Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z...Zany in the Brainy: The Effects of Fibro Fog

Have you ever misplaced your keys and searched for them for 20 minutes, only to find they were in your hand all along? Have you ever received a bill with a late fee and you swear up and down up paid it on time, but then discover that you never actually did make that payment? Do you forget names, numbers, or addresses for people that you’ve known for most of you life? Or have you had cooking disasters simply because you lost track of which or how much of ingredients you’ve already added?

This is my life thanks to fibromyalgia. My memory issues, aka fibro fog, varies from day to day. Some days it’s just a minor inconvenience, and I’ve developed strategies to push me through. I use Google Calendar to schedule everything from meals to appointments to bills. I have it send me reminders to my cell, so I’m much less likely to forget one of my obligations. I use step-by-step to-do lists when I am rushed and have to complete a complicated task. I utilize alarms on my cell to remind me of exact times I have to be doing something. And I leave little Post-its around to keep myself on track. I create reminders for my reminders and notes for my notes. I try to make my schedule system so multifaceted and overlapping that I can get the information I need, regardless of how much I forget.

Occasionally, though, my fibro fog gets so bad that it goes beyond basic forgetfulness. Sometimes during a conversation, I’ll just stop because I can’t remember what I was saying. I forget meanings of words when I’m reading. In fact, I will stare at familiar words and not be able to even tell you what they are. I’ve had moments when I actually forgot my name. And once, I even got lost walking in my own neighborhood because I couldn’t remember how to get back home for a while.

Thankfully, these major memory lapses are temporary and the terrifying ones are an exception to the rule. But still, fibro fog is a very unnerving symptom, and sometimes it leave me feeling incredible vulnerable. I feel like I am losing my mind or losing touch with reality when my fibro fog gets too out of control.

I like to joke that fibromyalgia has left me zany in the brainy. That’s one of the way I cope. I’m a firm believer that to remain sane in this chaotic world, we need to find some humor in it all. On the other hand, though, I think I use humor as a way to hide how much fibro fog scares me. My biggest fear in life is losing my mind, and fibro fog gives me plenty of glimpses into my own darkest nightmare. To be quite frank, it scares the hell out of me! But I chose to laugh and I chose to find ways to work around my forgetfulness. That way I can feel like I‘m retaking some control of my mind!

Y...Yoga Can Bring Back a Little More You

I have a yoga companion!
One of the things that has helped my fibromyalgia the most over the years is regular gentle exercise, particularly yoga. Although I’m not as good at making time for daily exercise as I should be, yoga has taken much of the stiffness out of my muscles and brought some of my mobility back. It also has taught me breathing techniques that allow me to draw my focus away from my pain when my pain gets too much to handle. I can’t ignore my pain completely, but yoga allows me to put some of it in the background, taking the edge off of my pain and discomfort.

Before fibromyalgia hijacked my life, I always assumed that I wasn’t a yoga person. Once upon a time, I was an active person, so I sought out exercises that required a lot of movement and energy. I concluded that yoga would be far too slow and dull to keep me interested and that it wouldn’t do much to keep me fit. Now I realize just how wrong I actually was!

Yoga is a relaxing activity, but it requires a good bit of concentration and energy, as well. And when I do yoga I often sweat more than I’ve ever sweated before. Yoga can be far more difficult than it looks. In fact, I’ve had to modify some of the poses because I don’t have enough strength or endurance to maintain them for very long. Yoga is certainly not for the weak or faint of heart.

Yoga, though, can be a wonderful choice for fibromyalgia and other chronic illnesses. (1) There are so many different difficulty levels, and there are ways to modify the poses. This allows you to create a plan that best suits your endurance level and abilities.

(2) It also requires little equipment besides a yoga mat and a video or instructional guide. This makes yoga cheap and mobile. People with chronic illnesses have plenty of expenses to deal with already, so cheap is automatically good. And life with health problems can be complex, so a flexible exercise means you are more likely to stick to it. 

(3) And even small sessions of yoga can smooth away tension and help sore, stiff muscles. Many people with chronic illnesses must deal with fatigue. As such, long exercise sessions are usually out of the question. Pain makes longer exercise sessions difficult as well. Yoga allows you to work in your time restraints and limitations.

If yoga sounds like it might be a good exercise plan for you, I suggest that you find out more about it. Talk this option over with your doctor. Do a little research online. Borrow a book or video at the library and try it on for size. Yoga may be an important step towards a healthier tomorrow, so don’t be afraid to explore it, even if you think it isn’t really your style. You might find that, just like me, yoga is more than what meets the eye and can help ease your symptoms.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

X...X-Rays, CAT Scans, and Blood Work--Oh, My!

Since I had a weaker immune system as a child, I have had plenty of experience with being sick and needing medical care. On top of that, I was a very active child and wound up with quite a few injuries that brought me to the ER. Still, nothing truly prepared me for the magnitude of the tests and procedures that were necessary before I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia. It didn’t take long before I started feeling like I was a lab rat or an alien specimen!

I’ve had EKG’s, x-rays, CAT scans, MRI’s, and more blood work than I ever care to remember. I endured a horrible spinal tap that required multiple tries. And I have been poked, prodded, and violated in more ways than I ever thought was possible. Fibromyalgia can look like so many other conditions and there isn’t a test yet for fibro, so I know that these were all necessary to help me get to the truth. Still, I long for the days when needles and doctors didn’t give me the chills.

If you suspect you have fibromyalgia and are just starting your journey to diagnosis, I wish you the best of luck. I know that this all seems so endless and uncomfortable now, but one day, it will become just a memory. No, you may never look at medical instruments or personnel the same again, but most of the negative emotions and procedures will fade. Most people with fibromyalgia have endured this long diagnosis process, so you aren’t alone. Just try to stay focused on the need for answers and remember that eventually this part of fibromyalgia DOES get better.

Some day, you will look back on all this as a necessary evil that helped you start the journey to reclaiming your life. Knowing your enemy is a large part of the battle. Once you know exactly what you are facing, you have a much better chance to find ways to cope and to improve your symptoms. What you endure today will help you create a better tomorrow, so stay strong, my fibro warriors! This shall pass before you know it.

Friday, April 26, 2013

W...Why Me?

At times, I swear I have much more than my fair share of problems and bad luck. If I sat down and wrote my life’s story so far, I’m sure people would insist it was fiction or accuse me of lying. The truth is I have been through some of the worst things this world can conjure up, and now I am stuck in a daily battle with my body because of fibromyalgia. It’s hard for me to not struggle with the why-me’s at times. I’d be lying if I said that I always have faith that God has a plan and somehow will work this into something good. Yes, sometimes I wonder whether He has forgotten about me in all my troubles.

Since we are mere humans and thus can’t see the big picture, it is so easy to wonder why God is allowing us to endure so much pain and suffering. If He is such a loving God, why do we have to hurt so much? And what is the purpose of all this pain? Why us? Why does anyone have deal with fibromyalgia and other painful chronic illnesses at all? Where is the sense in all of this?

Oh, how I wish I knew! My faith in God’s good nature and my pain, which sometimes tries to steal my sanity, battle inside my heart and mind. I once had people tell me that I am suffering so much because I must have done a severe wrong against God. In their mind, God doesn’t allow pain unless He is punishing us for something. And they reasoned that if only I would confess and repent, my pain would miraculously go away. 

At first, I half wondered about this myself. I’m no saint. I’ve done plenty of things I’m not proud of, and there are even a few things that bring me shame. But really, could I be guilty of something so bad that God would choose to punish me with such continuous pain for over 4 years now? I don’t think so. I try my best every day to do what is right, and I really think that that is all that matters to God. Besides, I have a feeling He is far quicker to forgive me than I am ever able to forgive myself.

I have come to the conclusion that I don’t have the faintest idea why I must endure fibromyalgia, and I may never know. But I made the decision to trust in God and to live the life I’ve been given to the fullest. It isn’t the perfect life. In fact, it’s not even a normal life. But I’m thankful for the chance to still live and choose to cherish every moment that I can. Focusing on the why-me’s and what-ifs is really pointless. It only rob me of more happiness and more of my life. Fibro has limited me enough, so why should I box myself in even further with such negativity? Why should I add to the damage it has already caused?

V...Verbal Venting

Since chronic illness involves so much negativity and feelings of frustration, anger, and grief, it is very important that we find a constructive way to vent. If we go through life pretending that everything is fine or that each day isn’t a battle, we’re setting ourselves up for more problems or even a meltdown. Trying to contain all the negativity and emotional baggage is unhealthy. And eventually you’ll explode because one way or another, your body knows it needs to purge itself to survive.

Unfortunately, though, inappropriate venting endangers our relationships and may actually spawn more negativity. If all we’re talking about is how bad we feel, how much we resent our illness, and how difficult life has become, no one will eventually want to be around us. Focusing too much on how badly our chronic illness has affected our lives will only leave us bitter, angry, and alone one day.

Because of this, we must find a balance. We must discover healthy and beneficial ways to vent. First, we must remember that it is good to verbally discuss our problems with close friends and family members. We need to remember, though, we shouldn’t use this as our only means of venting. When we find that our chronic illness is the subject of even half of our conversations with loved ones it is very unhealthy and is endangering our relationships.

That is why I have come up with some other useful ways to vent about my fibromyalgia. One wonderful way of purging myself of my chronic illness baggage is my personal journal. I created an online journal simply for jotting down my most negative thoughts, feelings, and fears. When I feel overwhelmed, like my life is spinning out of control and I can’t take it anymore, I sit down and write it all out in my journal. Then, I close the entry down and never revisit it again. This allows me to discard the negativity and push forward with my life.

Another constructive way I decided to deal with my illness was to create this blog. One of my biggest desires is to make a difference and to be there to support others with chronic illnesses. So when I come here I may feel discouraged and hopeless at first. However, after starting a new blog post, I find I can’t stay negative for very long. My desire to uplift and support my fellow chronic illness warriors always wins. 

There are many ways that we can rid ourselves of the negativity buildup. Exercise, yoga, volunteer work, arts and crafts, and music can renew our sense of purpose and accomplishment. Basically, if we do the things that make us happy, there will be no room for all the negativity. A happy, content mind isn’t fertile ground for all the darker things in life. When negative thoughts and emotions try to invade there won’t be a dark corner for them to fester.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

U...Unbreakable, Unshakable, Unstoppable You

Sometimes we get so caught up in how our chronic illness hinders our lives or has harmed us that we can’t see beyond all the negativity. Yes, our health problems have robbed us of so much and make our lives incredibly challenging. But I want you to set that all aside right now and consider how it has inadvertently made you stronger. So many people are ashamed to admit that they suffer from a chronic illness. They are afraid that others will assume that they’re weak and pathetic. In reality, though, chronic illness is never for the weak. Because we must come back fighting every single day, we grow stronger and better in spite of it.

Since I’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I’ve noticed that my strength of will and determination have greatly increased. I decided early on that I wasn’t going to allow a chronic illness to ruin my life. I am far too young and I have too much potential to bow down to fibromyalgia. It would be so much easier to just stay in bed and not push through my symptoms. But what kind of life would that be? I don’t want to go to my grave knowing that I never really gave myself a chance to live.

Fibromyalgia has also made me a more caring and considerate person. With my health problems, I see every day just how difficult life can be and how much pain someone can be in while still looking normal. I can now truly understand other people’s pain and struggles. And now I have the desire, more than ever, to help people, especially those dealing with fibromyalgia and other invisible conditions.

The fact is life with a chronic illness is never going to be fun. We are forever going to wish that we could be well. However, we have a choice whether we will allow it to make us bitter and resentful or we will choose to let it make us a better person. I know it is difficult to focus on the positives in life when you’re constantly in pain. Believe me, I struggle with it as well. But I choose each day to make the most of the life I’ve been given. Sometimes that means taking a timeout, reassessing my reactions and attitudes, and then forcing myself to see beyond the negative. On my better days, this can take little effort. But on my worst days, it can be a constant battle.

Ultimately, it is up to you how much you allow your chronic illness to dictate your life. It may affect you in many ways, physically, mentally, and emotionally. But don’t allow it to steal your entire life. Reach for your dreams. Live hard. And enjoy the blessings of life.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

T...The Terrible Twitches

As I sit here writing this tonight, I’m wrestling with my sanity. No, I’m not worried that I’m literally losing my mind. But I am aggravated and frustrated beyond words. My left eyeball has been twitching all day long and I can’t seem to find anything that will help. The twitching is so intense that I keep checking myself in the mirror. With how much it is interfering with my vision, you’d think it would be visible externally. But like most of my twitches, it is just another hidden symptom of fibromyalgia.

Before I started taking magnesium, vitamin B, and vitamin D supplements, I was wracked with twitches throughout my body on a regular basis. For those of you who rarely or never suffer from twitches, you may not realize how difficult such a symptom is. Actually, I’ve had more sleepless nights due to nonstop twitching than I’ve had because of my pain. I learned early on how to take the edge off of my pain. So unless my pain is severe, I can still get some rest. But with twitching, my brain stays continuously engaged. I can literally see the movement of my twitching and throbbing inside my head. And of course, all this twitching and throbbing is not at the same time. As a result, my body can have quite a lot of commotion going on when I’m trying to sleep. At times, it feels as though I have an army of microscopic tap dancers having a ball on my body.

I have always been a light sleeper. My brain stays active if there’s too much light, noise, or even smells. And internal movement is just as bad. My doctor put me on muscle relaxers to try to lessen my twitching and muscle spasms. But even at the maximum dosage, my symptoms did not improve. I was beginning to think I’d be stuck with twitches and muscle spasms for the rest of my life. Imagine my surprise, the severity and frequency of these issues greatly improved after starting the supplements that my doctor recommended.

I highly doubt I’ll ever be twitch and cramped free. Still, it’s a relief to know that the symptoms are not nearly as bad as they used to be. It sure means a lot less sleepless nights and aggravation.  If you suffer from twitches and muscle spasms, I highly recommend that you speak with your doctor about if these supplements are right for you. Getting enough vitamins and minerals is an important part of getting and staying healthy.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

S... Stretch Before You Leap!

One of my favorite things is to go hiking and mountain biking with my fiancĂ© and children. I have been an outdoorsy person since I was a little girl. My parents had the darnedest time getting me to come inside after a sunny summer’s day. Even now I wish I could spend all day, every day outside. My fibromyalgia, though, has put a damper on my active life. And I’ve gotten so frustrated with my body at times because it can keep me from doing what I love.

Yet, anyone who knows me can attest that I don’t give up easily. In fact, you could say I’m pretty stubborn. I don’t take too kindly to being kept from the things I love. And I will go out of my way to find some way around the obstacle. Consequently, I’ll never give in to fibromyalgia.

I still hike and mountain bike. But I have had to learn to make some changes. First, with my fibromyalgia this active, I must pace myself. I can’t go nearly every day like I used to. Fourteen-mile hikes are out of the question now. Secondly, I must always prepare my body. It is vital that I warm up and stretch before I exercise. Otherwise, I’m setting myself up for pulled muscles and painful muscle cramps. I also need to pack a snack and plenty of water. I easily get sick now if I’m hungry or dehydrated. Lastly, I have to pay special attention to my attire. I need comfortable shoes and multiple layers even in warm weather. I can easily get chilled if it turns too shady or windy.

Has your chronic illness interfered with the activities that you love? If so, how have you tried to compensate? What changes have you made so you can still pursue your favorite activities?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

R...Regular Rest and Relaxation

Normally, I’m true to my word. I say what I mean, and I mean what I say. I am one of those people who always tries to practice what she preaches. However, when it comes to ensuring that I have enough rest and relaxation I have a hard time following my own advice. From all the research I have done on fibromyalgia over the years, I know how important sleep is, especially with those suffering from a chronic illness. In fact, I know that overworking myself and getting an average of 4 to 5 hours of sleep a night during my college years is part of why my fibromyalgia is so active. A person cannot go through life getting little sleep and working too hard without there being consequences.

Yet, lately my sleep schedule is chaotic and my amount of sleep is too low. April has turned out to be a hectic month. I underestimated the strain of doing the A to Z Blogging Challenge with three blogs. I didn’t foresee several family emergencies. I didn’t make a concrete schedule until this week, so I failed to visualize just how overbooked I was becoming this month. It didn’t take too long before I realized I’m in over my head this month.

I am not one to give up. I don’t back out of my promises and obligations. Thus, until this month is over, I will continue to skimp on my rest and relaxation. But beginning next month, I plan to be much wiser with my schedule. I’m going to write down every single appointment, assignment, obligation, and event from now on. That way I’ll be able to see when I start putting too much on my plate. Furthermore, I guarantee I will be getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night. I haven’t felt this tired and overwhelmed in a long time, it is never going to happen again!

If we don’t take care of our bodies, who is going to do it? We’re stuck with the same body our whole lives, so why do we treat ourselves with such disrespect and disregard? I promise myself today that my physical well being is and will stay a top priority. I will stop treating my body poorly, while expecting it to function normally. I will find ways to nourish, refresh, and support my body. I will do more of the things that make me happy, healthy, and relaxed. And I will do less of the things that leave me stressed, exhausted, and sick.

Will you do the same? Will you promise today to start taking care of your body? Will you join me now and begin really considering what is best for your health?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Q...If It Quacks Like a Duck, It's a Quack!

Anyone with a chronic illness has hours and hours of medical appointments and tests under their belt. Sometimes we start feeling like a science experiment. I know in the thick of my fibromyalgia flare up, which forced my doctors to finally admit I truly have a medical problem, I was sick and tired of being a patient. However, I am still grateful that my doctors were patient and understanding through the whole process. Many of the medical personnel who helped me through this journey were truly caring and wanted to help me find answers. After years of doctors that simply ignored or even discounted my complaints, I am thankful that I finally found people who would listen.

I have run across quite a few nurses and doctors that never seemed to want to listen. Anytime I would voice a concern or offer a suggestion, they would look at me like I was a child or even maybe a little insane. They had the mentality that they were the ones with the degrees and experience, so their opinion was all that mattered. I’ve even met a few doctors that I swear only became doctors because they love to talk and feel important. After experiencing some painful mistakes by the hands of arrogant doctors, I’ve learned that doctors are not infallible and they do not know everything.

Consequently, I encourage you to play an active role in your medical treatment. It is your body. You know it better than anyone. And you must live with the consequences of any medical decisions. If your doctor suggests treatment options, try to do some background research before deciding which option is best for you. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor about any alternative treatments that you may come across in your research. Come to your appointments with any questions or concerns you might have. It might be helpful to write them down in the weeks before your appointment, so you come well prepared. Finally, don’t be afraid to challenge your doctor’s opinion. If he or she is set on a treatment option that you are not comfortable with, seek a second opinion. It is your right to have a doctor who will listen to your concerns and who will do his or her best to work around those concerns.

Friday, April 19, 2013

P...Perfectionist Purgatory: Park Your Nitpicking at the Door!

I am a horrible, horrible perfectionist. I love to nitpick and criticize even the smallest of flaws. But most people don’t even realize this because to others, I try my hardest to be caring, forgiving, and lenient with those around me. When it comes to myself, though, I am brutal. I get so angry and frustrated with myself when I make a mistake or can’t meet my standards, which at times, are insanely too high to reach. The worst part is since I now have a chronic illness, I must deal with even more limitations.

To preserve my sanity, I have been slowly retraining my thought processes and expectations. I still have quite a long way to go before I can willingly cut myself as much slack as do with others. Nevertheless, I am happy to see I am not as critical as they used to be. Essentially, it was either do away with the perfectionist or sink myself deeper and deeper into the abyss of fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a brutal condition that can create a dangerous cycle that spirals your health more and more out of control. The more you fight it and try to act normally, the more it drains your energy and your life. Only with moderation, understanding, and self-forgiveness can we break the cycle and start reclaiming our lives.

If you were recently diagnosed with fibromyalgia or another chronic illness, I encourage you to leave your inner perfectionist at the door. A chronic medical condition has no room for mentally and emotionally picking yourself apart. I know that old habits die hard, and it isn’t very easy to overcome the negativity. But when you are fighting a battle within yourself you must focus your strength and energy solely on lessening your condition’s hold on your life. With part of your mind constantly nitpicking, criticizing, and insisting that you are worthless, you’ll be fighting two battles: one with your chronic illness and the other with yourself. How far to you really think you will get if you fight against two enemies?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A to Z Blogging Challenge Update

Because of health issues this week, I've fallen behind on the A-Z Blogging Challenge.  Things are settling down again, so I will be working hard to catch up.  Thanks for your patience.

O...Older Than Dirt Syndrome

When I was younger I never imagined that I would someday feel like a young person stuck an old person’s body. My great grandfather is an energetic and healthy 93. He lives on his own and still has a pretty active life. I always hoped and sort of assumed that if I took good care of myself I would follow in his footsteps. Little did I know that by the time I would turn 25 years old, fibromyalgia would have me a prisoner in my own body. 

As a child, I used to laugh when my dad would come home from a long day at work and jokingly say that he felt older than dirt. In my little mind, comparing people and dirt was just a silly idea. Plus, dirt has always been here, so how could anyone be older than dirt? Now, though, I can relate to this phrase that my late father was so fond of.

When I am having a fibromyalgia flare my body aches, cramps up, throbs, and stiffens up like I’m at least 90 years old. Even the simplest of tasks like walking, bathing, or getting dressed can be quite a chore. When I wake up on one of these mornings I crawl out of bed and force my stubborn muscles and bones to work again. Even still I often find myself stuck in old lady mode for the rest of the day. I creep and shuffle along, trying my best to make it through my day and to be as productive as possible.

It is so odd to feel incredibly old and decrepit at such a young age. I find myself conflicted because I long to do so many active and fun activities like I used to. But my body is rarely up to it. I don’t know how many pulled muscles, bruises, and headaches I have put myself through trying to act my age. I am working daily to try to reclaim my body and to make it as strong as it possibly can. This is my body. I want it back! However, fighting older than dirt syndrome is easier said than done. It seems as though whenever I push hard in an attempt to get fit, my body pushes back even harder. Although I will never give up, I’ve had to learn to pace myself, to forgive my weaknesses, and to celebrate even the smallest of victories.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

N...Naps Are a Lifesaver

If it wasn’t for afternoon naps on my most difficult days, I would be a fibromyalgia zombie. As a writer, I tend to be a night owl because I can think best during the late hours of the day. Additionally, I have a lot less distractions during the night. I cyber school my children though, so sometimes I get too wrapped up in my writing and before I know it, morning is only a couple short hours away. The show must go on, so I go to sleep for that short time and pray that I can get a nap later on in the day.

On top of this, my pain sometimes makes it too difficult for me to sleep. The aches and pains of fibromyalgia can keep me up for hours. If I can fall asleep, my body usually wakes me up multiple times during the night. After nights like these, naps are truly a lifesaver. Without them, I realistically would not be able to function properly.

Most afternoons I am usually dragging and fighting exhaustion by about 3:00 pm. But when I spend much of my night awake I literally feel as though I’m going to pass out. I get all lightheaded and dizzy. The room starts spinning all around me. Unless I go to lie down and get some rest, I can no longer do anything.

I really hate when my body gets like this. It makes me feel so weak. On the other hand, I am very thankful that I have found a solution for when this happens. I am thankful that something as simple as a nap can replenish some of the energy that was lost during my day.

Sometimes we must give in to our weaknesses and admit that we need a break. Admitting that we can’t go on for now doesn’t make us weaker. In fact, it makes us stronger. It shows that we’re willing to do what it takes to deal with our weaknesses, so later we can get the most out of our lives. It demonstrates that even though we must back down for a moment, we’re only a regrouping to return and fight wholeheartedly again.

M...Mistakes and Setbacks

When we must deal with chronic illness we seem to have more than our share of mistakes and setbacks. We have a myriad of obstacles that we must overcome in addition to the normal challenges that a healthy person must face. We may have to start each day never truly refreshed, pushing through our daily lives with much of our energy already depleted. Also, we often must fight through pain that is always present to some degree. Many of us additionally have a handful of other symptoms which we must juggle each and every day. This makes failure and problems quite common in our lives.

When I set goals for myself I often underestimate the effect my fibromyalgia can have on my life. This month I decided to join the A to Z Blogging Challenge with all three of my blogs. Since I am unable to work outside my home, I have been trying to expand my freelance writing drastically. I hope someday to make a comfortable income from my writing. My fibromyalgia, though, loves to get in my way. It can prove to be difficult to write through the pain, fatigue, and brain fog. However, I was determined to stretch my writing abilities to the limit, so I can learn to be more efficient as a writer. 

Unfortunately, I wasn’t expecting my fibromyalgia pain to settle in my hands. I also didn’t plan on the stress of my dog getting seriously ill and having to undergo emergency surgery last week. As a result, I got behind on the blogging challenge. Part of me is so angry and frustrated with this setback.

I have decided, though, to use this anger and frustration to my advantage. Instead of giving up and telling myself that finishing this challenge is impossible, I found a way around my pain. Since my hand pain is making typing unbearable, I have set up a speech recognition program on my computer. It isn’t perfect. It doesn’t always understand my words. I have to make corrections at times. And it even has stopped working twice, requiring me to restart my computer. Nevertheless, I’m pleased to say that I am now caught up with the blogging challenge on my writing blog, and I am determined to get the rest of my posts up to date on this blog and my parenting blog.

Mistakes and setbacks are a fact of life, especially for us who suffer from chronic illness. But that doesn’t mean we should roll over and give up on our dreams and lives. Sometimes we have to be super creative and determined to make it through the challenges. Sometimes a solution is not readily available. Regardless, we cannot allow ourselves to give up because life is not life if we fail to live and grow. I encourage you to not lose hope and not give up on your dreams and goals for life. You’re not alone. We can do this together. We can be strong together. We can stay determined together. We can succeed together!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

L...Layers and Layers and More Layers, Please!

Fibromyalgia is mostly known for causing widespread pain throughout the body. However, a lot of people don’t realize that this same chronic condition can cause problems with body temperature regulation. Since I developed full-blown fibromyalgia (over 4 years ago), I’ve noticed that I am very sensitive to both hot and cold. If I get too overheated during the summer, I get physically sick to my stomach, and I’m hit with a wave of dizziness and horrible headache.

My sensitivity to cold, though, is much more extreme. During the winter, I have to dress in multiple layers just to be comfortable in my own home (since I can’t be sweating out the rest of the household with the furnace). And whenever I need to go outside, I need to don even more layers. If I don’t keep myself covered with 3 or more layers, the cold makes me hurt to the core. Imagine taking the coldest ice cream and shoving it into an exposed tooth nerve…then multiply that by at least 10. That’s what cold exposure does to me.

Without tons of layers, I feel like I am rolling around in snow drifts completely naked. The pain knocks the breath out of me, and I can feel my warmth escaping from wherever I don’t have enough clothing. My life gets extra complicated during cold weather because I have to make sure I am properly dressed every single day. And the colder it gets the more layers I have to force myself into.

Since I’ve endured a few winters now, I have had a good bit of practice. It is becoming more of a habit. I no longer worry about how fat or uncomfortable I look under all those layers. It’s much more important to me these days to stay warm. Yes, I still sometimes feel strange having to wearing so much clothing at once, especially when people start asking about it. But I try not to allow it to bother me.

Despite all the strange looks and critical comments, we must remember that we shouldn’t worry about what others might think. We must do what we must do to survive another day with a chronic illness, and that is all that matters. Other people might make us feel like freaks of nature, but we just need to keep focusing on how strong we truly are. We keep fighting for daily life even though we face such tough challenges. Keep pressing on, my fellow fibro warriors. We shall prevail!

Friday, April 12, 2013

K...Kind Words and Compliments Will Get You Everywhere

Perhaps one of the hardest parts of having a chronic illness is being surrounded by all the negativity, skepticism, and self-doubt.  Inside and out, we are bombarded by critics telling us that we aren’t really sick or aren’t trying hard enough or not living our lives correctly.  As a result, it is so easy to feel sad, depressed, and useless.

To all of you out there with friends and family members suffering from a chronic illness, this post is for you.  You have the power to build up or tear down your loved ones.  In the dark world of chronic illness, you would be amazed at the effect of a single kind word or compliment.  We have grown so pessimistic and disheartened with life and the reactions of others that sincere positive words would be a glorious and welcomed respite.

Of course, we try our hardest to stay focused on the positive as much as possible.  Still, those negative words and thoughts haunt us day and night.  And our medical conditions seem to always take the forefront of our lives.  You, though, have the power to remind us of the brighter side of life again--merely by taking a moment to share with us things that you appreciate or love about us every now and then.

My late father loved to tease me that flattery would get me nowhere when I was trying to butter him up to get my way.  Of course, in that context, I hated that saying.  With my fibromyalgia, on the other hand, I couldn’t help but turn around this phrase.  Ultimately, sincere flattery really can get you everywhere with your loved ones.  Keep pouring on the compliments, kind words, and encouragement.  You never know how far you can pull your loved ones from the depressing pit of their chronic illness.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

J...Juicing Disaster

A friend of mine, who also has fibromyalgia, mentioned to me last year about the benefits of incorporating more raw fruits and veggies into your diet. She said that she had seen some wonderful results with juicing and wanted to get back to consuming fresh juices and green smoothies on a regular basis. She hoped that she could once again reduce her fatigue with this simple dietary change and thought that it would be a great idea for me to give it a try. She explained that although all fruits and veggies are great, the dark green veggies are the most important. I downloaded a juicing/green smoothie recipe eBook, broke out my Ninja, and gathered up some fresh veggies and fruit for the next morning.

For my green veggie, I picked spinach. I love baby spinach in my salad, so I reasoned that it would be easier to start with green vegetables that I was more familiar with. I followed the directions in the eBook and whipped up a beautiful and healthy green smoothie to have with my breakfast. As soon as I opened the lid, though, I started wondering if I could drink the strong-smelling concoction.

Determined to make it work, though, I strained the juice.  Then, I poured a little in a glass and took a sip. Immediately, I spit the awful stuff in the sink. I couldn’t stand the taste, but I didn’t want to waste all the ingredients. I had run out of fruit, though, since I made a double batch. So, I started rummaging through my cupboards trying to find something that could possibly mask some of the potent taste.

I don’t know if it was a case of fibro fog or because I’m not much of a morning person, but I found my chocolate breakfast shake mix and thought that chocolate fixes everything. I scooped a bunch into the Ninja, added some milk and ice, and then blended away again. The color turned an awful greenish-brown, but I wasn’t deterred. I opened up the lid, poured a nice tall glass, and took a deep gulp. And I about died! My makeshift green smoothie was the most putrid thing I have ever tasted in my entire life. It really smelled like something crawled up into my glass, died, and then started rotting. The stench was so strong that my kids came downstairs for breakfast choking and gagging!

In the end, I decided to flush the entire pitcher of smoothie down the kitchen sink, and it stunk up my kitchen for days afterwards. I learned firsthand that juicing and smoothie making is certainly an art form and a science. There is a lot of trial and error involved. But the most important thing I learned is spinach and chocolate do NOT belong anywhere near each other!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I...Icy Hot and Bengay

Related to my A to Z Challenge H post (H…Heat Therapy and Message), my topic for today is Icy Hot and Bengay. I am the first one to admit that absolutely adore muscle rubs. Brand name, generic, or even herbal (Cayenne pepper rub is amazing but expensive!), I always try to have solid supply.

Since I can’t live in hot water or on heating pads and I haven’t yet invented a heated compression suit, I’ve turned to muscle rubs as a source of portable heat. All you have to do is rub some on the sore spots, make sure you thoroughly wash your hands to avoid accidents, and you have almost instant relief, lowering the severity of your pain and cramping.

At one time, I was embarrassed by the smell of muscle rubs. I tried the unscented versions, but I noticed that they weren’t nearly as great as their pungent cousins. In the end, I went back to the normal muscle rubs, strong smell and all. Eventually, I learned to live with the smell and not care. To be honest, I actually find the spicy smell of muscle rubs to be refreshing and relaxing. (They also can help with stuffy noses, an added plus!)

Now I venture out in all my muscle-rub glory. I don’t care how many noses I offend or what people may whisper behind my back. I’m a fibro warrior…smell my aroma! I’d much rather be out living and end up clearing out a room than to be stuck in bed because I hurt too much. Seriously, for those who hate the scent of muscle rubs, I do sincerely apologize. I’m sorry my relief has to come at the cost of your nostrils. Really, though, there are worse smells. And a person’s gotta do what a person’s gotta do when times get rough.

H...Heat Therapy and Massage

One of my cats enjoying my heating pad, too!
If you are a fibromyalgia sufferer like me and have yet to discover the heavenly bliss of heat or gentle massage, I encourage you to see what they can do for you! Since I was a very active person before fibro took hold of my life, I’m no stranger to sore muscles and aches. It was during my early teens that I discovered just how amazing heat and massage can be when your muscles are stiff, sore, and cramping.

Now that I have fibromyalgia, I am a heat and massage addict! If I could live in a Jacuzzi for the rest of my life, I’d be content. But alas, I don’t have the money or the space for a hot tub. In fact, I don’t even have a regular bath tub to soak in anymore. Consequently, I’ve had to be a little creative in meeting my heat and massage needs.

I have a hot water bottle, 2 electric heating pads, and gel packs that can be heated in the microwave. I also have an electric heated massaging mat and a battery-operated heated neck massager. I have even improvised and rolled a golf ball with the bottoms of my sore feet to massage them after a long day. Although my fiancé is more than willing to rub my sore spots, I prefer to have as many backup options as possible in case he is at work or too tired.

Although heat and massage doesn’t cure fibromyalgia or make the symptoms go away, it’s wonderful to have something that can take the edge off the pain and help you relax. When I am having a bad flare day my favorite spot to write is lying on my heated massage mat. It covers many of my worst tender points and clears my head enough that I can think again. This mat is also wonderful for when I hurt so much that I can’t sleep. The heat and rhythmic massaging soothes my aching body and makes me sleepy.

Ultimately, it is important to find what works best for you. Sometimes wet heat works better than dry heat. Some people love rigorous massages, while people like me can usually only handle gentle massages. Even if you can' afford expensive equipment or therapy sessions, there are many cheap options available. Regular heat therapy and massage have improved my quality of life immensely, and it is likely they will offer some relief for you as well.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

G...God, Faith, and Sanity

Sometimes, I swear the only thing that keeps me sane is my faith in God and my belief that my body and this earth is only temporary. Living with a chronic illness--especially one that involves a lot of pain and other life-altering symptoms--can make life drag on endlessly. Although I want to live a long, happy life, the idea of having to live a lifetime with my fibromyalgia is overwhelming. I’m at a point in my life when I can only take small steps at a time. I can’t look at the whole journey because right now, it seems far too daunting and impossible.

Still, it’s a wonderful idea for us to always keep in mind where we are actually headed. Life is so short and death so unnatural that I’ve always felt there must be something more than this existence here on earth. And as I grew to discover God and His promises, I began to realize that we really are meant for so much more than what we do while in this life.

I still haven’t a clue why God would allow such pain, fatigue, fibro fog, and my other fibro symptoms to affect me to this degree. Yet, I have faith that there is a higher purpose or reason why I have been lead down this difficult road. I would be lying if I said that the why isn’t important to me anymore. It still is because I am only human and would love to understand my plight.

Despite this, I have come to realize that even though I don’t know the why, I DO know what God generally wants me to do with my fibromyalgia-ridden life. Even though I am plagued by chronic illness, it is still my duty to (1) love the people around me, to (2) give openly and freely to those in need, and to (3) remind others that even in their darkest moments, God still is there.

A few months after fibromyalgia started taking over my life, I realized that I couldn’t let my condition make me bitter or selfish. Even though the days of pain and discomfort seem to stretch on for eternity, this life is very short, and I should be preparing for the life after this. No one really knows exactly what lies at the other side of death. All I know is I want to leave this earth knowing that I lived well, loved harder, and left a positive mark on the world.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

F...Fibromyalgia & Fatigue

What seems like another lifetime ago, I used to wake up every morning feeling refreshed and energized. As soon as my alarm went off, someone knocked on my door, or the cheery sun peaked into my window, I was alert and ready to take on the day. Each new day seemed so exciting and I couldn’t wait to make the most of every moment!

Nowadays, I find myself in this exhausted, drained, and worn out rut that I just can’t get out of. I feel like I haven’t slept in days, even though I usually get a full night’s rest. There’s probably a hundred different ways that I could describe how I look and feel every morning. However, nothing probably comes as close to describing my morning zombie-hood than one of my late father’s favorite similes: hammered dog poo-poo (although he preferred a much more colorful ending to that description). I simply feel so beaten, worn, pounded, and ragged that I can certainly identify with that image.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not here to complain or spread the negativity. Rather, I’m putting this all out there for every person who has passed judgment on fibro sufferers and insisted that we are lazy or just don’t try hard enough. Do you realize how hard it is to get out of bed in the morning with every molecule of your body screaming for more rest? It is pretty darn difficult! But you push on and through it because you have places to go and people to see.

Yet, what if you never actually pushed through it? What if it kept repeating? What if this horrible morning haunted you every single day for the rest of your life? Would you keep pushing on day after day after day? Or would you eventually want to give up?

Tell me…after Day 1,000 would you be just as determined and sure that you could get on with your life as you were on Day 1? I don’t think so! And yet, we fibro sufferers must do just that, while enduring all your flack and criticism. What we lack in physical strength and energy, we make up tenfold in inner strength and determination.

Yes, we have bad days, and some days, we stay in bed to try to recoup for another fight against our chronic illness. We readily admit that we get discouraged, frustrated, overwhelmed, and depressed at times. However, we don’t stay that way. It is not in our nature to give up or give in to our fibro. We will fight, struggle, and push against fibromyalgia until the day we die…or at least until our war against chronic illness is won!

Friday, April 5, 2013

E...Every Day Is a New Beginning

Once upon a time, I used to get all bent out of shape because of the little mistakes and failures in my life. When my fibromyalgia became a regular presence in my life, though, these little mistakes and failures started getting bigger and more frequent. When you have a chronic illness that torments you with pain, fatigue, and brain fog a lot of the time there is no way you are going to get everything done and not screw up from time to time. That was an extremely hard lesson for me to learn!

I was so used to being a super mom, a multitasking extraordinaire. I almost never forgot anything, my house was spotless when I went to sleep, and I got an extreme amount of things done daily. I always thought that I could slow down and enjoy life better when I pushed through the hardest part of my life (college during single motherhood). Well, whether I like it or not, my fibromyalgia is making me slow down and enjoy life a little.

I am much more forgiving of myself now. My inner perfectionist still lurks around, but I’ve learned to see every day as a new beginning. If I have a bad flare-up day and can hardly get anything done, I set aside all my frustration, self-anger, stress, and disappointment before I go to bed every night. Then I start fresh the next day and try to make the most of the new chance I have been given.

If you are suffering from a chronic illness like me, which limits your life, I encourage you to forgive yourself of your shortcomings and failures--and forgive yourself again each new day. Your mistakes and disappointments are often not even your fault. You fight so hard every second to make the most of life, but sometimes you just are not physically, mentally, or emotionally able to pull through. But that doesn’t mean you can’t come back tomorrow, next week, or next month and try again. Whether or not you succeed, know that you are amazing and strong just for trying, and coming back to face a defeat again is also a battle won!

D...Doubts, Disappointments, and Deflated Dreams

Chronic illness is a difficult thing to swallow. It can be challenging to treat, usually can’t be cured, and often haunts us until the day we die. Although I try every day to be as positive as possible, I, too, am not immune to the doubts, disappointments, and deflated dreams that chronic illness brings. Just like many of you, I have my low moments, times when I focus a little too much on the negative side of things. I cry over dreams that may never come true. I mourn the loss of the life I once knew. I worry about the days ahead and struggle with doubts that I will ever live a productive life.

Right this very moment I am struggling with my fibromyalgia and the effects it has on my dreams for my writing career. My heart, soul, and mind are overflowing with ideas, inspiration, and determination to reach my goals. Still, my body is weak, and the fibro is winning today. I have so much to write, so much to share, and so much to do. But fibromyalgia has my body so sore and worn that I am typing this with only 3 fingers. The strength and will of my hands left me yesterday because of this enemy within.

In time, I know the blunt of my fibromyalgia will decide to migrate on to another part of my body and most of the strength will return to my hands. It always does. And I will be back to typing fast and easily at my keyboard. In the meantime, I simply need to put the doubts and fears away and to continue pushing through as best I can.

My late father always loved to remind me that defeat doesn’t last very long if we stay strong and never give up. But if we stay down and feel sorry for ourselves for too long, defeat will take root and make it harder and harder for us to throw it off our backs. Some people might call it foolishness or stupidity, but I will keep bouncing right back, no matter how many times my chronic illness knocks me over. Struggling with fibro has gotten me this far. I’m not going to back down now!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

C...Cramping Muscles Are Cramping My Style

With spring more or less here, I’m yearning for some mountain biking and hiking. Now that I have fibromyalgia, I am reminded every year that I can’t do nowhere near as much as I used to and that what I can do must be prepared for far in advance. Basically, unless I work myself up to this mountain biking and hiking every spring, I will suffer horrible muscle cramps and pain.

So, here I am, with snow still floating around outside, using an exercise bike a little more each day to prepare for something months in advance--something that I used to do spontaneously at the drop of a hat. When fibro first took hold of my life I resented this to no end. I felt pathetic, weak, and embarrassed. I was ashamed that I couldn’t pursue a simple passion like mountain biking or hiking without training like some loser.

Now, though, I see my little training sessions in a whole other light. Instead of seeing them as a sign of weakness, I actually see them as a sign of strength. They are proof of the pain and effort I am willing to go through to retain a beloved piece of my life before fibromyalgia. No, I’ll never stop hating that the cramping and pain get in the way. Yet, I know now that I can and do have the ability to make small changes against my chronic illness. I do have the power to fight this. And even though it may take me a lot more time and effort than what is normal, I can hold on to the things that I cherish!

Do you have a chronic illness that gets in the way of you doing the things that you love? If so, what strategies have you developed to help counteract your illness? How have you adapted or evolved so you can still do some of your favorite things?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

B...Be a B Student: The Importance of Vitamin B

Throughout my childhood, my parents encouraged to be my best and reach for my full potential. In school, they emphasized the importance of reaching and maintaining academic excellence. Wanting to do my best and make my parents proud, I worked hard to be an A student. Never did I think that one day I’d be encouraging myself--and all of you--to be B students.

I know, the B’s I speak of have absolutely nothing in common with school grades…unless of course you consider that these B’s are important for reaching and maintaining life excellence. Yes, the B’s I am speaking of are the B vitamins.

As many of you may know, I endured tons of tests and blood work before my doctor diagnosed me with fibromyalgia. Almost every result was good. However, my doctor did find that my B vitamins were a little low. As a result, he emphasized that I should be taking Vitamin B supplements every day because my deficiency could be affecting my fibro symptoms.

Since before my official diagnosis, I have spent hours and hours researching and reading about fibromyalgia. There are so many theories as to what causes fibromyalgia and what exactly IS fibromyalgia. Many doctors feel that fibro is related to some type of malfunction or injury of the nervous system. Vitamin B12 is essential to the proper function of the body’s central nervous system. Consequently, it is important for anyone with possible nervous system issues to make sure they are getting plenty of B vitamins.

Also, Vitamin B deficiency can cause unpleasant symptoms, including tingling in the extremities and fatigue. I had always assumed that all of my tingling and fatigue was solely my fibro’s fault. However, after taking Vitamin B supplements regularly now for about a year, I've noticed that over half of the tingling is gone and my fatigue isn’t quite as severe as it used to be.

Although vitamin supplements aren’t going to cure chronic illness, we really need to be aware that our bodies can’t function properly without the proper nourishment. By ensuring we have a diet rich of various vitamins and minerals and adding supplements where we fall short, we have the best chances of improving our health and not complicating things by adding unnecessary and easily remedied problems.

Before starting any supplements, please check with your doctor.  Some supplements aren't suitable for individuals taking certain medications or with certain medical conditions.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A...Are There Answers Out There?

If you are like me and have dealt with a chronic illness for years, it’s so easy to want to give up. Day after day, month after month, year after year, we fight and we struggle, but it feels like it’s all in vain! When will our symptoms go away? When will we be able to reclaim our lives? When will all of this finally be behind us?

Unfortunately, the very definition of a chronic illness means that it may never go away. Still, that doesn’t mean we should ever give up on a cure or at least on a better quality of life. Our lives belong to us, NOT to our medical conditions. But if we simply give up, we are handing over ownership to our health problems. Our lives will no longer be our own. We will be slaves to our every little symptom and to the multitude of negative thoughts and emotions that spawn from them.

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather spend my life searching for answers and end up never finding any. Wasting my life by simply giving up now and wallowing in my chronic illness until the end just isn’t my style. My parents didn’t raise me to be a quitter, and I’m not going to start now. I may always have more than my fair share of defeats, and I might now bounce back as quickly as I’d like. Still, I’m in not just for today’s battle but the long, ugly, drawn-out war.

If you are considering giving up or feel you can’t go on, I encourage you to pause and rest for a moment. Just breathe, exist in the here and now, and don’t worry about the future. Pretend a minute from now doesn’t even exist. Know that you aren’t alone. There are lots of people who understand what you are going through. And we are here for one another.

Rest in that thought for as long as you need and then come back fresh to face the difficult journey again. I once thought that the distance I covered in life is what truly matters. However, fibromyalgia has taught me well that it’s not the distance in your life that is important. It is the life in your life. We may be limited in what we can do now, but are we wholly embracing what we CAN do?

No, living with a chronic condition isn’t easy, but life doesn’t have to end…if we stay strong and determined and if we focus on the good that is still in our lives. Back when my fibro wasn’t so intense I almost never had the chance to write. Now I get to write every day, and I’ve fallen in love with this first love all over again. I still miss the life I had and wish I could be ‘normal’ again. Still, I refuse to dwell on the negative. I WILL have the full and long life I’ve always wanted, no matter what!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Let the A-Z Madness Commence!

So often, people with chronic illnesses are seen as lazy or as underachievers.  The craziest part is we are actually the exact opposite.  We push ourselves to the limit and beyond on a regular basis.  Every time I overbook myself, stretch myself thin, or get myself in way over my head, I have to laugh the irony of it all.  And boy, I'm laughing away tonight!

I'm currently working on quite a few projects this month, one of which is the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge.  With all three of my blogs (Fibro and Fancy Free, Parenting From Aaah! to Zzz, and Amanda R. Dollak), I will be blogging my fingers off this month.  I will be writing posts for every letter of the alphabet--three times since I've entered three blogs--all within 30 days!

Will I finish in time or will I break long before the finish line?  Even I am a little nervous.  I hope you stick around this month and read some of the interesting posts I have in store for all my fibro and chronic illness warriors.  I'll finally be posting a lot of the ideas that have been brewing since before the birth of this blog.  And hopefully, after the A-Z Challenge, I will keep the helpful posts coming more on a regular basis.

I hope all my warriors are staying strong, and I wish the best of luck to my fellow A-Z bloggers. Here's to a fun, frenzied, and fulfilling April!