Posted in Social Isolation

Embracing an Imperfect Life With Chronic Illness

5 Steps to Embracing an Imperfect Life with Fibromyalgia

There is no question that chronic illnesses change lives in ways we wish it didn’t. Choosing to embrace an imperfect life can help you face challenges and lead a happy, meaningful, and fulfilled life.

Here are five steps to embracing an imperfect life with chronic illness:

1. Feel your anger and grief

Living with chronic illness for a number of years, my greatest struggle has been grief toward my illnesses. In particular, anger at myself for being sick, at unhelpful loved ones I would have been there for, at a demanding life that seems more reasonable and accommodating for others who are healthy, and at life for changing beyond my control.

I now understand that my life will never be the same, and that’s not a bad thing. I am happier than I was prior to my diagnoses due to being proactive and responsible for my own health and well-being.

Give yourself permission to feel angry about feeling ill, and make the effort to quickly move through the five stages of grief. You need to mourn your old life to achieve closure. Remember, everyone grieves differently, and there is no correct way to express pain and sorrow toward your new life. The key is to not let emotions take on a life of their own.

2. Get up every morning

There was a time I found it difficult to accept that I was sick. I remember waking up every day believing that I could be healthy again and my body wouldn’t hurt. But I didn’t, and things have never really gone back to normal. After nearly eight years living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and fibromyalgia, I still get up every morning and have to motivate myself because I have people relying on me: my children, my boss, my coworkers.

Resisting something doesn’t mean you can keep it from happening. Accept that your illness is here to stay, but at the same time, do not give into it. Motivate yourself to get up every morning, live your life, and work with your illness, not against it. Focus on your health needs such as being active, eating healthy, getting rest, and managing pain and symptoms. Learn to let go of all you cannot control.

3. Find support

I don’t know where my emotional health would be without the support of loved ones, medical professionals, and even strangers. It is my responsibility to communicate what my needs are. I have struggled with asking for and accepting help. I try to remind myself that others want to help and that I can provide similar support when I am able to. I have also struggled with depression as I worry about facing the future with RA and fibromyalgia. Talk therapy has helped me feel stronger and better equipped to manage the challenges imposed by my health.

Chronic illness is isolating and can make you feel hopeless. Maintain a support system especially during difficult moments. Reach out to others living with similar diseases who understand your struggles and have experience coping successfully. Moreover, therapy can help you cope with the demands of your illness. Remember, depression is nothing to be ashamed of. If you find yourself struggling with symptoms of depression, love yourself enough to get the help you need and deserve.

4. Choose to grow

Chronic illness was a messy detour that forced me to change my life plans. But, this detour also turned out to be a great blessing that taught me to heal physically and emotionally. Every day, I make new attempts to find out who I am and discover who I am becoming. I believe that each day is a new opportunity to learn, grow, and better myself.

Growth with chronic illness is continuous. You have two choices: dwell and be bitter about illness or make illness a catalyst for growth. Concentrate on what you can do, and look for opportunities to use your abilities to better yourself and help others. Make healthy choices, seek help and support, and turn your obstacles into life lessons. The choice is always yours.

5. Accept, but don’t dwell on unfairness

I know all too well that being sick isn’t fair. I have worked hard in both my personal and professional lives and even harder after illness. I am a good mother, but I still feel guilty my kids don’t have the attention I wish they had. My marriage ended, and while that had nothing to do with my health, it makes me second guess myself and question ever finding love again. If I could have protected my health, I would have. But, I couldn’t, nor could I control everything that happened after. Life is simply not fair, and I accept that. I am learning to let go of what I wanted my life to be and to focus on better days ahead.

The universe hasn’t picked you to suffer, and chronic illness has nothing against you specifically. Some things that happen simply don’t have an explanation. They just happen. Yes, sometimes there is unfairness. All you can do is focus more on things you do have control over and dwell less on things you don’t.

Embrace the imperfection

If I had waited for my life to be perfect or to go back to what it used to be, I would have missed out on so much. If not for chronic illness, I wouldn’t have learned to let go of the little things and focus on the important ones. I love the imperfect twists and turns my life has taken because of where this journey has led me. Yes, my life is messy, but I am working to make the best of what life has given me—imperfect and beautiful all at the same time.

Decide to embrace the imperfection that chronic illness has given you and make the best of it. If you don’t, chronic illness will get the best of you. This is your life, and you should be in charge of every minute of it.

Originally Posted at http://www.diabeticconnect.com/diabetes-information-articles/general/2330-5-steps-to-embracing-an-imperfect-life-with-chronic-illness#tOStcGdI4i87sH4G.99

Posted in Coping

Taming the Emotional Rollercoaster of Chronic Illness

Taming the Emotional Rollercoaster of Chronic Illness

Living with chronic illness is an emotional rollercoaster with a variety of emotions, ranging from disbelief, anger, fear, hope, depression, acceptance, and finally moving forward. Research shows that people who have experienced higher rates of psychological distress have an increased chance of being diagnosed with a chronic condition.

But even people who have experienced little stress in their lives can find themselves shaken by a chronic illness. In fact, newer research has shown that chronic psychological stress is associated with inflammation and increased disease risk.

A whirlwind of emotions

Before chronic illness, most of us understood that strong emotions happen from time to time. But nothing fully prepares you for the feelings associated with chronic disease. The whirlwind of emotions and grief is characterized by ups and downs that are not necessarily experienced by everyone and don’t come in a preset fashion. The journey is different for each person, but it’s a normal reaction to chronic illness grief.

Your thoughts and feelings can change minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, and week-by-week. Each feeling has impact, affects mental health or physical health, and determines your overall attitude—regardless of whether the feeling is negative or positive. And chronic illness can keep you on an indefinite cycle, if you let it, due to the many triggers that keep the emotional rollercoaster in motion.

Taming the ride

Can you gain control of your emotions? Can you let go of the constant fear, anger, and grief toward your illness? Is there is a way to find balance? And how do you manage the emotional rollercoaster ride?

Here’s how you tame the ride.

Acknowledge your feelings. Own up to your feelings and emotions. Give yourself permission to feel what you need to feel. Tuning into your emotions will help you make sense of what you are feeling and to distinguish the differences between fear, sadness, anger, excitement, or any other emotion. Being able to tune in helps you see the differences between these emotions and to find what is normal and real to you.

Experience the process. It is okay to travel the rollercoaster, but being aware of the experience makes the ride a little less bumpy. Pay attention to what your body feels during the tough moments. Are your shoulders stiff? Is your heart racing? How is your breathing? Recognizing those physical aspects gives you insight to how your body reacts when your emotions take over. Once you understand what you are feeling physically, close your eyes and try to relax the parts of your body that are responding to stress.

Learn from the experience. Each ride on the emotional rollercoaster is a learning experience. Pay attention to the entire encounter. What are you feeling? How are you reacting? What happens when you change your responses? By looking back at your thoughts and emotional responses, you became aware of your reactions and actions. Being an observer to your own experience allows you to focus on changing your beliefs and creating new thoughts.

Time heals

They say that time heals all wounds. And this is likely true. But it is what you do with your time that ultimately helps you to heal. Riding that rollercoaster is messy, but patience and practice will you help you gain the skills necessary to manage your emotions and experiences.

When you feel like your emotions have gone “off the rails,” what do you do to bring yourself back again?

Originally posted at http://www.breastcancerconnect.com/breast-cancer-articles/179-taming-the-emotional-rollercoaster-of-chronic-illness#YeO1Ltgxse706fKj.99

Posted in Coping

Confessions of a Chronically Ill Control Freak

It’s normal to struggle with the challenges of chronic illness sometimes, but life can still be good.

It has been eight years since I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and fibromyalgia. It has been long road. Some days I am hopeful and other days I just want to give up. Mostly, I am over it all.

I am over the fact that most of my days are consumed by pain and fatigue and the times when I feel as if I’ve hit rock bottom. I am tired of planning to avoid flares, watching my diet, having my own personal medicine cabinet pharmacy, guilt, endless doctor visits, and not having carefree days. And when I feel good, I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. It is all so exhausting—especially for someone who tries to control every aspect of her life.

Seeking control

Chronic illness has changed me and my life. Before I got sick, I had always been a planner and a doer and a major control freak. In some ways, I still am. I still try to handle setbacks head on by trying to remain positive, pushing forward, and continually looking for balance. But these days, sometimes the more I push, the harder it gets.

I realize I can’t control everything, and that often frustrates and angers me. Moreover, I know that what I expect of myself should be different than it was before I got sick, but my expectations are hard to change because they reflect a lifelong attitude about how I face challenges. I try to convince myself and others that I have my act together, and sometimes I actually believe I do. But the truth is, I don’t.

Read more at Upwell.

Posted in Coping, Gratitude

7 Lessons in 7 Years of Being Sick

Choose to find value in your struggle and never surrender to your illness.

7 Lessons in 7 Years of Being Sick

 A week after my youngest son was born, I awoke to all-over body pain and the inability to walk or use my hands. That was nearly seven years ago and I have learned a lot about being sick, especially as I face daily challenges both physical and emotional.

Here are 7 lessons I have learned in 7 years of being sick.

1. This is your life — you don’t get to give up

This is my life and I will make best of what I have been given. On good days, I can manage my morning routine with little trouble, including taking medication, stretching and getting to work on time. Other days, I want to give up and let my illnesses walk all over me, but an inner voice whispers, “Don’t you dare.” I try not to respond with “It’s not getting better,” or “I just want to give up.”

Giving up is easy, and finding a reason to keep going is difficult. Find those reasons why you need to keep going.

2. Grieve your old life and learn

I have endured many moments of grief in all these years of being sick. I have been angry and I have been sad. I have grieved in healthy ways and not so healthy ways. I also know there is no right way to grieve and no timetable. But I see my episodes of grief as lessons in managing my illnesses rather than allowing illness to manage me.

Grief is a normal and natural response to unexpected changes in one’s health. But it creates a struggle of trying to be hopeful when so much has been taken. Help yourself by acknowledging your loss, opening up to people you trust, adjusting your lifestyle and making smart health decisions. And if you cannot manage your grief alone, seek professional help.

3. Relationships might end but that’s okay

Some of my friends didn’t stick around. Not all my family understands. And my marriage ended. But before I got sick, I loved sharing parts my life with others. I enjoyed having visitors and I was always available to help. But being sick — that is not the life I want to share. This makes it hard to maintain relationships with healthy people. But I am grateful for the people who stuck around even when I wasn’t at my best. And those people are the ones worth your time.

These days, I am busy trying to create a positive and stress-free life for my kids and myself. I don’t have time or energy to care what people think. This is MY life and I am sick and it’s up to me to decide who is in my life and who isn’t.

4. You are going to get depressed but it gets better

Even people in the best health get depressed. These feelings can be pretty intense when we are feeling frustrated about health challenges. The feelings will come and go and are nothing to be ashamed of. However, if you have sleep problems, racing thoughts, ongoing sadness, anxiety, a loss of appetite, loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, constant feelings of guilt and worthlessness, or thoughts of suicide or death, seek help and don’t go at it alone.

Depression isn’t personal and it gets better. I have sought help for my depression and I am stronger for that. In the end, all I wanted to be was the best version of me and I finally feel better equipped to manage the challenges that illness brings.

5. Trust yourself — you are the expert

When you are sick, it is easy to want to give someone else power. But you will always be the one who wakes up sick, so trust your own judgment. Only you know what you are capable of and what makes your life easier.

I listen to my body and when others aren’t listening to my concerns, I make them listen. I am the expert on my particular experience with the disease. Not my doctor. Not my well-meaning friends or family. Not even my mother. And definitely not a blogger who claims she is an expert on my disease.

6. Embrace the Internet — just not the dire statistics

I am grateful to live in an age where we are not isolated and can connect with others who are similarly sick. Through my blog, Facebook and Alliance Health’s social networks, I have met many amazing people from all over the world. I have found that life’s not as lonely when another person says, “I know exactly how you feel.”

The Internet can also be an educational tool for learning about your illness. Just remember that what you read on the Internet doesn’t necessarily apply to your unique situation and there may be exaggeratory statistics about your disease. If you are going to use the Internet as an educational tool, follow up with your doctor and don’t lose sleep over everything you read.

7. Reinvent your life

Illness can be difficult and even traumatizing but it teaches you strength, resilience, tolerance and creativity. It can also bring about wisdom, growth and acceptance. Use what you learn to your advantage and reinvent your life to one that successfully copes with your health conditions.

Never Surrender

I know there are no guarantees in life. I have fallen, failed and gotten discouraged, but I recognize it is better to work hard and overcome adversity then to have never tried at all.

I believe that there are lessons to learn in every circumstance. Whether those situations are fair or not, obstacles present opportunities to evolve and find meaning in even the most difficult situations. Choose to find value in your struggle and never surrender to your illness.

Originally posted on July 15, 2015 at Arthritis Connect at http://www.arthritisconnect.com/arthritis-articles/627-7-lessons-in-7-years-of-being-sick#uH46de3vqPfh4VDb.99

Posted in Coping

First World Problems vs. Chronic Illness Problems

Some problems seem insignificant when compared to issues that people with chronic illness face every day.

There is nothing worse than waiting in long lines at the bank, grocery store, or Department of Motor Vehicles. It sucks forgetting your phone when you are running late and can’t turn back. Nothing is worse than the air conditioning at work being too cold.

And there you have it folks, first world problems. Wikipedia defines first world problems as trivial troubles that are complained about in wealthy nations. People living in third world nations would criticize us for these, as there are far worse things.

The minute people start saying there’s “nothing worse,” I cringe. Because I know what’s worse.

Try being sick for the rest of your life.

Read more at Upwell.com.

Posted in Uncategorized

How to Cope With Fibromyalgia Fog

My day job in the legal field can be pretty demanding, involving numerous phone calls, emails, deadlines, and other verbal and written communications. Some days, fibromyalgia fog makes my job a whole lot harder.

Whether it is memory issues, trying to find the right words, misplacing things, or transcribing phone numbers correctly, fibro fog can affect the quality of my work.

It also affects my personal life, sometimes leaving me forgetful, confused, flustered carrying on conversations, and even lost trying get to destinations often traveled.

Fibro fog is the term used to describe the cognitive difficulties associated with fibromyalgia. According to a 2015 review in Rheumatology International, some fibromyalgia patients reported that fibro fog is even more difficult to manage than their pain and fatigue.

bigstock-Headache-migraine-people--Doc-79378753.jpg

At least half fibromyalgia patients “experience distressing subjective cognitive impairment,” according to a 2015 report in Arthritis Care and Research.

Fibro fog can cause short term memory loss, distraction, forgetfulness, difficulty in carrying on conversations, inability to process new information and occasional disorientation.  In most cases, fibro fog is a mild symptom, but for some people it can be quite scary, especially for those used to functioning at very high levels.

Fibro fog can leave me temporally disorientated and unable connect my thoughts. My thoughts come in, but they are not being processed correctly, or in a way I can properly put into words. And that can be stressful and frightening.

Read More at the Pain News Network.

Posted in Coping

Write About Your Experience to Help You Heal

Write About Your Experience to Help You Heal

Writing about difficult experiences, such as chronic illness and trauma, can be an effective way to ease emotional pain, stress, and worry. Moreover, the latest research shows that expressing your feelings in words can also speed up healing and ease physical pain.

The research

A 2013 study out of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, of 49 older adults asked half of its participants to write for 20 minutes a day over a two week period about their most traumatic experience. They were asked to be as open as possible about their feelings at the time and, in particular, concerns they had never shared with anyone. The other half of the group was asked to write for the same duration about their plans for the next day, without expressing any emotion.

After two weeks of writing, the researchers performed small skin biopsies under local anesthesia that left wounds on the arms of all the participants. After 11 days, 76 percent of those who had written about their traumatic experiences were completely healed; only 46 percent of the group who had written about their plans were completely healed.

Why you should write

1. Health benefits. Writing can be utilized as a healthy outlet for mind and body recovery in difficult situations, including coping with the symptoms of chronic illness. A calming effect is created when you put words in writing. That effect can cut healing time, minimize getting sicker, and decrease chronic disease symptoms. Writing may also help the body manage stress and anxiety.

2. Connect to others. Starting an online blog to share your emotions and experiences with chronic illness can help you connect with others struggling with similar issues. You can also share advice and ideas that have worked for you and your experience.

Friends and family can offer support, but it is helpful to reach outside your immediate circle. If you are writing about your experiences online, others in similar situations will reach out to you and help you find better ways to cope and feel less isolated. This can also be a great source of emotional support.

3. Help others. Your experience can help others who are dealing with similar struggles as yours. Simply reading your story can help them feel their experiences are not unusual and a part of living with chronic illness, and that they are not alone in their fears and feelings. You may never connect with these people, and they may never reach out to you, but your experience may offer them comfort and good advice for coping and healing.

Journaling for yourself

If the idea of writing about your experiences seems overwhelming, start by jotting down the feelings that you feel are weighing you down in a journal or notebook. Don’t worry about your writing skills. And no one has to read what you write. Anything that helps you get your emotions out will help you move on with your life and decrease anxiety and improve moods.

Tips for writing to heal

It is up to you to decide how you want to put your experiences down on paper. You can either write for yourself or write to be published. Here are some tips to get you started.

1. Find time. Finding the time to write is hardest step. You have to actually show up and do the work. Set a time each day to sit down and write.

2. Write for at least 20 minutes. Write for at least 20 minutes of uninterrupted time. Allowing yourself enough quiet time will help you concentrate on your feelings.

3. Don’t worry about form. A writing style is not required; it does not matter whether you write a poem, letter, blog post, or journal entry. Just express your feelings. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are not important either. You don’t even have to worry about editing. Just write until you feel that you have expressed your emotions and felt your emotional pain settling.

4. Write about what matters. Write about the issues that are important to you; for example, what you are worrying about and what you feel is affecting your life in unhealthy ways. Really let go and explore your feelings and thoughts about the things that are upsetting you right now.

5. Deal with what you can handle. As you are writing, let go and search through your deepest feelings, thoughts, and emotions. Sometimes, writing about what you feel may make you feel sad or angry. If you find that you are exceptionally upset about a topic, stop writing or change topics.

6. Do what works for you. Writing about emotional aspects of chronic illness can help improve both physical and mental health. Keep in mind that there are hundreds of ways to write. Think of these as guidelines, rather than factual information. As you write, experiment on your own and see what works best for you.

Originally posted at http://www.diabeticconnect.com/diabetes-information-articles/general/2391-write-about-your-experience-to-help-you-heal#XkC4zPlaISMMLmQT.99

Posted in Coping

5 Things to Remember When Chronic Illness Wears You Down

Life with chronic illness can be good even if it’s far from perfect.

Chronic illness pain, fatigue, and other symptoms can really wear you down. Whether you have fibromyalgia, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), diabetes, or something else, chronic illness could make you feel depressed, pushed to your limits, and stuck. I have been there. Sometimes I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders and it takes everything I have to not lose control.

Here are five things I remind myself of when it feels like I can’t hold it all together.

1. You are more than your illness

No one should allow themselves to be defined by their circumstances. And while you are not your illness, you are still responsible for your health. Learn all you can about your disease or multiple conditions and learn how to take care of yourself. The choice is yours: you can either let chronic illness define you and dominate your life or you can become a more informed patient and manage your condition as best you can.

Dealing with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia is only one part of my life and I will not allow it to consume my every thought and action—nor will I allow it to change who I am or define my future.

Read the rest at Upwell.