How I Found Rest in the Storm of Trauma and Fibromyalgia
So much has been happening at the Fibromyalgia Care Society of America (FCSA) lately. We launched a bilingual newsletter, are delivering fresh food throughout North Jersey, are surveying our neighbors without addresses in Newark, NJ to help understand how/if they have been impacted by fibromyalgia, have been partnering with other organizations, are preparing to launch our virtual coordinated care program and so much more…
As I embark on doing more of the personal one-on-one work, I begin to feel the impactful emotions associated with this type of work. Those emotions force me to reminisce, backtrack, adjust and plan for the path ahead of us. As many of you already know, my background is in social services. My career in this field began in 1997 at a drop-in center for homeless teenagers in the Times Square area of NYC. The program at the time was operating out of a church and had recently received funding to include weekend hours — I was hired as the weekend receptionist. It is at this drop-in center I decided there was no other place I would rather be than in the social service sector. A few years later, I ended up following my “boss” as he founded a not-for-profit in memory of one of the young people who had been murdered on the streets during the time we worked at the Times Square drop-in program.
The program initially began with six cots in a church basement, and later grew to the nation’s largest shelter serving homeless LGBTQIA+ young people. The initial program was located in the Penn station area of NYC by 10th Ave. In the early days, I was tasked with case management and would often leave the site late at night (sometimes after midnight). I would walk to the D train, travel to Tremont Avenue and then walk several blocks to my Davidson Avenue apartment. I had to walk through several areas that were not considered safe and some that were known for sex work.
As a young woman and rape survivor, the men in these areas often made me feel very scared. Once I was home, I would feel relieved, but at times, I felt a bit heartbroken as I would arrive well after my children (who were 10, 8 and 3 at the time) were already in bed sleeping. Despite all of this, my commitment to the work continued for several reasons:
As a formerly homeless teen who experienced chronic trauma, I believed in the mission and knew all too well the harms of being on those tough streets.
I wanted to provide a better life for my three kids, and the only way I saw that happening was by working two jobs (I was also working during the day full-time at a social service program in the Bronx).
The appreciation and value I felt from the recognition I was receiving from handling everything was foreign to me and it served as fuel at the time.
The problem with all of this was:
Since the work was personal and I did not know how to separate, it always came home with me. I was on-call during evenings, weekends and while on vacation.
Our bodies are not built to work on overdrive, we need to show them love and attention through rest and self-care.
When I later developed fibromyalgia and eventually ran into a nervous breakdown, the appreciation and value did not translate into empathy and understanding.
One would think after all of this, I would want nothing else to do with work that is personal, exhausting and extremely stressful at times. I thought this as well.
However, this work can be rewarding, uplifting and motivational. But I had to undergo some deep emotional self-healing to realize a few things:
By setting appropriate boundaries, I can emotionally separate from the work.
I have to pour into myself to have something left to pour into others.
A person like me who has direct experience and can relate to the work on several different levels is worth more than gold and that’s when I no longer required validation from anyone other than myself.
So, after chronic stress, trauma and a nervous breakdown forced me to pick myself up by the bootstraps, I returned to the social service sector ready to use what I learned throughout the years. But this time around, I am emotionally, fully and mentally prepared to understand when to stand up for myself and the millions of people whose nervous system has been impacted by stress, trauma, lack of empathy and understanding versus when it is time to sit, reset and recharge.
If you are a person living with fibromyalgia who has experienced chronic trauma and found an outlet to heal, we would love to share your story.
Let us know in the comments or contact Milly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original photo by author