Most people who know me well will tell you I’m pretty laidback (and not even just in a literal sense when my fibro knocks me off my feet!) and not generally known for being stressed. I think that having a chronic illness for as long as I have had mine can put things into perspective so that I don’t generally stress about things unnecessarily.
I know, it’s hard to believe that living in this fast paced, too-angry day and age, I can be so zen. Especially living 24/7 with the kind of pain that most people can’t even imagine. That’s because I have ulterior motives. I know that stress, anxiety and all of that stuff makes my fibromyalgia worse. Which I really hate to admit. I have always felt like it somehow made me “weak” or something, which I realize is ridiculous.
Recently I’ve been thinking about why it has always been an issue for me to “admit” this. Almost as though it’s something I’ve done wrong or should be ashamed of.
As anyone with chronic illnesses will tell you, we have all experienced not being believed, or being accused of exaggerating when it comes to the effects of our conditions, so I somehow felt like something that isn’t physical, can’t or shouldn’t affect my fibromyalgia. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Firstly, stress is physical because it affects your body. Perhaps some of the causes and symptoms of stress are invisible to others, but regardless of that, when we’re stressed, angry or upset, our body tenses up and our muscles tighten. Which is a major problem if you’re prone to pulling/spraining/spasming. Secondly, I have had fibromyalgia long enough to know that anything and everything can affect or aggravate it. Even things that don’t seem remotely connected can throw my whole body into disarray.
In part, I think the medical community is responsible because so many of us have been labeled hypochondriacs, drug-seekers or liars by the very people we went to for help. I’m confident that almost every chronic pain patient will have at least one or two stories of how they’ve experienced this type of doubt.
I don’t know if others feel the same, but I do think a big part of how these attitudes came about is down to plain and simple sexism. Fibromyalgia is more common in women, so we are sometimes simply seen as unable to cope, hysterical or overly dramatic women. I once had a female doctor tell me that I was just stressed. When I said that I wasn’t she told me, “Us women stress about what to cook for dinner and things like that without even realizing it.” What? No. That’s what takeout menus are for! Seriously though, how sad to hear someone who was intelligent enough to have a career in medicine demean herself in that way. So, because I’m strong and stress and anxiety are often viewed as “weak,” I told myself, “Nope. Stress doesn’t affect my fibromyalgia.” Yeah, right.
These days, I wholeheartedly own my stress, anxiety and panic attacks and see them as a direct result of my chronic pain, but nothing to be ashamed of. Of course, I do everything I can to avoid stress, just as I avoid anything else that I know will trigger a flare of fibro symptoms.
One of the best things for me is meditation. I have done it since I was a teenager and it has become an everyday coping mechanism for me. I’d highly recommend it to any of you who are looking to de-stress. My other favorite things for this are music, which can be a powerful motivator and inspiration (singing along is good for the soul too) and laughter. I know, it’s a cliché – laughter being the best medicine, but it really is a great stress reliever. If you don’t happen to live with a couple of hilarious dudes like I do, watch some comedy on TV. Lastly, I also use positive affirmations. I firmly believe that reminding yourself of your good qualities can counteract some of those awful anxious thoughts that can run through our heads when we’re having a tough time.
It takes practice to learn to love yourself, especially when you’re feeling kind of broken, but it does help if you can do it. The stronger and more determined you feel in yourself, the easier it is for you to deal with stress. At least, that’s how it is for me. I hope the same for you all too.
At the very least, we all need to remember that we wake up every day and deal with the kind of pain most people can’t imagine. We have to be tough for that. So, I’m proud of all of you who are fighting a chronic pain fight! We’ve got this. We can do it! Sending love.