Some illnesses arrive dramatically, others slowly, like stealthy Vampires gradually draining the life blood of their victims. Fibromyalgia quietly entered my life circa 1999, in the form of obscure aches and pains, sleepless nights and endless fatigue. I had my blood tested for nutrient deficiencies and paid endless visits to medics and specialists in search of answers. Yet none were forthcoming until I finally got a diagnosis in 2002.
While it was a relief to have my ailment acknowledged, no effective solution to treating the condition existed and I continued to suffer for many years. At my worst I could not drive a car because of chronic sciatica. On some occasions, my weight plummeted to way below my body mass index and I was too weak and stiff to put a foot out of bed. I could barely walk around the house, never mind take the type of regular exercise recommended for a woman heading for the twilight years of pre- menopause and rapidly diminishing oestrogen. Temporary relief came from visits to Osteopaths, massage therapists and acupuncturists, though sometimes I ended up in more pain after a treatment than before.
As someone who was always prone to anxiety, I became increasingly fretful as to what the future might bring. Would the condition develop into arthritis, leaving me crippled and confined to a wheelchair in five or maybe ten years time? It was a viable concern since both my Grandfathers had spent their later years bed ridden with rheumatoid arthritis. I was also racked by guilt that I could not be the spontaneous fun loving mother I wished to be for my children, since it was more or less impossible to plan events, given the episodic nature of how chronically ill I could be on occasion. Needless to say that kind of negative thinking based on fear and guilt only served to worsen how I felt. But when you feel sick and miserable it’s not easy to change your perspective and suddenly turn yourself into a chirpy vessel for positive thoughts and endless joie de vivre.
Yes there’s the school of thought that says “Fake it till you make it” – meaning fake a smile to release endorphins and then you suddenly begin to feel better with happy chemicals floating around your body. It’s true to a certain extent but we can end up denying all the negative stuff of our lives in the process. And that is exactly where the root of my problem lay: – I had been denying my feelings since I was a child, often in the hope of pleasing adults. That resulted in me stuffing down every uncomfortable thought or sensation as soon as it reared its head in the hope of being processed in a healthy manner. I had to learn the hard way that whenever we deny or suppress emotions, they will eventually find a different mode of expression, often through pain in our bodies. I was afraid of difficult feelings like fear, anger, sadness and loneliness because I thought they would overwhelm me and define who I was as a person.
Anger especially is frowned upon in women. Have you ever noticed the way an angry woman is described in our culture?
“Oh she’s hysterical.”
The list is endless, but the one thing you will be aware of is that those two words are rarely if ever used to describe an angry man. There is a similar taboo with expressing grief or sadness and children are told from an early age to dry their tears and cheer up: – this is where men usually get a harder rap than women. As for loneliness… forget it. Loneliness has connotations of failure and being un -loveable, despite the fact that the most popular girl with five thousand face – book friends can be silently wallowing in the quiet belief that nobody understands her despite her outer show of popularity and success.
I have learnt to make friends with my emotions and to view them as transient.
Like the waves of the sea, they are part of who I am but they do not define me, since we are all bigger than the sum of our parts. That doesn’t mean I find them easy; the tougher ones always appear to hang around a while longer like un -invited gatecrashers keeping me from more favoured guests at a party. Occasionally they even turn into dark nights of the soul. The gate crashing bogies have however taught me lessons in humility, patience and empathy. More than anything else they have thought me self acceptance is preferable to perfection. Kindness begins with treating our selves in a gentle manner and the journey to wellness begins with self awareness.
My recovery from fibromyalgia is an ongoing process. Instead of shutting down my life, it continues to open doors onto beautiful meadows. I can now find joy and healing in a sunset, a poem by Neruda and many other wonderful every day events. I have become the observer of my mind; catching my thoughts whenever they bring me away from the present moment into projected fears for my future or regrets of the past. I have learnt the importance of giving gratitude daily for my health and peace of mind. Learnt to love life and cherish my body as the temple of my heart and soul.
I now embrace each new day and view my feelings as an inner guide towards a more fulfilling life, connecting me to every other sentient being on our planet. My ability to take an energetic three mile nature walk is evidence that miracles do happen. It has been said we can only let our illness go when we begin to see the gift it brings. Perhaps the Vampire will yet prove to have been a fairy Godmother in disguise.
I welcome comments on this post.