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

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.

3 Tips to Getting Unstuck from that Rut

 

Image from MadameNoire.com. Click to read their article, "The 'Itis: Foods that are making you sleepy at work"

Image from MadameNoire.com. Click to read their article, “The ‘Itis: Foods that are making you sleepy at work”

All right. I’ll admit it. Somehow I managed to get myself in a rut. It’s not a pretty situation. Seriously, especially as someone with a background in psychology. I should be able therapize myself out of this…right?  Of course, but it’s not easy.

1inexplicable

First thing first: Identify the sticking point. 

What I mean is, examine the period before recognizing that you are stuck. Try to identify any factors that may have contributed to this experience.  In my case, it’s been this trip back to Rome which has caused a massive disruption to my physical functioning.

Image found on Google Images

Second thing second: Write your desired state of being.

Take a moment to write how you would like to feel in this moment.  More than likely, you’re not enjoying being in this rut. You want to get out, right?? So, write down how you prefer to feel and what you prefer to do.  Explore all possible helpful factors, looking at what has been helpful in the past and things that you have wanted to try. Perhaps you found that going out for a daily walk always helped you to feel more focused and in touch with your life. Perhaps you’ve wanted to try rock climbing, take a cooking class, go on a meditation retreat, etc. Identify what can shift you out of where you are now.

India-yoga-world

Third thing third: Just do it.

Yes, it’s Nike’s slogan, but I think it’s the ultimate weapon in getting out of a rut.  You just have to do it. Identifying where things started to go south, and then exploring ways to shift your emotional states are wonderful in helping you understand that there is a way out.  Still, nothing beats just getting up, getting out and just doing what you have to do.  To materialize what you say you desire, how you say you want to live, and who you say you want to be, you must take positive action.

Found via Google image search.

Found via Google image search.

Positive action is anything that helps rather than hinders, anything that enhances you but does not impinge upon the well-being of others, and anything that moves you closer to your goals.

For me, this is my first positive action: writing this post today.  By writing this post today, I am taking action to make positive change. It’s a small step but an important one because I am keeping a promise to myself and to you, my readers. (By the way, thank you so much for taking the time to read my writing. It means a great to me). 🙂

My second will be to clean my room. It’s my personal belief that your physical state (both self and environment) reflects your internal state. So, if your space is cluttered or disorganized, etc., then so is your mind. So, on that note, it’s time to take stock of my physical state. 😉 It’s amazing what cleaning and clearing your physical state can do to free your mind. Really…try it. 

Now, the above steps are aimed at those who are in the emotional/psychological place to take them.  There are many times that ruts are really depression or beginning of depression. It’s important that you take what you are feeling/experiencing very seriously.  I suggest visiting a counselor/therapist/psychologist to understand whether you are just having a challenging moment or if you have entered into a more severe situation.

Until Next Time,

D.

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| Life in Chaos? 3 Steps to Creating Routine in Your Life

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Know this Feeling? (Image from GIS)

At this point, if you’ve followed my blog, you’ll know that my life is far from what one might call normal.  Still, it is my reality.  A part of that reality is having to deal with the inconsistency of my chronic illness, i.e., fibromyalgia.  There are some days that I feel great, like I could go run a marathon or two, and there are some days when even the thought of opening an eyelid seems like too much of an effort.

With such fluctuations in one’s daily experience, it can feel hard to create a sense of order to your life.  After all, what’s the point of making plans for the next day you’re never sure how you are actually going to be?

Over the years, I’ve engaged in an internal psychological warfare, trying to force myself to feel better when I don’t, blaming myself for real and imagined shortcomings, and even giving up on myself when I fell short of my expectations.

The path to living peaceably with fibromyalgia is far from smooth. However, over the past year, I’ve been working on letting go of my self-frustrations, allowing myself to feel whatever I feel, and strategizing how to take small steps that move me healthily along my path.

Image from GIS

Learn to Enjoy Life. (Image from GIS)

So, here are 3 steps that I’ve found useful to keeping internal order even when everything else feels like it’s in utter chaos:

  • Do 1 Thing the Same Way Every Day: Choose one helpful thing that you will do every day no matter what. Don’t cut corners.  Why? Because it helps to create a 1)sense of routine, 2) shows you that you can do what say you will, and 3) moves you a further step along your path.  So, what are some possibilities?  Depending on where you are in your journey, it could be as simple as taking care of your personal hygiene or working on a personal project (for me, that would be writing).  It’s up to you.  As long as whatever you choose moves you closer to your life goals, then it is A-OK.

 

  • Make Lists: If there is one thing that bothers me most about having fibromyalgia, it is dealing with brain fog and memory issues.  In the past, when I felt like my mind could not focus or I could not remember something important, I would really come down hard on myself. I took a massive blow to self-esteem because I did know how to accept and strategize around my illness.  Now, I make lists, especially if I know there is something important coming up. I would suggest having a bulletin board in a place where you cannot avoid seeing it, and posting your lists there.  If you’re not into the bulletin board idea, then I would suggest posting it on your refrigerator…after all, you have to eat at some point.

 

  • Write Down What You’ve Done Each Day:  At the end of the day, even if you didn’t move from your bed, write it down.  Write down who you spoke to, if you took your medications, if you made it out of bed, what daily goal you accomplished, and any and everything else. Write it down.  I do not mean that you should journal–although journaling is not a bad idea. I mean that you should take notes on what you do or don’t do each day.  It will help you to understand your personal patterns.  If you do this long enough, you can see how your symptoms might be impacting how much of what you can do in a day.  It doesn’t hurt, so try it.

 

I cannot promise you that following these steps will change everything in your life.  I do believe, however, that they are the beginning steps that will take you closer to where you would like to be.  Remember the key thing is consistency.

It doesn’t matter what you decide to do–how big or small it is–just be consistent.  Learn to appreciate the small steps you can take, so that when you are able to take larger steps, you understand the magnitude of your accomplishment!

Happy Fibro Friday! 😉

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

hyperrealism,art,swim,swimming,relax,

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.

Fibromyalgia & the Perfectionist: 3 Steps to Being a Perfectly Imperfect-Perfect You

Image from GIS

Image from GIS

The title is a tongue twister.  I dare you to say it fast 7 times. 

What happens when a perfectionist develops fibromyalgia? Well, I’ve spent the past 8 years learning the answer.

I don’t often speak or write about being a perfectionist. In fact, embracing imperfection, especially when it comes to body image and fibromyalgia, is often at the core of my blog posts, including this one.  The topic, however, has been on my mind over the past month as I transition from being a student to being gainfully employed. 😉

So, what have I learned over the past 8 years? Well, I won’t summarize it in this post.  One day , however, I’ll probably write a book about it…the subject feels that heavy.  For today, I wanted to share with you 3 steps that I’ve taken to being perfect at being imperfectly perfect.

3 Steps to Being a Perfectly Imperfect-Perfect You

  1. Chuck the Planner–Literally. Toss that thing in the trashcan…but do it perfectly.  Instead, invest in notepads and write anything you need to do for the next day/moment/whatever and stick the note somewhere you are likely to see it and, thus, remember, e.g. on your computer, mirror, refrigerator, front door, whatever. Just make sure you find the perfect spot for them.
  2. Downsize Your Goals–Thinking about hiking Mt. Everest tomorrow? Well, how about downsizing that to hiking your local trail today? What I mean is, focus your thoughts on doing what you can right now, in this very minute.  I know that my perfectionism has been both a great help and a massive hindrance to achieving goals.  Of course, I still have goals.  However, I have modified them by breaking them down (mentally) into smaller achievable steps.  Also…I now focus on enjoying the process instead of the product.
  3. Ignore Everyone–Meaning, ignore their opinions.  If there is one thing I know about being a perfectionist is that the opinion of others really mattered to me. I would choose to do something or not based upon how others would respond. Of course, this can be a good thing…but it can also be very detrimental, especially if you are creative–what is it that you haven’t painted, written, played, done etc. because you fear the response of others?   Well, right now, this very second, is the time to say enough is enough and pick up that paintbrush, pen, sheet music, etc. and do what you want to do.

Bonus Tip: Learn to listen to your thoughts, feel your feelings, heed your body, embrace your resilient spirit.  You won’t be perfect at first, and you will be judged (don’t worry…they’re not perfect either). However,  if you keep working on it, you will become a perfectly imperfect-perfect you.

Hey, this life is in this moment. How do you want to spend it?

Looking for more on letting go of perfectionism? Read this.

Until Tomorrow,

D.