Friday, July 30, 2010

Fibromyalgia, and the Beauty of Release

            I just got back from the gym. I almost didn’t make it there tonight. I worked at the restaurant all day, I’ve been feeling bloated, moody, and hormonal, and I just didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to get up, get changed, get in the car, and go.
            But I did. And it was almost entirely thanks to a video I borrowed from the public library the other day: Mayo Clinic Wellness Solutions for Fibromyalgia. Here’s a teeny little sneak peak at its contents:

            Seeing as how it’s been seven years since I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), it’s easy for me to forget that it’s even a part of who I am. Chronic pain is something that you just learn to live with when it’s happening to you on a day-to-day basis. Headaches, fatigue, and overall achiness have simply become my reality—to the point where I don’t really think about the label the doctors have given me anymore. After all, an FMS diagnosis doesn’t leave you with any real answers. There are no tried and true treatments; ultimately, the only way to cope is to learn how to live with the pain. Day after day after day.
            So, this video was an excellent refresher course in what exactly is going on inside of me, and how the absolute most important thing a person who has been diagnosed with FMS can do is to slow down, take a few deep breaths, and relax.
            As one of the docs in the film reiterates, FMS is, among other things, the end product of an overly sensitive person’s tendency toward “an overactive mind and an underactive body.” Stress, depression, and negative thought patterns all play a part in this lethal combination. And exercise, along with other outlets and relaxation techniques, are crucial to the health and well-being of anyone suffering with the symptoms of FMS.
            Dietary issues, of course, are an essential component, too. For me, discovering my allergy to dairy and intolerance to wheat—and changing my diet accordingly—has vastly improved my symptoms. Eliminating overly processed foods and avoiding chemical additives and preservatives has proved enormously beneficial, too.
            But stress… that’s a whole other story.
I don’t handle it well; I even have the blood tests to prove it. Apparently, according to my neurotransmitters, everything is a crisis. My body’s fight or flight response is on overdrive. And the rest of my body suffers for it.
            As a result, it's easy for me to sit around feeling helpless. But that brings me to one thing I really appreciated about this video; it emphasized the importance of understanding that we are in control of our own minds. Yes, we are inclined to think and react in certain ways; some of it is genetic, and some of it is learned. But that does not mean we are enslaved to those habits and patterns for the rest of our lives; we have the power within us to change.
            It’s such a beautiful, amazing thing when you think about it. No matter how stuck we feel, a simple change in perspective is all it takes to lift us out of it. And in the case of an FMS patient, those changes in perspective take an extra special amount of effort, because everything in our bodies is whining and crying and screaming against it.
            In fact, as I sat there watching that video tonight, all I could think about was how much pain I was in. I had a headache, my muscles were tense and sore, my belly felt swollen, I was craving chocolate and sugar, my jaw ached from the grinding and clenching of my teeth all day long, and even my eyes were feeling sore from wearing my contacts for too many hours in a row.
            And yet, something about listening to those doctors and seeing and hearing the stories of fellow FMS sufferers and how they deal with their daily struggles made me feel lighter—a little less burdened, and a lot less alone. Suddenly, I was breathing more deeply, easing myself into yoga poses, and realizing how badly my stiff muscles needed to be exercised.
            And let me tell you—when you are in almost constant pain, there is nothing like those first few moments of true relief. It makes the slightest of tension-releasing movements near orgasmic!
That said, I try to be consistent with my workouts, and some days and weeks are better than others. Lately, it’s been a challenge. I made it to spin class on Monday, and I try to take my dog for at least one walk a day, but with all the changes going on in my life right now (more to come on that soon enough!), I have not been taking the time I need to just relax and let my pent-up anxieties and resulting toxins pour out of me.
Writing, singing, stretching, breathing, and sweating: these are my most reliable and rejuvenating modes of detoxification and release. My best days are the ones where I get to do all of these things on my own time, in my own way.
Of course, it’s a rare day that I can move entirely at my own pace and do exactly what I want to do when I want to do it, and due to certain upcoming changes in my life, I fear that those days are going to become even rarer in the very near future. So it is essential that I get on track and stay on track with working these crucial moments of re-centering into as many of my days as possible.
Tonight, that meant spending 10 minutes stretching, deep breathing, and yoga posturing; 15 minutes playing my guitar and singing; and then 33 minutes sweating on the treadmill. Followed by about 45 minutes (or so) of writing… here, on this lovely blog.
And breathing, well, I do it all day long, but do you ever just stop and take a really long, deep breath—one of those five-second inhale, five-second exhale types—and suddenly realize how disturbingly shallow your habitual breathing has become? I do. And I’ve found that just pausing every so often to take one of those incredibly deep, cleansing breaths can do wonders—for my body, mind, and spirit.

Anyway, I guess this is a long post. All I really wanted to do, in my endorphin-induced state of enlightenment, was share my thoughts regarding the tremendous benefits of exercise.
Because after my 33-minute low-impact cardio workout this evening (that’s all the time I had before they started shutting off the lights and announcing, “The time is now ten o’clock, and the YMCA is closed”—man, I miss my 24-hour NYC gym sometimes!), I left feeling uplifted, exhilarated, and about ten million times better than I did just 33 minutes earlier.
            And the best part? No pain. As in—no headache, no muscle aches, no gnawing feelings of anxiety and depression, and no sugar cravings.
          In short, I know exercise is good for me. I know it’s what a healthy person does to stay, well, healthy. But my primary reasons for doing it can be whittled down to the following:
(1) feeling pain-free 
(2) staying sane and stable 
(3) calming my cravings 
(4) maintaining a weight that makes me feel good and pretty
            So there you have it. As a closing remark... Whether you have FMS or not, life involves suffering. And I am so incredibly thankful for the many options available to us as human beings to relieve our various aches and pains, both of the physical and metaphysical sort.


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