Maybe you've been in pain for a long time.
Maybe "they" are finally figuring out why, after years (possibly decades) of telling you that it's all in your head.
Or maybe this is a sudden onset issue, and you're trying to adjust to this new life.
I see you, sitting there, trying to wrap your head around this "new" you.
I see you, because I've been there.
I remember those days, almost a decade ago. How I was sure that I couldn't survive this new HUGE challenge in my life.
About once or twice a month, I get a message from someone who's just been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. It's just one of a number of health challenges that involve chronic fatigue, chronic pain, chronically feeling like sh!t.
You know, I'd actually planned an entirely different series for March, but as I reach out and grow on social media, I'm seeing more and more of this, and my heart is crying out that we need more positive voices regarding our pain.
So, before I dive any deeper, let me get this out of the way:
I am not a health professional - medical, mental or otherwise. This blog post and all of the content on www.sagewolfsong.com is NOT medical advice, treatment, cure, diagnosis or anything along those lines. I am simply a woman who's fought her medical history and come out stronger for it.
Whether you've been struggling against feeling sick for decades, or you're just at the beginning of your journey, I'd like to share a few things that I consistently tell the women I talk to (not that I exclude men; they just aren't as willing to talk about it).
- You are still YOU. Your pain hasn't redefined you (unless you let it). Chronic pain (daily migraines and anxiety attacks were just the start) stopped my life in its tracks. But it didn't redefine me. I chose to redefine myself in order to break out of the crippling depression that I was in. I didn't do that around the pain, though. I made allowances FOR the pain, but I don't let the pain make the decisions.
- You have choices, every day. Believe it or not, how you choose to see your life will have a much bigger impact on your day-to-day life than your pain and illness will. You can choose to look for, and find the good in your day, or you can choose to accept feeling like crap. And since you're a smart cookie, I bet you can figure out which is going to allow you to have more freedom.
- "Normal" is out of the picture for you, so let it go. All those "normal life" expectations that your family and friends are pushing you towards are no longer YOUR normal. The sooner you can let go of feeling like you "should" be doing XYZ, the sooner you're going to take back your power to define your NEW "normal". Your energy (and pain free moments) are limited, and you will need to find what works best for you. Honor your body's increased need for rest, but recognize that you also need to move. The exercise (dreaded word for some, I know) that you used to do may not be possible to the extent you used to do it. Don't be afraid to experiment to find a more gentle variation that won't send you spiraling into a pain flare up.
- Side note: There are two major "cycles" in fibromyalgia. The first, is the pain > lack of movement > increased meds > less movement (because you're too groggy or sleepy) > more pain cycle. The second is good food > gentle exercise > feel better > increased gentle exercise > feel better cycle. From experience, I can tell you that it takes a good routine (experiment and find what works for YOU) and dedication to keep the second cycle going. However, if you let that routine slip for too long, you will easily find yourself in the first. Dedication, perseverance and routine are everything here.
- Let go of the "perfect woman" myth. Nothing drives home the myth of the "superwoman/soccermom" like being in constant pain. Love your kids. Take care of you, so that you can take care of them. Teach them that a good life isn't defined by how many activities you can cram into a day/week. Teach them that being genuine, honest and loving creates just as wonderful a life as trying to do all the things that others push you to do. Be prepared to lose some of your "friends," because you "never do anything fun." After almost a decade of working with my own constant pain and fatigue, I've come to the conclusion that no one else will ever really understand, until and unless it happens to them. They might understand to some degree, but it's an impossible thing to fathom completely, until it's you that can't move because you feel like your skin is being peeled from your bones (which feel like they're being wrung out like a wet washrag). Because you still look like YOU on the outside, many won't understand this change you've experienced, because you "don't look sick." It's a hard truth, and if you are fortunate, you will have an entirely different experience. Sadly, though, most of the other "spoonies" (see below) I've spoken to, tell me that they've lost so many friends, and many of their close family relationships have suffered, because people just don't understand.
- Self-Care is everything. I know it sounds incredibly selfish. *shrugs* It IS incredibly selfish. So hear me out: If you don't take care of your needs (nourishing food, meditation/rest time, time alone in a warm bath, brushing your teeth and washing your face - whatever you NEED), you won't have the energy to take care of anyone else. That includes bosses, spouses, children, parents, partners, business... You get the idea. I schedule time for this, personally. I might be constantly tweaking what I do, but I'm always looking for what gives me the biggest return on my time investment.
- BONUS: Learn about the "Spoon Theory". Bookmark the site and don't be afraid to share it around, especially to those who can't wrap their heads around your life having been changed. It lays out, in simple language that anyone (including little kids) can understand.