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The Work I Do Every Day Under My Teacher Named Fibromyalgia

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When someone asks me, “What do you do?” my response is, “I am a teacher.” By career definition, that is what I “do.” I am a teacher. Specifically, I work as a professional in the early childhood field, where I have the privilege of being a teacher to eight wonderful toddlers each day. I could go on and on about the importance of my work, and how I am so much more than a glorified babysitter, but I digress. At the end of the day, I am a teacher.

I work hard each day to ensure the children in my care are safe, and that I am providing opportunities for them to grow, meet their developmental goals, and make discoveries in the world around them in a developmentally appropriate manner.

Each day, I work carefully under a teacher of my own. This teacher goes by the name of fibromyalgia. One might think, “How can a disease be a teacher?” Let me tell you…

When you deal with chronic pain, or any ailment for that matter on a day-to-day basis, you are constantly learning. You learn how to adjust and adapt your lifestyle so that you can properly function with whatever it is you are going through. You learn each day what your body can and cannot handle. This keeps things interesting, for lack of a better word, because each day is different from the next.

One day, you feel like you can conquer the world, and the next day, something as simple as trying to do the motions to “Baby Shark” make your joints writhe in agony. One day, you may be hurting, but pushing through is a breeze. The next day, you have to learn how to fight back the tears as you go through the routine of the day because every inch of your body aches.

When you are battling fibromyalgia or any chronic illness, you have to learn how to adjust socially. You learn to evaluate each situation and figure when is an appropriate time to be honest. Sometimes, you simply say, “I’m fine, thanks.” But then you learn the circumstances in which you can be more open, as well as the people you can be more honest with. You also learn how to navigate this internal battle with yourself. You do not want to be dishonest with people, yet you do not want to have to justify why you may be feeling a certain way. You have to learn to read people and figure out who may take you seriously and who may brush you off.

On another note, you have to learn how to adjust your lifestyle. You have to keep track of and learn what foods, events, circumstances may affect you. You have to learn how to separate who you are now from who you used to be. I always used to be the “yes,” person. This is still something I’m struggling with at the moment. I hate telling people “no” when they need something because I hate inconveniencing others. I am constantly learning how to still be the person I want to be while taking care of myself in the meantime.

It all comes down to balance and, as cliché as it sounds, listening to your body. You have to learn how to say no when the time is right. If you know, or even if you suspect you are not up for a task, then just say, no. The people who matter and the people who care will understand.

When facing any chronic health issue head-on, you learn how to adapt to any situation. Through trial and error and experimentation, you figure out the things that make you comfortable and the things that are not worth your time. Remember back in the day when you got your school supply checklists? Yeah, you have those now; however, they are your ‘everything I need to get by in case of a flare-up’ supplies.

Mine includes ThermaCare Heat Wraps, Arnica gel, ibuprofen, ginger candy, activated charcoal, an Ace bandage, headphones (and loaded playlists on my phone), and a small ball for massage. This list may also include any prescribed medication you are taking at the time. You have to make sure you are organized and have all your supplies on hand, as any good student would.

On top of all of this, you are constantly trying to learn everything you can about your ailment. You read books, research articles, and listen to others. You take the time to look into any links or information others may send you. You learn to decipher what seems like it could be accurate from the outlandish. You debate the topics you want to bring up with your doctor without seeming you’re overreacting. You learn to differentiate between the information that are worth your time and those that seem like fake news.

Most importantly, when battling a chronic illness, you learn acceptance: Acceptance of your condition and acceptance of yourself. This is an ongoing lesson. I am constantly learning how to accept myself and where I am in any given moment. I am learning that I may not be the person I used to be, but I’m who I am now, and that is all that matters. With fibromyalgia or any chronic illness, the lessons are never complete. There is always extra credit work, always a new chapter, that we can embrace. The question is, Are we willing to listen and to learn?

Getty Image by BruceStanfield

Originally published: October 11, 2018
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