National Fibromyalgia Awareness Day

 

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.

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Make Yourself A Priority

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?

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Finding Peace in Forgiveness.

Forgiveness Mandala by Wayne Stratz

Forgiveness Mandala by Wayne Stratz (Photo credit: Nutmeg Designs)

This post is longer than is usually the case, but given the subject matter, I am sure that you will understand. Thank you for taking the time to read and experience it.

My father passed away almost two weeks ago. When a parent dies, it seems that most children feel a sense of sadness, longing, grief and in some cases, regret for missed opportunities and all that will never be. However, those thoughts and feelings are often tampered by the gratitude and precious memories that you shared with this man, your father.

A couple of months ago, one of my oldest and dearest friends called to tell me that her father had passed. Upon hearing the news, tears flowed and I was overwhelmed by a sense of grief, sadness and gratitude. The grief was present for obvious reasons; the sadness because a special man was gone from this world; the gratitude, because as fate would have it, I became best friends with his daughter and through her, was able to see and feel all that the word “dad” entailed, and the importance of the role of a father-figure in one’s life. Nevertheless, when I learned of my father’s passing, I felt a sadness, as I would when told of anyone’s death, but more prominently, there was a visceral void.

I suppose that you can say that our relationship was complicated. You see, he turned his back on our family when I was only five years old. When I say that he turned his back, I mean that his leaving was so complete that it was as if he disappeared from the face of the earth, certainly from my world. In fact, he did for about 11 years. At the time he left, I was the oldest of three girls and my Mom was left to raise us by herself, with no contact or support from my father. As a young child, I didn’t have the tools necessary to comprehend my father’s actions, so for the most part, I was confused, and even guilty, thinking that his actions were my fault. As I grew older those feelings transformed into resentment and anger, feelings that failed to change even after he began making the occasional appearance in our lives. He came bearing gifts, but none that I wanted or needed.

The truth is that I didn’t know this man and I knew no more about him than the passing stranger. What I did know was that he wasn’t there to give us food, shelter, clothing or love. He wasn’t there when I had measles or chicken pox, to pick me up when I fell or to soothe my tears over some perceived devastation that all children endure. Complicating the matter is the immutable fact that he is the man who gave me life, and my rational and logical mind knows that were it not for him, I would not be writing this post.

As is expected, people continue to express his or her sympathy at my loss. I’ve noticed that people use the words “father,” and “dad” interchangeably, and when the word “dad” is chosen, I feel very uncomfortable.  I find it impossible to apply that word to our relationship. In fact, I feel wrong even trying to do so. My mind keeps returning to the same question: what is the difference between a “father” and a “dad?” Why have I always been unable to refer to this man as anything but my father? In fact, more often than not, I instinctively referred to him by his first name, John. Yet, this is a topic for another place and time.

In reality, I’ve been pulled between the angry, confused and sad child that my father deserted, and the older wiser me that realizes that his actions were about him, not me, and that the anger and resentment has harmed me much more than it hurt him. I don’t know how to feel about a man who is a virtual stranger to me, but is a primary cause of my presence in this world. The icing on the cake is that as one of his next of kin, I am the one who has to make post-death arrangements, as well as pay for them. My inner child is stumping and screaming that life is not fair.

Yet, as often happens with life, a sense of closure occurs in the most unexpected ways. In my case, I was standing in line at the pharmacy after having had an amazing experience with my yoga therapist, which I will write about in a later post. I was next in line and I casually noticed that someone had gotten in line behind me. It is a dapper elderly man whom I later learned was a young 82 years, and  a transplanted Californian who moved to Austin five years ago. He said, in a friendly and sincere voice, “How are you today?” The question moved me because so often these days, people don’t take the time to concern themselves with others. This man was different. I turned toward him as I answered and politely asked, “And how are you?” His response took me by surprise. He said, “I am better than great. I couldn’t possibly be better!” I suppose that his answer intrigued me because I can’t recall feeling that way in some time.

As we continued our conversation, I learned that he and his wife had grown children, with lives of their own. Five years ago, they decided that with their children gone and they had no reason to tie themselves to California. They decided to set out to discover a new place to live. Serendipity brought them to Austin, Texas and he is, by all accounts an amiable and happy man. For reasons that I didn’t understand at first, I felt an undeniable bond with this stranger, this man who I’d never laid eyes upon. Before long, it was my turn in line, so I started toward the counter. All of a sudden, I experienced one of those proverbial ‘light bulb’ moments, and in my heart, I knew both why I’d met this man and why he’d affected me so much.

I turned back to him with intense curiosity. Although I hadn’t realized it before, there were definite similarities between him and my father. He was the same height and build with a similar hair cut and the same quick smile for strangers. When I was a kid, this was the type of man who I’d always imagined my father to be. I believe that there is a reason for everyone that we meet and that they arrive at the exact moment when we most need them. Even in his passing, my heart yearned for a compassionate, loving and attentive father who loved and hugged me liberally. I longed for a father just like this man, and I believe that this man represented all that I did not have in a father, and that, if for only a short while, he was God’s blessing to me.

Unconsciously, I reached out to him, grabbed his hand, and thanked him for his kindness. For reasons that I still cannot explain, I felt compelled to explain to him that my estranged father had just died and that meeting him was the balm to my soul that I’d desperately needed. He expressed sympathy and thanked me for bestowing such an honor on him. He hugged me in a fatherly way. I turned back toward the counter, picked up my scripts, waved goodbye and continued on my way.

I was aisles away from the pharmacy picking up a few items when I heard someone call out to me. It was my new “friend.” He’d searched the store for me because he wanted to properly introduce himself and learn my name. He told me that “When he thought about our meeting, he wanted to know my name,” and believed that every experience was a gift to treasure. We exchanged introductions, shook hands and turned to go on our ways.

As I walked away, I felt a weight lifting from my shoulders and an overwhelming sense of peace filled that hollow in my heart. I experienced a letting go, and a sense of forgiveness that eluded me during my father’s life, but now was possible at his death. It is true, forgiveness is more for you than the other. I do not claim to have let go of years of anger, resentment, disappointment and longing in a matter of 15 minutes. Yet, I’ve begun the process and to me, that is profound. As I attend to my father’s post-death arrangements, I intend to extend him the peace and respect that I never received from him. Doing so, brings me peace. It seems to be coming together, as it should be.

Blessings, Lydia

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Calling All Angels

As a child, one of the very first prayers that I memorized was: 

“Guardian angel, my guardian dear. For whose God’s love, entrusts me here. Ever this day, be at my side. To light and guard to rule and guide. Amen.”  

To my young, innocent self, the prayer served as a balm against my fears, and an assurance that no matter what, I was loved and protected. What a gift to a young child — the gift of peace of mind. As I grew older and much more skeptical, my belief in angels is as strong as ever.  I believe that there are angels about us, some seen and unseen, at the ready, looking out for us and ready to protect us at a split seconds notice. I can think of numerous instances when I am convinced that they have protected me from harm. It appears that I am not alone; since over 50% of Americans hold similar beliefs. http://j.mp/pI3FcE


So, when I happened upon this song, the title alone piqued my interest.  The song, “Calling All Angels,” by Jane Siberry, is a hauntingly beautiful song that, for me, conveys numerous messages about life, how we view it and how we live it.  As an initial matter, it is a reminder that as we travel along our journey, though we may feel lonely, we need never be alone. Whatever our circumstance, we are never alone in this world. Next, we “call our angels,” not with the expectation that they will shield or prevent life’s eventualities, but, among other things, as a source of strength, guidance, support, and compassion, so that we might better face life’s challenges. 


In addition, and I believe, the most crucial message: some suffering and pain is largely unavoidable– that is a fact of life.  We will experience “the lows,” whether we choose to call them challenges, obstacles, pains, or whatever, it simply does not matter.  You must and will face them.  In life, we cannot experience the highs without the challenges wrought by “the lows.”  They are indeed two sides of the same coin, and there is no one without the other. It is by facing and overcoming the struggles, obstacles and pains, that we are provided the opportunity to achieve growth, understanding and wisdom. It is through our bouts with such obstacles that the highs are even sweeter. 


I hope that this song reaches the ears of anyone who feels lost, abandoned, and alone in what can sometimes seem a lonely and uncaring world. Perhaps, he or she will come to understand that even in the midst of their  darkest days, there is always light, since where there is darkness, there is also light.  They, too, are two sides of the same coin. 


Blessings, love, and light, lydia 



Calling All Angels lyrics

Santa Maria, Santa Teresa, Santa Anna, Santa Susannah
Santa Cecilia, Santa Copelia, Santa Domenica, Mary Angelica
Frater Achad, Frater Pietro, Julianus, Petronilla
Santa, Santos, Miroslaw, Vladimir
and all the rest


a man is placed upon the steps, a baby cries
and high above the church bells start to ring
and as the heaviness the body oh the heaviness settles in
somewhere you can hear a mother sing


then it’s one foot then the other as you step out onto the road
how much weight? how much weight?
then it’s how long? and how far?
and how many times before it’s too late?


calling all angels
calling all angels
walk me through this one
don’t leave me alone
calling all angels
calling all angels
we’re cryin’ and we’re hurtin’
and we’re not sure why..


and every day you gaze upon the sunset
with such love and intensity
it’s almost…it’s almost as if
if you could only crack the code
then you’d finally understand what this all means


but if you could…do you think you would
trade in all the pain and suffering?
ah, but then you’d miss
the beauty of the light upon this earth
and the sweetness of the leaving


calling all angels
calling all angels
walk me through this one
don’t leave me alone
callin’ all angels
callin’ all angels
we’re tryin’
we’re hopin’
we’re hurtin’
we’re lovin’
we’re cryin’
we’re callin’
’cause we’re not sure how this goes.





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