Saturday, August 29, 2015

Slumber Power

The first step in getting my fibromyalgia managed was to start sleeping. Between the pain and my racing brain, this was no simple task. While I was certainly still popping my share of pills, doping myself into a slumber stupor stopped working years before and wasn't a lifetime solution to cure my ever-worsening insomnia. But I had no clue what was. Sleep hygiene, meditation, supplements, positive thinking, desperate freak-outs, none of them worked. What did? Drinking fresh vegetable juice. Shortly after Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead inspired me to start juicing regularly, I started sleeping. It was glorious! Not every night, but with increasing regularity I would wake up refreshed, well-rested, and a tiny bit more stabilized than I was the night before. 

In hindsight, I can see this was the first building block that got me back to living. Not walking around like a zombie trudging through quicksand for the majority of my days did wonders for my ability to engage in this frivolous little game healthy people call life. Once my deficient immune system was getting both nutrition and sleep, the virus that created all this mayhem in the first place didn't have nearly as much control over its host, i.e. me. Exercising with any kind of regularity, making plans and actually keeping them, being able to focus on something other than how awful I always felt, it all became possible for the first time in many years.

So here I sit, after all this progress, with another sleep transition being thrust upon me. For the last month or so, my eyes have been popping open between 7 and 8 a.m., regardless of what time I went to sleep, which is usually somewhere around 2 in the morning. Needless to say, I will not keep my tenuous grasp on both my sanity and my illness by getting five hours of sleep a night. I'm trying so hard to frame this latest challenge as an opportunity to get on a normal schedule, not a sabotage of my entire existence. It's hard. Luckily, with an extra-strict application of all that sleep hygiene poppycock, falling asleep isn't nearly as challenging as it used to be. So here I sit, at 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, having gone to sleep at 12:30, trying to figure out what on earth to do with my well-rested self. What do normal, responsible, not sick adults, who don't have to work, do so early on a Saturday morning? I suppose I'll go find out.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Another Outrageous Reaction

I know myself very well at this point in my life. I know my behaviors, my triggers, my illnesses, and all that is required to make life happen so I can get out of bed in the morning and live it. Believe you me, it's been no easy feat gleaning all this knowledge, but now that I own it, it's mine. So did I expect to totally freak out and work myself into an incorrigible tizzy over last week's blow-up with my boss? Well...I hoped I wouldn't. I mean, nobody can control my reactions to life but me, right? I certainly tried not to, especially once the boils started breaking out on my face and the all-consuming anger signaling a monster flare reared its ugly head. Sadly, in this instance, mind over matter didn't win.

Especially when I woke up "healthy-people" sick. After six nights of little to no sleep, my ability to cope flew out the window. There was no way in hell I could override all the forces pecking at my resolve, so I succumbed. Violent conversations with every employer who's ever wronged me commandeered my consciousness. Fits of rage over how bad it sucks to be a sick woman living in a healthy world consumed me. My peace, my strength, my resolve, my belief that I can conquer whatever life throws my way-- all flew out the window in the face of this relatively minor blip on the radar of getting back to living life. So on Saturday, for the first time since I started work in March, I called in sick. And then I had to go to that damn Sunday morning meeting, where I proceeded to hack and sneeze all over my co-workers, who weren't any happier about being there than I was. Well, maybe a little, considering they aren't both chronically ill and healthy-people sick. 

Today I'm still sick, but getting a grip. As I start to see a glimmer of the strong woman I know I am peeking around the corner, I'm remembering how important life's challenges are for me. They stretch me, they grow me, and they force me to become a better me. They also invigorate my low tolerance for other people's bullshit, which only helps propel me further. In my logical mind, I know it's vitally important this job remain uncomfortable. Not take me down in a spiraling heap of disability, but not foster my natural tendency to settle into complacency, either. I have big goals and ambitions and must be constantly reminded to stay on the path of great resistance, least I never achieve what is in my heart. So I'm choosing to view this whole experience as yet another opportunity to hone my focus. Once I get over this darn flu and can get back to living my life, that is. 

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Work-Illness Balance

Well, the inevitable finally happened. A confrontation with my boss which completely caught me off guard and went horribly wrong. Last night at 9:30, when she informed me I had to attend a mandatory 9 a.m. meeting on Sunday, it was the first I was hearing about said meeting. In my effort to be a flexible and accommodating employee, I said, "Great, but I'm off Sunday so I'll need to work that day, because I can only work four days a week. So you have to take me off of another one of my shifts." Of course, she wasn't willing to do that, and had no clue why attending a two-hour breakfast meeting would constitute an entire day of work for me. That's when the conversation went off the rails.

I began stammering about having to go the gym and my back seizing up. Next thing I know, I'm looking at my schedule with my boss, and she's pointing out all the other times I'm available to go to the gym that week. Sigh. Thanks, lady, but I'm 39 years old, and don't need help organizing my free time. Of course, by this point I'm flustered and losing my composure. I sound punitive, unflexible, and whiny. Then she asks me if I will work five days a week during our next promotion! Inside, I panic. I get flustered and almost start crying. All my PTSD alarms are sounding, and I break down and tell her I live with chronic illness, and didn't work for four years, and my life is very hard to manage, and I'm doing my best, and I pretty much fly out of there in a rage so huge, I don't really remember leaving the building.

About halfway home I remember my resolve to not react emotionally to life. Oh yeah, that. It takes another hour for me to realize I never received said email informing me about the meeting. A little while later the big daddy hits me; I've never discussed my health problems with my boss. Obviously, during the interview I wasn't trying to play up my deficiencies, I was trying to get hired. So aside from addressing my gap in work history and being absolutely firm that I can only work a maximum of four days and 30 hours a week, I didn't go into it. Now here I sit, expecting her to understand something she doesn't know anything about because I've never explained it to her. 

Another big freakin' sigh. This sucks. I shouldn't have to explain that my schedule problems have far more to do with my sleep issues and my persistent virus waiting in the wings to take over my life if I don't live like an extreme-health psycho. That's nobody's business, really. But if there's one thing being back to work for the last five moths has taught me, fair doesn't exist. If I want this job to work, I have to make it work, and unfortunately that includes arming my manager with enough information to respect my limitations. I'm off today, and will probably spend the majority of it hashing out this conversation in my head, reacting to how unfair and hard this is, trying to come off as a competent, able-bodied, sound-minded individual while still conveying the struggle of my reality. Living, walking, and breathing the absurd paradox this illness forces me to embrace.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My Painful Stumble from Furious to Fit

Originally published by the Community Pain Center. Please click the link below:

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.

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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. 

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#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.  

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#fibromyalgia #chronicillness #chronicpain #invisibleillness #friendship