Dealing with a chronic illness can take up so much energy and command so much of our attention throughout the day that it is easy to get lost in the trees blocking our path. But every now and then, I like to be able to take a step back and look at the forest through the trees, the big picture of my life. . . and then, things don’t seem nearly as bad as they do on a day-to-day basis. So I thought it was high time that I started thinking of some of the better things that fibromyalgia has brought in my life.
Featured painting: Forest Through The Trees-II (16X20, oil on canvas)
Here are my top 5!
1. Ability to notice and be grateful for the tiniest little pleasures in my life.
This is the perhaps the biggest and most important gift that I have been given by a chronic pain condition. Here’s an example that illustrates my point:
A few days ago, I had taken enough tramadol before going to bed that I had little sensation of pain even upon waking. That feeling, of waking without pain, is such a distant memory that, at first, I thought I was dreaming and not really awake! And then it occurred to me that I had woken up most of my life like this – not in pain – and I had never noticed what a pleasure that was; I had taken it completely for granted. Well, not anymore! I can count on one hand the number of days in the last year that I have woken up with practically no pain or stiffness, and I am immensely grateful for each of them.
2. Reconnecting with my husband in a very special way.
I think this is right up there, sharing the #1 spot. For some time now, I have had a difficult time balancing my work with my life, and it took a strong turn of events for me to prioritize him again over all else. I had taken him so much for granted that I had forgotten how special he was to me. My struggle with fibromyalgia has served to bring us closer than we have ever been. He has been my pillar of strength and a rock for me to lean on (both figuratively and literally, I might add) in my roughest times. I cannot begin to express how grateful I am to have him in my life!
3. Realizing that work doesn’t have to be my life.
For the better part of the last half-decade, I have been a bit of a workaholic. A large part of that was because I actually enjoyed my work (and still do), but because I spent so much time working, I was starting to invest too many of my identity-eggs in that one basket. Fibromyalgia forced me to take time off from work and made me realize that I am more than just a biologist; I am more than just my work. My identity as a scientist and a teacher is just one aspect of me, but I have many other interests as well. I also learned to be more flexible with both my commitment to my work, as well as my career choices in the future, knowing that however things turn out, I will still have other identity-eggs in other baskets.
4. Reconnecting with the “other side” of me.
Another consequence of spending a long time working in a left-brain oriented manner was that I was feeling “lefted-out,” i.e. feeling locked in the left side of my brain, incapable of connecting with the more spontaneous, free-flowing, right side of my brain. Pure reasoning is an exercise in frustration when it comes to making sense of chronic pain, especially at a young age. That kind of approach is not conducive to being able to accept the current condition and “roll with it.” As I engaged more in art and meditation, I felt more capable of connecting with the right side of my brain. In doing so, I have been able to feel more whole as a person, and was able to embrace a lot more than what the solely analytical part of my mind could handle.
5. Learning to prioritize and delegate.
Compared to the top 4, this one might seem a small one. In truth, however, “prioritizing and delegating” is just the top of the iceberg. There is much more to it underneath, as depicted in the image to the right, in order for that approach to work. In short, fibromyalgia has taught me more lessons in mentoring than any workshop I have ever attended!
I guess this just goes to show that every cloud does have a silver lining, though sometimes I may have to look for it a little harder. Once I find it though, it brings me much hope and happiness, and often when I need it the most!