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

Weekly Photo Challenge: Rare

Few things are more rare than snow and ice in the subtropics! But when it happens, the beauty can be breathtaking.

And there’s that thing about beauty – it can hide in the most miniature of things, and bring immense joy when you open your heart and find it!

Love,

Fibronacci

Weekly Photo Challenge: Narrow

Where The Mind Is Without Fear

by Rabindranath Tagore

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.


As the cost of education keeps rising in my home institution and other places, as more and more people seem to be engulfed by fear and paranoia in the world, as reason and truth become buried in a world driven by emotional lies and materialism, and as a fibromyalgiac who feels she has lost her place in the world – this poem rings true to me on so many levels!

One day, I hope to awake in that heaven of freedom as well – freedom from the pain, the fatigue, the expectations of me as an academic, as a person battling chronic pain, freedom from the traps my own brain sets for me when I am in the throws of anxiety and depression – and I hope to awake into being a more balanced, wholesome person.

Love,

Fibronacci

Questions I have for Fibromyalgia

As a scientist suffering from a poorly understood condition and as a patient frustrated by its unpredictability, I have spent many miserable days and nights wondering about the many idiosyncrasies of fibromyalgia. On sleepless nights, the patient in me has a conversation such as below with the scientist in me:

Patient: Why does bad weather (actually, a change in temperature/pressure in any direction) make my symptoms worse?

Scientist: Do humans have atmospheric sensors in their body like some animals? How does that signaling work to affect pain perception?

Patient: Why does the pain get worse during my periods?

Scientist: What is the connection between hormonal levels and pain signaling?

PatientWhy does the pain get worse at night, right when I am trying to sleep?

Scientist: Is there any connection between the circadian rhythm and pain sensitivity/signaling? If so, what is it?

PatientI wish I could sleep . . . I am so tired . . . (poor sleep makes pain and fatigue worse)

ScientistIs there a feedback loop between the circadian rhythm and pain sensitivity? Why do patients with fibromyalgia experience alpha intrusions and not get restful sleep?

And the quintessential:

Patient: Why me? (yes, I know it’s cliche)

Scientist: What causes inter-individual variation in pain sensitivity? What genes are involved in those pathways and how does environment play a role in the development of the chronic illness?

As an epigeneticist (one who studies modifications on genes responsible for fine-tuning their function), that last question is especially close to my heart. I have a suspicion that a significant fraction of the population is probably born with genes that make them sensitive to pain perception. But only 2-4% of the U.S. population has fibromyalgia. So what factors are involved in determining who with the disposition actually develops the condition?

These are just questions for now. I have no answers for most (if not all) of them. But we need to find the answers. The more answers we have, the better we can treat ourselves, future patients, and perhaps even take preventative steps. So until then, perhaps that “why me” question is worth asking after all!

Love,

Fibronacci

Life and Death

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my life and death. Not in a suicidal or terminal kind of way. Just in more philosophical terms.

Featured image: Guided by the Lights (8X10, oil on canvas)

In many ways, a lot of my old dreams and old personality traits have died a slow ignominious death. At one time, I could see the course of my life from a bird’s eye view. I could see a path ahead of me, and a goal to work towards. I derived a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from my work as a scientist. I was diligent and good at what I did, and was duly appreciated and respected for it. I had a plan chalked out for what I wanted to do after graduate school and never doubted that I would be able to get there. I had non-work related dreams too – like training to be a scuba diver for instance. Now all of those thoughts and plans are buried somewhere under the ground. Perhaps, so is the appreciation and respect that I had once earned, along with a slice of my confidence pie.

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Those dead leaves might well be the remnants of my old dreams.

Yet in other ways, I have emerged at the opposite end alive and still mostly kicking (figuratively anyway!). I am having to take my life more one day at a time, which can be stressful when trying to plan a career, but quite nice in other ways. It gives me time to slow down and enjoy what I have today, in this moment, before I start thinking about the future. Even though I have had to steer my life in a different direction mid-stride, I have not let go of all my dreams . . . though I have had to modify them quite a bit. I have learned to be OK with the fact that I may not have a single career goal that I could strive towards. They may have to evolve with time, depending on how my body behaves. I may never be able to get the scuba diving certification, but at least my current life pattern is such that I might have the moment to just enjoy the sight of the ocean with my husband. I am not sure that previously I would have made the time, or that we would have had the connection, to be able to derive pleasure from such simplicity, just from being in each other’s company. With the slow demise of my workaholic uber-independent self is coming the rise of a more balanced person, who is learning to slow down and accept a little help once in a while.

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And those bright little flowers, tentatively pointing to the sun, might be my new life.

I don’t think I have yet come to terms fully with letting go of my old life, dreams, abilities, etc. But I recognize that a new me is trying to rise like a phoenix out of the ashes. And I am trying to do things and think thoughts that would encourage its rebirth. I believe that everybody needs to make some of sort of journey during their lives. I suppose this is mine. My chance to die and be reborn into a new person. One day, I might get there. Until then, I thank you all – my readers – for accompanying and supporting me through it.

Love,

Fibronacci

Twilight Ventures

Twilight offers a certain mysterious atmosphere that I have always been attracted to. Maybe it is an outward reflection of my mysterious nature . . . who knows? Or maybe I am just waxing poetic!

Fun fact: I almost called my alias Twilight Princess after my love for the twilight time of day and my favorite video game from the Adventure of Link saga!

I used the red cloudy night from one of the above pictures as inspiration for this painting below. I called it Crimson Night (12X12, oil on gallery-wrapped canvas).

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Crimson Night

This one (below) was painted at a slightly earlier time in the evening: Lights on the Lake (8X10, oil on canvas panel).

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Lights on the Lake

The beauty that surrounds us even in the midst of a bustling university town is amazing! I just have to keep reminding myself to keep my eyes open!! Pursuing art (even as just a hobby) has certainly helped me be more mindful of the beauty that is all around me – bringing me a step close each time to my personal spring of joy!

Love,

Fibronacci

Winning Tigers

Two exciting things happened this week:

First: The featured image, my photograph of a couple of tigers sharing a tender moment at the local zoo, won their photo contest in the novice adult category. This was surprising because although I have always loved this picture, it was an instantaneous shot with my crummy little phone and took no doing on my part really! I was just at the right place at the right time.

The second incident has to do with my last aquatic therapy session when I trained with a different therapist than usual, a more senior one and her student. The student led the session that day. She couldn’t have been much older than me (if at all) and was oozing confidence, and she was amazing! She was also driven to work on strengthening my aching muscles and she did let on that my strength scores were woeful. I found it pretty difficult to do some of the stuff she was making me do. This was embarrassing given how fit she was compared to me, being of similar ages and all, but I was honest about my discomfort. BUT THEN . . . after a while, the senior therapist started talking to me about my evaluations and how I am doing, etc. and she said that she has seen many fibromyalgia patients throughout her career in all shapes and sizes and severities – and I was actually at the front end of that scale! I may be woeful compared to others my age, but I was doing OK for a fibromyalgiac!! She thought I was off to a good start with the physical therapy and lifestyle management (fewer working hours, more rest time, energy conservation, etc.), and will probably be able to manage my condition pretty well in the long run as long as I stay committed to reducing stress, building in more “me-time,” and basically being cognizant of my body and not pushing it too hard too fast.

Woot! I hadn’t felt “at the front end” of a lot of things recently, and now two incidents happened to remind me of my potential in one week! I’ve also always had lingering doubts about wasting my time trying to conserve energy and rest more, and have the tendency to push myself until I crash. I have also had little direct encouragement (other than from my husband) to cut work time and build in more recreational/rest time. For the most part, I had considered that aspect of my management scheme to be mostly met with either disdain or general indifference from other people. Now here was somebody in an objective position who openly encouraged more of it!!! She also made me feel like I was doing pretty good being in charge of my condition and she made me feel good about doing some of the things that generally carry a load of guilt and anxiety for me. So whoa! That was a refreshing perspective!

I am so grateful to the powers-that-be for this turn of events. I really felt like I needed a jolt of encouragement right about now and, lo and behold! There it is!

To use Michael J. Fox’s words with modification (from his memoirs), I am a lucky woman.

Love,

Fibronacci

On Ducks and Perspectives

It seems somehow appropriate to discuss my aquatic physical therapy program (sort of, anyway) with a bunch of duck pictures. So here’s one to start it off with!

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White Ancona Duck

So because of my aquatic therapy program (twice a week), I am having to miss work a lot. Basically, I am working part time or less two days a week. I feel like I should make up for this by working longer hours or working more over the weekend. But the truth is, even though I am not working on “work” stuff, driving 20 minutes in each direction plus exercising plus showering before and after is all work for me. Those are all eating up slices of my energy pie that I would otherwise devote to work.

Lately, my whole perspective on my work has kind of changed. In the past I used to be perfectly happy working 10-15 hours a day, including most weekends. Last year, when I still hadn’t learned to quit this lifestyle completely, I was always miserable. I slowly cut back and now I feel like I am doing much better in general (fewer massive flares and lower daily pain levels on average). And now, I feel like they don’t pay me nearly enough for me to go back to being the way I was before!! At one time, I may have said I find joy in science. And I still do, don’t get me wrong. But if you asked me the top thing that I find joy in now, I would say it’s in not being in constant misery!

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This duck couple (male/female, yin/yang) just makes me think “balance” – that’s what I am still in search of. And then finding peace in living that balanced life minus the guilt!

I never knew how much I took for granted until I wasn’t able to do them as easily one day. Hell, some days I am just grateful for being able to get up and walk to bathroom! But do I still feel guilty about not accomplishing as much as I once used to? Yup. Do I get stressed that one day I might tick my boss off enough that I have to really call it quits? Sometimes. Am I going to kill myself over it? Not physically anyway; I have been convinced that that’s not worth it. The mental anguish, I imagine, will take longer to settle.

Well, there’s that titular perspective for ya! At any rate, I hope you at least enjoyed the (equally titular) ducks!

Love,

Fibronacci

A Tale of Turtles

After a night of poor sleep, and driving around all morning, my brain is about as murky as the water these turtles are swimming in. I start a new aquatic therapy program next week that I was evaluated for today by a physical therapist. As usual, after all the prodding and poking, I am worse now than how I started off (which wasn’t so great today to begin with).

Incidentally, I also felt like a deplorable hypochondriac today looking at an image of the human body trying to click on “pain areas” and trying to describe the type and intensity of my pain. I felt like all the boxes applied to me at some point or another! I was somewhat embarrassed though, so we decided to go with the major/focal areas. It was kind of exciting and depressing at the same time to think that 3/10 is the best pain management score we can aim for even for the most basic tasks like standing to teach (granted, that’s like ~3 hours at a time) or doing stairs or working at a computer or just washing my hair (again, granted, I do have a LOT of hair)!

I hate that I am going to have to miss another day of work but I needed the rest desperately today. What is it about us graduate students feeling so guilty about taking time off for ourselves?? I am sure there are other ways of making our lives productive (even scientifically productive) without always necessarily working on our thesis project all the time. But then the thesis is our baby, and who doesn’t feel guilty about neglecting their baby? (Whether or not it is healthy to make your thesis project your baby is a whole another discussion and I am not even going to go there!)

I need to keep reminding myself that just like a mom who does not hover over their child 24X7 is not a “lazy mom,” I am not a “lazy graduate student” for taking a day off to recover my strength. Yet I know that that is not a popular sentiment in academia. As understanding as my advisor can be regarding my situation, even he gets frustrated with my recent slowness and absence. I cannot blame him for that – sometimes I feel exactly the same way about myself! At least, he has enough faith in my ability to do science to allow me to complete my Ph.D. at my current pace. And for that, I will always be grateful.

Love,

Fibronacci

To NOT Kill a Mockingbird

So to preface this post, I must thank my husband for a wonderful new bridge camera as a birthday present. I have always been into amateur photography and this is the coolest camera I have ever owned, so I was really excited when I got to try it out today!!

This cute little mockingbird seemed only too happy to pose.

Also found a lovely female cardinal on a tree.

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Some of my tulip bulbs were also in full bloom. So even if that’s a little off topic from this bird theme, they are after all red (like the cardinal), so here they are.

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Living with an unpredictable disorder can be very frustrating – a good day can quickly turn into a nasty one. It is easy to feel disappointed when you have one good day (that you don’t overtax yourself on even!) that is followed by a not-so-good day. It happened to me this morning and I spent some time chiding myself for it. After all, since when did feeling low about feeling low ever make one high? (pun intended)

On a day like this, bright little moments can make for such a wonderful respite, like a fresh cool spring breeze blowing in your hair! They remind me to see the beauty in everything that surrounds me and savor each happy moment or good feeling, no matter how few or far apart they may be. And I am truly grateful for that!

Love,

Fibronacci