“Self-care is not about self-indulgence, it’s about self-preservation.”
Back in January I wrote about the importance of self-care and some things I vowed to work on myself. As May is Fibromyalgia Awareness month, I decided it was time to check in and see just how good or bad I am doing on my own self-care. Practice what you preach, and all. I have found more success following strategies for healthy living, than I ever did taking a pill that the doctors prescribed. So taking care of myself has to be my number one priority, in order to minimize my fibro-flares. You cannot, after all, drink from an empty cup, and having a flare can often feel like you are running on empty.
Lavender is an herb that is both beautiful and beneficial.
As November is Sleep Comfort Month, I thought I would write one more post about sleep. I have written about my fibromyalgia and difficulties sleeping (here and here). I have various sleep strategies I use, including using lavender oil or spray. So recently at lunch with a few girlfriends, one of them mentioned she hadn’t slept through the night since March due to various things going on in her life (stress!). Someone said, “Have you tried Ambien?” It’s really a shame that some people think first about a prescription medication to mask the problem, rather than trying easy at-home strategies first. I mentioned Lavender, Melatonin and Valerian root to her as a natural alternatives to try, but my favorite is still lavender.
“Done is better than perfect,” according to Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In (one of many unread books on my list. More on that another time). It’s a philosophy I have tried to adopt this past year, as I have come to these realizations:
I am no longer Superwoman
I can’t do everything
The things I do manage to do are far from perfect
For a Type A perfectionist, that was a bitter pill to swallow. These realizations come after my years of suffering from Fibromyalgia. I find as I get older it is harder to recover from a “flare” and I really need to make myself a priority if I am going to minimize the number and lengths of flares and remain pain-free.
Much like a tornado that touches down and wreaks havoc, Fibromyalgia can get triggered by a single event and then linger for awhile.
John Lennon wrote “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” I have always liked that quote, probably because I am guilty of it at times – too much planning and not enough living. Easier said than done I guess.
It’s been over a month since my last entry where I talked about my Fibromyalgia. I truly hadn’t had a bad flare in many, many months and was feeling wonderful. So I wrote about it. And then few days later I had a physical therapy session left me looking like someone had beat me with a bag of marbles. Trigger flare. I finally got out of that flare just in time for a two week vacation at the holidays. I had planned on spending some of my time brainstorming and planning this blog thing out (not sure I can technically refer to this as a “blog” yet), but then life once again happened.
A little background… I am a technology manager for a local municipality on a daily basis. Within the City there is an Office of Emergency Management. They are professional worriers, planning for the worst (and hoping for the best). There are two of them, so if when situations arise, they pull in predetermined resources across the City to fill roles in a traditional incident command structure. Enter me. I am part of this “Disaster Response Team.”
So, even longer story short, we were experiencing unseasonably warm weather for Texas at Christmas. The day after was a different story. Thunderstorms, tornado sirens, and then a call from work. During bad weather that couldn’t be good. News of a tornado. We didn’t know it at the time, but an EF-4 tornado touched down in the southern part of the town. I made my way to work, and started handling Logistics, which means helping the “first responders” get resources they need to do their job.
For two weeks I worked long hours with few days off, in support of these operations. I was handling it remarkably well I thought – long hours, little sleep – and then I got New Year’s Day off, and the adrenaline wore off. My fibromyalgia flared again with a vengeance. So now, one month later, I still feel like someone beat my body with a bag of marbles and am struggling to come out of this vicious cycle.
Much like a tornado that touches down and wreaks havoc, Fibromyalgia can get triggered by a single event and then linger for awhile. “Long term recovery” is what we are calling the next phase for our city and citizens, and for me that’s what Fibromyalgia is. I may feel fine for long stretches and then something can trigger it, and I am down again. I try not to let my condition slow me down. I get up each day with a positive attitude (it could be worse), look for inspiration, and keep pushing and planning to break the cycle.
Having seen first-hand the destructive force of Mother Nature, the resiliency of those affected, and the compassion of a very large community of people, I really have a new perspective about “when life happens”.
A little more about me today. If you are familiar with the symptoms of fibromyalgia, you might have heard the term “fibro-fog” describing those periods where you can’t think right, and sometimes suffer memory loss or have difficulty concentrating. It is a very real thing for us fibro-mates. I have experienced this feeling more times than I care to admit, and to this day my memory is not as good as it used to be. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2000, and have probably have had it since I was a teen.
I have long considered myself a “highly functioning” fibromyalgia sufferer because no matter how crappy I felt, I have always tried to push through. I rarely take sick days so if I do, you know it’s bad. There have been plenty of “mack truck mornings” in the last 15 years, but THANKFULLY those days are fewer and fewer for me.
I still have flares occasionally, but they are not as bad or as long lasting as they once were. After years of various medications and trial and error, I believe I have found what works best for me. Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. I have not received any sort of compensation from any of the people/sites I mention later on. I have just done lots of research and been to my fair share of doctors. But I am a firm believer in a more natural approach as I seem to have severe reactions to many medications I am prescribed. I believe in letting the body heal itself – this is what works for me. These are my opinions.
A few weeks ago I remembered a time when I was 16 that we thought I had mononucleosis. I was suffering from extreme fatigue and had lost a lot of weight. My mother took me to the doctor where they ran tests for mono, strep, etc., and treated me with ampicillin for some infection I cannot recall. At the time I was a vegetarian too, and I can remember my mother telling me that if the doctor thought that was why I was sick, I was going to have to eat meat again! I ended up quitting my part-time job for several months due to the fatigue. I think this illness at 16 must have been my trigger for fibromyalgia, or the first bout I had with it.
About 8 years ago I heard about Dr. Murphree from a friend whose wife also has FMS. I looked him up and signed up for his email newsletter. I listened to a few of his teleconferences and started researching vitamins and minerals that I needed. I ditched all of the medications and started taking various supplements morning and night. This seemed to help, but I was starting to experience more frequent digestive issues and had a series of health issues from 2011-2012. In 2012, one of Dr. Murphree’s newsletters led me to JJ Virgin and her book The Virgin Diet. Now I have always been relatively slender and I work out regularly, but the premise of her book – ditch 7 foods for 7 days and lose 7 pounds – intrigued me.
It wasn’t so much the possibility of losing weight as it was finding those foods which trigger bad reactions and are most likely to cause the inflammation in my body. Since my teens and 20s I have had various reactions to what I thought was yeast – breads, cakes, and later wheat beers. Turns out it was probably the gluten and sugar. So I did the trial and found that wheat, sugar, and dairy are definitely triggers for me. For the most part, I have ditched gluten and dairy, but I do occasionally cheat. And my stomach will pay the price.
So what has helped me lift the “fog” and keep my symptoms at bay:
1. Exercise. I exercise daily if possible, usually first thing in the morning. I walk on the treadmill or elliptical, walk the dogs, do yoga or pilates, and use light weights. I aim for 30 minutes a day for at least 6 days. There’s usually one day a week that I am so tired I cannot get up to work out during the work week.
2. Diet. As I said I avoid certain foods and artificial ingredients. I also prepare most of my own meals and rarely eat out. Sundays are a big meal prep day for me. And they wear me out. But it’s worth it.
a. My breakfast is usually a protein smoothie with almond or coconut milk, pea protein powder, fruit, kale, and chia or flax seeds stirred in at the end. Also 1-2 cups of black coffee.
b. My lunch is usually chicken/veggies/rice or a chicken salad or leftovers or hummus and veggies.
c. Dinner usually contains lean protein, veggies, and rice.
d. I drink a lot of water. Hot water with lemon. Iced water – plain or fruit-infused.
e. I usually allow myself some dark chocolate or homemade protein balls or granola bar, and usually almonds and fruit are my snacks during the day.
f. At night I sometimes drink hot herbal tea to help with digestion.
3. Accountability. I use a FitBit fitness tracker and MyFitnessPal app. These two items help me be accountable to myself.
4. Supplements. At night I have reduced the number of supplements I take, as I don’t feel the body can absorb all of those things and it is better to get them through your food. I take Calcium + Vitamin D (otherwise I wake up with ferocious leg cramps, plus it’s good for my osteoporosis), Fish Oil (to help with the inflammation and brain health), and a probiotic (for digestive health).
5. Not trying to do it all. I have had someone else clean my house since right after being diagnosed. I don’t get my nails done. I don’t eat out. I would spend a day or two in bed after cleaning my house, so this is my splurge. My husband and kids do their own laundry and help with chores around the house. They understand my condition and don’t demand things of me – I am the one putting pressure on myself to try to do it all.
6. Attitude. Again, I have had my fair share of being sad and depressed about feeling like crap and not being “superwoman,” but attitude is a powerful thing in the battle of one’s health. So I choose JOY. I smile. I try to always believe that my glass is half full.
Notice I didn’t mention sleep, because that is one area where I am still lacking. Six hours of sleep is a great night for me, but five hours is the norm. And it’s even better when I can sleep straight through. This is an area I am working on, but for now life is good.
I hope this helps give you some ideas about what has helped me with my FMS struggles. (Click the links for additional reading.) Do you have other things that have helped you?
Living a normal life with Multiple Sclerosis is something I have learned to accommodate within my life over the years. My goal is to be able to help others to get through the difficult obstacle that comes along with being diagnosed with a chronic illness. I hope that my blog will reassure others that they are not alone with these battles and that we all do have that inner strength to get through anything.