Looking forward and being sick

Or, why I’ve decided to apply for disability.

My health has improved in the past few months, since it started getting worse(r) at the beginning of the year. Much of my week to week, or month to month, life often seems to be taking two steps forward and one step back. (Or one step forward and two steps back.) It’s depressing and frustrating.

In the last month or so I reached an important milestone. I choose to think of it as a milestone. I stopped looking at how I feel compared to how I felt. (I need to make sure my neurologist understand this.) Instead, I’ve started (trying) to look forward. How do I feel compared to how I should feel to be able to do things like work full time, write a book, work in the yard again, or volunteer again.

Ignoring, for a moment, the unknown aspect of all my multiple health problems, I think it will be years before I can attempt many things in life that I used to take for granted — without much planning, preparation, and expectations of doing nothing but resting before or after. The unknown aspect of my health problems means that I don’t know if I’ll be staying in bed – or going back to bed – tomorrow until tomorrow.

The goal that I put first, after taking care of myself, is being able to write a book AND publish it. This is something I can do on my own schedule, around doctor appointments, migraines, and naps. This is not something that pays bills. If I was to go back to work full time, I’d lose access to doctors because I wouldn’t have the time to get to appointments. I’d also lose access to hobbies and increase my stress. All of these things would negatively affect my health by causing more issues with pain and fatigue – among other things. More pain means (more) narcotics. It would also mean I’m more likely to get sick. Getting sick means more doctor appointments and more medicine.

Regardless of what my long term goals happen to be, I now understand that I have to think in terms of years. Half a year, a whole year, two years, etc. Getting sick happened over years, not weeks or months. It’s going to take longer than that to improve my endurance and find my new normal. I’ll probably never be like how I was in graduate school. (That was only 3-4 years ago!)

This is not something that pays student loans or doctors or medical bills that are in collections. It all sounds scary, but at least I can look forward and think about the future now without panicking (much).

Labeling the Pain

Monday – 4 days ago – I had my follow up with the rheumatologist. She diagnosed me with fibromyalgia. She also happened to deliver her diagnosis in a way that you might tell your significant other/partner that someone needs to get milk on the next trip to the grocery store. Other than her somewhat – odd – bedside manner – she’s a great doctor. (I finally know how to spell fibromyalgia. I think. I will by the end of this blog post.)

I have taken time off of work because this has rocked my world and I’ve needed time to process….and because I’ve been kicking my caffeine habit. Sidenote: It’s a little weird that I learn about my caffeine intolerance and start working on kicking the caffeine habit BEFORE I find out about the fibromyalgia and that caffeine is bad for fibromyalgia. Anyways. This is day 6 of no caffeine and the second day of not having a migraine because of eliminating the caffeine.

Looking back, I’m not sure when the pain got bad. I feel like I haven’t been myself for most of the year. But there have been a few periods where I was able to catch my breath and try to get back to normal. Looking back at my blog, April was a VERY bad month and I’m pretty sure January was too. I have had a few realizations this week but, before I get to those…. Fibromyalgia sucks. I sure as hell did not seek the diagnosis out. However, it’s not RA, or Lupus, so things could be worse! On top of that, I’m not really surprised by the diagnosis based on my general sensitivities, intolerances and food allergies.

Most importantly, I now have a label for the pain I have been experiencing for I’m not sure how long, probably close to a year. I have a label for the weird feelings or things I’ve been dealing with for over a year. Like, the days when my clothes hurt…. figured it was my allergies. Nope, it’s my brain!

Because, you see, being able to label the pain I’ve been experiencing means that I can acknowledge the pain exists. I can acknowledge the pain is not going anywhere (that sucks yup. But calling yourself weak because you’re in pain other people don’t experience is worse.). I was consciously ignoring the bad feelings and hoping they would go away. I don’t need to do that. Ignoring the pain and hoping it will go away takes way more energy than accepting the pain is there and not going anywhere. Then instead of spending energy wishing it will magically go away? I can work on making it not as bad.

I’ve done a lot of learning this week. Reading The Spoon Theory was life changing. It’s a great way to explain why some days are great and some days are total shit. You don’t get the same number of spoons every day. I shared it with a friend who has RA and she was surprised how well it applied to life. She also shared with me how she copes with pain. Acknowledging the pain exists means you can put it on the back burner and then move on with life. I like her metaphor too.

Building on her metaphor – I think this applies really well to life. Anyone with chronic pain automatically has one less burner to cook dinner with than someone without chronic pain. The severity of the pain experienced is illustrated by how full that pot on the back burner is. Really bad days means that pot is threatening to boil over, even on a simmer, any minute of the day. Good days mean there’s little threat of the pot to boil over since it’s on a simmer. But, like everyone knows, that is open flame, (we have a gas stove), so you still need to be attentive.

Now where was I? Besides distracted?

All of this has helped my sanity, but it’s not enough. Per my rheumatologist’s recommendation, I’m also trying cymbalta. Hopefully it will my brain. Finding this little bit about chronic pain and the brain helped me figure out more too. I’m still trying to figure out how much exercise is enough and how much is too much. I’ve done some reading so I know I need to start slow.

Last night is the first night of sleep I’ve had since I don’t know when where I actually felt like I got a full night of restful sleep. I’m assuming both eliminating caffeine and adding the cymbalta have helped this. Next thing to do is look up sleep stages. I think I learned about them like 8 years in a PSY 101 class. I should have a review.

Besides the exercising and doing some more learning on my own I have to find a support group. Something where I can see other people, not something online.

I will own my health.

Now I’m going to knit something light weight because my hands are tender.