It’s amazing how one photo has the ability to erase years of successes.
In January of 2015, I received an official diagnosis of Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). The two are known to go hand in hand. After 10 years of steadily increasing pain, I met this diagnosis with mixed emotions. The relief of finally having a diagnosis and knowing there were years of research into both conditions, yet the overwhelming grief that comes from knowing this is a permanent state and that things will get worse not better.
Was I never going to get my life back?
Due to this new diagnosis, my 20 year self-care regimen to manage my degenerative disc disease, arthritis, and “shitty connective tissue” now caused me such pain and fatigue that I felt like giving up. I slept for hours at a time, withdrew from all of my favorite things, and became absent in my own home as I curled up in the bedroom to binge watch whatever I could get my hands on.
We had also received devastating health news about both of my parents: CANCER and Type 1 Diabetes respectively, so self-care was about the last thing on my ‘To Do’ list. My priority became helping my parents any way I could which only added to my pain and fatigue but it had to be done, whether it hurt or not.
With so much going on during the time, I became easily overwhelmed by life. So I made an important decision. I decided NOT to be a victim. I researched as much as I could on Fibro and CFS. I began a course of treatment, made appointments with the appropriate medical professionals, test drove more pharmaceuticals than Pfizer, and slept. A lot. I did little things to keep moving forward. And all those things started adding up over the last year. I finally started to feel more like a person.
You see, my major focus has most recently been on diet and exercise. This is primarily because I developed the energy to cook, plan, and move around (yay). I also used an app that helps you track all the things that contribute to good health. As I was poking around on it, I found a selection for “before & after” photos.
Thinking this was a good idea, I spent an UNREASONABLE amount of time trying to take just the right selfie. (I mean really, three wardrobe changes and hairspray? WTF!) Anyway, when I finally looked at the photos i had taken, I was . . . . disgusted.
I didn’t recognize the woman staring back at me. “You’ve let yourself go!”, “You’re an embarrassment!”, “How Lazy can you get!”. All the old, self-deprecating patterns I had learned from dieting years ago came flooding back and all the good, hard work I’d done to recover my health was erased in an ‘Instagram’ second.
After much reflection, I realized that making my focus external, meaning emphasizing the fact that I think others judge me by what they see, was a huge mistake. Eventually, I was able to let it go. I got rid of all of the photos and turned my focus back on me and my accomplishments. How I was feeling, how well I was sleeping, and the fact that my daughter had her (mostly) Fun Mommy back! These are the tangible results of a life lived not only with chronic illness, but with purpose.
I have a quote tacked to my bulletin board and I read it every day:
“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy, or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.” – Anne Lamott
No “after” photo can capture that.
Until Next time . . . . I’m Chronically Yours,
My name is Barb Yanciw and I am a Chronic Pain Warrior! My earliest recollection of pain is from when I was 7 years old, although my mother will tell you that I have always complained about “daily hurts”. When I was young the prevailing thought was that children don’t experience pain and therefore it was attention seeking behavior. Until I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome two years ago, the only diagnosis anyone could give me was “shitty connective tissue”. Basically, what this means is that if a healthy person falls they might have a bruised elbow, I get bursitis. One specialist thought I may have contracted a virus as a baby and this impacted my joint development. Over the past 47 years of my life I have had 7 herniated discs, chronic migraine, pinched nerves, dislocated ribs, back spasm, and so much more. However, I am the kind of person that keeps moving forward and I don’t spend too much time at the pity party. If I had, it is more likely I’d be in a long-term care home rather than a wife and full-time working mom who likes to write and paint and hang with her dog. I hope you enjoy the things I write and that you see yourself somewhere in my words and find some comfort there.