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When I first was diagnosed with major depression, one of the things I did to combat the vortex that was constantly trying to pull me down was to pause and consciously remember everything I have to be grateful for. Everyday needed to be something different. It helped. It changed my focus from everything that was hurting me mentally, and onto the things that really mattered, whether it was a beautiful sunrise or a person who made a difference in my life when I was eight years old. I started to heal by counting my blessings. It sounds so trite… but it helped.
The same things works for the physical, but it’s hard. I have so much to be grateful for, but it gets obscured because of the constant struggle. Working at a health care facility constantly puts me in the position to remember how much I have grateful for. I see couples, one pushing the other in a wheelchair, one holding onto the arm of the other. I see the love between them, the patience, the hope, and despair. I see tears and smiles, smiles through tears. I see people in chemo with scarves covering their heads, whose legs don’t walk straight, who lean against walkers, who drag themselves forward despite unwilling bodies.
It’s so easy to turn all my thoughts inward to how I feel, how tired I am, how much I hurt, to wallow in my own selfishness. Yes, I need to be self-aware, to take care of myself, to be mindful of my Self. But I can’t forget that I’m alive, upright, functioning. I have years ahead of me. There’s always someone suffering more than I am. I would rather expend my emotional energy to love and cherish them, not myself.
The one sure-fire way I know I’m not only doing something wrong but have been for way too long is when sleep, that haven from reality, turns on me. When my legs and hips hurt too much for too long, I have dreams that I can’t walk. One night I spent several hours trying to climb a flight of stairs. Every step I took, I sunk down to the ground and had to pull myself back up again. I never made it to the top of the stairs and woke up unable to move my legs without my hips popping. Needless to say, I didn’t have a terribly productive day after that one.
One night was spent trying to catch up with friends and family who were just out of reach and having a great time. I was left behind trying to stand up straight.
And then there are the opposite effects of pain in my legs and hips. There are nights when I run and run and run. I don’t want to stop running. I’m not running from something – I’m running because I can. Because my joints feel smooth, I’m not stumbling, I’m not wheezing from the effort. It’s a joy. Until I stop. And wake up. And I realize I have never been able to run like that even when I was thin and limber and young.
Of course, then there’s the dreams of running that aren’t a joy. I’ve been in more battles than a seasoned marine, dodged more bullets than James Bond. When the bullets hit their mark, it’s usually my back or abdomen, and when I wake up, that’s where the pain is centered. There have been a few head shots. Those I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
Not all dreams are disturbing. Some just focus on my insecurities as they relate to my physical self. There was the dream that I was at a cocktail party, and while I was speaking to very important people, I would snort uncontrollably. Yep, my apnea was interrupting. I just excused myself and chuckled a little in my dream and woke up laughing. Last night I dreamed that I hadn’t done my requisite middle-aged-woman plucking and had some massive hair growth on my neck. It was okay, though, because I could hide the hair on my neck with my sideburns…
Everyone has dreams like this at some point. My slumber struggles are not unique. They are a reminder to me, however, that self-care is required. Right now. Self-care needs to start. Now.
There are a lot of stereotypes connected to people with fibromyalgia or any chronic pain disorder. I don’t care about what people think of me on the whole. I’m doing the best I can, I’m employed, paying taxes, not getting featured on reality TV shows. But I do go home from work and lay down. I don’t spring out of bed in the morning. Housecleaning is just about last on my list of things to expend my very finite allotment of energy on, so my house is messy, but not infectious. I make very specific choices about what I’m going to do and when I’m going to do it because every time I do something, I am sacrificing something else. I don’t have the energy to do everything. I don’t have the energy to do half of what I would like to do. In my down times, my regeneration times, those stereotypes that I’m so sensitive about creep up. Lazy. That’s the worst one. I didn’t get out of bed on Saturday until 2:00 PM. I needed it to be able to rejuvenate, but that word “lazy” hissed through my brain. And I was telling myself I was lazy. I was stereotyping myself. When I judge myself, whether because of my own spontaneous negative thoughts or because of an offhand comment from someone I love, no matter how much I try to rejuvenate, it doesn’t happen. I can lay in bed all day for a week and energy just saps right out of me as soon as that word “lazy” starts to play hide and seek.
My therapist – yep, I have one, and I highly recommend it – once told me I had to be kinder to myself. I have to treat myself the way I treat other people, the way I want other people to treat me. I struggle with that every day. I make a mistake and condemn myself as stupid. I can’t do dishes when I get home from work and I condemn myself as lazy. That’s the voice that bothers me. My own stereotyping of myself.
Pretty soon I freeze up and stop functioning completely, except to go to work. Work isn’t a choice. It’s a necessity. Gotta earn the kitty litter.
I know what I have to do to feel better. Feeling “good” is probably out of the question, but I can feel better. I know what I have to do. I KNOW what I have to do. I’m not going to list the things I need to do to feel better. Those things are already on this site. The problem is the freeze. I can’t move, I can’t focus, I can’t be enthusiastic, I can’t push myself.
Has anyone ever had sleep paralysis? It’s scary. You wake up and you can’t move. Your eyes will open, but your arms and legs don’t move. You’re paralyzed, frozen in place. This has happened to me several times in the past. It’s scary, but it wears off after awhile. What I found can break the “spell” is to move just my little finger or to wiggle my toe. It’s like that one tiniest of motion allowed the rest of my muscles to let go of their position. It took concentration and determination to make that tiniest of motion, but it worked.
That’s where I am right now, willing my little finger to move. If I can move my little finger, maybe all the other things will fall into place. I’ll do everything I need to do to feel better. Then I’ll be able to move, focus, be enthusiastic, push myself further. I just need that tiniest of movement first. I’ll get there. Step 1 is acknowledging the stage I’m in. I’m acknowledging I’m frozen. The longer I stay like this, the harder it will be to feel better. Step 2 – come on little finger….