Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My Painful Stumble from Furious to Fit

Originally published by the Community Pain Center. Please click the link below:
https://www.ourcpc.com/learning-exchange/my-painful-stumble-from-furious-to-fit/

One fateful day in 2011 I stood before my bathroom mirror and watched myself descend into a full-fledged rage attack. My mere thirty-four years of existence had hit me pretty hard. I was one hundred pounds overweight, riddled with pain, ravaged by illness, and utterly incapable of participating in my own life. Although I had narrowly escaped death and was technically lucky to be alive, it sure didn’t feel that way. I had absolutely no idea how to pick up the shattered pieces of my reality and move forward, but knew I had to do something to curtail the uncontrollable fury gobbling up my sanity. My at-home yoga practice clearly wasn’t doing the trick, so I decided to start running.

But that’s the most misleading way to phrase it. Because I was so out of shape and in so much pain, all I could do was shuffle at a fast trot for five out of every ninety steps. Literally. So that’s what I did, every other day when I walked my dogs. After a few weeks, I was trotting ten steps and walking eighty. Over time I kept whittling away the ratio, until the day finally came when I was running a block at a time. It took many months, and my efforts were rewarded with ungodly amounts of pain. I’d hobble up the stairs, gulp down extra pain meds, and lay around moaning about how bad I hurt. But my rage was tempered, and I even lost a little weight, so my progress kept me going.

Years before, in the early days of my journey with chronic illness, I started researching nutrition. This inspired me to try pretty much every diet, cleanse, potion, philosophy, and ideology imaginable claiming to offer the true key to health. While none of them fixed me, the more I shunned preservatives, chemicals, refined, and processed, the better I felt. Marginally. I delved deeper into my quest to understand the human body’s relationship with food and uncovered the startling truth about the dangers of yo-yo dieting. For the first time in my life it became urgently clear whatever modifications I decided to implement had to be forever. I’d already used up more than my nine lives and didn’t have another to spare! So I changed tiny little things at a time. Initially it was really basic, like not eating takeout as often or stuffing myself so full of food I felt like a sausage ready to explode. After I lived with a lifestyle adjustment for a while, I’d embark upon another. Over the course of a couple years I became a pretty clean eater, with plenty of cheating thrown in to satiate my human factor. I wasn’t striving for perfection; my target was longevity.

One day in early 2013 I went into my closet and grabbed a pair of “skinny” pants that had been collecting dust for half a decade. Imagine my surprise when they not only slid past my hips, but buttoned perfectly at the waist! However, when I turned around, I was shocked to discover they were actually baggy in the butt. Exercise and clean eating helped rejuvenate my metabolism, but I was still a sick girl on a slew of medications and the weight loss wasn’t happening proportionately. Adding a fifteen-minute abs routine to my yoga DVD a couple times a week wasn’t an instant fix, but once again, it helped.

Shortly thereafter it dawned on me exercise no longer hurt, but eased my suffering so much it actually felt worse when I slacked off. Couple that with a diet of whole, natural food, and I was hardly taking pain medicine at all anymore. Then one night after dinner at my mom’s house the unthinkable happened. Without a second thought, I jumped up to clear the table and help with the dishes for the first time in years. It was a stunning moment that seemed to prove the crux of my nightmare was firmly rooted in the past. Except in my own mind, it wasn’t. I was still sick, still disabled, and despite all my progress, so sick and tired of being sick and tired I was anything but happy.

Watching a documentary about juicing vegetables to alleviate chronic illness spurred my next lifestyle alteration. Although I’d tried juicing before, only to discover it was no miracle cure, my desperation encouraged me to give it another whirl. After some nasty experimentation, whereupon I learned I absolutely despise onion juice, I found drinking my daily dose of veggies exponentially stabilized my chronic pain and sickness. But the benefits didn’t stop there. I immediately cut my food consumption in a third because I just wasn’t hungry. My body stopped craving fuel for distraction, pleasure, or any reason other than honest-to-goodness hunger. It didn’t take long for me to lose more weight.

So of course in the spring of 2014 I went and injured my feet, rendering myself unable to run. Terror over regaining all the weight I shed, pain I diminished, and disease I wrangled my life back from propelled me to the gym for the first time since I became disabled in 2006. Until I walked in the front door. The reality of mingling with a bunch of buffed-out muscle heads was so intimidating, I almost turned around and left in tears without lifting a single dumbbell. But I didn’t. That determination was soon rewarded when my “skinny” clothes went from baggy to falling off. The need to replace my wardrobe yielded the shock of my life. Somehow, in my quest to break the cycle of constant and pervasive illness, I’d gone from a size sixteen to a six. It’s an accomplishment I’ve effortlessly maintained for well over a year.

Today I credit exercise and nutrition with giving me much of my life back. While I still struggle with pain and sickness, my symptom severity has improved enough to start moving forward once again. But my journey toward health is nowhere near over. I continue to research and adapt the food I fuel my body with in small, maintainable ways. I’m constantly finding new ways to challenge myself at the gym while respecting the limitations of my illness. And I still cheat all the time. After all, my goal isn’t perfection. It’s longevity.

Thanks for joining,
Leah

Many thanks to my readers for all your support over the years. This is my first published article, and I never would have achieved this milestone if you hadn't believed in me and kept reading!   

#chronicillness #chronicpain #pain #exercise #weightloss #diet #fibromyalgia

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Perils of Gainful Employment

A little over three months ago I started back to regular, part-time employment. While returning to retail cosmetics has certainly presented me with many challenges, I have to admit the experience is going overwhelmingly well. During the first month, my determination to be successful put me on my best behavior. In an effort to convince my boss hiring a double-stroke survivor with chronic illness and a four-year gap in work history was a wise move, I knew I had to show up every single day with a smile on my face and a fire lit under my bum. To coax such uncharacteristic behavior out of my moody little self, I set some strict parameters. 

First and foremost, I vowed to juice two days worth of fresh veggie juice every other day without fail, convinced it would keep my immune system boosted enough that I wouldn't descend into a devil-woman viral flare. Shock and awe, it worked. Although a good night's sleep and decent workout at the gym quickly became a distant memory, I felt good. So good, my mortal fear of winding up back on pain killers turned out to be completely unwarranted. The timing also coincided with lent. This year I decided to give up beer, hoping my ginormous sacrifice would serve double-duty to help keep my health stable. While I don't drink more than once a week, and certainly not the night before I work, I'm still a reformed party girl who likes to get a good buzz on. In hindsight, I can begrudgingly admit only imbibing in a couple Moscow Mules twice over a forty-day period helped my fragile well-being, a little. Even if by the time Good Friday hit I was an uptight freak-show who desperately needed to let her hair down. 

In the second month I fell out. I slacked off on juicing, had to do some major making up with Dos Equis to compensate for our forty day breakup, and the first month of not sleeping brutally caught up with me. That devil-woman mood not only reared its ugly head, I descended into what I call the "Mid-2015 Anger Phase." I got myself all bent out of shape about a variety of lame injustices corporate America delivers to its lowly store-level employees. Then my frustration with my demanding, overly-entitled customer base got the best of me. This led me to start fixating on my problems, not my blessings. In turn, I got really pissed off about even getting sick in the first place and how incredibly hard my journey has been. Of course, it didn't take long for my bitterness to take over. Although I know this complex web of my own devise well, I failed to recognize when it was happening. So much so, I threw a couple tantrums. Not with tears or anything, but more of a desperate outpouring of my insecurities and frustrations all over a few coworkers. And plenty of attitude shoved at some others who had gone out of their way to be unhelpful.

Luckily, in the third month I simultaneously got a grip and found my acceptance. I realized juicing only a couple times a week wasn't doing nearly enough to keep me from ping-ponging from flare to flare. While I couldn't do much about my insomnia, short of working mainly closing shifts, I knew juicing was 34% of the reason my health was stable enough to allow me to return to work in the first place. So I upped the frequency, and vowed to shell out wads of cash for the store-made stuff when I didn't have time to do it myself. I also refocused on ignoring any and all negativity at every cost. Squashing my own distorted perceptions until I could sort out my errant emotions from objective reality was the only way I'd moved my life forward, and I wasn't about to backslide now!   

Of course, good intentions and an attitude adjustment don't magically erase the perpetual flare cycle I'm desperate to vacate. In fact, I literally have six huge boils erupting all over my face right now, which is especially helpful when trying to convince Mrs. Beverly Hills with too much Botox she needs my $380 face cream, not the one from the next counter over. I've also totally backslid at the gym, which is desperately depressing after all my hard work. But I'm as determined as ever to reclaim my progress and continue moving my life forward, knowing full-well getting this beast back to managed will take months. 

Thanks for joining,
Leah

#chronicillness #fibromyalgia #fibro #work        

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Friendships Lost

Friends of ours in Phoenix got married on April 4th. The date sticks out in my mind because it was the 16th anniversary of the day I started dating my husband. I got their wedding invitation the standard 6-8 weeks out, although I knew about the occasion well in advance. Since I started my job at the end of March, and immediately went right into a big three-week-long promotion, it was all I could do to scribble my fondest regrets on the back of the RSVP card and send it back a week before the wedding. In a pen that was running out of ink. Classy, I'm well aware.

Resuming employment threw me into such a tailspin (although far less of one than in the past), it took two months for me to catch my breath. Just a couple weeks ago I finally started sleeping at night again, which allowed me to get through a workout at the gym without cursing my compromised immune system, delve deeply into finishing my book, and catch mostly up on the laundry. Also, when I was buying Mother's Day cards, I got around to buying the newlyweds a really adorable greeting to convey our well wishes.

Said correspondence still sits in my stack of incoming mail. In the bag. And it probably will for the next few weeks. In the interest of full disclosure, I can't find the invitation. This means I have to call the bride's sister to procure the happy couple's address. In and of itself not an overwhelmingly big deal, but yet one more step to encourage my dereliction in an already embarrassingly delayed, outrageously delinquent, all-together negligent effort to say congratu-flippin-lations to our friends who got married. Which is kind of a big deal. 

And that, precisely, is why the majority of my friends have faded away. After ten years of this illness yanking me around like life's yo-yo, I'm playing a desperate game of catch-up and can barely do me. There isn't enough to offer any consistency to anyone else. I don't attend birthday parties, Memorial Day barbecues, retirement celebrations, or, clearly, anything wedding related. After so many years of behaving like the world's biggest flake, or continuously taking without giving, or not being there for a person who has been there for me, I've kinda given up. I've thrown friends into a mythical pile of fantasy nice-to-haves, along with a doctor who helps me more than I've helped myself, or a boss who doesn't require much work for a paycheck. Maybe one day I'll be so fortunate to have a thriving social life again, but I don't see it happening any time soon.  

Thanks for joining,
Leah 

#fibromyalgia #chronicillness #chronicpain #invisibleillness #friendship         

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

My Fibromyalgia Awareness Journey

The guts to go public with this blog didn't come easy. It required high-doses of Prednisone, to be exact. The year was 2010, and it was an infinitely simpler time in the world of social media. Or so my naivete thought. My Prednisone-high made me so empowered to bring awareness to this horrible illness, it inspired me to rip out my guts and spew them all over the pages of this blog. I figured I'd been through living hell and survived, so maybe my words could help someone. Hindsight is such a bittersweet lover, seeing as I was knee deep in the middle of my second waltz through Hades, but was too fucked up to realize it. 

But, back in the beginning I didn't just pen this blog. In order to get people to read it, I tapped into the fibromyalgia community on Facebook and started promoting my writing. Much to my surprise, not only did people read my blog, but the feedback I got was incredible! Suddenly, my feelings of total estrangement from normal society lessened a little as I started to meet people who understood my experience. Sure the details differed, but we'd all been kicked in the teeth by the impact an unexplained chronic illness has on one's hopes, dreams and the progress of living life. To say it's anything less than a bonding comprehension would be to understate the severity of the suffering.

Sadly, it didn't take long for my new-found joy to go completely awry. Looking back now I can't remember if I got off Prednisone first, or if the cyber-bullying predated my foray into one of the most physically and mentally weak phases of my entire life. All I knew was my world was crashing down around me, all the work I'd done to get my life back from fibromyalgia had been obliterated, down was up, day was night, good was evil, evil was all there was, and the people online were viscous. Mean. Attacking me personally on such raw levels, the woman writing this today can't believe I even took it seriously. But, alas, I did. After that, I nearly lost myself in an abyss so dark, I didn't know such caverns of blight existed.

Like a cloak of impenetrable protection, my ensuing retreat of anger and betrayal exiled me from the online world in nearly every way. The only reason I didn't delete this entire blog and the Facebook support page I started was because my husband physically stopped me from doing so. I felt so exposed and abused, I vowed to never allow the world at large such open access to me ever again. I shoved my sweeping plans for fibromyalgia awareness on the shelf of "not worth my sanity," and channeled all my intentions into writing my fiction book about a girl whose life gets all screwed up when she gets fibro. When I could muster up an intermittent blog, they pretty much covered the same rotation of three safe topics in an endless, tired reprise. Knowing I had to defend every damn word I wrote to my dying breath left me with little to say, and even less of a desire to say it. As I settled into life as a reclusive, anti-social loner, the last of my innocence nearly a decade of sickness hadn't stripped me of yet, truly died.

The funny thing about my life is for a long while the bad just kept coming, and it wasn't over yet. I learned this the day my rock crumbled. Suddenly overnight, I had to find more strength inside my bitter, angry, weak self than I'd ever possessed in my entire existence. Life reached such a basic, fundamental level of sink or swim, I became terrified for my own survival. That fear sharpened my fighting claws into vicious blades of determination. In the ensuing weeks and months, as my impending demise grew increasingly smaller in my rear-view mirror, I finally understood what a survivor I truly am.

While the deep scaring all this trauma slashed into my heart has mostly healed, I can still only engage with social media in very limited doses. It took a lot for me to recognize anyone who does anything on a large scale is opening themselves up to ridicule and hate. As much as I wish I realized it in the beginning, it's a hard-fought lesson I won't have to learn twice. But knowing it's par for the course doesn't make it any easier to absorb. So I'm tender, delicate, and still very guarded in my online dealings. I'm also almost done with that book, and still have every intention of raising tremendous awareness about the horrible disease that gobbled up my life.                       

Thanks for joining,
Leah

#fibromyalgia #fibro #chronicillness #chronicpain #invisibleillness #fibromyaligaawareness  

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Back To Work I Go

Last fall I started back to work as a freelance makeup artist. It wasn't something I was planning, it was actually kind of a fluke. I was buying makeup one afternoon and ran into a former employee, who now holds a relatively significant position with the company. After overcoming some psychological resistance on my part, seeing as I thought my cosmetics days were long behind me, I decided freelancing was a great way to pick up some much-needed cash, as well as reclaim a piece of my life my illnesses stole from me. But it was scary. For my first assignment I had to drive forty-five miles away, work in a fast-paced environment with the *gasp* general public, and spend eight hours running around on my feet. Then drive forty-five miles back home on one of LA's most infamous parking lots, the 405 freeway. All by myself. 

Of course I was so nervous about being late, I didn't sleep the night before. That lasted a good three months. Upon arriving at work, I learned during the four years I was home convalescing a bunch of products were discontinued and new ones appeared in their place. To whom exactly was I supposed to sell what? Did I still know how to put makeup on other people? Could I even make polite chit chat while hoovering an inch away from a strange woman's face, or remember how to sanitize my testers so I didn't give my customer's pink eye? While the questions whirled around my brain, I got to work. Needless to say, it went swimmingly. I actually even had fun. My future assignments were sporadic and geographically vast, so last month when an opportunity came up for a part-time position not too far from my house I decided to take the plunge back into the land of the gainfully employed. That was scary too, but not as bad as the first step forward. Maybe because I already knew I could do the fundamentals of the job. Now I just had to relinquish all control over my own schedule to the retail gods, and pray for mercy. 

One month in, and I'm on my knees begging and pleading for that mercy. I'm flippin' exhausted! I can't sleep at night, and waking up at six in the morning is quickly turning me into a miserable wretch. I'm grasping onto my luxurious lifestyle of eight hours of sleep and yoga and the gym and juicing, all the things that make living with fibromyalgia manageable for me, by a frayed little thread. And my book...the passion of my life I've spent the last four years fashioning into something magical, has been painfully shoved onto the back burner of my cold, neglected stove. I'm simultaneously trying to ignore the fact that my life is spiraling out of my own control, while doing everything in my power to hold on to my progress. 

I have to remember this is a transition. Transitions are hard, especially for the chronically ill. As I struggle to keep my footing, I'm constantly reminding myself how hard I toiled to get to a place where working part-time was even a viable option. All my attention is focused on how healthy I am now, not how sick I was in the past. I'm juicing with habitual vengeance, and believing it will keep my deficient immune system functioning well enough so to keep me from descending back into the hell of this life-sucking disease. And I'm praying. A lot. I'm believing if God bothered to drop this surprising opportunity in my lap, with enough hard work and determination I will be successful.

Thanks for joining,
Leah      

#fibromyalgia #chronicillness #chronicpain #job #work #employment   

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Say Cheese!

June marks the tenth anniversary of when I first became sick. Ten years since life as I knew it ceased to exist. Ten years of more devastation, loss, and anguish than I thought one lifetime could possibly possess. During the last ten years, I've reached some severe lows. Like many people who live in chronic pain, eventually my appearance became the last thing in the world I cared about. I hurt too much to give a rats woo-ha how meth-addicted my long, dark roots looked against my bleached-blonde hair. When my chronic fatigue syndrome/ME was so bad I had to choose between taking a shower and emptying the dishwasher, the dishwasher usually won. Between the weight gain and medication-induced apathy, panic and fear over my crumbling ability to care for myself, and that faithful friend called depression to accompany all of this misery, I let myself go.

I didn't just let myself go. I wouldn't shower for days. I'd greet both the sun and the moon wearing the same sweatpants, again and again and again. Makeup became something I put on for work because, after all, I was a makeup artist and kinda had to. After my strokes and post-Prednisone weight explosion, I fit into exactly one pair of pants. I wasn't working anymore, had no friends, no money to buy new clothes, and never went anywhere with my frizzled-out brain anyway, so I stopped caring about what I looked like. I shunned both the mirror and camera with equal vigor and retreated into hermit-ville to write my book. 

Eventually I found my way back from the dark abyss of chronic illness sucking up my entire existence. It wasn't until I started juicing that I began caring about how I looked again. Not spending most of my days in a horrible flare left me with enough frivolity in my life to want to look better. I dug out my cases of makeup and tried to remember how to put it on. I forced myself to shower every day until I started to feel nasty when I didn't. My shoulder didn't hurt so bad anymore, so I started straightening my hair. Except I still wasn't working. It seemed completely absurd to go to all the effort, only to sit on my sofa by myself and write my book.

Enter Instagram. My profile is selfie-obsessed on purpose. After so many years of self-neglect, I had to get comfortable with the woman I saw in the mirror again. So I forced myself to take my own picture every flippin' day and publish it on the world wide web. Ahhhhh! It was so awkward at first! I felt like an idiot. A self-obsessed, conceited, superficial ninny. Eventually I got over my self-consciousness, remembered I was doing it for a reason, and started having fun. Today caring about my appearance has become about so much more than my vanity. It's yet one more thing sickness stole from me, that I fought my ass off to win back.

Thanks for joining,
Leah

#fibromyalgia #chronicillness #chronicpain #sickness #vanity #selfie #appearance