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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171 Days And Counting

Meditation

Meditation (Photo credit: RelaxingMusic)

Today, I am celebrating 171 consecutive days of meditation. As I wrote in this post, I’ve meditated on and off for years, but never quite committed to it. The thing is that I never needed studies to convince me that a regular meditation practice is beneficial. I’ve been my own test subject. There is no doubt in my mind that sitting on a regular basis has a positive affect on my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing. Yet, if you are anything like me, the knowing and doing are very often outweighed by outer influences.

Thinking back, I find it ironic that, based on studies, research and direct evidence, the very things that should have caused me to embrace meditation, for example, stress, anxiety, a lack of focus and concentration, a mind filled with never ending thoughts and other burdens. In addition, fibromyalgia made sitting in one position very painful and it was impossible to focus on the breath while my body was screaming in agony. I found a plethora of ‘reasons’ not to meditate. Sitting in stillness was a dream that eluded me repeatedly.

Near the end of 2013, i was beginning to regain control over pain. In my case, fibromyalgia manifests itself with, among other things, daily pain. On a scale of 1-10, my pain level hovers around a 5–every single day. For the preceding 4-6 months, my pain level had routinely hovered between 8 and 9. This, for months on end.

With my pain level returning to normal levels, and the coming of a new year, I felt it time for me to take action to repair the damage that constant, intractable pain caused both to my body and psyche. Thus, at the end of the year, I set an intention to begin a daily meditation practice both as a declaration of ‘taking care of me’ and as an antidote to the barrage of thoughts in my mind.

In all candor, at the time, I had no reason to believe that it would turn out differently than it had in the past. In hindsight, I now recognize that there was a major difference. In the past, I approached the intent to mediate with my logical mind, with considerable attention to its notable health benefits. I find that the thinking mind, that which separates us from lower life forms, is subject to profound degrees of both brilliance and wisdom. Yet, it is also feeds our fears, insecurities, self-doubts and any number of negative emotions. If allowed to, it can led us astray as had been the case when I bought into the multitude of ‘reasons’ that, in the past, made it easy to quit meditating.

When I choose to resume meditation months ago, I was fed up with following the advice of my head and choose instead to rely on the feelings in my heart. Following my heart, I made the intention to return to meditation, and I felt ready to confront the obstacles and hinderances, including the pain. Unlike all of my past failed attempts, I’ve meditated successfully for 171 days.

Although I am in every way, a meditation novice, after some reflection, I realize that there are factors that are instrumental in helping me to maintain a consistent meditation practice. They are by no means intended to supplant the advice of more experienced or expert meditators, but they are observations that are based on my personal experience.

  • Pick a style of meditation that works for you. There are many types of meditation practices, even “laughing” meditation. It is important that you choose a type that you like. }Just note that It may not come immediately and may require some trial and error.) Just because I prefer focusing on the breath, does not mean it is the practice that is well-suited for you. Do your research. Either obtain a good book describing the various types of meditation or put your research skills to work on the internet. (If you hew to a method that is not your conscious choice or one that is not right for you, you are most likely to give up the practice.) Even after choosing one, if you find that it is not your cup of tea, try another. Ultimately, you want to find a practice that you enjoy and can envision maintaining.
  • Approach your practice with joy, as opposed to a duty. Think about it. What is your mindset about those tasks that you feel obligated to accomplish? At some point, we become resentful and must force ourselves to complete them. On the other hand, think about those activities that we enjoy doing. We look forward to them because they bring us inner peace, calm, satisfaction and other positive feelings. Instead of obligation, we feel pleasure and an air of excitement at the prospect of doing them.
  • Pick a specific meditation schedule and stick to it. Doing so, allows both your body and mind to integrate the practice into your day. As you begin to practice, be mindful of how long you choose to practice. Do not commit to sitting every day, if you don’t sincerely believe it to be feasible. It is better to begin slowly, and over time, to build up to where you which to be. Otherwise, you run the risk of giving up out of frustration because you misjudged your ability to maintain your chosen schedule. Once you are practicing on a consistent basis, your body will begin to crave meditation. There is a point when you realize that you are no longer wrestling yourself to the cushion; it becomes as natural as brushing your teeth.
  • Remember the mantra ‘begin again.’  When I first began meditating, I was advised to think of my mind as an endless blue sky, and my thoughts as clouds passing through that sky. The aim of the type of meditation that I practice is to simply note those “thought” clouds as they pass by, and to resist the urge to attach to them. For example, a thought enters your mind reminding you that you need to go grocery shopping. In the best case scenario, you acknowledge that thought and let it go as it floats on by. If, however, your response to the thought is to begin visualizing your grocery list, you’ve attached to the thought and your attention is no longer focused on the meditation. Once again the mantra ‘begin again’ comes into play. When you realize that you have attached to a thought, simply bring yourself back, for example, to your breath and ‘begin again.’ No judgment, no recrimination, just ‘begin again.’ At the beginning or on particularly stressful days, you may find yourself beginning again numerous times, but like in falling down, it is the getting up and beginning again that matters.
  • No two meditation sessions are alike. Like life in general, some meditation sessions come easier than others.
  • Those days when you feel most like skipping your practice, are in fact, the times when you most need to practice. Over the last three months, pain from fibromyalgia, migraines, a sinus infection, a couple of really bad colds and depression, gave me serious pause to skip practice. At one point, I was too sick to even sit up. It would have been so easy to give in to the temptation to skip practice. I mean, they were valid reasons, right? At least, that is what my ‘thinking’ mind assured me. Fortunately, my heart brought me to the cushion and I never regret it. Nevertheless, on those days, 5-15 minutes may be more realistic and doable than my normal 50 minute practice. The goal is to show up for whatever time that you can manage, even if it is only for 5 minutes.
  • Don’t compare your meditation practice to that of others. Meditation is not a competition, and as I said earlier, your meditation choice and experience are most certainly to be different than that of another meditator.
  • If possible, find a meditation partner. Given that I live outside of Austin and for health reasons, it is impractical for me to join a group meditation in town. So, I had to come up with a creative solution. As it happened, I learned that a Facebook friend meditated as well. She lives in Illinois and I in Texas, but we agreed to come together at a predetermined time to meditate together. It works beautifully. Knowing that Jen is counting on me and is meditation at the same time, provides me additional incentive and motivation to meditate, even though, we are miles apart.

You might find additional helpful information in this blog post in which I wrote about my meditation routine.

In sum, sitting in meditation becomes less about what you should do and more about what you must do for yourself. For a Type A personality like myself, the stillness required for meditation, is a welcome change. The mental to-do list evaporates and I give myself permission to stop to embrace the stillness and the moment. It is a gift that I give myself–one that I treasure.

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All Is Well

LKW, Life Book 2014

I feel a sense of accomplishment. The above piece is the first that I’ve made for my Life Book 2014 e-course. Life Book 2014 is a year-long painting e-course taught by artist Tamara Laporte and other incredible artists that she has gathered together to teach us their individual styles of painting. Until today, I’ve been too preoccupied with cleaning and decluttering to begin the work for this or any of the many e-courses to which I am committed. Today, my body, exhausted from days of over working it, responded by increasing my fibromyalgia pain, so I had no choice but to take a much-needed break to do absolutely nothing.

I felt dreadful that I was neglecting my e-courses when I had an epiphany of sorts. It occurred to me that I wasn’t ignoring them at all. In fact, they were central in my mind. The purpose of the cleaning is to rid myself of the old, unwanted and unloved “stuff” to make room for the beautiful, loving creations that I am about to bring into existence. It hit me, I am exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to do.

Coming to this realization served as a catalyst for me to begin and complete the above piece. “Courage” is one of my words for 2014, so I incorporated the word in an affirmation reminding me that I AM courage. During 2014, this piece will serve as a constant reminder that the courage that I need to deal with any circumstance, is here for the taking. Although I am not remotely close to finishing the task of decluttering, I can continue it without guilt because I am making room for new and exciting gifts in my life and with gratitude for the reminder that all is as it should be.

Blessings and love, Lydia

All Will Be Well. ~ St. Julian of Norwich

Acceptance

BlessingsBlessings (Photo credit: earthquakefish (david))
When I started this blog, I intended to stay away from my health issues as much as possible–too boring, I thought, and certainly not pertinent to my journey.  Over the last months, I’ve come to realize the folly of that decision.  My health and fibromyalgia impacts everything that I do, including writing this blog.  I’ve tried to run away from it but it always asserts itself in one way or another. Acceptance seems the only answer. So, I am ready to stop fighting and to run with it. Blessings, Lydia
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