Hitting the Reset Button in my Brain

I feel like the last flare kind of put me in a less-than-positive state of mind. Too many of my posts are talking about hardships of living with a chronic condition. While I don’t mean to shy away from being honest, and I don’t believe in deluding myself with positivity when things could obviously be better, I do believe that our state of mind can affect the state of our bodies. Letting out the frustration of a prolonged flare is helpful, but remaining in that angry, frustrated mode does no one any good.

So I have been on a journey to try and reset my mind to be a in a quieter, more peaceful place. I have had varying levels of success with the strategies I used, and I am sharing my thoughts on them here in case it can help someone else in a similar boat.

1. Take time by the moments instead of days.

The idea here is to just get through this moment in time and on to the next, and not think any further forward or backward. I try to keep busy at work, and ignore my body as much as I can. I have also taken to spending my evenings resting completely (unless I go for my pool exercise class). Sometimes I may play a crossword with my husband. We have fun, we goof off, we laugh when we make up silly words; I seem to relax. Throughout the day, I try to keep my focus mainly on the task at hand.

For the most part, this strategy works. When taking time moment to moment, I seem to be alright.

. . . But then a thought will pop up in my head about the next day that’s about to come, and I feel this dread. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I mind my job, I really like it in fact. What I dread is the struggle that going to sleep might prove to be, or the exhaustion when I wake again the next day, or the achiness, the tiredness, the tightness in my muscles that will aggravate me throughout the day. I dread that I will come back home, and rest, and feel better, and then my body will hit its reset button the next morning, and the whole thing will start all over again. Like an endless cycle of rest, pain and exhaustion.

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Emptiness

Taking time in moments stops me from thinking in the fashion above, but it also makes time feel disconnected. I feel like, as people, we thrive on some sort of continuity. That’s why we created the construct of “time” in the first place. When you take life one piece at a time, it is an effective coping mechanism because it gets you through the day. But for me, at some point, every moment seems to run into another, and it becomes hard to see where I have been and where I am going.

So even though this method works, I realized that is like putting a band-aid on wound that needs stitches. It might make you feel better and hide it from sight, but it probably won’t solve the problem. But for problems that can’t be solved, like the one I currently have I guess, this is still a useful strategy.

2. Reframe your mind to think of what you can do.

This one is hard for me because I associate fibromyalgia with so much loss. But I think it is important to note that there is still a lot that I can do that I don’t always think about. I don’t think about it because I expect to be able to do more, so I care less about what I still can. But perhaps I should not take all that for granted.

Perhaps it worth noting that regardless of how bad I felt, I could still take care of my husband after his surgery. I could take care of our home while working at the same time. I can still work! As a scientist, no less! I can still plan for a future, perhaps a house, or a vacation. I am still able to spend some time with friends when I like. None of it is easy, but I am still doing it. Regardless of how much patience I lose with myself, I am still coping with whatever life throws at me.

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I am not just a a face in the crowd – I am still capable of hopes and dreams and accomplishments!

In a weird way, this makes me feel both proud and more confident, and also more humbled. Proud and confident that I am capable on taking on the current challenge. But also more humbled: just because you could do something, doesn’t mean that you should. I feel grateful that I didn’t collapse, only flared, when the workload soared. But at the first chance, I am also cutting back so as to not provoke providence by taking it for granted.

Altogether, I have found this to be a good exercise. When I feel poorly, my list is fairly short. But I try to add every mundane thing I could and try to convince myself to feel accomplished for being able to do it. It helps me feel like I have been somewhere, and can do some things, and can still plan for some kind of future.

3. Accept that it sucks.

Sometimes that’s all you can do. Just accept that this is a bad patch, and ride it out. No point in being angry about it or punishing yourself for what you cannot do. Do what you can to mitigate the flare, but recognize that sometimes it’s like the flu — you just have to wait it out. Admit the feelings and thoughts that invade the mind, find an acceptable outlet for them, and try to redirect them in more positive directions (see #1 and #2 for instance). Show yourself some compassion.

This one, for me, is by far the hardest, though I have been actively coaching myself for a while. I feel like I need to have the answers to all my problems. If I don’t have ready answers, I feel like I need to find them. But sometimes there is no answer. All you can do is accept this is how it is. Funny thing is, when I am able to do it, it brings me so much peace of mind! And yet I struggle with the idea that I am “giving in” to the flare. But it is not: I am still looking for ways to help myself feel better; I am just done fighting the the problem itself. The focus is now on me. Not the flare or the illness itself.

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Peace

I have written extensively about acceptance before, and I will put the links below. It is probably the best way I have found of dealing with the emotional aspects of my condition. As you can see, however, it is not a goal you achieve and stay at. It’s a a never-ending journey on the road to peace.

Gentle hugs,

Fibronacci

 

READ MORE ON ACCEPTANCE:
Part I: A Lesson in Perspective and Acceptance
Part II: What is “Acceptance”?
Part III: How Acceptance can lead to Happiness
Part IV (A): Seeking a State of Acceptance 
Part IV (B): Fighting the Denial of a Chronic Illness

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