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What It’s Like When Secondary Issues Impact Your Chronic Illness

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One of the things about having fibromyalgia and chronic pain is that you are battling a silent, invisible war within your body every minute of the day. Some days are better than others. Some days are unbearable. As you navigate the illness, you learn what the impacts of different activities are on your ability to function as close to “normal” as you can. You find a routine that works and you learn to make adjustments as needed.

Then one day you wake up and a secondary issue has emerged. You are left dealing with you underlying, chronic illness and now you have
another battle to tackle. It could be the flu. It could be an injury. Now you have to figure out how to manage those symptoms along with your chronic illness.

For me that happened in the form of a fall that left me with a torn tendon in my wrist. Luckily for me, it is in my non-dominate wrist, but it has impacted me more than I think I expected.

Since getting diagnosed a few years back, I have had colds and the flu and have dealt with them as they cropped up. They took me down harder than I believe that they would have before my illness, but I figured out how to handle them — I slept and slept and slept. I took the time I needed to just recover, and it was easier because nobody bats an eye when you have nasty snot and you sound miserable from those symptoms.

Now, however, I am finding it harder. Why would a wrist injury cause me to be so run down all of the time? Why are my flares worse in other areas of my body when my wrist is the issue?

Here’s my theory:

My body is already fighting a war — daily. I’ve now asked it to fight an additional attack on a different front, one to heal a pretty decent injury. It can only do so much and something has to give. The acute issue becomes the focus and the ongoing one takes a backseat, leaving it to grow and fester in the background. Flares increase. Exhaustion increases.

With the pain of the injury and the ongoing process of therapy, mixed with braces to help protect it and steroid shots to aid in healing, things like sleep also take a hit. So now my body is trying to heal an injury and my already struggling sleep situation is magnified and increased, impacting my fibro.

So the question becomes, what can we do when we take a hit like this?

My best answer is to rest and focus on healing the acute issue. I’ve been dealing with mine for seven months now, and just this week they put me on restricted work. I’ve pushed through up until now, working my full time job, plus doing my side hustle as an artist. I am raising two teenage boys (yikes!) and running a household. Then I got another shot of steroids and a very restrictive brace on my wrist, making manual work impossible for the next six weeks. Do I want six weeks off of work? No. Can I afford it? Definitely not. But will it impact my overall health? I think it will.

I may be dealing with the additional stress of not working, plus I have that lingering thought in my head that my body continues to betray me and the feeling of total “uselessness” is not fun either, and yet…

I rested yesterday and I am forced to not do daily household tasks on top of my work tasks. It is a forced “time out.” I’ve been put in the penalty box, and while I am not happy about it in several ways, I believe it is actually the best thing that could’ve happened.

I am forced to heal and to take care of myself in a way that I haven’t done — ever.  The pain in my wrist is enough that, with the brace (a glorified immobilizing cast I can take off to shower), I am deterred from even trying to do things. It reinforces the need to say “no” to things and to ask for help (which I hate doing with a passion).

Will my wrist be better in six weeks? I don’t know, but I hope so. Will my overall health be better in six weeks? Maybe. Is it easy or fun? No. (Well, OK, maybe on days when I can just binge watch something on Netflix it can be, but that will grow old.)

As of today, I am hopeful. Hopeful that this forced break will help heal more than just my wrist, it will heal some of the other underlying issues and struggles that I have. It won’t take my illness away, but maybe it will help me to gain some perspective and some energy in order to better deal with it. Maybe, just maybe, this secondary injury will be the lesson I have been missing and at the end of the time out I will have a whole new perspective on my health, my body and my mindset. And, if not, I can at least feel confident in knowing that I have seen every episode of Game of Thrones, twice.

Getty image via sam thomas.

Originally published: January 7, 2020
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