New Year, New Me – NOT!

I had high hopes for 2017.

I felt that, finally, I was making some real progress. I was busy at the lab – hoping to graduate this summer! – but for the most part, I was handling that well enough. I felt there might be some real hope for me after all. Maybe I was really beginning to see an upswing in my fibro journey!?

But of course, that was not to be.

I was excited about some progress I had made towards taking my art in a more abstract/figurative direction – all in the “new year, new me” vein. But in retrospect, I see dark shadows in the face of my Anima and colors which speak of angst and struggle.

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Anima (8X10, oil on canvas)

With a change in weather, mounting work pressure, lack of adequate rest time, and no physical therapy, I soon found myself in another fibro rut. Except this one is compounded by a resurgence of my depression.

Usually I can attribute my depression to a side-effect of a fibro flare. It is no fun to feel tired and achy all day long; like you’re pushing yourself through a busy work day when you have the flu. And after a few days . . . weeks . . . of it, it really starts to mess with your head. With little time for rest, the body takes a toll on the mind.

A few weeks ago, a feeling of “meaninglessness” overwhelmed me. I just couldn’t see the point of doing the things I do. Like I am just going through the motions like a mindless robot. And I didn’t just feel that way about my research. It was my entire life. I guess I don’t see the point in my existence. What am I really here for? What have I really accomplished? Why do I do the things I do, feel the way I do, think the the thoughts I do?

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not suicidal. Not even close. In fact, if you saw me, you would probably not even know I was depressed.

In true scientist fashion, the problem-solver in me jumped up and tried to find solutions to my “meaninglessness.” The easiest thing to do was find a job I really cared about. I searched high and low for chronic pain researchers who might be able to use my existing training, but without much luck. Now I am just job-hunting everyday, trying my best to only stick with those types of science which really ignite a passion within me. But that kind of passion is hard to feel when I am low. I see problems in everything I find. I see every reason why I might not be a good fit. Though I know that I will have to put in some on-the-job training for certain techniques – and I know I can do it, I already have, and successfully, many times in the past – when I’m depressed, it is hard to feel the confidence to be able to do it in a new, unfamiliar environment. And that lack of confidence is hurting my self-image, and adding to the meaninglessness of my everyday “chores.”

It would help if I knew what would add meaning to my life. It would help to know what I really wanted to do. But I don’t. All I truly want is to feel better. To feel relaxed, carefree and pain-free, like I did on my vacation. I want to take off the heavy chains I feel I am carrying around constantly. I know that nothing I do differently would eradicate this feeling. The “meaninglessness” is a state of mind I am in, and that would pervade any physical or mental activity I engage in.

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Jacob Marley in chains is my analogy for what depression feels like. (Image from “A Christmas Carol” with George C. Scott & Frank Finlay)

As a coping method, I have taught myself to suppress pieces of myself, as needed, so I can continue to function halfway normally in the world. The trick for me is to keep other parts of my brain constantly engaged. Try not to give air-time to the part that is depressed. A “try-not-to-think-about-it” attitude. It actually makes some sense, because this is one case where thinking does not resolve the issue anyway. There is only one caveat to this effort in suppressing the part of me that is depressed and wants nothing to do with the world, turn inward into the mind, and stay there. It requires constantly being on guard! And that is exhausting. But what other choice is there?

My previous experience suggests that “fake it till you make it – and believe in it!” is a reasonable strategy. It has worked in the past (sort of). So I am pushing myself to stay open to new possibilities, brush away any feelings of inadequacy or lack of confidence that crops up. I am trying to keep my job search to fields where I think I could find some satisfaction in, and could contribute without running myself ragged in the course of it. Most of this is running on auto-pilot. Like I am running an automatic algorithm inside my brain to do things for me, because the real system administrator is absent.

I know this phase is temporary. This too shall pass – as it has before. In the meantime, all I can hope is that I programmed my automatic algorithm well enough to keep me on the right track. It has not failed me before (within a reasonable margin of error, of course). And I hope that it will not now.

Love & Hugs,

Fibronacci

The Vacation Ambience

When several of my friends suggested that taking a break from work might do my fibromyalgia some good, I was never quite certain that would be the answer. After a recent vacation to my hometown in India, for the first time, I felt there might be some truth in that!

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For the three weeks that I was visiting my parents, I noticed a sharp decrease in my chronic pain levels. And with some pacing, I was able to retain good energy levels as well, and pack quite a few (not terribly hectic) activities. I cannot stress enough the value of pacing during this trip, and how well it served me!

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However, I think there were several other things at play there to promote my wellness. Perhaps the most important ones were:

(1) Stable weather – not too hot, not too cold, low humidity, and stayed that way!
This was a dream-come-true after the kind of changes we go through constantly where I live now.

(2) Lack of the repetitive actions that I am constantly engaged in at work.

(3) Lack of stress and a general atmosphere of relaxation.

Until about last week, I would have probably swapped the last two on the #2 and #3 spots. But one week back at the work, with all the pipetting and computer work, and I realized just how much my right arm, and right upper back and shoulders are aggravated by the repetitive motions.

Realizing the effect of repetitive strain is also what made me give serious thought to taking some time off, especially after I noticed how much better I continued to feel even after the vacation was over. I am not sure if this break can ever be reality – especially given practical considerations such as the cost of my medication, and the huge financial burden it would be if my husband were to cover the cost of my health insurance as well. Not to mention, the clock starts ticking immediately after one receives their Ph.D. Most grants and many “entry-level” job positions are not available past a certain number of years post receipt of the doctorate degree. So without a productive next few years, I could be stuck between a rock and a hard place in the future, with very few avenues regarding my career. But though an extended break might be a bad professional decision right now, later on down the line, it might make for a great personal care decision, and I am certainly keeping it in mind!

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As for the general atmosphere of relaxation, the beautiful home and garden decorations at my parents’ house played no small part in creating it. The designer, my mother, could probably rival any interior/exterior decorator with her ideas. She really made me feel like I was in a 5-star hotel while simultaneously feeling at home! So for this week’s photo challenge on ambience, I shared a few photos of her garden, throughout the post, which created a lovely “vacation ambience” that made me forget about work in ways I can never do at home. And that kind of lack of stress, I do believe, played a major role in managing my symptoms despite the packed two-and-half weeks I spent at that house. Relaxation truly goes a long way for pain relief!

Gentle hugs,

Fibronacci

Traveling with Fibromyalgia

Last December was the first time I traveled internationally since developing fibromyalgia. It was over 30 hours of journeying each way. Naturally I was very nervous right before, not knowing how my body would react to that. After reading up on other people’s experiences a bit, I applied a few tactics to make the journey a little less uncomfortable. And much to my surprise, they largely worked! So I thought I will share a few things that I found helpful for me, in case anybody else could use them too!

Here are the top 5 things that helped me travel with fibromyalgia:

#1. Zolpidem (Ambien): This is a non-benzo sedative used to treat insomnia. It really helped me sleep on the plane – something I could never otherwise do! In the past, two days without sleep was tolerable. But with FM, in my experience so far, that would have meant a serious flare by the time I reached my destination. And this helped mitigate that. As a plus, it helped with the jetlag, and surprisingly enough, it seems to have improved my overall FM symptoms too! I am not sure if the overall improvement is due to its action on altering sleep patterns or brain chemical modulation, but I am not complaining!

#2. Icy Hot Patches and ThermaCare HeatWraps: The Icy Hot patches on the upper back helped with the spasms I frequently have there, and the lower back ThermaCare HeatWrap was really helpful in making the long periods of sitting less uncomfortable. It emulated the heating pad I use on my chair at work to minimize lower back pain when I am sitting for a long(ish) while. The heating “pads” activate upon opening the packaging (exposure to air), can be easily inserted into pockets in the back brace-like belt, last for over 12 hours, and can be disposed off in regular trash. This makes them super handy on those 30+ hours of travel! Also, they did not beep when I forgot to take it off one time when walking through the security metal detector!

#3. Arm Braces: I found these very supportive when grabbing or pulling my suitcases. They seemed to offer a bit more stability to my forearm and helped minimize the pain in my wrists/inner forearm.

#4. Long Layovers: Long layovers mean less rushing. I could walk slower, sit for a bit in between if I wanted, or stand on the moving walkways instead of walking on them. This was a lifesaver for me, as my general walking speed has already slowed down quite a bit since developing FM, and I found myself further slowed by aching, swollen feet from ~10 hours of sitting in a flight! Not having to rush prevented a worsening of the leg ache.

#5. Aisle Seat: Aisle seats have always been my preference, so I can have easy access out of my seat. I could get up as frequently as I liked to move about or stretch a little. Of course, these were luxuries in the past. Now, they were necessities if I was to avoid a major flare. (And I am proud to say that I mostly did!)

I have read some people suggest rest breaks in airports at lounges or spas. That sounds like an excellent idea too, but unfortunately, nothing I have ever been able to afford yet. Tramadol was helpful too, and I have to admit it was needful despite the above measures. However, I do believe that the measures I described above reduced how much painkiller I would have otherwise had to take.

This travel experience was an important one for me. After managing it successfully, I could feel my floundering confidence levels regarding travel, and my ability to handle my condition, improve by leaps and bounds! Traveling was always important to me, and something I enjoyed doing. It hurt me when I felt that fibromyalgia might steal that joy away from me. But now, after making a successful journey halfway around the world, I am finally feeling like I might have my life at least a little bit back under my control, that I can still do the things I love, and manage my health successfully as I do it. And that is a wonderful feeling, for I haven’t felt that kind of hope in a long long time!

I wish all my dear readers a very happy, healthy and hopeful new year 2017!

Love,

Fibronacci