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When I Finally Accepted My Chronic Pain Conditions

I’ve always been one of those people with bundles of energy – the life of the party some would say. If you asked my family and friends, they would tell you I’m the outgoing one and that I’ve always worked hard (sometimes ridiculously so), while juggling a hectic social calendar, various hobbies, as well as volunteering.

That was me up until two years ago, when, at the age of 47, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia – closely followed by rheumatoid arthritis. These diagnoses were preceded by almost three decades of depression. Of course, I wasn’t going to let any of this stop me. I’d hidden the depression for so long while I continued to function at a senior level at work, and then at play – surely I wouldn’t need to give in to these other illnesses. I’ve always been a fighter.

The turning point for me came only a couple of months ago. I finished work and walked the 45 minutes to my usual yoga class. It was so great, I went to yoga the next evening as well. Then a couple of days later it felt as though a million fiery ants were digging around under my skin and an old lower back injury flared up. I was in pain, I was anxious and really annoyed. I was annoyed at my fibromyalgia and I was annoyed at myself for tempting fate with what I considered some light exercise. After all, I used to do weight training and indoor rock climbing. I ran and enjoyed long bushwalks.

I attempted to go to work, but was sent home after an anxiety attack. I wasn’t coping with my pain. Then I slept. I slept, I rested, I repaired and eventually returned to what I call my new “normal” self. Refreshingly, my boss was so amazing that I confessed to all my health issues. It was a hefty weight off my shoulders not having to pretend I’m OK when I’m not.

Over the past two years, I’ve learned three valuable lessons:

1. Acceptance. Accepting I have chronic pain conditions and that I will need to slow down sometimes is going to make my life easier. This includes taking days off when I need to, turning down invitations, and accepting help when it’s offered. Big shout out to my partner Mat.

2. Transparency. Being open about having an illness, or three, with family, friends and work colleagues has really helped me in managing my health. I don’t shout about it from the rooftops, but have a select group of confidants who know about my conditions and who support me during the bad days.

3. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Appearances are truly deceiving. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been told, “But you look great,” after I’ve disclosed my pain. Yes, hair and makeup can do wonders, but they are just window dressing. It’s how I feel on the inside that I’m trying to help you understand – why I’m tired, why I might be irritable and why I don’t want to go out this time. This is a simple reminder about how easy it is to misjudge someone when you don’t have all the facts.

So, my fibromyalgia and I are working each other out. If it starts to flare-up, I rest. If I don’t feel well, I admit it and stay home. I share my experiences to help raise awareness.

I accept that fibromyalgia is mostly likely here to stay and the best thing I can do is stop fighting – not the pain as such, but to stop fighting the fact that I have this chronic illness. It’s a part of me of now, which I welcome when it’s not active, and know how to manage when it is.

By no means have I given in, but I have conceded this is my life now.

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