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RT @fmauk: Today is #InternationalMensDay and @fmauk want to highlight the fact that men also suffer from fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a…

A list of articles involving FM

My Journey to Recovery

steering wheelI like to use an analogy to help explain chronic exhaustion illnesses, such as Fibromyalgia. Imagine you are behind a steering wheel of a car. This is a fancy steering wheel that has five sections. These five sections represent different areas of our health: beliefs, mind, emotions, body and lifestyle. If one of these areas is out of balance then we may swerve to the side, if two areas are out of balance we may swerve more off the road. However, if all of these areas are out of balance for a prolonged period of time then we will crash.

This crash represents the burnout and pain suffered in ME and Fibromyalgia. In order to get back on the road to health we have to get these five areas back into balance. This article will first discuss my experience with ME and then will describe the five areas in the ‘wheel of health’.

I suffered from ME for 3 years. I suffered with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), fatigue, feeling weak and dizzy. At one point, I even passed out at the wheel of my car, swerved off the road and smashed into a telegraph pole (due to the wheel being unbalanced). I went through cycles of feeling OK and then dizzy, weak and completely exhausted. I became intolerant to foods and alcohol. During the lows, I would feel like my brain wasn’t working, I was foggy headed, struggling even to focus on conversations. I felt isolated, alone and depressed. I suffered from anxiety, worrying, insomnia and just felt like I had a complete inability to handle stress. I felt like my whole body had given up on me, my muscles were weak and heavy. Through a process of elimination I was diagnosed with ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. You may notice that some of the symptoms that I suffered with ME are also symptoms of Fibromyalgia. Although some of the symptoms are different, for example the extreme pain suffered in fibromyalgia, I believe these illnesses are caused by the same factors becoming out of balance and therefore can be treated with the same approach.

The first area that is needed to balance the steering wheel are your beliefs. A belief is ‘something one accepts as true or real’ (Oxford Dictionaries). Your subconscious mind stores the beliefs that you have learnt since you were born from your parents, teachers, society and the media. Your beliefs determine how you experience life. I was told when being diagnosed with ME that “there is no cure, you need to learn to manage the symptoms”. Then I went and looked online at all I could find about the condition and discovered that some people had been suffering from ME for over 10 years, reinforcing my belief that recovery wasn't possible.

Support groups were run by people suffering and again encouraged ‘managing’ the condition. The definition of the verb ‘to cure’ is to make you well, to end the illness and to stop you having it (Collins Dictionary). For you to believe there is no cure means that you believe you cannot get well, you cannot end the illness and you cannot stop yourself from having it. Your beliefs that you are never going to get better are probably the most significant in stopping you from recovering. I refused to believe this; I decided that no matter what I would believe that I was going to get better. People used to believe that the world was flat and that the sun rotated around the Earth; these beliefs were changed. Yours can be too. Switching my beliefs from being negative to positive enabled me to balance the first area of the steering wheel of health.

The next area I balanced was my mind. This involved dealing with my thoughts. The thoughts that we think determine how we feel and how we behave. I realised that when suffering from ME I kept analysing my negative thoughts which led to a downward spiral of more negative thoughts. For example, “I’m tired” led to “My body is giving up on me”, “I’m never going to get better”, “Why do I deserve this?”. This was causing me psychological stress, which was causing the symptoms that I experienced in my body, such as fatigue and dizziness. After going on different health courses, I realised that this was to my disadvantage. So I learnt that I was actually in control of my thoughts and I could choose which ones I wanted to explore. From then on I chose not to analyse negative thoughts when they entered my mind. The book Stop Thinking, Start Living by Richard Carlson really helped me. I also went to meditation classes to learn how to meditate and find space between my thoughts; I started doing this for half an hour each morning. I also listened to visualisation CDs before bed and stopped watching TV or using my computer an hour before bed, which dealt with the insomnia. My mind became calmer and more positive. This helped me balance the second area of health on the steering wheel.

happiness signpostThe third area on the wheel of health that needed to be balanced was my emotions. An emotion is ‘a strong feeling’ (Oxford Dictionaries), which is usually felt in the heart area. We are what we feel. Emotions can easily be knocked out of balance by a trauma, such as losing a loved one or ending a relationship (Manning, 2006). Or emotions might be raised from cumulative mini-traumas that have been bottled up, even from childhood. Examples of negative emotions are fear, anger, sadness, guilt, regret or resentment. If not dealt with properly, they are a direct cause of chronic exhaustion. Key to my recovery from ME was learning to release or let go of traumas. I also learnt that it is not useful to bottle up our emotions, but to express them.

That doesn’t mean going to hit someone if you’re angry, but just learning to accept how you are feeling at that moment. With Fibromyalgia the main negative emotion experienced is fear; fear that you will not get better. Learning to deal with this emotion is essential to recover from Fibromyalgia. Now I just notice my emotions or what I’m feeling, I know this is a message and I accept it. For example, if I get a strong feeling of anxiety, I recognise this as a message from my body for me to slow down and accept it. Also encouraging positive emotions, such as happiness is important too. When you’re suffering it is also easy to forget to have fun and enjoy yourself. Making a conscious effort to laugh a lot aids the healing process. It felt strange at first, but now I laugh all the time. Watch comedians, do things you enjoy and spend time with people who make you smile; it will aid your recovery.

Next is the important area of our physical body. This is the area in which conventional medicine focuses on in terms of Fibromyalgia; I’m sure you’ve heard of the term ‘pacing’ many times. And this is definitely important, but there are other areas we need to consider too.

We are what we eat! Having a bad diet and unbalanced blood sugar levels puts your body in a state of physical stress, making it impossible to recover (Glenville PhD, 2006). When I was suffering I was hooked on caffeine, sugar and even alcohol to give me temporary energy boosts, little did I know that these were making me worse. When I stopped having these stimulants, I noticed a complete change; my energy levels became more consistent. I also made sure I was getting all the nutrients I needed. I blended vegetables with a few pieces of fruit every day. I also made sure my plate was half full of vegetables, a quarter whole grains (brown carbohydrates) and a quarter good quality protein.

Research also shows that Fibromyalgia is linked to the thyroid and adrenal glands not functioning properly (Peatfield, 2006). The thyroid gland’s main function is controlling our metabolism, giving us the energy we need to live. Specialists found that I had an underactive thyroid and put me on drugs for life; this made me dependent on drugs and was not the solution. I have now come off the drugs and treat my thyroid with natural supplements and dietary changes, which I found successful. The adrenal glands’ main function is enabling us to deal with stress; building these glands back up to health was the most important part of my recovery. Specialist testing laboratories, such as Genova Diagnostics, do tests specifically for the thyroid and adrenals, but a health practitioner is needed to work with you on these. I also found that an important part of my recovery was stopping excessive exercise at the gym as I had put on weight and instead accepting that this wasn’t good for me; now I only do exercise I enjoy. Yoga, walking in nature and swimming are very restorative for Fibromyalgia. This enabled me to balance the fourth area in the wheel of health.

pie chartSo what was the final number? Area number five is lifestyle. We are what we do! Our lifestyle has a huge impact on our health. When I was suffering from ME my lifestyle was very busy (both physically and mentally), I never had any relaxation time for myself and my sleep patterns were irregular. I’d also say ‘yes’ to every occasion and always tried to please others without first caring about myself. Sound familiar? I also had such high expectations of myself that I became obsessed with achieving. Research I have come across suggests that people with Type A personality traits are more prone to stress and therefore stress-related conditions, such as Fibromyalgia.

What are the key characteristics of Type A personalities – being ambitious, driven, highly competitive, impatient and preoccupied. Do you recognise any of these traits in you? These traits are obviously useful, but we need ensure our lifestyle remains balanced at the same time (delete personality type bit if you want). It is important to ensure you have time out throughout the day; just 5 minutes at certain times throughout the day to relax is so important. I used to set reminders on my phone to remind me to stop and relax.

Deep rather than shallow breathing is one of the best ways to relax. Regular sleep patterns and lots of sleep is definitely paramount for recovery, if you’re tired, give in and let yourself take a nap if you are able to. It is also important to do what you want to do at that moment; if you don’t want to go out with a friend or feel too tired to do something then say ‘no’. I found this one of the hardest things to change as I felt like I was missing out on things, but it had a dramatic effect on helping me get better. Lifestyle was the final section balanced in my wheel of health.

The ‘wheel of health’ is important in helping us to realise that there are five key areas to health. If these five areas are unbalanced for a prolonged period of time, this can lead to ME or Fibromyalgia. Just focusing on treating the physical condition is not enough to achieve a full recovery. Fibromyalgia is a complex condition and therefore needs to be treated as such. Recovery involves balancing five key areas which are: beliefs, mind, emotions, body and lifestyle. This enables you to start your journey to health and happiness. I and many others have done it, you can too.

 By Michelle Greaves

Michelle is a health practitioner specialising in fibromyalgia treatment and can be contacted at www.michellegreaves.com

 

References:

  1. Oxford Dictionary – online at www.oxforddictionaries.com
  2. Collins New School Dictionary (1999) Harper Collins Publishers
  3. Richard Carlson, Stop Thinking, Start Living
  4. Dr Barry Durrant-Peatfield (2006) Your Thyroid and how to keep it healthy, chapters 8 and 13
  5. Marilyn Glenville PhD (2006) Fat around the middle. Kyle Cathie Limited: London
  6. Matthew Manning (2006) Your mind can heal your body. Piatkus: Britain

 

 

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