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Five Life Lessons Learned from Fibromyalgia

Chronic pain doesn't have to stop you

Fibromyalgia is chronic pain with no physical cause. It’s incurable, and it affects 2-6% of the population.

Despite its prevalence, very little is known about this disease. It was only discovered in 1990, meaning that ten years ago, when my mum was diagnosed, even the doctors barely knew what it was. 

While fibromyalgia is defined by chronic pain, it comes with a long list of other symptoms including fatigue, brain fog, digestive problems, and so much more. I was only diagnosed myself a couple of months ago, but looking back, I’ve had some of the symptoms for years.

Here are five life lessons my friends and I have learned during our time with fibromyalgia.

Painkillers aren’t always the best medicine

Everyone loves the thought of being able to take a pill and the pain – mental and physical – disappearing shortly after. With fibromyalgia, it seldom works like that.

Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to help with the pain, but they don’t always work. According to the doctor that diagnosed me, they’re little better than a placebo.

However, a study a few years ago showed that working on a complex task can have a stronger painkilling effect than a placebo. It sounds insane, but for me, writing and working on my books has a massive impact on my physical and emotional pain.

You are what you eat

We’re told this by everyone and everything, but many of us don’t heed this advice as much as we should.

What we put into our bodies matters. When we’re short on money or time, it’s easy to reach for convenience foods. But with all those additives and society’s love of dairy and gluten, it’s difficult to find what forms of sustenance will make you feel better or worse. I had to cut out dairy because it gives me brain fog and makes my skin break out; I have a friend who’s cut out dairy, gluten, and soya because they exacerbated her symptoms.

Every cell in our body is regenerated based on the foods and drinks we put into our system. Just because our body liked something a few years ago, that doesn’t mean it still does now.

I’m not saying that you should hop on the anti-dairy, anti-gluten, anti-soya bandwagon, but if you constantly feel terrible, it may be worth considering if what you put into your body is as good for you as you think.

You need to look after yourself, no matter what

Fibromyalgia shows you just how significant the link between mind and body is.

I despise exercise, but the more I exercise, the better I feel. When I haven’t exercised for a few days, my joints start to seize up and it’s harder for me to get to sleep. On the other hand, just ten minutes of yoga before bed helps me to get some much-needed shut eye.

When the brain fog gets really bad, instead of forcing myself to work, I take some time out to rest. Sometimes this involves sleep, other times it’s watching iZombie or reading a book for a bit. Just half an hour of downtime can make a huge difference to my mental state.

Stress exacerbates brain fog, which itself is stressful. It becomes a vicious cycle, and trying to work when in that state is hugely unproductive.

The people around you make a HUGE difference

No matter how much you love someone, some people are just more toxic than a dose of arsenic in your morning tea.

It’s all very well and good having friends you can rely on, but if you find yourself around people who ALWAYS whinge, or that ask for your advice and never take it (and you end up repeating said advice over, and over, and over until you get dizzy) it’s time to ask yourself how healthy these friendships actually are.

According to Jim Rohn, we’re a product of the five people we spend the most time with. If the people around you are toxic, it drains your mood and affects how you deal with the challenges life throws at you. When the people around you are positive and encouraging, it inspires you to keep going and makes you smile even when the pain is excruciating.

If you want something badly enough, NOTHING will stop you

While I’ve had days when I can barely get out of bed, what keeps me going long-term is writing and publishing my books. I have a mission – a purpose – and nothing will stop me. Having a reason to keep going, to keep fighting, is a huge motivator when you suffer from a chronic health condition. 

It’s easy to feel like everything is pointless when your mind or body work against you, but having something productive to do motivates you to keep fighting no matter how tough the fight may get.

For more inspiration, check out my books What Happens in New York and Productivity for Writers.

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