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The Gifts I Have Received From Living With Fibromyalgia and CFS

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Dear newly diagnosed fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome friend,

After what might have been a very long time, you have finally been given a “diagnosis” for that elusive group of symptoms you have been experiencing. At last, you feel that you are not going mad and that it is not “all in your head” as some may have told you. You now belong to a “group” because there are actually so many others out there going through the same or a similar experience to you.

This to some degree will give you peace of mind. There is a sense of certainty once you get a diagnosis; now you have something to work with, something to treat and a label that you can use to explain to everyone why you have been feeling so awful. This is a positive thing, but in other ways it is just the start of another journey, a labyrinth we are all trying to navigate.

We live in a world where we want instant fixes. We live within a medical system where doctors are used to treating just the symptoms. You will find that living with fibromyalgia (fibro amongst the “in” crowd) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a full mind-body experience. You will have maybe a range of symptoms, which confuses doctors, as they do not always know how to go about treating you. Most of us turn to the world of complimentary medicine because its philosophy is to treat you as a whole. You might also find that you do not get the support from your family and friends in the way you would like. It is to some extent an invisible illness where all the struggling happens on the inside, and because you may not look ill, people might struggle to empathize. This might make you feel lonely at times.

What you will find is that really nobody is sure what causes fibro or CFS and therefore, how to treat it. After all, it is a syndrome, which means it is a group of symptoms and not a defined illness with a defined root cause or cure. It will be a case of trial and error to see what helps you. You will see that there is a lot of advice on the internet and there are many people who may not have the exact same symptoms as you, yet they have the same diagnosis – all of us fighting for answers.

Having spent literally years researching this illness online and after trying many different therapies and spending more money than I care to acknowledge, I have to tell you I still have fibro and CFS. However, I am much better than I was a few years ago. What has worked to improve my health may or may not help yours. Do the research and try the methods that appeal to you, but be prepared for a lot of failures and of course some successes too!

However, the one single thing that cannot be promised is a cure. This can be very difficult to accept, knowing you may live your whole life navigating ailments that can keep evolving or changing over time and that impact every single day of your life. Acceptance was a tough call for me. Initially I refused to accept that I had to live with this. But when I say accept, I do not mean give up; I mean accepting that this is part of your life experience and it is not just something to be removed. In fact, the more I furiously fought hard against the “enemy,” the more tired and sick I became. After 10 years, I am still working on my health every day, but not as an exhausting battle to be won.

Once you come to accept your journey, the good news is there are so many blessings to be found in living with fibro and CFS. In fact, in some ways I see it as a gift – or at least it has brought me gifts. It might be hard to imagine this, but bear with me.

You will notice that the daily strains of our modern lifestyle put a lot of pressure on you and your symptoms will act as a barometer. When you have too much stress in your life, your body will tell you; when you are running around too much, your body will tell you; when you have emotional difficulties, your body will tell you. Your body in a way is demanding balance. Before I started getting my symptoms I was what is classified as a type A personality. I was very hard on myself and on the go most of the time. The gift I have received is that of finding a better life balance and improved self-awareness. I have learned to notice the messages my body sends me, I have learned to honor them and slow down and I have also learned how to improve my emotional health. Then there is the gift of resilience; you will have to get up pretty much every day, even when you might prefer to just stay in bed. You might become an expert in time management too, because you will need to preserve your low energy bank.

But quite possibly one of the biggest gifts and one I am still working on is the gift of self-love. This has been particularly hard for me to learn. My natural inclination, like many others, is to focus my care and attention outwards towards others rather than towards myself. After facing several challenging life lessons, I finally realized I did not have enough compassion for myself and I now try to focus more on nurturing myself both emotionally and physically. In fact, it was when I started doing this that my health really started to improve. I must point out that I am not stating that we should become selfish; we just need to learn that we have only got so much love and energy to pass around and some of that has to be kept for ourselves. As you may have heard somewhere before, treat yourself in the way that you would treat a loved one.

Finally, leading on from self-love, I found my sense of empathy deepened; struggling gives us the capacity to deeply empathize and have compassion for the struggling of others. This can lead to beautiful things. For me, I eventually became a psychotherapist so I could help others in their journeys and I also became involved in animal welfare.

So, fellow fibro and CFS companions, please do all you can to find the treatments that can help you, look at the forums and speak to the doctors. However, above all, do not forget to love and nurture yourself both physically and emotionally. My experience became not a “me versus fibro and CFS battle,” but a call to self-care, and if you look out for them, the experience will also bring you gifts along the way. I am most grateful for mine.

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Originally published: April 27, 2017
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