i feel so much better, part one.

This next post is going to come in two posts. Reason one, because I wrote part one a month ago and then just gave up on it; reason two, there have been two major things that I have done this summer to “change” my life. 

Something that has been on my mind recently is how good I feel. I know, I wouldn’t think that either because of my fibro diagnoses, but here I am talking about how great I feel. I keep thinking back to the summer of last year. I was trying to do the same things then, as I am doing now…maybe except the quitting smoking part. Last year was when I started to feel the first symptoms of fibro. I was running and exercising almost 5-6 days a week. I was feeling pretty good.

Until I started to notice that I had this terrible, awful pain in my legs. My legs felt swollen, it hurt to walk, and I just felt like I wanted to sit for a most of my day. My energy was zapped, I was foggy, and I just thought that it was my body getting used to running. So, I didn’t do anything until the end of September. I went to my doctor and he prescribed my Naproxen; thinking that it was similar pain to what I had a few years ago. I took it, when needed. But, nothing happened—the pain kept coming back, and seemed to be getting worse.

So, October-ish, my doctor sent me for blood tests. My sed rate was normal (frustrating), my blood sugar level was normal (apparently, my doctor thought it was diabetes. Sheesh. I would love it if doctors were a little more transparent. It was just like when I went into a patient first with a stomach bug, and my doctor gave me a pregnancy test). I didn’t know want to do. I was almost crying in his office (he’s my best friend’s uncle) because I as beside myself. There HAD to be something wrong with me.

At this point, I wasn’t working out, I was barely staying awake during the day. My spine, my legs, my head, everything was so bad. I remember coming home from class and literally just going up to my bed. I was so tired and depressed because I was so tired. I wasn’t doing anything, and yet I felt this bad. It hurt to walk, it hurt to teach, my memory was shitty, I felt like I was walking through a veil of fog every single day. Now, these things have become a lot clearer since I was diagnosed. I have the words that I needed then to explain to my doctor.

My doctor just looked at me, after I was finished with my sob story, and he said, “Stand up. I want to see something.” Um…. okay. He had me cross my arms over my chest and give myself a hug. He said, ‘How does that feel?” I thought, “This shit better be over soon, because this is terrible.” I said, “Not great.” And, he pushed….and I mean PUSHED on, what I know now to be, the trigger points for a fibro patient. He would ask me to explain how I was feeling once he pushed on the point—I had to restrain myself from yelping several times.

I had no idea what he was doing, all I knew is that I wanted him to stop. Finally, after he was finished and said, “Now, I’m not a rheumatologist, but I have seen this test done. It’s for fibromyalgia.” My head flashed to those commercials, and that one girl that I knew in college that had it. And, her life was kind of sad. So, I thought…what if my life becomes sad? I didn’t want that.

And, it hasn’t been that. I have had a love, hate relationships with fibro since November. Before fibro, my life was a constant rollercoaster of moods, or at least it seemed like it. I was up and down, I was stressed out by the tiniest thing, every small bump in the road was a major catastrophe in my life. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was rushing through everything, and I wasn’t taking the time to properly care for myself.

I definitely wasn’t eating right, I wasn’t exercising consistently. I was drinking too much, smoking too much. Just about the only thing I was doing right was praying and going to mass. But, I didn’t think that I needed to be taking care of myself. Before fibro, I didn’t think that I deserved to feel good about myself or feel healthy.

For the past 2 and a half weeks, I have been doing a lot of reflection. I have been reflecting on myself, my actions, my job; I have been taking stock of what has been helping me recently in multiple ways.

This, mostly likely, is because I took on two major “challenges” that are a complete 180 from what my life has been for the last decade or so. The first major challenge was quitting smoking—which could be considered the challenges to end all challenges. However, until I added training for a half-marathon to that list.

Let’s tackle my first challenge: quitting smoking. In one of my last blog posts, I wrote about smoking and quitting, but I relapsed for a period, but there was just one weekend when I wanted to be over it—kind of. I could get past not having nicotine, not smelling like smoke, not having my heart race. But, what I was going to miss was the actual action of smoking a cigarette. There was something “therapeutic” about taking that time. In a rational mind of a non-smoker, this doesn’t make sense—and probably even to some smokers it doesn’t make sense.

So, after attending a wedding, and realized that my life could not continue on the path that it was going—I bought a vape and prayed that this investment would work. I didn’t know what I was buying, I didn’t know if it would work, but I thought I have tried almost everything else…what the hell?

I downloaded the Smoke-Free app on my phone; which has been super helpful. I have been able to see how long it has been since my last cigarette, how much money I have saved, I am able to see pulse rate improvement, oxygen levels increasing, etc. So many positive things, and I have used this app before, with little success…but this time, it seems, that something has took. I can count on my one hand how many times I have slipped up—which, is amazing to me, because usually if I slip up, I go right back to smoking. Not this time. The cool thing about this is that you can track the cigarette you have, if you have them. Which, I have done, but only when I have been drinking. I haven’t smoked regularly or consistently, in 1 month, 6 days, and 23 hours.

The major things that I have noticed have obviously been my breathing, sleeping, and my energy levels. I didn’t realize how much my breathing suffered while I was smoking (yes, I am very, very good at lying to myself). I have more stamina, and I noticed that I wasn’t as out of shape as I was (when I ran The Color Run), but it was the cigarettes that were effecting my breathing (No shit, right?). My sleep is so much better—which has been huge for me.

I love sleeping; it is probably my favorite thing in the world. My mother always told me that I was such a good sleeper when I was a baby, and I don’t think much has changed. I sleep like a rock—it takes so much to wake me up in the morning, I have to set several alarms, have looked into getting a vibrating alarm clock, I have slept through earthquakes (seriously), and I love my bed.

But, since my diagnoses of fibro—my sleep patterns have been sporadic. When I first started seeing my rheumatologist he prescribed Flexaril because I was having trouble sleeping. It was hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, and then get up in the morning. So, taking that has helped, but I didn’t realize how much not smoking was going to help, as well. I wake up more refreshed than ever, and I think I have more energy in the day. And, I always smoked a cigarette because I thought I needed more energy. Smoking is a good liar. Of course, my energy levels are being compounded with the sleep that I am getting—awesome; I don’t know if it is because I am not at school and seem to be more relaxed, or I am just adjusting to this new life, but I feel SO much better.

The Release Project: Pride

Much of my life has been spent in self-reflection. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the person that I want to become, a lot of time figuring out what I am meant to be, and what I want to stand for. Not bad things, right? Well, yes and no. There is nothing wrong with self-reflection and knowing how to read the room. There is nothing wrong with figuring out what you stand for and making sure that is in alignment with what is true in your heart.

The problem comes when you focus too much on defining yourself, that you forget yourself. That you think that you are better than the past life experiences that you have had and have subsequently shaped you. That you negate anything and everything the people closest to you, and really know you have said and want for you. When you become something you are not, because it’s going to please the general public, isn’t authentic and you have lost the point of self-reflection.

For much of my formative years, I was always trying to be like someone because, at that time in my life, I felt that being someone else would be better than being myself. In high school, I struggled with my relationship with my mother. I thought that I would have an easier time to be like my brother who, by his own nature, is much more cynical, practical, and critical. I subconsciously saw how easy it was for my mom and my brother to get along, that I thought if I did that, I would too.

I was so, so, so, so, (times infinity) wrong. I just came across as angry, critical, uncaring, cold, and even though I tried to be something that I wasn’t, I was still sensitive and emotional. So, I was quick tempered, snarky, and just really a bitch. I couldn’t see how I was acting, and didn’t seem to care about what people thought. But, I remember when my grandmother said something to me, “Uncle Kevin thinks you’re being too critical.” Whaaaaaa? Me, of all people? How could he say that? See, I even got mad when someone pointed out a part of myself, that wasn’t myself, and something I knew I needed to change. If that isn’t prideful…

My second really significant phase came when I was senior in high school. I read Virginia Woolf once, and suddenly I was this tragic, romantic figure. Granted, I love Woolf’s writing, but the woman had some demons that she was working on. I felt like I craved for that kind of tragedy in my life, I wanted a place of deep hurt that would give me a reason to act a certain way. Seriously, what the eff was wrong with me? No wonder why my brother always thought I was crazy. I am sure at times it was like living with Eve from Three Faces of Eve.

But, I was yearning for a sense of belonging, because I felt like I was on the outskirts of life. A kid recently just said to me at school, “Ma’am, you must have been really popular, one of the cool kids in high school. You just seem like you would be cool.” I laughed in the kid’s face. I did not divulge to that child that most of my freshmen year was spent watching old movies in my room and crying because I didn’t have any friends. Hey, the kid things I’m cool, I didn’t want to mess up my image. But, if someone has said that to me in high school, I would have ran with it. I would have had this false optimism in my life that people liked me, or at least felt sorry for me.

Because of this sense of belonging, I mad friends that I shouldn’t have. Now, deep down, I am sure that they are both leading really fulfilling lives and making the best of what they have. But, at the time, we were three lost souls that happened to find each other. Our relationship wasn’t meant to last through high school. We got into trouble, we made mistakes, and I did things that are not part of the person that I am now. All three of us were looking to belong, but the other two were looking to belong to something bigger than what we had.

 

Senior year, I also met my friend and mentor, Judy. She was my principal at the time, and is responsible for endlessly trying to get my train back on the tracks. So, of course when she started noticing changes, she said something. She mentored me, she gave me examples of the person to be, how to be with people, and how to care for people. She has been telling me for years that I don’t have to define myself by other people’s standards. Sometimes I listened, and sometimes I decided to go my own path. But, I never really grasped her message—I have to admit that this still happens from time to time.

 

In college, I joined a sorority—but never really felt like a typical sorority girl, so that didn’t stick. But, I drank and I partied—nothing ever to hurt my future; but I did put myself into dangerous situations. Looking back, I probably drank because I was still feeling lost and going to parties gave me something that I felt like I needed at the time. I put myself into situations that I thought would make me feel better, but they never did. They just usually made me feel worse, and this was a pattern that continued.

 

I grew angry and rejected everything that I knew growing up. I rejected family, because I thought that I knew better about myself than they did. I thought that I didn’t fit in with them, that I didn’t belong to them, and it has been a repeated struggle for me. I rejected my faith because I thought that God wasn’t giving me the answers that I wanted. God just kept giving me struggles, he kept giving me things that I didn’t want to handle. At the time, I thought I had put so much faith in him, but He never gave anything back to me. Never in a million years did I ever think the answer to my questions and problems was to humble myself to His Will, instead of trying to fight against it.

 

This periodic up and downs in my life have been sporadic, and each time I seem to go through the same problem. I am trying to live up to expectations that don’t exist. I am trying to live up to expectations that I created for myself, because it was a time when I was not being true to myself. The plan that God has for me was not the one that I was following, and it has been hard to navigate the paths of life because of rollercoaster I was riding one was slowly trying to through me off.

 

When my father died, and being diagnosed, I had to stop and think about what was right for me. I had to think about what was a priority in my life, what were some things that needed to be taken out of my life. I had to rethink life with fibro, and adjust. I had to focus on myself and what was going to add to my life. Well, then I started thinking—who am I? I had tried to define myself in all these ways, but I never actually figured out who I really was.

 

I started an odd healing process during my time spent in graduate school—I was doing something that I loved. I was learning, I was exploring, I was asking questions, and I was learning about things and topics that were of interest to me. So, now I was doing something that I loved, I started to focus on love. My faith was strong already, but it got better. I felt like I was having an authentic relationship with God because I was listening to Him, not simply asking him of things. I was trying to put difficult situations into His perspective; trying to figure out what God was trying to tell me.

 

My relationships with people got better because I was focusing on being me, and not what they wanted me to be. Life with fibro has meant, expressing myself truly and honestly—and if people can’t accept that, then I can’t make them like me. I learned that listening to people, is better than just talking and talking and talking. The most important thing that I learned was not letting someone else or something else to define you—regardless of what others tell you are made in the image and likeness of God. So, be forgiving of others, especially of yourself.

The Release Project: Introduction

Lent. Call me a traditionalist, but I love Lent. I love what this time brings, I love the symbolism of the season, and I love that this is a time that people can stop and contemplate their relationship with God. Now, for Catholics, typically Lent is a time that we think about things to give up. In grade school, things to give up were chocolates, soda, candy, or a bad habit that we wanted to break. When I got to college, lapsing in my Catholic tradition, I decided that one year I was going to give up coffee. Such. A. Bad. Idea. Seriously, my addiction to coffee was so high in college—constantly pumping my system because writing papers and going to sorority functions were my life and I needed to keep going.

(The more that I digest this fibro thing, the more I realize that my college lifestyle definitely did not help my condition.)

Even when I walked away from the faith for a bit, I still loved Lent. I would think about giving things up, but would never really do it. I was angry with God at the time, and I decided that I didn’t want to give something up for Him. Once the fire was reignited, it was like that I had a new understanding of Lent. It wasn’t so much about giving up something, and denying yourself of something that you love; it is about symbolizing the sacrifice that Jesus made and giving yourself back to Him.

For the past few years, instead of giving something up I would do something extra. Two years ago, I tried to get to mass everyday—or a couple days out of the week to get myself in the right frame of mind for school. Last night I was thinking about what I was going to do for Lent this year. Getting up for mass every day before work would be hard for me now, so that’s out. Maybe I could get to Mass on Saturday mornings and a Friday morning here and there. I was also thinking about adding in more Eucharistic adoration back into my life. I used to go all the time, but grad school and life seemed to take over and I couldn’t make the time.

I thought that something was missing. I was talking to my friend about what else I could do, and things that I would give up for Lent. Judy is my mentor. Next to my mother, she is one of the most influential people in my life. Our friendship started out as one of student and teacher. When I decided that I wanted to become a teacher in my senior year of high school, she was the person that I looked to for advice. From there she and I developed this wonderful trusting relationships where we can talk about everything. She was the one that also helped me back into my faith after a particularly rough time in my life.

When my grandmother died, I was angry with God…angry with everyone. She was the one person, at that time in my life, was there for me when I felt no one else was and it hurt to lose her. So, during this time, I wasn’t going to mass or praying, and honestly thought religion was stupid. Judy never gave up on me. She was patient and kind, and talked me through so many rough patches. Although at times it was really hard, we came out on the other side of things, and I would like to thank her for the inspiration for this project.

The Release Project is what I am going to be doing during Lent to focus on developing my relationship with God and with myself. Yes, at first, it might sound selfish. But, it’s totally not. If we focus on the positives things in our lives, and the positive qualities that we have, then it makes it easy to see God and Jesus in those around us.

Judy sent me an article from Daily World, part of USA Today titled, “19 things to give up for Lent that aren’t chocolate.” This list is awesome, and was exactly what I was looking for. The 19 things are:

  1. Fear: God is on my side. In Him I am more than a conqueror. (See Romans 98)
  2. The need to please everyone: I can’t please everyone anyway. There is only one I need to strive to please.
  3. Envy: I am blessed. My value is not found in my possessions, but in my relationship with my Heavenly Father.
  4. Impatience: God’s timing is the perfect timing.
  5. Sense of entitlement: The world does not owe me anything. God does not owe me anything. I live in humility and grace.
  6. Bitterness and Resentment: The only person I am hurting by holding onto these is myself.
  7. Blame: I am not going to pass the buck. I will take responsibility for my actions.
  8. Gossip and Negativity: I will put the best construction on everything when it comes to other people. I will also minimize my contact with people who are negative and toxic and bring other people down.
  9. Comparison: I have my own unique contribution to make and there is no one else like me.
  10. Fear of failure: You don’t succeed without experiencing failure. Just make sure you fall forward.
  11. A spirit of poverty: Believe with God that there is always more than enough and never a lack.
  12. Feelings of unworthiness: You are fearfully and wonderfully made by your creator. (see Psalm 139)
  13. Doubt: Believe God has a plan for you that is beyond anything you could imagine. The future is brighter than you could ever realize.
  14. Self-pity: God comforts us in our sorrow so that we can comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
  15. Retirement: As long as you are still breathing, you are here for a reason. You have a purpose to influence others for Christ. That does not come to an end until the day we die.
  16. Excuses: A wise man once said, if you need an excuse, any excuse will do.
  17. Lack of counsel: Wise decisions are rarely made in a vacuum.
  18. Pride: Blessed are the humble.
  19. Worry: God is in control and worrying will not help.

What is great is that there are Bible verse to go along with some of the things that we should give up. So, after reading this list I started thinking that I am going to take one things every single day and meditate on it. 40 days in Lent, I could work through this list twice. On Easter Sunday, my hope is that I will walk into mass and release all of thing that do not serve me. Hence, the release project. I want to be able to work on the negative parts in my life that I want to change, and bring out good qualities that I want to show people.

So, here how The Release Project is going to work

  • Word and mantra for the day—I might go in any way what might inspire me, or I might go down the list.
  • I might right this down in the morning, jot my thoughts about the topic,
  • Read a Bible verse that discuss the work or mantra
  • When I get a quiet moment in my day, pray about this. Ask God to free me from this problem
  • Now, this hardest part. Sit and let God talk to me. When I pray, it’s total stream of consciousness. I make lists, talk about problems, but I want this time to be about God talking to me and I need to be receptive to listening to Him.
  • Then I write about a blog post about my experience for the day and if this would be something that I should revisit during my 40 days.

I don’t want to limit myself. If I feel like I need to spend two days on fear of failure, then I am going to spend two days on fear of failure. If there is one word or mantra that you just want to solely work on, do that! This is something for you! This is taking care of yourself!

Part of the process with fibro is taking care of myself mentally and physically, and I have been trying to get a handle of the physical part, but I want to be able to work on the mental part—with the help of God.

The start

 

I first came to grips with my fibromyalgia diagnosis two weeks ago, I was sitting in my principal’s office, crying because I was having a bad day. The boys were particularly difficult this day, and ever adult in the building was getting on my last nerve. Now, I work with a small faculty, so we are like a little family; but even family has their limits. I snapped at almost everyone on my floor before lunch, and that was when I knew that I needed to take a day to myself. My first, actual, sick day.

I went to my principal during my prep period, and explained to her what happened. What I said, what I did, and that I needed to take the next day off. Thankfully, she understood–her sister has fibro, so at this point I was happy for the sympathy. As I was telling her that I was struggling with my illness, I started crying. I felt so overwhelmed and helpless. Like the world was crumbling around me, and I finally admitted to myself and someone else that I do, in fact, have a chronic illness, and there are going to be times that I am going to need a break.

Prior my illness, I could not sit still. I was always working, I was always doing something, teaching, volunteering at church, helping my family whenever the needed. Always making time to do things for other people, but making little time for myself. Before I got a full-time job, I was a substitute teacher. I bounced from job to job worrying about where my next paycheck was going to come from. I did a daily subbing gig for a while, until I finally landed my first long time sub job. It was only supposed to be from December until March, but somehow God was looking down on me and I stayed until June (This story is for another post). The first two years out of college were the years that I had never worked so hard in my life. I was tired, I was miserable, I was poor, and I didn’t feel safe in what I was doing. I had no security.

Stress. Stress. Stress. These two summers were all about stress. From not having a stable paycheck, to helping my grandmother with her cancer diagnosis, eventually dealing with her death, and trying to find my way in the world. I didn’t know where I was going.

Finally, I was hired for my first full time position–a position I have now held for three years. It has its ups and downs, but the job itself and teaching the kids that I do, makes me so proud and so happy.

In my second year at my job, around this time my family and I noticed that my father wasn’t feeling well. We wrote it off as a sinus infection, at first, but as the days went on we realized it was much more serious. My father was suffering from a stroke–and for some reason, he kept having these strokes despite what the doctors could do.

I held a lot of pain in during this time; I felt that I needed to be there for my mother and my brothers. Someone had to be able to get things done, and my mother needed her time to grieve and I wanted to help her. This is something that is just automatic for me; when I sense someone needs help, needs someone to think for them, or help them work through a hard time I just go on autopilot. Part of me is still dealing with my father’s death every single day, and it never gets easier.

Stress. Stress. Stress. When I was in college, two of the most stressful things in my life were pledging a sorority and being president of my sorority my senior year. I cried, yelled, bottled up, and usually drank my stress away. Which, albeit is not healthy at all, but I just always kept things inside until I hit a breaking point and I can’t take it any longer. Some of these things, sadly, I have carried with me as an adult. The stress that I have experienced in the past three years, makes my college years look like child’s play.

When my doctor asked me if I have experienced a lot of stress in my life, I laughed. It was defense mechanism, way easier to make something a joke than dealing with your feelings. Wait for the post about being Irish Catholic for more of an explanation. I know I have experienced with stress, but at that time–I didn’t need to deal with it. I compartmentalize it. I bring it out when I need to deal with it, or when it’s relevant at a certain place and time. Or, honestly, when I have had one too many glasses of wine, and literally cannot stop talking. Also, wait for the Irish Catholic post.

Stress was just something that I dealt with, when I wanted to deal with it. Which is probably why I am bad about going to a therapist. I thought that it would help me, but I don’t think that I am in the right place in my life for it. I’m certainly not denying that it cannot help, or that it could have some benefit; I just don’t think I am ready yet. Or that I will ever be ready.

But, I have learned that this stress has been doing terrible things to my body–which has manifested itself as fibro. And. I will tell you…it sucks. This is the most annoying chronic illness. My body is in pain constantly (shifts from place to place some days), anything can set it off, I am tired ALL THE TIME, it’s wiped out most of my desire to workout, muscle spasms at night are annoying, sleeping is terrible, walking, standing, sitting is uncomfortable. There are so many things that I can be annoyed at with this illness, and it took a long time for me to even accept the fact that I had an illness. But, I do. And I am still here. Fighting.

So, this is my journey with this annoying illness. This is my journey with my faith, feeding my soul, and learning how to take care of myself.