Have you ever received a gift you really didn’t want? You take it out of the box, do the polite thing and thank the giver, then put it in a closet somewhere and forget about it. Sometime later, you might pull it out of its hiding place, decide maybe it’s not so bad, and start to use it. The more you use it, the more you realize it might be a better gift than you thought.
Fibromyalgia is not one of those things. It’s definitely not a good gift. The funny thing is, though, that it has taught me some lessons I didn’t even know I needed to learn. Although it isn’t something I would have chosen, I believe it’s making me a better person and teaching me things I might not have learned otherwise.
Life Lessons Like:
- Attitude Matters – I mean, it really matters! It’s something we all know intellectually, but when you live with an illness that affects every area of your life, you learn just how important having a positive attitude really is. I’m not talking about always being “happy” or having a “unicorn and rainbows” outlook on everything. I’m just talking about remaining optimistic regardless of my circumstances. As I talked about in my post The ABCs Of Remaining Optimistic, we may not always feel optimistic, but we can choose to have an attitude of optimism.
- Be Kind To Yourself – I’ve learned I don’t always need to be so hard on myself. I’ve always had high expectations of myself and it’s easy to feel disappointed when I don’t live up to my standards. I’m sure part of that came from my military career, but a lot of it is just how I’m wired. I’m finally learning to give myself the same grace I extend to others and realizing that self-criticism doesn’t serve me well and I need to let it go.
- Decide What’s Really Important To You And Live According To Those Priorities – Not being able to do everything I used to do has been exceptionally hard for me, but I’ve learned that in order to ensure I have the energy I need and make sure I don’t do something that will send me into a flare, I have to stick to doing those things that are most important to me. This has been one of the key factors in my being able to lead a fulfilling life even with my health challenges.
Lessons About Living With Fibromyalgia Like:
- You Are Your Own Best Advocate When It Comes To Your Healthcare – I’ve always known this, but I’ve heard horror stories of how others have been treated by their doctors because of their invisible illnesses. I’ve been extremely fortunate, and both my family doctors I’ve had since my diagnosis have been very familiar with fibromyalgia, but many aren’t. Educating ourselves and working in partnership with our doctors to find our ideal treatment plan is vitally important.
- It Takes Some Trial And Error To Figure Out What Makes Us Feel Our Best – This kind of goes hand-in-hand with being our own healthcare advocate. It can take a while to figure out what helps and what hurts when it comes to what we eat or what we do – in fact, it’s an ongoing process – but it’s worth the effort when we find something that gives us relief or provides additional energy. What works for one person may not work for another, so sometimes we just have to experiment.
- Progress Is Not Linear – With acute health issues (things like the flu, a broken bone, etc.), you can usually see a pretty linear progression to getting better. Once things start healing, you start to feel better and better. Fibromyalgia doesn’t really work that way though. It often seems to be a “one step forward, two steps back” kind of thing. In Lessons From The Grandpa Tree, I talked about how I had gotten stronger and didn’t even realize it. I’ve had a lot of those aha! moments when I realized I was able to do something I hadn’t been able to previously. Sometimes we’re making progress and don’t even know it because it doesn’t fit that linear pattern we’re used to.
Fibromyalgia was definitely a gift I didn’t want, but I’ve chosen to call it a gift, because it has been and continues to be, such a learning process for me. These are lessons I probably wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I would have continued to go through life running from one thing to the next, rather than taking time to think about the things that are really important to me and using those insights to become the person I really want to be.
What are some of the lessons living with fibromyalgia or other chronic illness have taught you? Please share!