The Challenge of Slowing Down

I have had difficulty accepting that I cannot do what I once could. I am not the same person I once was.

Life in general requires overcoming challenges and obstacles of many types. Life with fibromyalgia introduces its own share of challenges: lack of energy, lack of sleep, chronic pain being the most prevalent.  These things can change who you are and how you approach life. What once was a simple task, such as getting out of bed in the morning, can now be a daily struggle.

In the years since my diagnosis, my biggest challenge has been SLOWING DOWN. I have had difficulty accepting that I cannot do what I once could. I am not the same person I once was. Type A personalities like myself prefer to be in the game rather than sitting on the sidelines.

Adopting health strategies such as a clean diet, regular workouts, and supplements, has helped lessen the daily pain and limited my “flares” of my fibromyalgia. It has allowed me to maintain a moderately active lifestyle. And then I begin to think: Maybe I am OK. Maybe I am in some sort of remission. Maybe I can push myself just a little harder. And that thinking usually ends in a crash and burn, i.e. fibro flare and bed rest. Slowing down, resting allows the body to recover from the stresses put upon it. Without a recovery period, we can do our bodies more harm than good.

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Is it Fibromyalgia or Something Else?

10 Strange Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

Chronic, widespread pain. Fatigue. Insomnia. Depression. Headaches. These are the common symptoms most people associate with Fibromyalgia Syndrome or FMS. But this syndrome is complex, its symptoms mimic other conditions, and it’s not easily diagnosed. There are well over 60 different symptoms that have been associated with this condition, some of which are comorbid or overlapping conditions. Muscle, skin, joint, cognitive, sensory, neurological, sleep-related, and the list goes on. For people like me, it can be difficult at times to determine if it’s just one of the myriad of things associated with FMS or if it’s something new. Sometimes it’s a guessing game: Is it Fibromyalgia or something else?

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Top 10 Things I Learned from Living with Fibromyalgia

I didn’t choose a life with fibromyalgia, it chose me. Many days I wish I was my old self, pain-free and full of energy. Yet, until a cure is found, this me has been the norm for close to 20 years now. I have learned to cope and live, and even thrive.

Scott Hamilton said, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.”

And so I want to share my top 10 lessons from life as a fibro warrior.

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How to Sleep Better

“Sleep is the Golden Chain that binds health and our bodies together.”

I have struggled for years with getting good quality sleep. There are nights where I just cannot fall asleep, and others where I just can’t stay asleep. While the ideal amount is between 7-9 hours for most, I still average about 6 hours a night. More than 7 hours of sleep, and I feel out of sorts. Lately I have been much better about sleeping through the night, since incorporating some simple strategies.

Those who suffer with fibromyalgia syndrome know how difficult it can be to get a good night’s sleep. In fact, sleep disturbances are one of the common symptoms associated with the condition, which then compounds the daytime fatigue. But allowing the body to rest and recharge at night is so critical to everyone’s physical and mental health, not just those with fibromyalgia.counting-sheep-1

“Sleep is the Golden Chain that binds health and our bodies together.” ~ Thomas Dekker

Health Benefits

That old saying “early to bed, early to rise makes your body healthy, wealthy, and wise” is more than just an old wives’ tale. Here’s a list of health benefits from getting adequate sleep:

  • It can help you fight off diseases
  • It can help improve your mood
  • It can lower your risk for obesity and help you lose weight
  • It can decrease inflammation
  • It allows the body to repair itself from stress and ultraviolet exposure

“By helping us keep the world in perspective, sleep gives us a chance to refocus on the essence of who we are. And in that place of connection, it is easier for the fears and concerns of the world to drop away.” ~ Arianna Huffington

Getting those Zzzz’s

While you sleep, your body is working to heal itself, build up your immune system, and recharge your brain cells. Now the struggle is that people with fibromyalgia have trouble falling and staying asleep. We often don’t reach that deep sleep stage required for all of the restorative health benefits. There are a myriad of underlining conditions that could be preventing you from getting a good night’s rest:

  • Health Issues such as allergies, sleep apnea, asthma, narcolepsy, or hormone imbalance
  • Physical Issues such as chronic or acute pain, or certain prescription drugs
  • Mental Issues such as depression, stress, or anxiety
  • Environmental Issues such as too much light in your room, drinking alcohol or caffeine, or performing shift work

So assuming you don’t need to have a medical condition checked out, how do you improve your sleep, to reap those benefits? Getting into a routine helps. Here are some simple strategies that might help you establish that routine:

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
  • Set a regular bedtime routine.
  • Curb the electronics in the bedroom, that is no TV, iPad, etc. before bed.
  • Keep your bedroom comfortable, quiet, dark and cool.
  • Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime, and don’t eat 3 hours before bed.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Do not use tobacco.

“Golden Slumbers fill your eyes. Smiles await when you rise.” ~ The Beatles

Bedtime Routines

As we age we need less sleep, but we still need good quality sleep. Uninterrupted sleep. One of the best habits is to take a warm bath or shower before bed. This raises the body temperature, and then allows it to cool down faster, which helps you reach that deep sleep. Couple that with some aromatherapy, and you should feel relaxed and calm for bedtime. I developed my routine after reading Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive that discussed redefining success and details her wake-up call. She has another book called The Sleep Revolution that undoubtedly has more information on the subject of sleep as well.

Here are some of my favorite bedtime and bath aids:

So go draw a bath, sip some tea, rub some lavender oil between your toes and get a good night’s sleep. These are my tried and true methods. You’ll thank me in the morning!

For more sleep strategies, visit the National Sleep Foundation,”The F Word” blog and Sarah’s Fibromyalgia Sleep Chronicles series, or listen to JJ Virgin’s podcast with Arianna Huffington – two big proponents of sleep!  Do you have other sleep strategies you use?

Cheers!

Cynthia