Sunday, February 24, 2013

Fibromyalgia Survival Tools: Slow Cookers

Slow Cooker Cuban Flank Steak
My life has changed since I discovered the ease and the versatility of slow cookers. I absolutely love my slow cooker and seriously don’t know how I lived without it before! My dad actually introduced me to cooking with crock pots about 10 years ago. He made some rockin’ crock pot meatloaf and spaghetti. And his slow cooker chili was out of this world!

However, it was not until after my life-shattering fibro flare about 4 years ago that I came to appreciate how helpful and amazing slow cookers truly can be. As part of my fibro treatment, my doctor recommended that I try to eliminate as much processed foods as possible. They contain so many additives and preservatives that may irritate some fibro sufferers’ symptoms.

Of course, I wanted to try to follow my doctor’s every suggestion, but I feared that this would be difficult to accomplish. I was a single mother with 2 young children with a fibro flare so bad I was stuck in bed at times. I had family to help out during the worst of days, but what about the rest of the time? I hardly had the energy to do the most basic of tasks. How was I going to add meals from scratch to my daily list?

Determined to make this work, I turned to my dad’s delicious slow cooker recipes. Of course, I couldn’t live off of spaghetti, meatloaf, and chili for the rest of my days. But as I incorporated these crock pot meals into my family’s monthly dinner menu, I began to realize the benefits of regularly using a slow cooker:

Slow cookers utilize morning energy. People with fibro tend to have more energy in the morning and continue to lose that energy throughout the day. By dinner time, there often isn’t much energy left to spare for a home-cooked meal. However, with a crock pot, meals can be put together in the morning and cook on low often for as long as 8-12 hours. This leaves little to no additional cooking or preparation later in the day.

Slow cookers are perfect for freezing leftovers. Also larger crock pots are perfect for making extra portions, which can easily be saved and frozen. During a harder fibro day, these frozen leftovers can be thawed and reheated without much trouble for a quick but healthy meal for the whole family. Plus, they are ideal for the most difficult of fibro days when a spouse or friend is offering to help out around the house.

Slow cookers are simple to clean. One of my favorite benefits of slow cookers, though, is the easy cleanup. Hand and back pain/discomfort can make scrubbing dishes extra challenging. Sensitive, dry skin and fibro rash can complicate matters even further. Crock pots, on the other hand, are specifically designed to help limit burning and sticking. A run through the dishwasher usually cleans my slow cooker inserts to a shine. Sometimes, a few stuck spots remain, but it takes only a couple minutes and minimal elbow grease to clean that right up. Additionally, a lot of stores now carry crock pot liners—durable, heat-resistant, disposable bags that fit right into slow cookers—which reduce cleanup even more.

Now that I’ve grown to be more of a slow cooker pro, I use it nearly every day. I’ve made dishes from soups and chili to whole chickens and roasts to even deserts and applesauce. And I plan to continue to expand my crock pot cooking experience.  There are so many enticing and fun recipes to try.

Are you also in love with your slow cooker? Or is there another kitchen gadget that you couldn’t live without?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Don't Allow Fear of Failure Steal Your Life

There's light at the end of the darkness...
Why are we so afraid of failing? Why do we allow our fears to hold us back and limit our potential? When will we finally realize that only true failure happens when we never even try?

At times, I am fearless. I’m proud to be a unique individual, and I thrive in my distinctiveness. I take pleasure in being me, no matter how silly, goofy, or weird I may get at times. Life wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if I tried to be more ‘normal’!

Yet, for some odd reason, I’m a lot less bold when it comes to my talents and dreams. Fibromyalgia has made me even more so. The daily headaches and frequent fibro fog have left my mind in turmoil. Once upon a time, I was able to do complex math problems in my head. Now, I forget things left and right.

The pain and fatigue (not to mention the multitude of other symptoms affecting my body) have robbed me of a lot of my strength, stamina, and endurance. Years ago, I could hike over 14 miles and feel tired but exhilarated. These days, though, I have moments when I struggle to do the simplest tasks and just the idea of leaving home can be tiring.

When you are reduced to something smaller than you used to be it’s so easy to feel discouraged and to wonder if you are still useful. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t struggle with this, too. In fact, I fight it on a daily basis.

There’s always that annoying voice that loves to spout negative thoughts and fear. If you don’t learn to confront it regularly, that obnoxious, whiny little voice eventually won’t be so little anymore and will slowly take over the rest of your thoughts. I know because when my fibro flare first hit, I was bedridden for days at a time and was stuck listening to the Gloomy Gus lurking in my head.

Oh, he’s still in there, trying to needle his way into my every thought. Over time, though, I’ve learned to drown him out a lot.  And when he decides to throw a little temper tantrum to make his ideas known I’m not above looking myself in the eye in the mirror and telling him out loud what a liar he is. Yes, folks, I’m a strong advocate of talking to yourself.  It can be very good for your health.  Sometimes the negative thoughts and feelings get so loud that only a verbal confrontation will do!

If you are struggling with questions about your self-worth or wondering if you are a complete failure, please know that you are not alone. Those of us dealing with chronic illness have been here on quite a few occasions. It's important to remember that no matter how long we’ve been in this sad place or how many times we return here, we are NOT failures! God loves each and every one of us and has a special purpose in mind for our lives. We must have faith that our struggle is not in vain and that God is constantly working behind the scenes.

The truth is we may never know why God is allowing chronic illness into our lives or what good he will bring out of our pain. But we must put our fears of failure and worthlessness aside and live the best we can every day. We cannot live our lives hiding. That won’t get us anywhere. We will still be stuck in the hole that our chronic illness has dug for us, and it will eventually become our graves…if we allow it.

Please, NEVER allow it! Rather, join me today and press on bravely into the unknown. We may inch along slower than a snail’s pace, but at least we will always know that we stood up to our health problems and refused to surrender or bow down. We are the masters of our bodies—of our life’s journey-- and chronic illness never will win!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fibro's a Pain in the Neck!

Sometimes life sends us in circles...
Fibromyalgia is a pain in the neck…and the back…and the head…ok, the whole body for that matter. This figurative and literal pain can drive us insane at times! Living with a chronic illness--particularly one with chronic pain--requires a lot of patience and learning to be as positive and determined as possible. But sometimes we just have to let all the built-up negativity and frustration out.

During these moments, we long to scream, curse, rant, and rave until our invisible battle is uncovered for all to see. We only want some understanding, a sympathetic ear, and a reminder that we have not been forgotten. Chronic illnesses can be such a lonely, desolate journey as we watch the world pass us by.

I think that that is one of the things that bothers me the most. I fear that the world will continue to race on by while I creep along…until one day, all that I love and hold dear is gone forever. I know; sounds like a pretty irrational fear, doesn’t it? I’m still here. The world is still here. We all exist on the same plane. Time doesn’t pass faster or slower for one or another. Life still progresses at the same chronological rate as it has since the beginning of time.

But as human beings, we are more than time and space, aren’t we? Our bodies may still be in the here and now, but our minds, hearts, and souls can be anchored in the past. Part of me is still being held captive by the beginning of my major fibromyalgia flare (about 4 years ago). And every day, I feel as though I’m dragging this enormous weight, desperately struggling to catch up from the last few years of my life.

It’s an infuriating feeling! Do you know that feeling you get when you sleep through your alarm on a busy day and wake up an hour or so late? You are left scrambling from one appointment or task to the next, trying so hard to make up for that lost time. However, rarely can that time be recovered. It is usually lost forever and puts into play a chain of events that leaves you feeling out of sorts and rushed the whole day through.

That, my friends, is often how my life feels these days: so often tardy for the party. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful for every day that I am blessed with. I’m lucky enough to have been diagnosed with something that may alter my life and aggravate me to no end. Still, ultimately, I will win the war because it can never take a day away from my life if I don’t allow it!

On the other hand, though, it is so annoying to always feel late for one’s own life! I long for the day when my to-do list doesn’t include unfinished projects from years past. And I’d give almost anything to be able to afford a day off, a day to just relax, enjoy myself, and have fun without this nagging feeling that I should be somewhere else playing catch up.

Over the years, I’ve learned to lessen that accumulated load by allowing frivolous and unnecessary tasks to fall on the wayside. When life becomes a more difficult and tiring journey it’s essential to lighten the load from time to time. Perhaps, as I grow and evolve, I’ll find more things that no longer matter and my load will continue to grow lighter still. And even though I might stop every now and then to voice my complaints with the condition of the road on this journey, I will NEVER give up. I know one way or another, I will push through, and perhaps one day, I’ll even be early for a party or two!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Why Keep Fighting Fibromyalgia?

I must keep writing, no matter the obstacle!
Sometimes fibromyalgia makes us doubt ourselves and the things that we do. It is so easy to wonder what’s the point of fighting every day when it is so hard and doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere? Wouldn’t it be simpler to just give up and only do the bare minimum? Fibromyalgia saps so much energy in the first place, so why should we waste what little we have left?

Every now and then, this annoying train of thought gets stuck in my head, particularly whenever I have problems sleeping. This week I have struggled with these thoughts quite a bit. I’ve been achy, twitchy, and throbbing from head to toe for days, making good sleep impossible. I’ve been up until 1, 2, even 4 am this week, trying desperately to get my mind to ignore the endless, chaotic messages my body is currently sending to my brain.

But on top of this, inspiration has been bombarding me, as well, these last few nights. Countless ideas, poetic lines, and new projects have been popping into my mind…and being the creative person that I am, I can’t possibly ignore a single one! Yet, being the exhausted, cranky person that I become when I have too many restless nights in a row, I’ve started doubting and attacking my writing again:

I should be sleeping, so why am I allowing myself to get distracted? Where has my writing gotten me so far? It seems to cause more trouble than it’s worth these days since it’s keeping me up at night and sapping precious energy. I can’t work at it full time, so why even try?

Yeah, it would be pretty easy for me to call it quits, and the ideas would slowly fade away as I chose to ignore them time and time again. Still, where would that really leave me? Fibromyalgia has taken my college education, made it null and void (at least for now), and rubbed it in my face more times than I’d care to recall. I can’t physically handle a job outside my home. But at least with freelance writing, I still get a sense of purpose, usefulness, and satisfaction…despite my life-altering chronic illness.

Additionally, I can’t forget that writing is a big part of who I am. Cancelling my regular writing time is one of the worst things for my health and state of mind. If I don’t write and share my thoughts, ideas, and experiences, I emotionally get all clogged up and I feel completely off. I suffer from mental constipation, too. All in all, I’m a cranky, stressed, and off-balanced individual when I ignore my natural desire to write. I’ve been there and done that…and I don’t plan to go there ever again!

Lastly, who am I to stand in the way of what I am meant to be doing? If I have the desire and the ability to write, there has to be a purpose. God doesn’t give us gifts and talents without a reason. I haven’t a clue what he might have in mind for my writing abilities, but I’m going to do everything I can to follow my heart. It may be hard at times as I struggle with fibromyalgia’s multitude of annoying and sometimes debilitating symptoms, but I’m going to be true to myself and write every chance I can. There isn’t any other possible way for me to live my life and still be happy.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I Am More Than Fibro

Photo Credit: Kindreds Page (Cecilia Bailey) 
I am more than fibro…
     I am more than the pain…
          I am more than the lows…
               I am more than the strain!

I am a survivor…
     I am a loving heart…
          I am a strong striver…
               I am a work of art!

I will not bow to doubt…
     I will not take defeat…
          I will not fizzle out…
               I will not choose retreat!

God has a plan for me…
     My life has just begun…
          No matter what may be,
               I’ll fight ‘til life is done!

May this pain bring me joy…
     May this pain make me meek…
          May this pain not destroy
               But uplift all I meet!

I will live a full life…
     I will leave my own mark…
          I will conquer the strife…
                I will transform the dark!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Love and Chronic Illness: Can It Work?

As part of my constant quest for more information and possible treatment options, I follow a number of forums and pages that discuss fibromyalgia. On one of these pages, a topic came up recently: what is your opinion on having a significant other when dealing with a chronic illness? Is it harder or easier with a partner by your side? As I read through comments insisting that romantic relationships only complicate chronic illnesses, I initially bristled at the idea. How could anyone not see a supportive partner as a wonderful blessing?

However, as this question floated around in the back of my mind, I began wondering, is it really that black and white?

Since I have had fibromyalgia since my teens, I have dealt with chronic illness with and without a significant other. My life-changing fibro flare started about 4 years ago—when I was a single mother. And I started up an entirely new relationship, built the beginnings of a life with this new person, and became engaged…all in the midst of total chaos. And soon, I’ll be getting married, most likely with my fibromyalgia still in full swing.

Because life with a chronic illness is nowhere near normal, we like to assume that certain aspects of our lives aren’t affected and remain untouched. My relationship with my fiancé is no exception. In fact, part of me still wishes for that perfect love and whirlwind passion that sweeps me off my feet and sends me into my own happily-ever-after story.

But if I am completely honest with myself, even everlasting love is not immune to the effects of a chronic illness. First and foremost, although I am mellow and sweet-tempered by nature, fibromyalgia can bring out the ugly side of me. On my worst days, I am cranky and grumpy. When my body hurts so much I can’t find any relief, nothing is right. Every little sound, smell, or problem can send me reeling or agitate me. At times, I feel so frustrated and angry at my fibromyalgia that I can’t see the many blessings still in my life. I even doubt my self worth and usefulness at times. Believe me; my fiancé can’t help but want to avoid me when I get into one of these funks!

Oh, and we can’t forget the guilt. I feel so guilty that he is forced to bear the blunt of the financial burden for our family. And because I know that he works so hard every day for us, I feel even guiltier on days when I’m unable to provide him with a hot meal and a restful evening after he comes home. I feel exceptionally bad whenever I have a restless, painful night, which keeps him up long after he should be asleep. And don’t even get me started about the guilt I feel knowing that he may be stuck with my chronic illness for the rest of his life simply because he loves me.

On top of all this, we must face the anger and helplessness he feels whenever he sees me in pain and knows that he can’t make my fibromyalgia go away. I was a caregiver to my father for several years, so I’ve been in my fiancé’s position far too many times. Seeing your loved one sick or in pain is one the worst feelings in the world. Still, nothing compares to the realization that your loved one is suffering and you are powerless to change that, even though you love them so much that you’d do anything for them!

Ultimately, I now admit to myself that being in a relationship while dealing with a chronic illness is not as easy as I had automatically assumed. Of course, the benefits of a supportive partner are too numerous to count. Nevertheless, romance with chronic illness is NOT for the faint of heart! It takes sheer will and commitment to see the relationship through during the rough times. It also requires constant recommitment and renewed dedication. In any relationship, disagreements and problems are bound to arise. However, with the increased tension and stress of chronic illness, tempers are bound to flare more often and patience is much more likely to crack.

That is why regular communication is a must, and both partners need to work on fostering added patience and forgiveness. We are all human. We all make mistakes at times and get on each others’ nerves. Life is full of ups and downs and unexpected challenges. In spite of everything, though, if you and your partner are in the right place with the chronic illness, nothing is going to hold you back. A chronic illness doesn’t have to be the end of a romantic relationship or prevent you from making a serious commitment—if only you do your best to confront the obstacles from the beginning and have a solid faith in and devotion to each other.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Fibromyalgia: Life Changing, Not Life Stopping

One the most difficult aspects of having a chronic illness like fibromyalgia is the realization that I can’t do it all.  Almost 10 years ago, I was fresh out of high school.  I didn’t have everything figured out, but my optimism was high and my dreams even higher.  There was so much I wanted to do with my life, and I was confident that with time and hard work, just about anything was possible.

Like the butterfly our lives are full of mysterious change...
When life left me a single mother of two children under two, still in college, and struggling to make ends meet I didn’t bat an eye.  I rose to the challenge and pressed on as best as I could, sleeping sometimes only 3 or 4 hours a night.  It was hard.  I wanted to give up a thousand times.  And I many times questioned whether I was really meant to finish college.  But in the end, I made it through because I constantly reminded myself that sometimes sacrifices need to be made now to have the life we want for our families later.

Now, though, fibromyalgia has taught me all too well how fragile and limited a person actually can be.  At first, I raged and fought against the chains fibromyalgia had placed on my life.  I was furious and ashamed of what I was reduced to because of an invisible, cowardly condition.  I was angry with God.  How could he punish me like this?  Didn’t I already have my share of problems already?  If he is so good and loving, how could he put me through such suffering and pain?

And then I become enraged with myself.  What had I done to deserve this?  Why hadn’t I taken better care of my health?  Why couldn’t I struggle harder and beat this thing?  What was to become of my life now that I was nothing?

I went from being an honors student all my life to becoming a graduate school flunky.   Once I prided myself in being a hard worker, always giving 100%, but I was reduced to a pathetic being that could hardly get out of bed.  Except for my children, I felt like I no longer had any purpose in living.  And I lied awake many a night begging and pleading to God for help because I knew I couldn’t possibly support my kids broken and shattered like this!

Years later, I thank God that I’m no longer in that dark place.  No, I don’t have the life I had before back.  I’m still in pain every day and must deal with intense fatigue and a multitude of other symptoms on a regular basis.  What has changed is my attitude towards my fibromyalgia.

No matter how difficult my symptoms may get, I have vowed to NEVER give up!  We only have a single life to live, and it is a precious gift.  We can’t control what unfair hardships and struggles life hands out, but we CAN control how we handle those situations.  When life knocks me down I get right up and push back harder!  My fibromyalgia might set me back for a day, but I refuse to let it hold me back forever.

No longer do I reach for impossible dreams laying somewhere in the distance.  Instead, I hold on to the here and now—whether it be today, this hour, or even this very second—and try to make the most of it.  I still have some my life dreams, but I’ve had to become more realistic and a lot more creative.

If my fibromyalgia doesn’t improve anymore, I know a traditional job is out for me.  However, my little hiatus has allowed me to rediscover my first love: writing.  In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, I had forgotten how happy and relaxed writing makes me feel.  Part of me thrives only when I put my thoughts, feelings, and ideas down on paper.  If I don’t write regularly, I just feel off balance and out of whack.  Ultimately, I’m not myself when I’m not writing.  So, in a sense, in the midst of this health crisis, I have re-discovered my true self…and that part feels amazing!

Yes, I get discouraged and wish I had my healthy self back.  Yes, I have bad days when I’m stuck in bed and don’t get a single productive thing done all day.  But I’ve come to realize that I will never truly lose my life to fibromyalgia as long as I pick my priorities carefully, regroup, and come back fighting another day.