by Caleen Martin
Fibromyalgia can feel like a death sentence – or it can be your body’s call to attention. What if there really was a way of surviving this chronic disease, accepting our health and taking control. Here are the best tips to accomplish just that.
Being handed a death sentence
Your doctor informs you that you have an invisible disease which causes debilitating pain throughout your body. You may lose your job, have to fight for benefits. You have to deal with doctors who think you’re lying about your condition and symptoms and become a guinea pig in order to find the most effective medications and therapies. You’ll deal with depression, insomnia, anxiety, extreme fatigue and pain. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, you have to deal with the loss of family and friends who can’t understand. Friends drift away, family stops calling. You feel empty and utterly alone. How can you be expected to deal with all of this?
That is how I’ve felt while dealing with my diagnosis. It’s been seven years of struggle. Doctors and specialists, tests and medications; being told that nothing is wrong with me and knowing that something definitely is wrong. You have doctors and therapists telling you that you need to accept the fact that you will experience pain for the rest of your life. What? Accept the pain. Why yes, I’m so excited to have to feel like I’m burning from the inside out. To feel spasms and shooting pain run through various parts of my body; I’m on board. Let’s just accept it and curl up in a hole right now. I’ve been told by one pain specialist that, “well at least Fibromyalgia isn’t life threatening”. Really? What could be a worse threat to my life? Pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, migraines, weight gain; not being able to work, play with my son, take care of my home.
But what if there were a way of reaching acceptance? Not necessarily as the doctors have tried unsuccessfully to explain it, but a way of accepting a new life. A way of surviving the diagnosis rather than being a victim of the condition. That could change everything. It starts with how we see ourselves, what we tell ourselves each day.
Attitude is everything
One of the most important things I’ve learned during this journey is that if I feel like a sick person, I’ll have horribly painful days. If I feel like a healthy, energetic person, I have better days. Dealing with a chronic illness can be devastating or it can teach us how to better care for ourselves. Sickness of any kind is our body’s inner alert system telling us that we need to pay attention and care for ourselves. This is the time to be selfish without guilt. This is the time to be vigilant; an active participant in our health. Keep researching, find support groups, interview as many doctors as it takes to find the one who will work with you on the best treatment plan. Look at alternative and non-traditional therapies like massage, acupuncture and osteopathic manipulative treatment.
Stress reduction is a must
Dealing with doctors and medications, trying to work (or coming to the conclusion that you can no longer work), trying to explain your condition to family and friends, fighting for benefits so you can take care of yourself physically and financially and just trying to get out of bed each day to continue the struggle can and often does overwhelm us into a deep depression and causes anxiety. There are things we can do to help reduce our stress levels:
Find a therapist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
A CBT therapist helps us find the best approaches to dealing with our current situations. It goes farther than just talk therapy. You may be given writing assignments or asked to do certain meditations or physical therapies as part of your treatment. Your therapist will give you the best techniques to living with your condition and strengthening your emotional ability to deal with the daily struggles and challenges of chronic pain.
Find what makes you happy
Get a collection of books or magazines that you really enjoy, gather together as many happy, funny, feel good movies you can and have them ready for the times when you need them. Start collecting pictures of things or places that make you feel good and put them into an album or vision board. Play your favorite music. Light candles; soak in the tub, breathe deeply. Start a gratitude list. There are so many things to be grateful for even when we are in a challenging time of our lives. Concentrate on those each day. And most importantly – stay away from what makes you angry or upset. If hearing the news upsets you, stop watching it. If your home is cluttered and a mess because you’ve been unable to clean, see if a friend or family member can help you or call a maid service to come in once a month. Get rid of the clutter and unnecessary in your life.
Re-evaluate your relationships
This is a toughie, but vital to your health. Do you have friends or family that no matter how hard you try to explain what is going on with you, they just cannot understand or be empathetic? Maybe you need to let go of those individuals or at the very least put boundaries and limitations on the relationship. If you’re having a good day, fine but if you’re having a bad day you need to keep them away from you. Let them know that today is a ‘me’ day and you’ll get back to them when you can (then, and this is the most important part, hang up the phone). If it’s a spouse or child, take them to your doctors appointments, have them sit in on a therapy session, reach out to your support groups for help in educating them. You need them on your side and they need to know that you are not just being lazy. This is real, this is painful and this is a struggle for you each and every day even if they can’t see it. The added stress of not having a spouse or child’s understanding can and will increase your pain levels. They need to know this and understand how they can help and be supportive. It is unfortunate but some marriages have not lasted once one partner becomes ill – do everything you can to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Meditate every day
Meditate, pray, get lost in a beautiful piece of music or art. Do whatever it takes to quiet you mind and find peace within yourself. Our minds are amazing things and they can change our very existence. We’ve all heard of the placebo effect. We’re given a pill and told that it will make ‘this’ happen. When it happens we go back to the doctor and tell them how great this pill is and they tell us, that’s great but we only gave you a sugar pill. The pill did nothing to help our bodies, our minds did. Being able to tap into that power that we all hold within ourselves is what will change our health around. Our minds can help us handle stress in a healthier way, reduce anxiety, help us sleep better, and lower our daily pain levels.