If you have been forced to remain off work or given up your career due to a chronic condition, people often assume you don’t work! Having to live daily trying to manage the condition can actually become a full time job! A chronic condition is just that- chronic. There are many aspects that need addressing when you live with a condition that can become debilitating like fibromyalgia.
Before we even get a diagnosis we are often already adjusting life so we can function better. As we slowly adjust, we sit and wait for answers. Fibromyalgia is not an immediate diagnosis and is a process. We wait for tests to be completed, referral letters to be accepted and in general waiting for answers to why we hurt so much. Waiting can actually become a full time job in itself. You must be prepared for any upcoming appointments. As we prepare and wait for these appointments we keep on adjusting our lives to be able to get through the days the best we can.
Once diagnosed or even before, we have to learn how to live with a chronic condition. The life we once knew is no more and a new ‘normal’ needs to be found. One must learn their limitations and adjust life around those limitations. This is not an easy task! Nor does it happen overnight. It takes time. When you finally think you have it figured out, fibromyalgia decided to throw you an unexpected curve ball to knock you off track. New symptoms can arise daily and we are left scrambling trying to figure out a possibly remedy.
Self advocacy takes a-lot of time, preparation and energy. Do you know how many hours I have spent writing down medical information to share with doctors?! Too many to even remember! There are many questions to ask doctors or specialists, symptoms to be logged, medication lists, possible treatment routes, ways to lower pain….the list goes on and on. If we don’t advocate for ourselves who will!
Medication management. My medication list seems to grow longer and longer every year. It used to bother me that I had to be on so many medications, but I decided if I can function why should I be ashamed for using these medications!? I often thought people would think I was just a “drug addict”. Believe me, I tried to go medication free at the beginning of my fibromyalgia journey. The pain was too excruciating! I have daily medications I have to remember to take. I have to continuously manage how many days worth of medications I have left so I do not run out. When I go to the pharmacy, I often tell the pharmacy staff this is my second home as I’m there so much picking up medications and speaking to the pharmacists. Most medications I use leave behind side effects. These side effects also need managing. I may take medications to manage my pain, but these meds may leave behind numerous side effects to deal with.
Having to manage 24/7 symptoms can become exhausting then to add in a flare up makes managing pain even more complicated. Most of us learn to manage our flare ups, but there are times where our flare ups appear and we are left scrambling to find new strategies to try to find relief. Even on our most excruciating pain day there is no break because we have to always “troubleshoot” our own bodies. A strategy used yesterday may not help the next day! It is rather exhausting to always try to manage chronic pain.
Managing mental health. Often times when we are left dealing with a chronic illness, our mental health can become rather low. I know for myself I developed an anxiety disorder. We must learn to lower stress levels, anxiety and depression. High stress levels contribute to fibromyalgia flares and increased pain levels. We may need to take time through out the day to complete calming exercises to help lower stress and pain levels.
Attending weekly appointments or treatments. Often times we are encouraged to attend a program such as a pain clinic. Appointments can possibly be daily (Monday to Friday) depending on how your program is set up. You may be required to work with a kinesiologist one day, psychiatrist the next day and so on. Attending the appointments can be exhausting and leave us with higher pain and symptoms to manage after the fact.
Make sure to rest. People with a chronic illness such as fibromyalgia need to be sure to pace and rest when needed. Resting doesn’t sound like a hard task to do, but when it comes to fibromyalgia it can be. You need to learn to stop and rest at certain times. I decide when I need to rest from fatigue levels and pain levels. If I am cleaning and all of a sudden I notice dark bags under my eyes form, I know I need to stop and rest. If I do not, a flare up begins to start! Again this can be quite time consuming to be able to predict when to rest appropriately.
Researching. Fibromyalgia is not well understood. Some doctors have a great understanding of fibromyalgia while others do not. I often find myself researching a lot on my own. Knowledge is power. Arm yourself with as much information as you can. Researching when you have a chronic illness that is forever changing daily can take up alot of time.