“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.

Beginning life as a high energy person I am no longer that same woman. While age is certainly a factor I have not survived those life events as one who has much resilience to spare. Now, while I am fortunate with my wonderful, care giving spouse, financially secure, proud of the adult children and grandchildren, I still suffer from chronic fatigue and pain. More than that I have general free floating anxieties which are often unexplained. I am quick to fearfulness, and the glass is often half empty. I meditate, although not as consistently as I should and could. I ride my exercise bike regularly. I have regular massages and great friends.

However,I am very self conscious about even mentioning any ailments to many, and specifically to a certain friend who suffers from what I call “boot-strap-ism”. She believes one should just get on with life and that aging is not a state of gloom and doom, mentioning old star performers as an example of embracing old age. Perhaps I too should do the same, uncurl those bootstraps. After all, the alternative to old age is not all that desirable! I do try, then a flare-up occurs, often for no reason that I can identify and I simply cannot pull myself away from anxiety. In all consciousness I cannot feel sorry for myself. I am a privileged woman. I have not suffered the ravages of war, racism, extreme poverty or homophobia. As young women we are trained for fear, but many of us become strong, fearless, resilient women as we age. Others struggle with a hyper-aroused central nervous system that produces a highly vigilant woman (or man) who is overly empathetic and lives with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and PTSD. We can’t judge another’s fears and anxieties. We can never know the struggles someone else goes through. We might think we do but never can. So, self compassion is paramount, rather than self criticism.

Now a new season is emerging. Storms, hurricanes, earthquakes, unsettling political climates, threats of nuclear wars have most of us in a tizzy and a state of permanent anxiety. Shall those of us in a more calm country with so far none of the ravages of hurricanes and other current climate disasters (excepting for the fires on the west coast of Canada) relish in the beauty of the autumn leaves? I don’t know if the cup is half empty or half full. My boot straps are tangled and it isn’t easy to lift myself up too high.

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