyalgia & Being a Social Pariah: Reinventing Yourself After Losing Everything (Part 1)

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Image linked from WordPress.com gallery.

There is nothing more sobering than experiencing significant loss, especially when that loss hits very close to home.  At those times, knowing what to do can be challenging, and finding support may prove difficult.  These are the moments that can have the greatest impact on how you define yourself and your relationships with those around you and the world as a whole.  More importantly, significant loss forces you to realize that you may be, after all, alone in this world.

There are some who will disagree with the following statement: when you experience significant loss, the likelihood of becoming a social pariah increases dramatically.  You don’t have to look very far to see the truth of it. Just look at the rise and fall of celebrities.

The fact is that when you have everything or are seemingly rising to the top of the social strata, you will find yourself surrounded by more people, for good or ill. Conversely, when you lose everything or are seemingly hitting rock bottom, there will be fewer people remaining by your side. It’s a harsh reality, but a truth that each person going through or who has been through significant loss has to face: you might just be very much on your own.

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I decided to write about this because of my observations and personal experiences since becoming ill with fibromyalgia.  As I have written many times, having fibromyalgia means experiencing significant loss, especially of self. However, you gain a great deal alongside that loss. You find out, for example, who your true supports are and what really matters to you in life.

Fibromyalgia forces a mental housecleaning (if you allow it) and life cleaning. It forces you to question the reality that you have chosen to live and then asks you to prove the worth of that reality, i.e. is your reality one that is worth enough for you to fight for it?

While you attempt to answer that question, those around you will have to answer this one: is this person worthwhile to keep in my life? Of course, the question may not be so direct in nature, but that is what it comes down to: your worth = potential benefit in their lives. If you worth is diminished, so is the benefit that they experience.

Whether or not anyone wants to agree, the fact is that, for some people, relationships are based on benefits. There are relatively few relationships that I have observed that function solely on selflessness.  Some people care as long as there is something to benefit from giving that care.  However they define benefit doesn’t matter.  The key thing is whether or not they are still capable of receiving that benefit if they maintain a relationship with you.

I have found that having fibromyalgia or any chronic illness can make you become completely self-focused because you are having to, maybe for the first time, expend a lot of mental energy on understanding how to improve your health and how to survive on a daily basis. During that period, your ability to care for your relationships, work, and other commitments declines.  However long you spend during that period of uncertainty has a direct impact on your relationships, work and other commitments.  Given the recurrent and potentially severe nature of fibromyalgia symptoms, you may will find yourself repeatedly going through this experience.

After some time, you may find yourself friendless, jobless and uncertain of what to do next. Perhaps you are already at that point.

Keep faith and do not despair.

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There is a flip side to losing everything, to hitting rock bottom, and to being utterly uncertain. Beyond choosing to remain where you are, there is the other option: gaining everything, reaching for the sky, and becoming driven. 

All it takes is deciding to see yourself in a new person.

Too often we get bogged down in the identity that we have created or accepted for ourselves.  To truly move forward after losing everything means accepting that you are no longer who you used to be.  It means shedding your old identity.

It doesn’t matter what age you are when fibromyalgia entered your life, you can still reinvent yourself. In fact, I think the older you are, the more important it is to choose to reinvent yourself. No matter how difficult it may seem.

Reinventing yourself is what I call a process-decision. It’s an ongoing experience of deciding and allowing for various internal and external processes to occur to manifest change.  It begins with simply stating to yourself that you are have already changed and are constantly changing.

Of course, there are many practical steps that you can take to begin that process now.

Look out for Part 2

Until then,

D.

Check out my latest Vlog post on dealing with depression and anxiety. 

 

 

 

May 12 is Fibromyalgia Awareness Day, But I’m 10 Years In.

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This Thursday, May 12th, will be a quiet day for me. It’s Fibromyalgia Awareness Day.  I’ll do what I usually do: strive to thrive, make it through another day, try to find ways to make a living, find balance, take better care of myself, wonder what the rest of the world is doing beyond my computer screen, etc.  Still, this year’s theme is “Your Voice Matters”, so I am writing today because I will likely not remember to do so on Thursday, whether by natural absent-mindedness or fibrofog.

However, there isn’t really much that I have to write about fibromyalgia today beyond the fact that it annoys me that WordPress’ word processor does not recognize the words fibromyalgia and fibrofog. Then again, it doesn’t even recognize the name WordPress, so perhaps I ought not to complain.

Well, I am ten years (by my symptoms) or eight years (by diagnosis) into this illness. Because of fibromyalgia, each day presents unique opportunities for me to learn more about myself, particularly my level of tolerance for the world around me and my position in it.  Even though I have had to make unexpected changes in my life and goals for my life, I am a far better human being because of it.

I cannot stress it enough: my illness has made me more human.

When you are usually on top, it is easy to spend your time looking down on others without ever realizing that you are doing it.  When you always have, you don’t understand the perspectives of those who do not.  When you only know yourself as competent, you cannot fathom the handicaps of others. When overachieving is all you ever do, you can never understand the satisfaction of mediocrity.

Fibromyalgia has taught me about my blind arrogance. It has shoved me off a very high platform and asked me to find my way back up.

I have accepted that challenge.

The challenge is neither to become blind once more nor to fight against fibromyalgia.  The challenge is to love, learn and live, embracing who you are, who others are, and especially who you decide to be.

On may 12th, if you have fibromyalgia or know someone who does, take a moment in your day to pause and appreciate what you have, who you are, and what you can do to make a difference in the lives around you.

Until Next Time,

D.

 

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.