I, like nearly 10 million other Americans, suffer from Fibromialgia. My main symptoms are chronic pain and chronic nausea (the nausea is actually a by-product of the pain as that is how my body reacts to the stress of being in constant pain), and today was not a good day.
My pain level is usually around 3/4, but the last few days the pain has been steadily increasing. Like everyone else I know with Fibromialgia my pain levels ebb and flow, and my pain usually settles in my neck, back, and in recent years, my hips. There are good days and there are not so good days. Today has been a 'not so good day,' but like everyone else who lives with Fibromialgia or chronic pain, you learn to live with it. You go on with your life despite, or in spite of, the pain. Today was just another day, but I couldn't wait to go home so I could start alternating ice and heat to try to combat my symptoms. At my last job I was more open about it and wore ice packs and heating pads often, several people even knew about my Fibromialgia, but when I took a new job last year I decided to keep that part of my life private. In part this was due to going from a loud and busy office of almost 60 people, to a much smaller, more intimate office of only 10, and the other part was due to past experiences at my old job that were not great.
The pain got worse as the day went on and as usual the nausea got worse right along with it so I wasn't able to eat much, and even though I didn't have the stomach for breakfast (this is normal but I had actually vomited this morning which is not) I was only able to eat half of the sausage, egg and cheese biscuit I got at Starbucks on my way to a fitting I had scheduled on my lunch break for an upcoming play that I will be preforming in.
I have been lucky enough to perform in several plays at this theater so my size chart has several sets of measurements on it from all of the shows that I've done over the years, so it is really easy for me to see how my body has changed over time by looking over the chart. Thankfully, my measurements hadn't changed much since my last fitting- I was worried about this because at a previous fitting a few years ago I discovered that I had lost 2 inches from my bust and hips (my waist was unchanged) due to being consistently unhealthy due to an increase in my Fibromialgia symptoms. I was devastated and embarrased over the drastic changes my body had been through in a relatively short period of time. At that time, when I looked at myself in mirror I did not see a fit/thin young woman like everyone else (apparently) saw- I saw a sick person. When I looked at myself carefully I could see that skin was starting to sag in certain places from the rapid, unhealthy weight loss. I saw an overly-defined collarbone and inklings of my rib cage.
Like many women, I struggle with my weight and have body image issues. In this matter I tend to swim against the tide as most women seem to want to be thinner, while I, at the very least, struggle to maintain my weight, and have worked to gain weight on more than one occasion for both my doctors as well as myself. You can imagine what this has done to my mental health and stability.
During today's fitting, the costume designer Silvia, whom I know well enough now after all these shows, asked me how I manage to stay so thin, and I told her simply "chronic nausea." To which she replied, "that's terrible." Now at this point I had a choice to make in the conversation. I had chosen to be honest with Silvia about my condidtion and could have chosen to use this moment to get a little sympathy or encouragement, especially since I wasn't feeling well, but I try to be as positive as possible. I don't always succeed.
Like everything else, you have the power to change your attitude. Reacting to and facing negative situations with positivity and happiness makes you a more positive and happy person. They say you are actually rewiring your brain when you do this, and this was an opporunity to do just that, so I replied simply, "Yeah, but it could be worse," and the conversation naturally digressed onto other topics from there. We didn't talk any more about my symptoms, they didn't deserve the attention (especially not in this context).
I try to be very disiplined in regards to what I allow into my conciousness these days because I'm a very sensitive person and I know it affects my headspace- especially when it comes to music, movies and social media. Listening to upbeat music and engaging in uplifing positive stories and surrounding yourself with supportive people helps to give you the strength that you need to get through your day- especially when your day is not an easy one and you need all the help you can get. Conversely, I've found that listening to too much sad music, watching lots of dramas and depressing movies and complaining constantly will suck the strength to fight from you, and it's something I work on constantly and make pains to be aware of.
As the day went on the pain got worse, and as usual, so did the nausea. I took a Tramadol, the only pain medication they'll give me since prescription medications were reclassified last year, and as usual, it didn't work. As time went on my back muscles started to spasm. The nausea increased accordingly. At around 4:30pm, while I was sitting at my desk going through the mail, I got up to go to the bathroom because I knew I was going to throw-up again. This also, is normal. To keep things light when I talk about it I usually say I puke like a Cocker Spaniel, and to be honest, after all these years it doesn't even really bother me any more most of the time. I mean, I'd rather not- it sucks and it's gross, but it's the status quo: I'm usually nauseas, and sometimes I puke. That's just the way it is.
Anyway, I didn't make it to the bathroom. I threw-up in my mouth in the hallway, but managed to keep it all in my mouth and not let too much of a reaction show on my face or in my body language. When I got to the bathroom I puked about 4-5 times, took a deep breath, washed out my mouth with some water, and went back to my desk with a smile on my face and carried out the rest of my shift as if nothing was wrong- just like I had all day. At 5:30pm I wished everyone a, "good night," and walked out the door to my car despite the fact that I had been a little late this morning and really should have stayed a bit longer to make up for it- but I also needed to take care of myself.
I like to think of myself as being mentally strong, and though I do have my moments, for the most part I am stronger than my pain, I am stronger than my nausea, I am stronger than Fibromialgia. I fight for myself every day, and I have learned more and more that strength needs to be refueled, that rest is necessary, and that knowing your limits is vital to survival. Focusing on positivity lately has also added to that strength. Not too long ago I would have felt a lot differently about today. Today wasn't a good day, but I got through it the best I could- frankly I think I did pretty well given how I was feeling physically. I'm not depressed or upset with my body, I'm focusing on healing it and trying to be positive about tomorrow while doing so.
Physical strength now... that's a completely different matter. For years now I've made it my practice to avoid too much physical activity despite the fact that I like to hike, dance and play sports etc., because if I over exert myself I'll most likely cause a Fibro-Flare (an increase in my Fibromyalgia symptoms) and I already have enough to deal with in that department thankyouverymuch. Because of this I don't have much muscle left on my already short and petite body, and often joke about my frailty and describe myself as a weakling. This is both unkind and untrue and fights against the positivity I've been focusing on by feeding the idea that I am weak- therefore I don't do physical things, and the cycle continues. It is time I recognize that cycle and use the same vigilence against the words I use to describe myself and the energy I create around myself that I use against the external stimuli and energy I surround myself with. To be fair, I've had this realization before, but I fall back into old habits time and time again.
This is somethig I have been thinking about a lot lately, something I have really been working on in the last few months. I've been telling myself my mental strength and my physical strength are the same. That I am capable of anything. That with the right shift in my attitude I can do anything. I can change my aversion to physical activities by being positive and focusing on happiness rather than worrying about causing a flare. I can acknowledge my physical limitations, be mindful and rest often, and focus on what I'm doing and that I like doing it. I can do more than what I'm currently doing, I don't have to be scared. I can be healthier, which will make me stronger both mentally and physically, which will (hopefully) ignite a perpertual cycle of positivity, health, and happiness.
I need to focus on redefining my strength. My strength is my mind, my ability to fight for myself every day and to get up and do it again even if I don't win. I am strong. I am powerful. And it's time I recognized that.
*This post was originally featured on our Founder’s personal (discontinued) blog, and was copied to The FSC Blog with full permission.