“Rise and shine. I’ve always held such fondness for that sweet old phrase. As though we are all little Suns. As though we are all someone’s day.” ~ Beau Taplin
During this time, which few of us has ever experienced, please be safe. By taking preventative measures, we are keeping ourselves safe, as well as others. This is our opportunity to show love and compassion to those around us. Take care not to forget those who live allow, especially the elderly, the sick, and those who suffer from mental health conditions. Each of you is a Sun in someone’s life. They need us now, more than ever. You are in my thoughts and prayers.
Today is National Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. Why do I care? I have fibromyalgia. I’ve lived with it for over 20 years. It took away my career as a litigation attorney, my zest for life, my direction, my passions, and so much more. It brought me, among other things, constant fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety, foggy thinking, decreased cognitive function, impaired memory and concentration, and debilitating pain. Mind you, the symptoms vary from one person to another, but the bottom-line is that they change the person you were and as a result, your life.
When I created this blog, I choose not to make it about my fight with fibromyalgia, but one about my journey as a seeker determined to excavate my inner self as a means of unearthing my true self. I am determined to reclaim my life, tranquility and sense of self. Although I have discussed it in this blog, it is rare that I discuss my battle with the disorder. I prefer not to welcome the pity that often results. Nevertheless, the disorder is greater than me, and it is more important to educate people.
What is fibromyalgia? This post will not go into every excruciating detail about the condition. If you are interested in that, I urge you to go here. In brief, the website for the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFMaware), sums the condition up as follows:
“Fibromyalgia (pronounced fy-bro-my-AL-ja) is a complex chronic pain disorder that affects an estimated 10 million Americans. While it occurs most often in women, it can occur in men and children, and all ethnic backgrounds. For those with severe symptoms, fibromyalgia (FM) can be extremely debilitating and interfere with basic daily activities.
The symptoms range from, among other things, insomnia, memory and other cognitive impairments, lack of concentration, digestive disorders, to debilitating pain, overwhelming fatigue, isolation, depression and anxiety. As it affects so many people, it is more likely than not, that you know someone with the disorder.
Although there are medications to treat it, treatment is largely haphazard and by trial and error. Because no two people display the same symptoms, it is difficult to formulate a one pill treats all formula. I’ve tried countless treatments, both conventional and non-conventional, but the beneficial effects are fleeting.
Personally, the pain is my most formidable foe. It is my constant companion, and what ultimately led me to stop practicing law. I was a good trial attorney and I loved my job. I was an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Texas and, like everyone else, my caseload was heavy and stress was the norm. As a trial attorney with an active practice, I was in constant contact with clients, opposing counsel, the courts and witnesses. As a litigation attorney for the state, I travelled constantly, tried cases throughout the state, appeared in court, interviewed clients and witnesses, researched, read endless documents and case law, and wrote one document after another — all with no problem. I moved from one case to another, remembering case specific facts and issues with the greatest of ease.
About two years before my resignation, pain became one of my primary symptoms. In order to perform my job to my own high standards, I had to increase the pain medication that held the pain in abeyance. Still, over time, the pain increased such that I was unable to concentrate. In meetings, I would zone out. During client and witness interviews, I would lose my train of thought, ask witnesses to repeat themselves and forget where I was in the course of the interview. During depositions, I would confuse cases and as a result, the facts and issues, and most troubling for a trial attorney, the same thing happened in court, during hearings and in trial.
Reading case law and documents, and writing, is inherent to a litigation practice, and doing so became interminable. Documents that previously took me a few hours to write, took days. I would find myself reading the same paragraph over and over, still not fully comprehending what I was reading. Preparing for trial became an arduous task. Travel was painful — literally. As soon as it was possible, I’d rush to my hotel room, collapsing in bed, in too much pain to eat. During trial recesses, I’d rush to the benches in the back of the courtroom, to lie down, if only for five minutes.
Mentally, I went from taking things five minutes at a time to one minute at a time. I thought that if I could get through the next minute, all would be well. Although I tried to deny it, the day came when I had to admit that I was no longer able to do my job, not in a way that was acceptable to me, and after a six week leave of absence, I never returned. Without going into detail about the aftermath, suffice it to say that my life spiraled out of control. I was a mess, physically, mentally and emotionally. Though it was the second hardest decision that I’ve ever had to make, I applied for disability.
These days, I can’t work. Even though I take obscene amounts of pain medications, I still experience pain daily. On the subjective pain scale of 1-10, the typical day finds my pain level hovering around 5. Unfortunately, there are too many days in between, when it reaches a 9 or 10. Those days are the worst, because all that I can do is suffer through them. As I write this post, my pain is about a 7 and climbing.
Isolation is also a problem. When I first stopped practicing law, I withdrew from friends and family. I thought that it was to protect them from my condition, but I’ve come to see that it was to protect myself from their pity, discomfort and inability to understand what I was going through. In reality, I built a prison, from which I still struggle to free myself. Yet, the future looks brighter.
This is my story, and although it is but one, it’s a start. My goal in writing this post, was to educate. If I reach only one person, I am satisfied. I ask that, if you feel compelled, do share it with others.
If you know anyone with the disorder, I urge you to reach out to them. One need not have the disorder, to empathize. The most important thing is to make a connection, not out of pity, but from a place of love and compassion. It will help ease even the worse symptom.
I know that this is not the most sexy topic, but if you have made it to the end of this post, I sincerely appreciate and thank you.
How often do you rush home from work or an errand, walk into the house, and without stopping to take a moment for yourself, head to the kitchen to cook dinner, to the dining room table to help the kids with homework, to the laundry room to wash a load of clothes, to the bathroom to fix that leaky faucet, to the home office to finish that pile of work, or anyone of the endless tasks on our ‘must do” list. Most of us tend to put others first, and should there be any time left, (which there never is) we’ll throw ourselves a bone. Our society promotes this behavior.
If you watch television, how often do you get the message that taking care of your self takes a back seat to other obligations. In our society, for far too many of us, a hot bubble bath, a pick-up basketball game or a massage, is a luxury. For those old enough to remember, who can forget the tag line “Calgon, take me away.” Our lives are so consumed with work or caring for others, that the idea of a simple bubble bath is a luxury that we can’t afford the time to indulge. We are bombarded with the implication that caring for, and meeting the expectations of others is enough to satisfy our own physical, mental, emotional or spiritual needs. Well, I am here to tell you, that is a lie.
If you’ve ever flown on a plane and bothered to listen to the flight attendant’s spiel about what you should do in an emergency (I know, I know, I usually tune them out, too.), you’d learn that those instructions offer some wisdom about the importance of self-care.
At some point during the ‘presentation,’ they arrive at the topic of the oxygen masks. (I promise that this will make sense very soon.) They demonstrate what you should do, if the mask is released. As they demonstrate, they make it a point to say that if you are traveling with a child, someone “acting” like a child, or anyone who requires your help, it is important that the first thing you do, is to put on your own mask.
Now to some, this sounds down right counter-intuitive and wrong. They frown upon putting themselves first, and believe that one should place the mask on their loved one, before worrying about themselves. The thing is this, if you don’t take care of yourself first, by affixing your own mask, will you be in any condition to care for your loves or others to whom you are obligated? Who will be there to care for them in your absence, should you succumb to oxygen deprivation or worse? In order to care for others, you must first, care for yourself. This simple idea is applicable in so many areas of our lives, and applies to all of us.
Whether you are a parent, a care giver, single, married, or married to your job, the same applies. Engaging in self-care acknowledges your self-worth and compassion. More and more often, life requires us to care for a seriously ill child, parent, grandparent, another relative, or even a friend. In most cases, professional long-term care is cost prohibitive, so the burden falls on the family to assume that role. Committing to the care of our whole selves, is not a luxury, but a necessity. Instead of it being self-indulgent, it is plain common sense.
Moreover, self-care need not cost a dime, and it differs from person to person. It can come in many forms, such as, reading a chapter in a book, meditation, yoga, an hour at the gym, daydreaming at the nearby coffee shop, quiet time, or taking a stroll on the beach. The possibilities are endless. Granted, at first, it may take some effort to craft the time for yourself, but in the end, it is worth it, because you are worth it.
This is not meant to promote shirking your responsibilities and/or adopting the “me first” philosophy. No, there are times when we must cede our own needs to those of others. The idea is to carve out some time, no matter how much, during which, you can re-enervate yourself, by yourself. Thereafter, you can resume your other responsibilities, less harried, calmer and with a more positive attitude. It’s a win-win for all concerned.
Now, where did I put that number for the massage therapist?