Tuesday, December 29, 2015

So I Rebuild

Life has stopped working for me a couple of times. The only way I got it going again was to take a long, hard look at the lady in the mirror and decide to change. Not my circumstances, or my associations, or my reality. I'd already beat my head against the wall 500,000 times trying to change those things, with sorry little improvement. No, this time the change was me. It was my perceptions and attitude, and more to the point, the way I choose to experience my experiences. Since it was the only thing that was flexible in my life at the time, that's where I started. And after a hell of a lot of hard work, the results were staggering.

Another huge change is upon me. This time it isn't juicing or weightlifting I'm looking toward to revolutionize my reality. The changes I seek are of a far more internal nature. It's not bulging biceps I'm after, but internal peace. Having to quit my job made me swallow a huge dose of acceptance all that juicing and weightlifting allowed me to ignore. I'm a sick girl with limitations. It is what it is. But I can also have a fabulous life. And the things standing in my way this time aren't my physical ailments, no matter how God awful I may feel today, but my mental patterns.

The time to rebuild physically isn't mine for another couple of weeks, but I'm not waiting one more moment to begin walking toward mental freedom. Hindsight is so sweet, and allows me the perspective to recognize I built my house of health on sand, with my frantic, take ultimate responsibility for everything, no excuses approach to managing my fibro. Then my immune system crumbled and my house got swept out to sea. So this time I'm being kinder, gentler, and far more generous with myself. I'm recognizing how I'm different from everyone else, not just trying to be the same. And I'm looking deep inside to create a life of intention-- because of the circumstances that have been thrust upon me, not in spite of them.

Thanks for joining,
Leah

Monday, December 28, 2015

Leap of Faith

Please click this link to visit Healthline's Best Health Blog Contest and enter "Chronicles of Fibromyalgia" in the search box. Thanks for all your support!
Thanks for nominating me for Healthline's Best Health Blogs of 2015 contest! Last year we made it all the way to 16th place, which is really quite remarkable. I started this blog in 2010 full of fervor and determined to change the world-- or at least the way fibromyalgia patients experience it. Then two things happened: I realized what a supremely difficult place fibro patients hold in society and I completely fell apart. It all seemed too huge, too big, far more insurmountable than anything I had ever fathomed, both my life and fibromyalgia awareness. So I narrowed my focus, kept blogging, and set about trying to fix the mess that was me.

The last five years have shown me more ups, downs, and sideways progress than I ever dreamed possible. I learned more about myself, constantly having to pick me up off the floor, than five lifetimes should have taught me. Who I am today is an all together different woman than the one who introduced herself to the world five years ago. I am strong. I am powerful. I am incredibly capable. And I've worked extremely hard and am ready to soar.

I sit here on the cusp of 2016 bursting with excitement. As I prepare to conclude my department store cosmetics career in these next few weeks, I am setting my sights on the future. A future unknown, of course, but a future I have toiled to the bone to make happen none the less. My quest to raise the awareness of what it's like to live with this illness is finally coming to fruition. Although not always physically strong I am spiritually, mentally, and emotionally clear and focused, which allows me to keep my sights firmly set on the future. A future that is requiring me to take a giant leap of faith. But a giant leap of faith is movement in one direction...forward.

Thanks for joining,
Leah

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Simple Choice

It's astoundingly easy to decide what I have to do next. Not because of what may happen, but because of what has happened. Unfortunately, my fibro got on top of me. I went from spending my days off of work at the gym to being too sick to haul my sorry ass into work-- in the span of a few short months. In order to make it in on the days I'm not too weak and dizzy to stand up or drive, I've had to re-start two medications I'd previously discontinued. For me, this is necessary in a pinch but unacceptable long term.

What I want is to be off all medications. For someone who juices as much as I do, eats so freakishly clean, and used to exercise with such dogged determination, it should be a no brainer. Unfortunately, all my lifestyle efforts keep my illness managed, but whatever is broken inside me is still not fixed. And right now, my lifestyle efforts ain't doin' jack squat to manage much. Now, I've gone down this road many times before. The illness gets on top, my doctor prescribes more meds, I get sicker, push myself harder, get even sicker, take more meds, and before you know it...I'm in the hospital with pancreatitis or, heaven forbid, two strokes. Like I said, it's not because of what may happen, but because of what has happened that requires me to make this choice. 

I made a decision in 2010 to live. By 2011, I was so broken down I tried to renege on that choice a couple of times, but by the end of the year found a way to move forward. In 2013 I discovered juicing vegetables, which stabilized my immune system enough for me to start lifting weights again. Suddenly a whole world, a world I thought I permanently vacated--the world of the living--existed. Sadly, few things last forever, and my upswing is currently faltering. I'm now being faced with the same choice I had to make before. How far do I let fibro sink her fangs? Or do I push the pause button and decide, as I did once before, to live?

Thanks for joining,
Leah

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Girl Can Dream

Eureka! Great Scott! Heavens to Betsy! I did it. Not only has my two-month-long monster flare ended, I somehow survived it without succumbing to the mental madness being so sick for so long inflicts upon me. While I can't imagine this is the first time I didn't get all crazy and "chicken little" about the state of my reality, it sure feels like it. It's like I won a prize, achieved the unachievable, conquered the impossible! It also tells me I can do it again. Especially considering the symptoms I was experiencing were so strange and severe, they're what sent me to the doctor freaking out in the first place, ten long years ago. But this time I didn't freak out. 

Ten years with no answers, no solutions, just a culture intent on blaming the patient when they don't understand the problem. Ten years of being so sick, life as I knew it ceased to exist. Ten years of becoming estranged and alienated from the people, expectations, and accomplishments I defined myself by. Ten years of beating the proverbial crap out of myself for getting sick with something unexplainable. Ten years of trying to earn a living, hang on to a marriage, and keep a friendship or two, when all I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and die. It's been a long journey, these last ten years. 

Strangely enough, this last decade has made me who I am. Some days I like that person, other days I do not. Today I'm extremely proud of her. These last five years have perhaps been the hardest, even though they're when I started finding my way out of the abyss. If fibro has taught me anything, it's that you're only as good as surviving your last flare. So as I celebrate not being in pain and being able to sleep, I'm trying not to remind myself it will probably end in the next few days. Logic tells me my immune system is at an all-time low and needs a lot of work to regain her strength. The flare cycle is far from over. But the victor in me, the one who spent the last ten years getting really sick and freaking out, but somehow didn't this last round, well, she's praying it lasts forever.

Thanks for joining,
Leah              

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Gift for Myself

I feel like a victor. Sure, my health may be crumbling down around my feet and I've had to pull the trigger on my exit plan well before the right time, but I still feel victorious. Because I am not freaking out. For months all I've done is freak out. Then I realized most of it is past-based fear. More precisely, I've been railing against my fear of the present getting sucked back into the reality of my past. My past sucks, and it's the last place I want to revisit. So much so, I've spent the last few years racing around doing everything I possibly can not to wind up there. I don't regret my efforts, but know the combination of taking SO much responsibility for my circumstances and pushing myself too hard were grand contributors to my current situation.

Everything in life is a learning experience, if I allow it to be. Usually I'm so wrapped up in reacting to the explosion of my expectations, I don't learn half of what I could from any given situation. But this time something's different. Me. First, I refuse to beat myself up or blame myself for my fibro becoming unmanaged. I have a complex illness, an illness so complex doctors don't even know how to effectively treat it. So it's up to me to make sure I have the best quality of life I possibly can by taking care of myself. And I have to admit I was doing a pretty darn good job. But sometimes life takes over and the excessive amounts of self-care required to live a decent quality of life aren't possible. It is what it is and certainly isn't my fault. 

Second, I refuse to believe my future is condemned to become my past. The only thing linking the two is me, and I am a fluid being, not a fixed entity. This means I can change, and change starts inside. It starts with a choice to be gentle and kind to myself. To accept and do the best I can. And perhaps the biggest change of all is to leave my anger, panic, and fear at the door. I am choosing to walk into the future charting a new path, one where my emotions don't sit in the drivers seat. One where I have faith in myself, the future, and can finally give myself the greatest gift of all-- a peaceful path forward. Even if I ain't movin' very fast.  

Thanks for joining,
Leah  

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Acceptance Revisited

I am a female who lives with invisible chronic illness. It is a frustrating reality, one I have devoted years of my life to disputing, discrediting, denying, fighting, proving wrong, hating, and railing against in my quest to still have a life despite my disability. All my bellyaching and determination got me pretty far in managing my fibromyalgia. By completely changing everything about how I experience health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition, I tamed the beast so it was pretty darn undetectable. It took epic amounts of work, and suffering through a lot of pain and agony, but I am one of the fortunate with this illness who found a way to survive, and at times even thrive.

And then, after four years of exhaustive efforts, I went back to work. I knew the transition was going to be tough, and it was. But by staying true to my lifestyle commitments of juicing vegetables and exercising regularly, I managed to stabilize. In fact, my efforts to manage my fibro worked so well, I began to wonder what all the fuss was about. My relentless commitment to juicing and exercising started to make me feel a bit neurotic and self-obsessed. However, whenever I stepped off the train of healthy choices, the physical consequences of fibro smacked me around hard enough to hurl myself back on the wagon again.

I existed in this state for a few months. Then I got a pretty bad cold, which I pushed myself to work through. Shortly thereafter, my number one nemesis reared its ugly, thorny, life-destroying head: INSOMNIA. A few weeks later I got sick again, this time a little worse. Barely a month later I got the second-worst flu of my life-- three days spent in sweating and shivering hallucinations followed by four days of raging stomach flu. And that, my friends, is when fibro got back into the drivers seat of my life. I sit here hardly four months after that first cold hit me too fatigued to exercise, in horrible pain because I haven't exercised, burdened by a sore throat, achy body, headache, confusion, difficulty forming words, incontinence, and utterly incapable of duplicating a decent night's sleep. I'm still gulping down my kale-beet-asparagus juice, but one leg doesn't hold up a three-legged stool, and without the exercise and sleep, I'm only getting sicker.

I am a female who lives with invisible chronic illness. It's a frustrating reality, one I've spent years of my life trying to overcome. Right now I'm at a crossroads, and it's requiring buckets of acceptance to figure out how to proceed. Rising up above the immediacy of my circumstances is the only way I've endured up to this point, and I'm not about to give up now. Yet finding the faith to take the giant leap forward required to make that happen is extremely flippin' difficult. All I can do is breathe deeply, tread slowly, and stay focused on my ultimate destination. For once I tasted health, it's now the only thing that matters.    

Thanks for joining,
Leah         

Monday, November 30, 2015

Day 30: 10 Out of 30 Ain't Bad

Thirty days ago I flew into a fit of rebellion against the direction my life was headed. I decided to try and take back some control over my circumstances by blogging every day for thirty days. Desperate to figure out what the hell had happened and how to correct it, I figured pouring my heart and soul into my blog would allow me the clarity to fix what was becoming very broken. Me. Challenging myself to such a high expectation seems funny to me now, considering I know very well life isn't "just a decision" and habits aren't "made in twenty-one days" like everyone seems to think. But, alas, I tried, and managed to blog ten times over the course of the month. Considering I usually post about four times a month, I'm pleased with the result of my efforts. Even if my competitive nature has me determined to blog at least eleven times during the month of December. 

Thirty days showed me a lot. While it didn't even remotely fix what is broken, I am now aware of my reality in a way I was too busy to acknowledge before. And busy is my exact problem. Trying to balance managing my health with working part-time and completing my novel had me running around like a chicken without a head. My life has become frantic and hectic again, which doesn't allow me the time to tend to what is dying inside me-- my soul. Over the course of this past month I discovered forward progress isn't only achieved by hard work, but requires profound internal reflection in order to move me in the right direction. Otherwise, I'm moving, but it's in a pointless circle at a breakneck speed-- i.e. a chicken without a head.

Thirty days from now I will be sitting in a different reality. I will have different regrets than I do today. I will have thirty more days of experience in surviving this tricky devil we call life. I will be thirty days wiser, more battered, less successful, and more accomplished. I pray I can spend this next thirty days being kinder to me. Demanding so much from myself is exhaustive and really got me away from the primary purpose of my existence-- to celebrate the miracle that is this life.

Thanks for joining,
Leah             

Friday, November 20, 2015

Day 20: I Keep Waiting

Every morning I wake up hoping and praying I feel better. It isn't happening. What is happening, however, is my mental strength is being unduly tested. Severely. Each day my grasp on health and stability slips further from my reach. I keep telling myself this will pass, the darkness will lift, the flare will subside, and I will NOT lose all my hard-fought progress to this illness again. 

Not reacting to such a temporary state of being is the greatest gift I can give myself, right? For every time I let my life swirl into the gutter of chaos, it's only that much more work to get back up again. And I always get up again. So if I just don't slide so far down in the first place, this never-ending flare is entirely manageable, right? Except ten years isn't temporary. While I've been on an upswing (albeit a very hard climb) these last few years, the last ten years have been utterly life destroying. And I'm so unbelievably damaged, that is what's making it so hard to get through this flare with a modicum of hope.

So I have a choice. I can keep reacting. I can keep being pissed off because I hurt so bad or am getting confused so easily. I can continue to feel imprisoned in my life because of my illness. I can continue to hate the world because nobody can help me get better, or even remotely understands how sick I am. I can continue to collect injustices and live in fear. Each day can be a deeper descent into the madness of sick. But I've seen the bottom of where this road leads, and it's an unbearably awful place.

So I can, once again, stop the ride and accept my reality. Soften my approach and allow love into my heart. Start looking at a half-full cup through rose-tinted glasses, damn it! I know this is expecting the extraordinary, when I'm such a naturally grouchy and feisty individual, but it's the only way I know how to refuse to let sick be all I am. By counting one blessing at a time, one choice not to react at a time, one push to positive at a time, maybe it won't make waiting for that elusive tomorrow so hard. 

Thanks for joining,
Leah   

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Day 14: The Power of Breath

Today I did yoga. It hurt like hell. However, my flare finally subsided enough to allow me the energy to exercise, so I figured I'd get back on the horse. Of course, doing pigeon pose immediately reminded me of how far I've come on my exercise journey. Getting my hands to clasp over my head, with one knee bent straight before me and the other leg straight back behind me, is one of the hardest poses I've been able to achieve since I began exercising four years ago. I spent at least a year just getting myself to sit up straight, and it took another year to lift my hands off the mat. The day my crooked arms flung up above the shoulders, I swelled with the sweet joy of pride, before collapsing in a heap of anguish on the floor. Still to this day, nothing rips through the agony buried deep in my back muscles like pigeon pose. 

Exercising has allowed me to get to know my body intimately. As I've lost weight and developed my muscles, thus working through much of the pain imprisoning me, the true sources of my suffering have revealed themselves. They've also become a lot less horrible. Just one of my examples: When I was my sickest, I couldn't really grip with my right hand. This meant I couldn't cook or write. It really sucked and greatly impacted my ability to function as an independent adult. Years of slowly building up my strength with exercise, while trying to be somewhat respectful of my limitations, has restored my ability to use my right hand. It's also shown me the pain actually comes from the osteoarthritis in my neck, which was also the root source of my two-week headache a few weeks back. That flare up, ironically, was due in part to being so weak I couldn't exercise, which makes my muscles seize up like a vice. The interconnectedness of it all, and how easily fatigue and pain tip my illness-life balance in disastrous directions, is so preposterous it's enough to make a person go insane!

So today I focused on breathing in and out as I moved my body. What I was or wasn't able to do, well, I couldn't focus on that and my breath at the same time. What I have done in the past, or think I should be capable of doing today, those weren't concerns I could hold on to, either. So I let it all go. I focused on now. Today. Moving forward. My blessings and gifts. Not how much ground I've lost, where I should be, where I'm not, or how to get back on track. I moved my body to the best of my ability and just breathed.

Thanks for joining,
Leah    

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Day 12: Attitude Adjustment

I've finally admitted something has to change, which is a really big step. Over the last four months, as my health has spiraled out of my control, I have spent a lot of time blaming myself for my challenges. If I were only stronger and more disciplined, or ate cleaner and exercised more, or could just stiffen my trembling upper lip and not take everything so personally, or could stand on my head while gargling... Needless to say, the games I've been playing with me have gotten me exactly where they always have-- sick and failing miserably.

Except I'm not choosing to view this as a failure. This is a grand learning experience I had to try. I had to know if I could slip back into a fraction of my former life without crumbling. Sadly, I can't, but that's not something anybody could have discovered for me. It's something I had to figure out for myself. While today I'm not terribly pleased with the outcome, once I've figured out a way to extract myself from the madness and catch my wits, I'm pretty certain the purpose in all this upheaval will become astoundingly clear.

Thanks for joining,
Leah

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Day 8: Blessed Balance

I follow a lot of inspirational people on Instagram. Tons of workout chicks-- for motivation and ideas, a handful of adorable dogs, some awesome travel profiles, and lots of juicing/clean eaters. A slew of memes grace my cell-phone screen with challenging, encouraging, or just plain thought-provoking directives to get over myself and do better. Usually they work. Life is, after all, a decision, right?

Sometimes, but not today. I've been home from work sick for two days, and this time can't blame it on a flu or "healthy person" sickness. Nope. This is good ol' fashioned fibro, and it's ripping my body apart. I haven't had a flare of this magnitude in a long while and it's terrifying me. More so because of the past than my inability to tolerate monumental levels of pain and weakness. No, I'm so worried because this is how the downward spiral starts. And it ends with me puddled in a mass on the floor with no job, no ability to exercise or juice to beat my illness back into submission, and no mental capability to proceed because I've been destroyed so many times that rebuilding is never a guarantee. Yup, I've been here too many times to not know what's coming next.

So as I'm strolling through my Instagram feed, and some rock-hard fit-chick's meme tells me that only exercising on the days I feel good won't net me fitness-model results, I wanna fling my phone across the room. I want to scream at these people that for their privileged asses, life is a decision to put the doughnut down and get up off the couch and pump iron. But for the chronically ill, it isn't. No, we MUST pay attention to the days we don't feel good, least we push ourselves into a flare that doesn't end for the next five years. We must respect the balance that life has thrust upon us-- not a balance we asked for, can easily find, or enjoy limiting ourselves to. But a balance that allows us to survive still the same.

Thanks for joining,
Leah       

Friday, November 6, 2015

Day 6: Rise into the Fall

Last night when I came home from work I desperately needed to blog and juice. Considering I was far more woman-on-the-verge than capable of being productive, I elected to drink a few beers and watch TV. Turns out allowing myself to let my hair down was the best thing I could have done for me, but I didn't have much of a choice. There reaches a point where living in the immediacy of my misery is so unbearable I just can't do it anymore, and I was there. It wasn't all that surprising seeing as I've worked far more than normal this week, and my health is reeling from the consequences. 

It's taken me a long while to recognize the time healthy people spend cultivating friendships, cleaning their house, traveling, or pursuing hobbies, I spend being sick. It is my down-time, free-time, and me-time all rolled up into one. The rest of my life is either spent working or managing my health. Before I went back to work I had a bit of a grasp on a few of life's details, but in eight short months seem to have slipped right back into survival mode. Perhaps what's most frustrating is there simply is no way to communicate this reality to the outside world. They usually don't care, and even if they do, can't do anything about it. It makes endlessly bitching about how horrible it is to be sick so unbelievably pointless.   

So what to do? Living in this paradoxical state, where I pretend like everything's fine when it clearly isn't, leaves me raw, emotional and oversensitive. I'm weepy, weak, and oh so bitter. It's taking everything I have to remember what's now won't always be. That growth is painful, but I'm learning a lot about myself in the process of rediscovering how to fit into life. Rising from the ashes is scary and overwhelming, but it doesn't mean I'm going to give up. Not only am I learning what I can and cannot do, I'm becoming more and more certain of who I refuse to become.   

Thanks for joining,
Leah       

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Day 4: Housewife Fantasies

On Sunday I felt pretty good. The flare cycle kicked in on Monday, which begins with a heavy dose of "everything is awful." I don't feel great, per se, but seem to exist in a billowing cloud of negativity more than being physically afflicted. Also, pretty consistently on day one, I seem to be filled with an unquenchable desire to quit my job. I mean, it is making me sick. Not in a life-shattering way, but in that "six-months ago I was a lot healthier" kind of way. It's also slowing down the progress of finishing my book, usurping my creativity, and making me fraternize with a sector of society I'd much rather prefer to ignore. Usually at the end of day one I start romanticizing the failed experiment that was me as a housewife, until I talk up the whole experience enough that it starts to sound like a pretty sweet option again.

Never mind the small details that I need to work in order to pay my bills, or have improved in different ways in leaps and bounds since returning to retail, or was horribly isolated and lonely before commencing said employment. Nope, on day one I start fantasizing about how if I didn't have to go pimp lipstick for a buck, I'd go to the gym every single day. I'd start going to yoga class instead of doing my DVD at home, and meet all sorts of friends I somehow missed when I didn't work before. Then I'd stop at the grocery store on my way home and bargain shop, something my husband isn't terribly gifted at. And my house would be spotlessly clean, and dogs would be perfectly groomed at all times, and I'd blog not just once, but twice a day...

By day two, when I really just want to bury my head in the sand and ignore both my illness and my life, I get a grip on my unrealistic ambition to replace Donna Reed. I recognize that even if given the opportunity, I'd still suck at housewivery and have more clothes in the hamper than motivation to wash them. And ultimately, at the end of the day, I'd still be sick. So I might as well keep my connection to the outside world and suffer a little less stress on bill day.

Thanks for joining,
Leah  

Monday, November 2, 2015

Day 3: Breaking the Cycle

My little girl has quite a checkered past. I don't know what happened to her, seeing as she's a dog and can't talk, but she's damaged. She has lots of weird behavior and a significant amount of fear. We've come to love her for all her quirks, and kind of know what to expect by now. After all, who understands the damaged better than the also-damaged? But some of her mannerisms are just plain odd. She goes into these trances where she checks out, and sits there staring at the wall refusing acknowledge anything until something snaps her out of it-- usually me putting on her leash and making her get off the sofa.  

It hit me just now how much like her I am. My husband wanted to finish discussing something I couldn't shut up about a couple of hours ago while I was at work. But a lot can change in a few hours. By the time I closed up the store, got home, and was heating up my dinner, I wasn't in a space to continue the rather intense conversation we had earlier in the evening. We discussed it anyway, which was frustrating and unsatisfying for both of us. He couldn't get more than a one syllable answer from me, and I couldn't string a sentence together to save my life.

Instead of being remarkably aware of my dysfunctions, be it a fibro fog/flare, stroke brain, hormones, or some other excuse for my mental vacation, I struggled through the exchange until he was pissed off and I was in tears. Then I stormed off to the bedroom in an overwhelmed fit, until I simmered down enough to realize what happened. How I wish I could have recognized it when it was happening! Now I have to go back into the living room and apologize, and have the stupid conversation all over again, which I'm still not sure I'm ready to discuss. So maybe instead of repeating the whole vicious cycle, I'll go in there and tell him I'm sorry. I'll tell him I love him and how much I appreciate his patience with me. Then I'll ask if we can finish our conversation tomorrow because I'm really spaced out tonight, and would rather just enjoy being together before we have to go to bed. That sounds much better. So much better than sitting in my bedroom by myself staring at the wall.

Thanks for joining,
Leah

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Day 2: The Sun Will Come Out

Yesterday was hard. One of those days that make me wonder how I've survived so long with this illness. And if all my physical and psychological and emotional turmoil weren't enough, knowing I'd just promised to blog every day for the next thirty days about did me in. Writing yesterday's blog was incredibly hard. I've become accustomed to burying my head in the sand and avoiding reality when I get like that, certainly not talking about it or paying attention to how I feel. How I feel is totally irrelevant when I'm such a hot mess I don't even want to be around myself anymore. Really, who on earth wants to read about a melodramatic sick-chick feeling sorry for herself? But what a total flake, to just bitch out on the first day of my self-imposed challenge! So write that blog I did.  

It was hard, but I've frequently found forcing myself to do something I know is good for me has benefits. Today was no exception. Even though I didn't sleep all that great and had a stiff-neck headache all day, I felt freer in my spirit. I was more clear headed than I'd been in a long while. My problems were still the same, but I wasn't as burdened by their existence. Even being at work wasn't nearly as trying on my sanity. Perhaps writing that blog, when I was in the depths of the really ugly, forced me to turn my sights away from my past and position them on my future? Who knows. All I know is today was indeed a better day than yesterday, and that's all I could have hoped for.

Thanks for joining,
Leah

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Day 1: The Consequence of Taking Responsibility

Last week a woman came into my store freaking out because she needed something to even out the tan lines on her shoulders. She's a swimmer, and was wearing a strapless dress to a wedding that weekend. When five different employees explained she could either use makeup or self-tanner, but we couldn't guarantee they wouldn't rub off on her pale-blue dress, this woman descended into a full-on meltdown tantrum and left the store in a fit of rage. While this wasn't the first display of utter ridiculousness I've encountered at my job, it left an impression because I later found out she'd been coming into the store for two months trying to fix her tan-line problem. For two months my co-workers had been telling her to get a spray tan or go sit in the sun. For two months she ignored reality, then went ballistic (in public, mind you) when the cosmetics department couldn't fix her very important problem. For reals, yo?

I'm a firm believer in taking responsibility for myself. It's the only way I've moved forward and out of the mire of quicksand sucking up my life. I've taken full responsibility for my health-- both losing it and finding it again. I've taken responsibility for the two strokes that left my brain scrambled, the toll all my sickness has taken on my husband, my lack of personal relationships because I'm so unstable and can't reciprocate in any consistent manner, the financial impact of not being able to earn a decent income for over a decade, bla bla bla the list goes on. You name it, I've taken responsibility for it, owned it, and am actively trying to overcome. 

But all this responsibility taking, in a world where people blame others for not being able to erase their flippin' tan lines, is wearing me out. It's incredibly hard, psychologically, to rise up over constant and pervasive illness and pretend everything is fine in order to accomplish anything in life. Especially on days like today, when the flare gets so bad I become hysterical over the prospect of losing all my progress and descending into the free fall of never-ending sickness. So just for today I didn't pretend everything was fine. I had what I call a "yesterday" day and allowed myself to wallow in the full-blown misery of my past. I skipped the gym, indulged my fear, and accomplished absolutely nothing. While it totally sucked, I do have to say I am immensely looking forward to tomorrow.  

Thanks for joining,
Leah

Thursday, October 29, 2015

30 Day Challenge

I'm desperately searching for some control in my life. While I've mostly recovered from the insomnia-induced regression my health took over the last few months, ultimately the management of my fibromyalgia has slid down a notch. I'm growing increasingly dissatisfied with my part-time job, due in large part to spending more of my days in a viral-flare anger fit. And my book-- my raison d'etre, my heart and soul, the culmination of four years of tireless work I'm done writing, but am taking forever to finish editing, seems to be floating further and further away. The list goes on; my house is a mess, dogs need to be groomed, laundry is out of control...need I drone on? All the aforementioned has me so stressed out, I can't even quiet my rattled brain enough to compose a blog with any substance, which makes me feel even more desperate and searching than I was before.

Being back to work has made me realize how much I've changed in the four years it took to recover from my strokes. I'm not even the same person. It makes sense if I really ponder it, considering I got broken down and put back together again too many times to count. The result is an oversensitive, intolerant, moody health-freak who can't relate to my Beverly Hills clientele to save my life. I can't really relate to the employees, either, but faking it has done wonders for my acting abilities-- if I force myself to look on the bright side.

What I want to be doing is investing in my health, or showing others how I found a way to live a pretty decent life with fibromyalgia. Certainly not battling 2 week headaches or going back on medications I previously discontinued due to my fastidious lifestyle. But since I'm not a rich woman, I must earn an income, and that makes managing my health much harder. So I'm challenging myself to take control where I can. Here. I'm challenging myself to blog every single day for 30 days, something I haven't done since the beginning. I'm challenging myself to deliver the subheading of this blog in it's true, unadulterated, messy form: Chronicles of the Ups and Downs and Sideways Progress of a Female Living with Fibromyalgia. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The success, the chaos, and the darkness. A 30 day snapshot into the intensity of the struggle, the power of the fight, and the blessed possibilities.

Thanks for joining,
Leah     

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

It Sarted with a Willingness to Change

I'm trying desperately to talk myself into going to the gym. Considering I woke up with a headache and a bit of that "hit by a truck" feeling, the later it gets the less I want to. I mean I want to, of course, who wouldn't rather spend the day wrapped in a strong and powerful endorphin afterglow instead of feeling like roadkill? But really, all my dwindling ambition does is remind me how far I've backslid since August. That's when I got the first cold, followed by another, followed by such intense insomnia that left me so immune zapped, I got the second-worst flu of my life.

Yes, the last two months changed my life a lot. It certainly reminded me how vulnerable I am, and how sometimes despite my best efforts, fibromyalgia is stronger than anything I can do to thwart its never-ending misery. But that's old news. What I find quite a bit more interesting is how willing I am to change to keep my grasp on my health and therefore, my life. I've made all sorts of adjustments to my healthy-food consumption, revamped my workout to accommodate my weaker immune stamina, and last but not least, am going to bed before midnight and waking up at 8 a.m. like a normal person who has some sort of grasp on their life. What a concept. While I can't credit any one change with a vast and sweeping improvement, I am slowly returning to my normal, crazy self. Yeah, I'd say the last two months sure shook up the status quo, and maybe not for the worse.

When I first got sick in 2005 I talked to an Italian doctor who had CFS/ME too, and said the only way she recovered was to change EVERYTHING about her life. She moved to a different city, got a different job, changed husbands, and learned how to live differently in every single way. It seemed like frivolous, irresponsible advice at the time. I mean, did she just get rid of her children too? In my mind, there are some things a person just can't turn their back on. Ten years later I totally get her wisdom, with some modifications. While I've kept the same husband, seeing as I'm blessed enough to have a husband worth keeping, everything else has changed. I didn't realize it at the time because the metamorphosis was so slow, and there was so much backward progress compared to so little forward movement. However, I believe I've maintained my grasp on my health and therefore, my life, precisely because that change was slow enough to own.

Fibromyalgia is an extremely complex illness caused by a variety of reasons that affects different people with different severity. That paradoxical reality is part of what makes treating it, living with it, and being accepted as legitimately sick so incredibly difficult for many patients. I didn't get my grasp on my health back by reading a book on how somebody else got better from fibromyalgia; I read 50. I didn't stabilize from giving up aspartame or gluten; I gave up everything over the course of many years and slowly added back the things I had no adverse reaction to. Gluten stayed and aspartame went. And I certainly didn't improve the quality of my life by taking a miracle supplement; I tried a slew of them and stuck with the ones that made a difference and didn't break my pocketbook. I've found what works for me, which isn't necessarily what will help the next person, but must always remember it started with a big fat dose of desperation and that all-important willingness to change.

Thanks for joining,
Leah

#fibromyalgia #chronicillness #change #struggle #persevere                  

Saturday, October 3, 2015

How Are You?

Somehow those three innocuous little words have become one of the most dreaded questions in my existence. One would think "How old are you?" would rub me much wronger, given the youth-obsessed culture we feed off of like vampires here in good ol' America. Strangely enough, given all I've survived in my younger years, I'm actually quite proud to confess to my thirty-nine years of existence. "How much do you weigh?" should hit me as pretty offensive too, but considering I'm down about 100 lbs. from my all-time prednisone/Lyrica high, and pump so much iron I can easily stuff my folds of remaining elephant skin into a svelte size six, I'll gladly tell the world I still weigh in at a walloping 148 lbs. 

But "How are you?" is a different matter entirely, because I'm seldom fine. Yet this little pleasantry is how every single encounter starts, with every single person I cross paths with, every single day of my life, forcing me to either lie or complain, neither of which I'm comfortable doing. In fact I'm not just uncomfortable doing so, I kinda refuse to answer. Not to a customer at work, where I'm being paid to represent the company, not my personal problems, but pretty much everyone else. For to lie is to betray myself and my reality, which after ten years of living sick every day I just can't do anymore, but to complain opens an even bigger can of worms.

Complaining makes me weak. It makes my problems everyone else's problems, which they aren't. Grumbling about how horrible I feel, or bad I slept, or the amount of pain I'm in only makes my reality more horrible, tired, or painful. Living with chronic illness means in order to get through life I have to ignore the internal alarms my body is blaring and instead talk about things I couldn't care less about, like Donald Trump or how badly my hair needs a trim. Therefore, the very last thing I can do is answer somebody's pleasant, mindless inquiry into the status of my state of being. "How are you?" is far too personal of a greeting for polite conversation, in my book. When I see you, tell me you're happy to see me, or that it's a nice day outside, or how pissed off you are at your husband, but please, for the love of all things holy, take pity on this sick girl and don't ask me how I am. 

Thanks for joining,
Leah

#fibromyalgia #chronicillness #fibro #fibroblog            

Friday, September 25, 2015

Attack of the Super Bug

Last week I about came undone when my fibromyalgia symptoms decided, out of the blue, to take over my body again. In addition to feeling awful, I was panicked. The last thing anyone who's wrangled some sort of a life back from chronic illness wants is to give it up again. Of course, my melodramatic mind usually goes to worse-case scenario, so that's exactly where I went. With every muscle on fire, my body aching so bad it hurt to sit, and feeling like someone's snapping me indiscriminately with rubber bands in thirty-second intervals, Chicken Little over here got myself so worked up I decided the sky was indeed falling. I was so flipped out I didn't even realize what was actually wrong with me until I was walking through the air-conditioned living room both sweating profusely and shivering violently at the same time. That's when it hit me, I have the flu!

First reaction-- thank God! The flu doesn't last forever, so I can deal with the flu, right? Second reaction-- are you kidding me? The illness I do have that lasts forever feels exactly like this, which is pretty much as awful as a person can feel. No wonder fibromyalgia made me go so crazy! Because the last thing in the world I was capable of doing was getting up and living life, even after my fever broke. Yet that's exactly what I was expected to do when I was caught in the clutches of chronic illness-- figure out how to get up and go live life like nothing's wrong. Except everything is. What an absurd predicament.

Almost as absurd as what happened when that fever actually broke, because that's when I got the stomach flu! A week later and I'm just gearing up to go back to work, praying I can make it through the day even though I'm much improved, but not entirely better. Trying to clear up my, ah-um, bowl problems has me doing all sorts of odd things, like drinking clay and not eating before I have to leave the house, which clearly won't work once I resume my regularly scheduled employment. Unless I want to pass out on the sales floor, that is.

But there is some good that has come from this week. It certainly renewed my commitment to get my immune system working as best it can, which I had kinda slacked off on. It also reminded me that I only got to where I am by seeking health as a lifestyle concept, not just a way to get better from illness. So deeper into holistic, clean living I go! But perhaps my biggest revelation by far is how truly awful being so sick really is. There is no life around it, there is just being sick. I didn't care about my relationships with people, how I looked, social pleasantries, my fiscal survival, or anything else the Western world values. All I was trying to do was endure feeling like my body had served me with the ultimate betrayal-- imprisonment in never-ending misery. And that, to me, is living with fibromyalgia in a nutshell.

Thanks for joining,
Leah

#flu #illness #sick #fibromyalgia        

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Blame It On The Moon

Things aren't exactly stabilizing over here in managed-fibro land. In fact, despite my most determined efforts, my health seems to be rapidly declining. Well maybe that's a bit dramatic, but I'm certainly experiencing a persistent flare-up of symptoms that has me marching down a road I've been down many times before-- leading straight to the land of "too sick to do anything but be sick." I'm canceling plans, calling in sick to work, and trying not to spiral into a panicked fit of paranoid PTSD that this stupid illness nobody understands and no one can cure is taking over my life again!

I mean, it can't! No no no no no! I refuse to let it! I've fought back so hard and won, right? It took me many years to get here, but now that I'm here I own it, don't I? Sadly, as someone who's lived with fibromyalgia for a number of years, I know the answer to all of the above is "wrong." Because the bottom line is at any time, despite my rabid determination or outright refusal, this illness can do whatever the hell it wants whenever it feels like doing it. I can suck down kale juice, pump iron, pop supplements, and practice yoga to my heart's content, but until science and medicine can tell me why I have this disease, let alone how to treat it, all my efforts simply manage my symptoms, they don't cure what's wrong with me. And right now my efforts are failing miserably.  

Clearly, any control I have over my life is really just an illusion. Psychologically accepting this nightmare as my reality almost took me down, a few times. Going through another resurgence of this misery reminds me exactly why I've become what I've become. An alien. How on earth am I supposed to relate to people and their first world problems when I hurt so bad it feels like I'm being crushed into the earth for no explainable reason? All I can really do is gulp massive bottles of acceptance and surrender, because getting uptight, bent out of shape, or pessimistic about my potential outcome will only hasten my downfall. And I'm really focused on the upcoming lunar eclipse. I mean, if a rainstorm is enough to send me into an epic flare, maybe all this misery has something to do with the pull of the sun, earth, and moon falling into perfect alignment? Well, a girl can dream. But only if she can fall asleep.

Thanks for joining,
Leah

#sleep #insomnia #chronicillness #chronicpain #fibromyalgia #fibroflare      

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

My Love Affair With Joe

Here I sit, the victim of yet another involuntary 7:30 a.m. wake-up call. Which in and of itself wouldn't be so awful if I had actually gone to sleep at midnight when I got in bed, not screwed around on social media until I wasn't-so-sleepy at one-thirty in the morning. Regardless, that was my choice then, and this is my reality now, so what on earth do I do with my racing brain that simply won't turn off once it gets flipped on? Since all this funny business started, my flares are getting worse and ability to cope is degrading...

I absolutely suck at meditating. Although I know full well the mind is a muscle and exercising it into relaxation is both important and takes practice, I haven't jumped on the bandwagon yet. What I am doing, however, is looking at my coffee consumption. My relationship with coffee is a dependent and joyful attachment, but we have a bit of a history. I had to give up coffee entirely when I was first sick with CFS/ME. Since the caffeine's stimulation of my adrenal gland destroyed my fragile grasps of energy, it had to go. Once I got my virus managed and went back to work, coffee became a necessary way to get through the day again. We quickly fell back in love and have remained so ever since.

When I got on my clean eating kick what I put in my coffee changed, but I alternative-health researched until I felt confident the benefits of consuming the controversial brew outweighed the risk. Phew! I woulda probably stayed on this train forever if a lady I work with hadn't told me about Dr. Perricone and his belief that the oils in coffee store caffeine in the cells which when built up over a lifetime, contribute significantly to middle-aged insomnia. Of course I ignored her, until this latest round of unexplainable sleeplessness reared its ugly head. I researched her claim, but Google couldn't find anything about it using the search terms I entered. It was just more stuff about inflammation and cortisol, which I am already well versed in.

But I am far more willing to turn to my lifestyle when problems with my health arise than rely on the limited ignorance of conventional medicine (i.e. the drug trail to side-effect city), so I decided to give this green tea thing a whirl. Yesterday was my first day. I brewed one tiny little leveled-off spoonful of coffee beans (as opposed to two heaping) with a bag of coconut chai green tea in my French press. I still added my stevia, teaspoon of raw sugar, coconut oil and dash of half and half, and it was delicious. Around mid-afternoon I may have encountered a bit of the "afternoon slump," but it was nothing to stop me in my tracks. I'll have to wait and see if this makes a difference before deciding to do away with the small amount of coffee I still add, but figured this is a good place to start. Baby steps got me here, and baby steps will keep me going until I find a way to live successfully with this illness.

Thanks for joining,
Leah

#sleep #insomnia #coffee #chronicillness #fibromyalgia      

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Serenity Now!

I've been fighting for survival for so long, sometimes I forget there's another way to live. A path of gentle acceptance that's much easier to walk down. Of course, I hate where that path leads, hence the constant and pervasive fighting, but sometimes the struggle becomes all too real and I can't override my inclination to bury my head in the sand. Today is one of those days. Thankfully, the "I absolutely cannot do anything but crash-and-burn" moments have been hitting on my day off, for the most part. For trying to force myself into a push-up bra and eyeshadow when I feel this awful is an exceptionally disrespectful experience. But who on earth has free days to just while away the misery? I mean I did for years, when I was too sick to do anything but be sick, but now I'm stuck on the "contributing member of society" train and simply don't.

Except the path of gentle acceptance doesn't allow me the luxury of getting all bent out of shape because I skipped the gym and barely even bothered to walk my dogs. It requires me to accept. So while I'm over here feeling like George Costanza yelling "Serenity Now!" at the top of my lungs, I write. Finishing my final edit on this behemoth of a manuscript I've spent the last four years concocting is exceptionally hard. It requires me to reach down deep inside and make sure I've left all my guts lying on the table. And then second, third, fourth, and fifth guess the effectiveness of my delivery. 

So while I'm struggling along on my noonday walk, it hits me: What a great chance to make sure I've represented this awful illness in all its infinite awfulness! I mean, how can I really be sure I've captured the not only the physical agony, but devastation and heartbreak that accompany losing everything one holds dear to unexplainable chronic illness, if I'm not tangled knee-deep in the evil clutches myself? And just like that, I found purpose in both my suffering and my surrender. I keep looking for ways to find opportunities out of my challenges. It's the only way I've moved forward in life. I suppose today this is my way.  

Thanks for joining,
Leah 

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.

Thanks for joining,
Leah

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. 

Thanks for joining,
Leah       

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.

Thanks for joining,
Leah             

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

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