“Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps”: struggling with fibromyalgia

” Early in life, I was visited by the bluebird of anxiety”, Woody Allen

Anxiety is the root cause of fibromyalgia, particularly at an early age, or even in the womb. So, how is one to overcome the early stages of this deep seated emotional characteristic which those of us with fibromyalgia struggle with on a day to day basis? Even more significant: how do we explain to others that the challenges of life-long anxiety cannot be overcome with those who lack empathy or compassion who suggest we just get on with life and stop complaining? It would seem as though I begin each new blog with a series of questions that aren’t easily answered.

It is fear that triggers the amygdala to release neurotransmitters. In turn the hypothalamus dumps adrenaline which causes the elevated heart rate, flushing, shallow breathing and other physiological symptoms. Fear and anxiety are two sides of the same coin. I can trace my early anxieties/ fear to anxious parenting, Catholic nuns who terrified me with thoughts of hell, a crisis of moving from a large city to a small town as an adolescent, a 17 year old who like others of the day, was used as a source of free labour in a diploma based nursing school, nursing in general, an early bad marriage, three C sections, a divorce, completing a PhD as a single parent, being stalked, remarriage with a blended family of five teenagers, caring for elderly parents, and finally a heart attack, followed by a hip replacement. Now, of course, aging has reared its challenging head. Each new crisis, no matter the seriousness, triggers the amygdala. One might look at this list and believe it is not as horrific as the life of those who suffer greater atrocities. Nonetheless, there are two kinds of people- those who thrive in acute stress situations and those who don’t. I am of the latter kind of persons, born as a highly sensitive person.

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Fibromyalgia: Living in high alert

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are”, Anaïs Nin

One of the common sayings in Mindfulness Meditation is that thoughts are not facts. In the chronic pain clinics we are told that hurt does not necessarily mean harm. B.K.S Iyengar, a yoga master, says to think light and feel light. But what are we to do when we are in a state of high arousal, waiting for disaster to fall, whether it be in the form of new symptoms or the same old ones we have become accustomed to over these many years? How are we to reduce the amount of anxiety and /or trauma we live with everyday?

There are many strategies that one could employ but key is to keep watch over our breath. Breathing is key to meditation, yoga and living with chronic pain. A state of mind is crucial to living a life of ease (somewhat) in spite of the daily challenges we face with this condition of fibromyalgia. We are told to be vigilant about our breathing and it is well documented that we are people who hold our breaths when thoughts become fearful. It is our minds that are in need of reassurance that the worst is not to befall us.

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Fibromyalgia, self-criticism/self-compassion

“Self-compassion is a more effective motivator for change than self- criticism”, Kristin Neff

Those of us with a chronic health condition are generally very critical of ourselves. Our self talk is filled with anger for not “pulling ourselves up by the boot straps”and living life in a more positive way, instead of succumbing to anxiety and depression. We often feel like failures, particularly when we hear of others who might have the same degree of suffering that we have but who appear to be doing so much better than we are. We are much more kind to others than we are to ourselves.eating and compassion pics 001

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