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Monday, September 24, 2012

Change is inevitable . . . fear and anxiety are optional

If there is anything I know for sure it's the reality that change is inevitable.  We live in a dynamic world that keeps changing at an ever faster pace.  Our own bodies are dynamic and change throughout the day; some of those changes are visible as decades go by.  We also feel the change in our bodies, especially when a chronic illness comes knocking.  As people age there is a tendency to feel more vulnerable, which is frequently expressed with fear, anxiety and depression.  People that suffer from a chronic illness are also prone to developing fear, anxiety and depression, and people with fibromyalgia are no exception.  Living with those feelings of vulnerability and the accompanying fears are difficult to cope with every day and can be debilitating.

I have experienced these emotions throughout the decades of my life during times of significant change.  Those times gave me an opportunity to examine my own perceptions about the events that had immersed me in a dark and scary place.  But I have learned that if I don't like a situation I have three choices:  I can either accept the situation as it is, I can alter or change my participation in the situation or I can change my perception of the situation.  That is the only control I have in the whole world; control over myself.

When I think of all the changes in my life it is apparent to me that many of those changes orignally presented themselves as a larger than life negative challenge.  Most of the life challenges and changes that have created roadblocks for me were solved by compiling a list of possible solutions, determining which possible solution was the most viable, and then implementing that solution.  It was neat and tidy and kept me feeling in control.  But there have been times in my life that I have been confronted with fears that had little to do with life changes.  Where on earth do these fears come from?  When I think about this, it seems for me it was those times when I had feelings of inadequacy and a lower sense of self confidence.  When I would have a nagging fear that refused to go away I knew that I must confront that fear head on and defeat it.  As an RN I had a fear of working in intensive care and possibly doing something that would hasten a patient's life.  I finally just decided to confront this fear and got a job in one of the intensive care units at the University of Chicago Hospitals.  I sure did dive into that one!  I worked 12 hour rotating shifts and I would be in the middle of shift change and getting a report on all the patients and it was always my patient that was coming in the door in unstable condition.  A Code Blue cardiac arrest would be announced on the hospital intercom and it would be my patient every darned time.  Talk about stressful times!  Those patients were so sick and there were many days that I left the ICU and would cry all the way home while driving the car.  Fortunately I never got in an accident.  The good news is I finally lost my fear of working in ICU.  I found out that I was quite resilient and I had gained more confidence to challenge other fears.  I learned if I conquered my fears they would dissolve in thin air.

Whenever I have had a fear and the anxiety that accompanied that fear I would challenge that fear head on, but fibromyalgia is a different kind of fear.  It is the fear of a debilitating disease that has many unknowns and challenging those unknowns is like chasing a ghost.  The lack of definitive treatment and the unknown root cause is the first set of challenges to overcome.  The loss of vital energy, constant pain and the daily change in health status are unknowns that keep fibromyalgia sufferers constantly off balance.  The loss of good health is certainly another facet of grief that complicates the ability to overcome fear and anxiety.  The loss of family and friends that don't understand fibromyalgia is another stressor that adds to the grief caused by this illness and creates fear as the primary support system evaporates.  In addition, the lack of solid support from the medical community creates more fear and anxiety as we feel misunderstood.  All of these fibromyalgia components come together and overwhelm us when we are least able to advocate for ourselves.  We also see a faster and faster paced world that has left us behind.  Defeating the many fears that constantly nag at us seems like an impossible task.  But when faced with a complex and multifaceted fear we must deploy all our resources to defeat this relentless beast.

 So the first thing we must do is define which challenges have created the fear.  Unless we can dissect each component it will feel impossible to tackle a fear that has ballooned exponentially.  We are sometimes our own worst enemy since many of us are care takers for everyone except for ourselves.  The first thing we must learn is our own self care and that must come first before all others.  That's a tough concept . . . do you really care for yourself as much as you should?  If you really place your own care first you will realize that you develop more respect for yourself and that will diminish some of that fear.  When I evaluate my own self care I come face-to-face with the fact that I don't get enough exercise, which tends to intensify some of my FMS symptoms.  I am working to remedy that!  The next thing we need to examine is our own self talk.  Do you tend to talk negatively to yourself and make statements that involve your inability to accomplish specific tasks?  Self defeating self talk is a path to certain destruction.  It is an act of self sabbotage . . . there are enough people trying to sabbotage us without being an active participant.  Stop that today.  You will have more respect for yourself if you stop doing that.  Take a good, hard look at your beliefs about yourself and purge your brain's file drawer that contains negative thoughts about you that don't serve your higher purpose.  Next, avoid catastrophizing about your FMS symptoms; don't make your symptoms the focus of your day.  When you are having a tough day you need more self care and more positive self talk that provides support to get through those temporary set backs.  It is key to be your own best cheerleader and reinforcing that you have made it through tough days and other tough times before will provide the reassurance  you need to get through this tough time and be okay.  This will be a test of your resilience, because the constant changes in your health status are the ultimate of tests.  Another task is to limit time spent with people that aren't supportive.  Toxic relationships are a drain on your precious energy and you can't afford to have others sucking the energy out of you.  This also includes your relationship with your doctors.  I was uncertain about the neurologist I had chosen to evaluate the burning pain in my feet and hands, and the tingling and shooting pain in my arms and legs.  His initial evaluation was that I am simply depressed.  On my second visit with him I was well prepared to stop any disrespectful comments and I presented myself in a more assertive way.  This worked well and he got on track with evaluating my original complaint.  I am constantly evaluating my relationships to ensure their negative energy isn't robbing me of my positive energy.  I need all the positive energy I can get!  It is important to schedule time out with friends and developing friendships with others that have FMS will provide the unconditional love, compassion and support you need to diminish those nagging fears and anxiety.

When you think of fear and anxiety as optional they lose their sense of permanence and they have less power.  Making sure you care for all your emotional and physical needs will give you more respect for yourself and the self confidence you need to thrive.  Be kind, gentle and compassionate with yourself at all times.  Your mind and body depend on that!  Blessings to you each and every day and I'm sending my love to you all.
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