If someone were to ask me ‘how’re you feeling?’ three years ago I would have likely exclaimed ‘I’m doing fine!’ (in a far too enthusiastic voice) before quickly changing the subject. I preferred not to speak about the illness and would quickly close myself off if any of my family mentioned the dreaded ‘f’ word. Behind that façade though I was clinging onto a huge amount of emotion.
Why me? Why has my life been ruined?
I felt angry, I felt like I didn’t have control of my life, I felt lonely and I felt jealous of other people’s seemingly picture perfect lives; the lack of understanding from myself as well as from other people (it is really so helpful when you’re informed that all of the pain you’re feeling is completely made up) didn’t really help either. I know to some that all might seem a tad melodramatic but those negative thoughts consumed my life; they continuously whirred through my head and it felt overwhelming.
I should say that it was around this time I was experiencing high levels of anxiety and often had panic attacks. Before I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia I also went through an episode of depression and at my lowest point I felt suicidal. This had a huge impact on how I took on board the fact I have a chronic illness so I can’t say how I would have taken the information if I wasn’t suffering with mental health issues at the time. However in my honest opinion, whether you have mental health problems or not, I think it’s only natural to go through stages of anger, of grief for the life that you led before the illness and also worry about what your future now looks like. If I could go back in time and tell myself that it’s perfectly okay to feel those emotions, I would. Don’t feel guilty for feeling them and don’t try to completely change how you feel in a day.
Not only did I beat myself up mentally, I also consistently didn’t listen to what my body was screaming at me; my actions of point blankly refusing to allow the illness to affect my life only meant the symptoms heightened. Bizarre as it sounds now that I look back, at the time I honestly felt like I had accepted and was managing the illness by falling into the typical boom and bust cycle but I was so absolutely miserable as the raw emotions were always burning away; I would often end up snapping at people or shutting myself away so I could fester in my own negative spiral.
It has only been this year that I have started the journey (as cringe as that might sound!) to make peace and truly accept the Fibromyalgia as part of who I am because whether I like it or not, it doesn’t matter how hard I fight against the illness, it’s still going to be here. Which is why I used one of my favourite quotes as the title of this blog post;
“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf”
What changed the game for me was to learn about mindfulness and meditation. It was like I had been living in a dark room for the past few years and all of a sudden a light had been switched on; I suddenly became aware of the mental torture that I was putting my mind and body through and of the rut that I somehow found myself in. As my awareness grew, I discovered that a huge portion of my day was filled with negative thoughts, often bouncing between bitterly thinking of the past and then panicking about the future. I was always tense and on automatic pilot, going through the motions until I could climb into bed (which is quite odd really as going to bed didn’t bring much relief as I would often struggle to fall asleep or wake up throughout the night).
Becoming aware of the present moment helped me to not be so tightly wrapped around a vicious cycle. It was also around this time I became acutely aware of how much of my life I had allowed to slip through my fingers because of the ruminating thoughts and overthinking every last detail of my past & of the future. I realised completely finding peace with the illness wasn’t going to be something I could change my perception of overnight but I told myself that is okay; it’s okay you can’t suddenly change, especially if you’re like me and spent most of your life adding judgement to yourself and your thoughts, being your own worst critic and finding yourself overwhelmed with stress.
I’m writing this post today feeling like I have finally accepted that this is it for me, I no longer constantly bash my head against the wall (figuratively speaking) trying to change the unchangeable. The important factor for me now is what I make of this situation. Realising my thoughts don’t define me as a person has allowed me to start letting go of the negative spirals which have previously interlinked with trying to cope with the illness; I have discovered this in itself has helped to decrease the intensity of the symptoms, as stress was a huge trigger to an increase in pain for me.
I’m still not where I would like to be with illness as I know there is more I can do to help myself but it’s these things that I’m excited to discover. Accepting your life may never be the same can be a hard thought to overcome but personally, I now realise my life can still be full of amazing things and can still be enjoyed to the full. I know my symptoms are likely to never truly disappear; I’m under no illusion there shall be harder days than others. Rather than think negatively through those times however, I am going to instead focus my energy on listening to my body, giving myself the self care I deserve and continue to be grateful for every single day. I am determined to live my life.