A Defining Moment: Discovering the Hidden Gifts in Chronic Pain and Illness

One of the best days of my life was when I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a disorder of severe muscle pain and fatigue.  Strangely, I can’t say the same about when the symptoms went away approximately 20 years later.

It’s complicated, as people tend to say about things they don’t understand well.  I suspect it has to do with the unexpected journey and the lessons learned that the chronic pain and illness required.

The fibromyalgia pain started first in just a couple of muscles.  It then increased in the intensity and number of muscle groups involved, eventually involving almost every large muscle group.  The days where my energy level crashed to the point where I felt like I couldn’t move also became more frequent.  Later, the migraines began, eventually occurring about 15 days per month.

Fibromyalgia treatment was difficult, since at the time, it did not have the benefit of a designated drug to give it credibility or a treatment plan.  Considered a rheumatic disorder, my rheumatologist didn’t even have it on his differential diagnosis.   Thus the 8 year search for the name of, and thus a possible treatment for, the enemy.  The day we looked the enemy in the eye for the first time, was the beginning of my journey.

Certainly, stress exacerbated the symptoms.  At the time, our lives were crazy like so many ambitious, young couples:  building an academic and a medical career, two small children, a McMansion in the suburbs, and family support hours away.  And I couldn’t move, much less get out of bed.

No way was this sustainable.  It was the perfect storm, and something had to go.

It was a defining moment.  The ones that really show who you are, and what you value, and which put you on a course that could change your life.   The prize:  my sanity, health and my family.  The price: my newly-acquired tenure that I’d spent my whole education and career trying to obtain.

After the room and my head stopped spinning, I then devoted myself to getting us back on track.  First:  me.  Rest, exercise, healthy diet, a supportive physician, friends, leisure activities, time to discover who I am without a career, time to discover who I am (period), rediscover my passions, experiment out of my comfort zone.  Second:  kids.  Fortunately, they were doing well.  The extra time with them and becoming more involved in their lives was a big boon.  Third:  marriage.  Take the pressure off both of us, counseling, time for fun and relaxation together for a change.

The end result:  a balanced life.  Me, emerging as a whole person.  No longer taking for granted just being pain-free or having energy to do what I want.   New life breathed into a troubled marriage.  Closer relationship to our boys.  A feeling of empowerment that I can improve our quality of life despite a big pay cut.  Oh, did I already mention the balanced life?

These gifts would not have been possible without the pain and illness getting to the point of debilitation.  I was in my own Denial Land and only a Hurricane Sandy could force a reconciliation of my expectations and our reality.

Now I’m pretty much pain- and fatigue-free except for an occasional bad day. This was partly due to the balanced life and reduced stress, but also key were some medical interventions, and possibly the separation/divorce.  I’m still enjoying the benefits of those life choices, even if the marriage did not work out and I’m still trying to rejuvenate what was a discarded career.  Still, it was the right choice for me and my family, and to have made another choice at the time could’ve taken us down a path with consequences I’m not sure I could’ve lived with.

A friend thoughtfully observed recently that my outspokenness is commendable, but has a down side. I said I didn’t think it has a down side but it definitely has consequences. Such is the choice with life’s decisions, big and small.  Living according to your principles has consequences, not what I’d consider a down side.  Not living according to your principles, combined with the resulting guilt and self-doubt, is far, far worse.

lonely journey

2 thoughts on “A Defining Moment: Discovering the Hidden Gifts in Chronic Pain and Illness

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