Contemplating Authenticity

Recently I was speaking with someone about the root causes of fibromyalgia who used to suffer from the condition in the past and studied it as well. She confided in me that she felt like much of the pain and fatigue developed from not living in alignment with one’s true self.

I have to admit that the idea had crossed my mind before as well. Like some part of me might know that I am headed on a road that is ultimately not who I truly am, even though I may not be consciously aware of it. And it is kicking and screaming, trying to get my attention – through the FM symptoms – to get me off that track. It is forcing me to pause, and do some soul-searching to find what it is that I should be doing that is indeed in alignment with my authentic self.

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What better way to ask about “authenticity” than with a digital painting? Abstract Roses in digital oils

Presumably, once one reconciles their actions with their true identity, the symptoms improve. That is what, I got the impression, she believes happened with her. She also cited life stories of several people she studied with FM – many with high-achiever, goal-oriented personalities and fast-paced lifestyles (stories similar to mine) – who switched career tracks as a result of FM and now are doing much better. Plus they are now much happier.

Of course, one might view the data completely “non-spiritually.” You get ill. You realize your current lifestyle is not conducive to your feeling better. So you make the difficult choice of changing it to something that bodes better with your current state of health. And lo and behold, minus the added stress and pushing past the limits, you start to feel better! This is, of course, the very premise of pacing! And who wouldn’t feel happier if they got off the FM roller-coaster?

While I have nothing against the sort-of spiritual way of thinking about the condition, I cannot but feel like it is a bit too close to the “it’s all in your head” dismissal that so many of us have heard so often. I know, though, that it is not how she meant it. She is well aware of the stigma attached with invisible illnesses. But I still bristle at the thought of how there is so much more open room for interpretation and/or conjecture with conditions like FM, which cannot be tracked to a particular cause (yet), than other illnesses with more definitive causes.

Regardless, I can certainly see the merits of her spiritual way of viewing the world. I imagine it goes a longer way towards promoting acceptance and and sustainable changes in lifestyle than a purely medical train of thought. You may feel less indignant, or like you’ve been dealt an unfair hand, if you think that it is your unconscious mind that is using FM to steer you towards the right path. This way, you might resist less in making the changes necessary for your well-being.

But once one is past that stage, I am afraid that there is a lot this worldview alone cannot fix. It is the same issue that I have with positive thinking. Positive thinking in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy can be beneficial in helping one come to terms with their condition and not make their pain worse due to catastrophizing. But beyond that, no amount of positive thinking can cure FM any more than they can cure a tumor. Likewise, I doubt authentic living could necessarily get rid of my flares due to period or bad weather.

However, none of this is to say that we should not try and make the best of the situation and do some soul-searching. Whether or not it can cure FM, chances are that a balanced, fulfilling life can only really be cultivated if it is in alignment with one’s authentic self.

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Is it “authentic art” if it only exists in pixel space? Abstract Tulips in Glass Jar (digital oils)

Now more than ever, as I stand at a transition phase, I keep thinking of what kinds of paths would appeal to my true nature. Despite the subject being a recurring motif with me, I have been giving it a lot more thought after developing FM, since I was forced to turn off the auto-pilot and take the gears of life back into my own hands. I do believe that finding and living in accordance with my true self will bring a measure of happiness and inner peace that I often lack now. And if my fibromyalgia improves with it too – well, I’ll just consider that a bonus!

Gentle hugs,

Fibronacci

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9 thoughts on “Contemplating Authenticity

  1. When I reflect on how most of the serious students at large research universities seem to be trying to pack far too much work into the day, I’m always amazed that there aren’t more people with chronic illnesses! I have to admit my instinctive reaction to the idea that one’s body itself is rebelling against the career choice is that it doesn’t make sense, because many people in these situations surely love what they do, and would probably prefer to keep doing it at a pace that suits their body. On the other hand, I had no idea that I could enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle until my illness made me too sick for school or work. Society pressures smart people to assume they want to be super busy!

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    1. Whenever I was talking to my friend about all this, the first thing that popped into my head against the notion being widely applicable is exactly what you pointed out – too many people love what they do and would like to continue doing it at a slower pace! And I count myself included in this category. So I am not totally sold on this whole thing either. Regardless, I did think she had an interesting point of view that was worth giving some thought, whether or not we agreed with the philosophy, or if it could have the desired effect. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I definitely feel like aligning yourself with your own true nature is a benefit to anyone. For those of us with FMS, maybe more so because it alleviates our stress levels. Like The Phoenix said above, I had no idea what I was missing by living at a slower pace. Before, I didn’t even realize I was running all the time.

    I am constantly on the lookout for a path that would appeal to me and would be conducive to living with FMS. I had to give up my old career, and am ok with that, but I want to start investing in a new one and it is proving to be a serious challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You make a great point about how living true to ourselves can lower stress levels! I could totally see FM symptoms improving just from that! And yes, I have had the same experience. I never knew what I was missing when I was always racing! I have managed to find so much more peace in my head since slowing down after fibro.
      I wish you all the best as you navigate to find your new career path. I am kind of struggling in a similar boat now. So I hope we both hit shore soon. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautiful paintings and interesting thoughts. What application or device did you use to make these? They are so lovely! Digital or real, you have the gift πŸ™‚

    I truly hope you will not need to make any radical changes to your field, place or career in general, and something will turn up that is just right for you. It is a shame that some fundamentally academic professions have an environment of so much stress as if the most desirable quality in the employee is “toughness” like in the context of material science. In India as well as in the US, there is often an implicit expectation that you will sacrifice personal, family and health aspects if you are serious and a devoted worker. In this situation, I am afraid, we forget to care for both the path and destination.

    If just an “ultimate” goal of happiness or fulfillment is considered, I would say I am happy in spite of everything because I have learned how to tap into the internal sources for them. But it is not just about happiness or fulfillment, like food is not just about hunger. It is also about richness of experiences, meeting cognitive or artistic challenges, sensations, fun of doing something and so many more things that make up the path or the journey. And if I had a choice (bolo vats kya maangte ho kinds), I would choose to have a lot of energy, no pain and to be able to go out and work on something (not my original vocation I trained for maybe, not all the days anyway!) for 6 hours daily. I do not have that possibility, and I choose to have a blander journey economy class, less (far less) pain and more time for myself as I cannot afford the price: doing such work and crashing down that spiral again.

    Different approaches and different conclusions make different people survive and thrive. But it is not fair that balance must be achieved by downgrading one’s perceived efficiency. It should be acceptable that a person may work for less hours, but in those less hours, they are good at their job and are devoted to it. A mind like yours, even with the body with FM, seeks a richer path, and not a meditation in a jungle, and that should be possible too in a fair society.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! πŸ™‚ I made them on an art tablet, using a software on Windows called Fresh Paint. It’s pretty bare bones but it does have oils/watercolor/different canvas types “effects” so the final paintings look like “real” paintings instead of digital work. I will show you some examples of this later to show you what I mean.

      Thank you, also, for the very sweet comment… I feel like you could see underneath just the writing and could feel what I felt when I wrote it. While I don’t deny that a purely mental existence could also provide that richness of experience on some level, I do seek it in a more tangible way. At the end of my life, I’d like to be able to show something tangible that I was able to accomplish with the gifts that I have. I can feel that you would ideally like the same as well (if the genie fulfilled the bolo-vats-kya-maangte-ho wish). But increasingly I am getting the feeling that I may have to end up choosing between that, and my health. It’s a catch-22 for me. If I just give everything up and stay home, I would probably feel better physically but be really depressed mentally. If I push myself and do the things that I actually enjoy, like lab work or other intellectual pursuits, I wear down my body but on some mental level I feel a sense of accomplishment that I value, but then I also have periods of “disintegration” where I feel like I am doing this all wrong – what is the point of material accomplishments if my health is suffering for it? I wish that, in the field of my training, there was some in-between happy medium. But at the moment, as I look towards a postdoc job ahead, my hopes are pretty dim.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I really appreciate this post, and agree with your outlook. I don’t think something like fibromyalgia, or any other invisible illness, can be caused by inauthentic living. I do think that any time you readjust your priorities so that they’re more in line with what you really want, you are bound to feel you’re in a better place. But still, we shouldn’t confuse cause and effect.

    You might really enjoy the writing of Barbara Ehrenreich. She is one of my favorite authors, and she has a lot to say about the whole positive thinking movement, after people told her to “just think more positively” when she was battling cancer. She’s really great. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6452749-bright-sided

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the thoughtful comment and the book recommendation! I will try to get a hold of it, because I have given this whole “positive thinking” scene a lot of thought myself and am curious to see other peoples’ thoughts on it as well.

      While I see the benefits of thinking positively, I advocate moderation! I see too much that feels like the realm of delusion, where the cost of your “positive-thinking” is repressing justifiable anger/resentment/sorrows. And those latter emotions need to be expressed and felt and worked through as well, in order for a person to grow and develop. If you shot yourself in the foot (as a crude example of my outlook), there is no point in deluding yourself that you’re fine, you might as well get help for it so you don’t potentially end up disabled for life! Of course, while you’re recovering, it helps to keep a positive outlook on how things might turn out, even if you have limited mobility or have to depend on crutches or a cane for a long time.

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