I know it seems that when you have fibromyalgia and or are suffering with the worst anxiety and depression and even just getting out of bed to go to the loo seems almost impossible it can be hard to imagine ever being well again but there is always hope. It is my opinion based on my own heath that although this cluster of syndrome's, disease, condition, disability, whatever you wish to call it, does come with remission phases and I also believe that many of the down turns are link to external factors. The big one being stress, closely followed by grief, over exertion, intolerance to certain foods and a lack of vitamins or minerals. All of these factors we have some control over and therefore we have 'some' control over our daily health.
A few short months ago I was housebound almost all of the time. If I did go out it was with sticks and or my wheelchair. The first thing you have to do to begin your recovery is accept your illness. Accept it is here to stay and that if you are going to have any life at all then you're going to have to work pretty darn and be prepared for it to take a loooonnnnng time. The more seriously you accept this the faster your recovery will be. You probably think I am a little bit mad right now...and your most likely right but it is a fact I am afraid. I remember last January after being stuck in the house for around 18 months my husband drove me to Meadowhall and hired me a wheelchair. I was furious and refused to go in it but he talked me round and do you know what? We had an amazing day. Usually as soon as I walked into a place like that the lights sent my head spinning, the panic would start thinking was I going to be ok or would I collapse in a heap (something I have done in Meadowhall more than once) and then the fatigue would hit shortly after arriving and we would have to go home without buying anything....so the wheelchair was starting to look beneficial. Within about 3 minutes I started to notice other people in wheelchairs with the same look of 'OMG' on their faces as me. They would catch my eye and we would smile at each other...it was like a little club. Of course we all think wheelchair users are somehow different to non users when they are exactly the same as anyone else and everybody is in the chair for different reasons. Some have temporary conditions like a broken leg or maybe they have had a joint replacement, some have illnesses which render them unable to walk long distances and some people have permanent disabilities through illness or maybe an accident but they are still people. I once spoke to a young chap who had had a bike accident and lost the use of his legs. This was around the time I was bying my first walking stick and I was moaning like a spoilt child that I didn't want my life to go this way. He said I was lucky I had a choice and I could choose to buy something that would help me get around or struggle. His choice had been a chair or a chair and it wasn't a gradual process it was an instant one day he could walk the next he couldn't. As he said his choose then was to make the best of what he did have. I also had a choice, to go out and use what ever adaptions I needed to get me out or to stay at home and miss out on life. I had always been an outgoing, party sort of girl and I have lost who I was because of this illness. The depression was getting worse because the anxiety was out of control and I was the only person who could change that. So I did.
That first trip to Meadowhall exactly 1 year ago this week was my first step back into life and I embraced it. Every thing I did from then on to help me stay somewhat independent built my confidence and as a result I ttok control of the anxiety and gradually the depression eased, but this wasn't all. Now the mental illness was lessoning the physical illness seemed more copable. Yes I still had pain, yes I was still dizzy all day long, yes I was still shattered at the slightest thing but I was learning how to enjoy life again and it felt good. I used the chair for a while but just for days out, shopping or when I felt really tired and pained. The rest of the time I started to rehabilitate myself. I took a multi vitamin with minerals in every day. I was already on magnesium which eased the stiffness but within two weeks of the multi vit I noticed improvements. I went on a complete, self made detox by cutting out processed foods, dairy and wheat, just for 10 days. I had salads, fruit smoothies and home made soups and I started to exercise. I did not go down the gym and work out for an hour a day, I started by walking down my 12ft driveway and to next doors drive way twice a day and built up over a few days to walking half way down the street. At first I was exhausted but after a few days it became easier. I told myself the pain was all in my head and I pushed through it. Not hard, not to the extent of causing more pain, just enough to do simple tasks. At first stripping a bed was exhausting but after a while of my new regime I could strip, wash and remake a bed in a day. This was a huge achievement for me. It took a few weeks to get to this point and I had a few set backs but I was working forwards all of the time because my mindset was so positive and I was determained I was going to make the best of my life, whatever my health restricted me too. (This may not be the right course of action for everyone so always check with your doctor before taking any suppliments or making any changes to your diet and or exercise regime).
I bought a deck of cards and as a family we learnt to play a few games, we also dragged out old board games and started to have fun. I can tell you when your in pain and your so tired that breathing wears you out, fun is something you forget to have but it is an important part of recovery. It distracts you from the pain and gives you endorphins. I also became more mindful and this is where things really started to change for me. I began to notice how I looked, how I stood, how I spoke to people, how I responded to a question and I changed my whole demeanour. I stopped focussing so much on the illness and how it affected me and started to focus on being happy. Most people who have an illness like fibro or depression say they feel they have lost themselves somewhere along the way. You have to fight to be heard with an invisable illness and you start to feel you need to show it on the outside in order for people to notice your ill. I asked myself why? Why do I need people to see the pain I am in? Why do I want them to know how crappy my life is? Do I spend my day thinking about whether or not someone else is in pain? Do I have to assume my life is worse than theirs just because they don't 'look' like anything is wrong? No I don't. One lady said to me one day 'You don't look like you have depression. You're always dressed nicely and you do your make up" I was a little taken aback I must say. Why would putting lip-gloss and mascara on mean I wasn't depressed? Why should I let the outside of me reflect the inside? I didn't actually want that to happen so I decided to make the inside look as good as the outside...which to people who knew me I did look pretty shitty but if people thought I looked nice then that was fabulous! So I made a point of putting my lip-gloss and mascara on every day and I would choose nice clothes. Nothing flash but nice. I didn't look like me when I looked in the mirror but as time went on I started to see glimpses of the old me and I knew I could come back.
My mindfulness stretched to every part of my life. When I woke up in the morning I would challenge my thoughts. I always had weird dark dreams which left me feeling low and scared in a morning so I started reciting mantra's to make those thoughts more positive. I thought, at first, the changes I was making were small and insignificant ones but actually they were making a huge difference to my life. When I flared up I watched a film, or wrote a poem or diary or page of my book instead of beating myself up mentally about the things I couldn't do or should have been doing. I laughed with my husband and the children about anything. At first it was an effort but soon it became so natural. I watched films which had meaning to them, read books, even if it was one page a day. Then I started to sing again. I always loved singing, and with the singing came dancing around the kitchen. Now this may all sound ridiculous to those of you who have not been that low and to those who have it sounds impossible but it isn't. It's all about tajing one day at a time and building up very very slowly. Don't compare yourself with others, don't compare yourself to how you used to be and stop setting yourself goals you find impossible to achieve. Start with the basics. Learning to laugh, talk, walk again. I still say the wrong words or stumble over my words when my brain isn't functioning as it should but I don't care. I still flare. I still need to lie down every day fpr an hour or two and I am still exhausted when I go to bed. I still have anxiety when going out and I still suffer with vertigo bouts and daily dizzy spells but they don't rule me anymore and I am getting periods of time without any of these things now...it may be a day here and there but I am getting a few days on the trot from time to time and so the bad days don't seem as bad because I am having a few better days.
It is a year on from that first outing and I am still finding my way. It is a daily thing to work on your mental and physical health to keep yourself strong and upbeat and someday I fall flat on my face but I get back up, I put one foot in front of the other, no matter how hard or how painful and I am living again. I find that my worst flare up's are shorter lived and although I still have pain every day I am sure it is a heck of a lot less than it used to be. I know my body now. I know when I am going downwards and need to rest. I know that if I don't do some sort of exercise every day I will slide back. I know if I eat rubbish for a few days I will suffer for it but I also know how and when to take more care of myself.
Last week I bought myself an activity band. I had built up to going on the exercise bike a few times a week for no more than 15 minutes at a time but usually 10.30seconds (I don't know why the half second but that's just how it is), and walking the dog every day I was able too. My goal was to always do 10,000 steps a day minimum and at the moment I am averaging around twice that. Some days, when I am particularly well, I can do 30,000 steps. Now that's huge for me and I really feel I am starting to look and feel more like the old me. I am shattered tho so I think I need to pull it back a little for a while but it is all going in the right direction. I am beginning to return to work very slowly and I am making plans for the future. I may always have to work part time from home and I know I will always have my health to contend with but fundamentally I am happier and more content than I have been in a very long time. I realised this when standing in the lambing barn with my husband on Sunday watching the snow fall and feeling the peace that comes from being in a barn of 90 very pregnant sheep late at night. There was no feeling like it and I knew that this is what life is all about. It's about being happy with your lot and making the best of it. Not always wanting more. There is nothing wrong with bettering yourself and having goals to achieve, this is what drives us as a species but finding that inner peace and leaning to enjoy what we have right here, right now is the only way to truly move forward.
Hi my Name is Philippa Woodsford and I am a Holistic therapist, Reiki Master Teacher and Hypnotherapist. I suffer with anxiety and depression due to a condition called fibromyalgia which I believe is linked with an auto immune disease I was diagnosed with at just 17. My blog is written for me as a sort of journal but also in the hope it may bring hope and healing to others suffering with similar issues on a daily basis. Enjoy