Thursday, June 22, 2017

Striving To Keep My Spirit Safe From Depression

As a person living with fibromyalgia and chronic migraines, depression is a tenuous and ongoing issue. It's a constant challenge keeping my spirits up and not judging myself too harshly. I know I'm often my own worst enemy when it comes to feelings of inadequacy...feeling I'm not good enough because overwhelming fatigue has kept me from walking, or because I've missed yet another book club event because of a migraine, or because my house is covered in dog hair, but I don't have the strength to clean. And it's not only judging myself, but also the overwhelming feelings of despair when an epic migraine goes days and days and days with no release. 

Before the 1994 head-on car accident that would forever change my body, I was an active, outgoing, sincerely happy person, nearly always smiling and ready to tackle most days. And even then, although I was having constant headaches and in physical therapy several times a week for three years, my outlook remained optimistic. I was still young, still strong, happily married, and loved being a mom to my smart and beautiful teenage daughter. Looking back, I now see that I had a positive sense of self, despite my physical-self slipping ever so slightly every day.

But I ignored the body changes taking place, the flu-like symptoms I was having every couple of months that would knock me flat for days at a time. Instead, I chalked up physical issues mostly to my busy life of working full time at a university, taking advantage of low cost tuition by being a non-traditional student, being a mom and partner, and maintaining our home on 20 acres.

And now, over 20 years later, I struggle accepting limitations that have only increased with age. Is not accepting chronic pain my bane for almost always feeling on the brink of depression? Am I just stubborn, in turn causing body pain to flare and migraines to ramp up more often? One of my doctors recently told me not to fight migraine and fibromyalgia pain, but to embrace and let it flow thru me. So I'm trying to figure out how to reach acceptance, because when I'm blinded by head pain that is off the pain scale chart, it's kind of hard to let anything flow except tears. I think there must be 12 stages of chronic pain acceptance, and I'm teetering between feelings of depression and bargaining with myself, which I'm guessing is around stage three. So it appears I have a ways to go toward allowing pain to slide thru me.

Learning to accept and let chronic pain flood my body is like telling myself to give up a fight, while my instincts are screaming to get in that boxing ring and duke it out with the invisible opponent. The thing is, I really don't have a fighter mentality; I'm more loving and accepting of life and people. So why am I fighting this constant pain and how can I learn to let it flow thru me without giving into the hopelessness that too often comes with it? Or is giving into pain the solution? And if it is, how do I give into pain while still being my best self?  How do I give into pain without letting it destroy my spirit, keeping myself safe, above the precipice of depression? What does that even look like?

Not to lessen the unrelenting pain of fibromyalgia, but constant and intractable migraines are my most debilitating health issue. For me, migraine pain is different than fibromyalgia pain in that it brings with it the inability to communicate clearly. Some days I can't say words distinctly, my tongue tripping up and over itself. Other days, I can't think of the words I'm trying to convey, and yet other times again, I can only cry in pain and frustration, out of desperation and anger. 

Living with migraines and chronic pain has changed my personality -  my once chronically cheerful self is instead a practical and realistic person on good days, and on bad days, a person struggling to keep depression at bay, keep faith in herself, her body and believing. Believing that my migraines will lessen, or better yet, that an actual cure will be found. Meanwhile, on those good days, I will embrace and nurture my physical and emotional self in hopes this emotional self-care will flow over and thru me. So that when a next bad day hits again, I'll feel less pain, less despair, and unburdened by depression.

Monday, December 5, 2016

My Emotional and Physical Self

I struggle every day to be compassionate to myself. I know emotional and mental stress increase my physical pain, yet I struggle, sometimes chiding myself for all the things I can’t do. While I’m good about listening to my physical body, taking care not to overdo so that the pain stays semi-tolerable, I’m less than patient and considerate with my emotional self. It’s sometimes hard being compassionate when I find nearly anything I do ramps up my constant headache. Or by doing what should be an everyday activity, like grocery shopping or running errands, yet it lays me down to recuperate for days after. I can be in the middle of a store, getting shit done, and feeling proud that I’m contributing to my family in a real way, then bam! It’s like I’ve hit a brick wall – I feel overwhelmed by fatigue, my headache skyrockets, my legs ache all over, and my brain thoughts become jumbled. Not being able to live up to my own standards leaves me with strong feelings of inadequacy...of not feeling that I'm enough.

I've learned that pacing myself is a big MUST DO! My body typically can do one 'event' per day. So I can either clean bathrooms or go to Pilates, I can either vacuum the house or attend book club. But if I push myself and do two events on one day, I pay for it for several days following. Coming to terms with having to carefully choose my activities each day sounds ridiculous, even to me, yet if I don't I'll be laid up and soaking in a hot bathtub several times in one day to reduce the flare.

Because I realize how closely linked emotional well being is with physical self, I’m trying to be my own best friend…I’m trying to get to a place where I don’t feel like half a person because I’m no longer reliable, unable to keep far too many appointments. These too many years now I don’t recognize myself compared to the person I used to be – running my own event coordination business, being actively social, and volunteering my time philanthropically.

It's tough not being invited to social events any longer with girlfriends I used to hang with. I used to breakdown crying when I'd see photos of girlfriends gathered in celebration on Facebook and realize I wasn't invited again. Yet I kind of get it...they have probably grown tired of me having to cancel last minute so have given up inviting me altogether. Or the invitations are no longer extended because I haven't reciprocated. I'd love to host a gathering, but the fear of not being able to do the prep beforehand plus host for hours scares the daylights out of me. What if I become so stressed about hosting that it brings on a migraine and I have to cancel last minute? I feel my face burning with shame just thinking about it. The truth is with Fibromyalgia and constant headaches with migraines, I don't know from one hour to the next how I'm going to feel so it's hard committing to or planning anything.

Being in constant pain makes me feel like I'm always in crisis. Always having to hover over myself to make sure I don't over do it, or that I'm moving my body enough but not too much because that'll send me spinning out of control toward a flare up and/or migraine. And being in crisis makes me feel like I must focus first and foremost on my own well feels like a constant fight for survival.

I’m guessing a therapist would tell me to recognize and then accept my boundaries. To accept that my former life is no longer and this is the new me. I have no doubt anyone with chronic pain would argue that getting there is the hard part.

Is it as easy as, instead of focusing on what I can’t do, I focus on what I can? Feel even more grateful for what I have in my life? I have a loving, understanding, and supportive best friend who happens to be my husband of nearly 40 years. And an amazing, smart, adventurous daughter who is my other best friend. And then there's the awesome puppy therapy. I have two - one is a nearly 16 year old Jack Russell and the other a 6 month old sweet little bundle of energy, who helps keep me moving everyday. I'm incredibly grateful for my entire family, and a few close friends who check in from time to time.

Life is constantly moving and changing, and I'm trying to move and grow with it, taking necessary time to be gentle with my soul. Because I know that my wellbeing begins and ends with me caring for and being nice to me.

Friday, October 21, 2016

My Story

My thoughts for Fibro Brave are partly to get my swirling thoughts on 'paper' and out of my head. Although it would surely be great, whether or not Fibro Brave ends up with an audience doesn't entirely matter...I find writing a form of therapy, like playing with my puppy or taking hot, soothing baths. Yet it would be awesome to hear from readers and compare stories and experiences. So much of the time I feel alone with my doubts, concerns, my frustrations and my fears - so hearing other Fibro Brave stories would help lessen my sometimes feelings of despair. So I'm crossing my fingers and putting myself out into blog land to help myself, and to see if anyone else feels as I do when living in chronic pain.

My story is probably not that different from others who live with fibromyalgia.   I've read there are two categories of fibromyalgia; one where a physical and/or emotional trauma was the cause, and the other where fibro manifests without any known cause. My diagnosis falls in the trauma category when at the age of 37, I was in a head-on car accident in 1994, and although it sounds serious and my car was damaged enough to be towed away, I really only suffered a soft tissue injury of the neck. I say "only," and yet this accident changed the direction of my entire life.

After the auto accident, I attended physical therapy three times a week for three years to reduce the headaches, and to try and gain some level of strength in my neck. At the end of three years, my headaches were mostly under control...meaning I no longer had them daily and nearly always knew what my limitations were to keep them in check.

Meanwhile, during this time, I had what I've come to realize now as fibromyalgia symptoms. Every couple of months I would have no fever, yet experience severe flu-like symptoms and extreme fatigue, laying me out for a couple of days. At the time, I chalked it up to a busy life style; working full time, attending one or two classes a semester at the university where I worked, being a mom to my beautiful daughter, and sharing a life with my husband.

Fast forward to March 2008, when I began having constant, ongoing headaches again, this time with migraines, too...which became the beginning of my serious health battle. To add to the mix, I started into menopause and began having intense, deep-body hot flashes. This is where my body pain became so extreme that I finally realized I needed to get my butt to a doctor...and with it a diagnosis of fibromyalgia was discovered. I remember prior to the diagnosis, lying in bed at night trying desperately to sleep despite the bone-deep pain coursing through my body, wondering whether I had some sort of cancer, yet too afraid to verbalize my fears, even to my husband. A fibromyalgia diagnosis was almost a relief...

To spare you, I've abbreviated my story of diagnosis, but along the way I had plenty of tests performed and saw two docs for diagnosis; my primary care physician and a rheumatologist. And today, life continues being an ongoing challenge, dealing with constant and chronic headaches with migraines, and body pain that sometimes feels totally debilitating. And along the way, like you, I've experienced a mountain of lows and even a few highs.

In no particular order, my goal in future posts is to share some of my life challenges and celebrations . Here are some blog thoughts:

- My settling into life with a fibromyalgia diagnosis.
- My self care; what has worked and what hasn't.
- My self confidence.
- My friendships and social life.
- My life challenges.
- My goals and triumphs.

What do you want to hear? Want to share? I'm interested in YOUR stories, YOUR challenges, and YOUR triumphs. My blog door is open and I'll always share openly and honestly.

Much love and many thanks for reading. ❤️