First step, walk to beach. Second step, enjoy.
Last week I blogged about taking a day off work and the inevitable guilt that followed. I realised that not only was the guilt not helpful – it wasn’t going to change the situation – but it was actually harming me. Lying on the couch with a heat pad is usually a sure-fire way to relax my muscles. Only on this day the guilt was creating so much tension that the poor heat pad didn’t stand a chance.
So I set out to rid myself of the guilt that comes with a chronic illness and not being able to live up to the commitments I would otherwise like to. With the guilt gone all should be good, yes? No.
The guilt about missing a day of work was gone but my anger at still being in such a great amount of pain after all I was doing to manage it was growing. I’m on the best medication, I walk 5 mornings a week, I stretch, I attend yoga classes, I pace, I regularly use heat & tens ….the list goes on. Yet with all of this I’m still in so much pain. Why? How is this right?
I know these feelings are not uncommon for those in chronic pain. They quite often pop up for me but after the initial burst of anger subsides I try to push the feelings away knowing that, as they don’t help the pain, they simply serve to hurt me even more.
So that’s what I did. I pushed the feelings back down inside and tried to ignore them. And it worked, for a little while. A week later I found myself sitting on my yoga mat attempting to empty my mind when up my old friend, resentment, reared its head. Why am I still in so much pain? Just as my jaw started to clench I noticed my mum, who was sitting on the mat next to me, had her legs stretched out in front of her. She mustn’t be able to cross them because of her sore hip. Hang on, I’ve been sitting here with my legs crossed for the last 10 minutes. My legs are crossed! I’m sitting cross-legged! I couldn’t sit like this when I was 15 yet here I am, 33 years old, 23 years of chronic pain and I’m sitting cross-legged and it’s relatively comfortable!!
That’s when it hit me. Sitting in that yoga class, it hit me how far I have come in the past year. When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in September 2013, the specialists listed off a number of things I can do to help manage my symptoms. At that stage, I was only able to start a few. During my stay in a pain clinic in March 2014 I learnt about even more things that can help. Everything sounded great. I wanted to embrace them all, but how? I looked to my doctors for help. “Try implementing a few techniques to start with, choose 2 or 3. If they work, keep using them and, when you can, pick up a few more.”
Of course, why didn’t I think of that? Living with a chronic illness requires lifestyle changes. Some changes will work for one patient but not another. The only way to find out what works for you is to try. But it’s important to remember that nobody can try everything at once. Take it one step at a time. Implement those changes that are the most important to you first. Once those changes are no longer changes but rather are now a part of how you live you can go back to the Chronic Illness Toolbox and pick out your new change.
So that’s where I’m at today. Picking out my new change. I’m looking at you, diet.