Creative Visualization

fibromyalgia creative visualization
Think it, then do it.

Has anyone tried creative visualization? As best as I understand it, focusing on something that you want is supposed to help make it happen. It’s a lot like envisioning how you want your life to be, focusing on that vision, and making it happen.

My visualization of my life has always included sports and outdoor activities. Fibromyalgia has tried very hard to take that vision away. Lately, in part thanks to awesome words from a reader (thanks Stephanie AC), I’m trying creative visualization for the first time. Rather than just imagining something and feeling defeated because it can’t happen, I’m going to imagine it as an attainable reality.

My (hopefully) attainable reality is returning to running. I don’t even have to close my eyes to imagine what it will be like to return to the freedom of moving quickly on my own two feet. Earlier today I drove over the bayou bridge near my house and could almost feel what it would be like to run across that bridge like I did for years. I imagined the salty smell, the hard wind, and the sound of seagulls. I imagined the childlike joy of running so fast down the hill before the bridge that it would feel like flying.

I’m shifting those visions that I’ve always had into energy toward reality rather than disappointment. We’re having almost spring-like weather in northwest Florida right now, and I would love—no, I WILL love to go outside and run in the sun.

Reclaiming Life at What Price?

running with fibromyalgia
It was raining, but it was a great day to run.

I’m curious what you do when you want to do something so bad but you know it’s potentially disastrous for your health. Bottom line—with every fiber of my being I want to return to running, but I’m scared to death of the post-run nighttime pain that made me howl like a wounded animal the last time I ran.

When I see people running, I feel a mixture of hope and bitterness and excitement and disappointment and jealousy. I’m happy for them that they get to experience the joy and challenge of running, but I desperately want to return to one of the last things I had to give up. Soccer is unrealistic. Tennis is probably unrealistic, too. Same with rollerblading. But running was my holdout, the final thing I kept for myself for peace, clarity, adventure, and release.

My internal debate gets more heated every day. I’m walking several miles (and sometimes as many as 5 hours) daily, so it seems like running a few minutes in the midst of all that walking wouldn’t be a big deal. But every time I almost embrace freedom and take off, I think about the way my hips and back felt the night after the last time I ran, and I keep walking instead.

Is there anything you’ve given up for fibromyalgia that you’ve reclaimed? If so, did it come with a price, and is the price worth it?

A Happy Surprise and New Exercises

I got a happy surprise with the results of my lumbar MRI—only one slight, diffuse disc protrusion at L4/L5. Everything else looked fine! After suffering through debilitating back and hip pain for 13 months, I feared the worst. I knew my neck was bad, but I still didn’t expect the MRI to show what it did several years ago—three herniated discs. Because of my neck and the severity of my back pain, I tried to prepare for the worst with the lumbar MRI results. It’s hard to prepare for bad news when it I already feel like so much of my life is either stolen or diminished because of health issues, but I readied myself for one more piece of bad news. Instead, light!

There’s still no good reason for my back and hip to be so messed up. Idiopathic muscle spasms—possibly related to the cervical dystonia diagnosis I got a few years ago?—started torturing me seemingly out of nowhere last year. Sometimes I truly wonder if a fibromyalgia diagnosis is just a doctor’s way of saying she doesn’t really know what the hell is really going on.

In the face of misery—misery that is compounded by pain and spinal dysfunction keeping me from doing the vigorous exercise that makes me happy—I’ve discovered a random piece of exciting news. I can climb stairs without much pain. Lots of stairs. I walked up nine stories a few days ago and felt great. Today, I walked up outdoor amphitheater stairs ten times. Walking down sucks, and if it weren’t for having to walk down, I think I’d walk up a lot more. The building where I went up nine stories has an elevator, but I have major death trap phobia about elevators so it’s not practical for me to ride down. Maybe I’ll reach a point where I either get over the elevator fear or can better tolerate walking down, but until something changes, I like the outdoor stairs. I can walk up them and then walk down a grassy hill to start over.

I started another new adventure this week. I’m now working out with a trainer at the 24-hour gym where I hold a membership. I’ve already found that I haven’t been giving good trainers enough credit. This guy knows what he’s doing and is putting forth a lot of effort to help me correct the ridiculous anterior pelvic tilt that worsens my back pain. I have a second appointment with him tomorrow, and while I prefer independent exercise, I’m pretty excited about having a professional ensure I’m not making myself worse.

Meanwhile, the pain persists. I finally agreed to a round of bloodwork, which is something I’ve avoided for a couple of years now. I got very tired of getting the same old results—low white cell count and low red cell count and anemia—without anybody nailing down a cause. It just didn’t feel worthwhile to open a vein anymore, but I’m ready to look for answers again. I’ve also agreed to a few non-invasive tests, but have yet to decide if I’ll actually go through with them. Sometimes the worst thing about having health problems is the time it takes away from the good parts of life. But I know how lucky I am to live the life I lead, so I’ll just complain a little bit then get on with things.

Ten Things I Did Before Fibromyalgia

10. I played soccer—a lot of soccer. It didn’t even seem like a big deal when I’d take off my cleats after a game and find a bloody sock. Pain was temporary before fibromyalgia.

9. I ran around mountains, up mountains, and once down a mountain.

8. I tried new sports, like rollerblading, just for fun. There was no fear of the repercussions of taking a stiff, broken body through a new routine.

7. I took ibuprofen for pain and it actually worked.

6. I sat in a chair and read books for hours without my back hurting.

5. I ate ice cream and brownies and cookies and knew nothing about total-body inflammation.

4. I planned my days around choices rather than obligations—choices like when to go to the gym rather than obligations like having to see the chiropractor just so I can stand to be alive.

3. I travelled, and didn’t have to plan trips around muscle spasms and pain. I carried fun stuff in my luggage rather than needing a carload of pain-relieving props (Back Buddy, camping mattress in case the hotel bed is too soft, cervical pillow, Tiger Balm, etc.).

2. I went to sleep like a normal person. No handfuls of herbal supplements, no piles of pillows to ease back pain, no special cervical pillow. I would just lie down and pull up the covers.

1. I was free without realizing it—free to live as boldly as I wished and without pain—free to explore, to take risks, and to relax.

Food, Pain, and Guilt

“The psychology of guilt and illness—consuming sugar increases inflammation, but constant denial doesn’t feel good, either.” I wrote that note to myself during my lunch break at work last week. I’d been craving a Milky Way bar for three weeks without giving in to temptation. As the forth week loomed, I caved and bought the last Milky Way in the vending machine (which I took as a sign from the food gods, that it was there just for me).

I never eat sugar except the kind that naturally occurs in whole foods. I love sweet foods, but because of fibromyalgia, quite some time ago I committed to avoiding processed sugar. Why would I contribute to added pain and inflammation in my body? That’s a healthy, responsible mindset, but sometimes the guilt that comes with it is daunting.

It’s hard to watch my friends and family eat ice cream, cake, and brownies like it’s no big deal. I don’t begrudge them, but I’m jealous. My hardline thinking about food keeps me as healthy as possible in the face of chronic pain, but it can also imprison me with guilt. If I choose to live by normal social standards and have occasional birthday cake, I immediately feel at fault for the pain in my body.

My reasoning broke down on Thursday. Three weeks of wanting a Milky Way—and I have no idea why I specifically wanted that candy bar—and my back was killing me whether I ate one or not. I realized that my fit, healthy friends indulge quite often and don’t notice adverse side effects, and that it’s unreasonable for me to live in American society and completely forgo all culinary treats.

With way too much on my mind, I took the walk of shame to the vending machine. As I pushed my quarters into the coin slot, I remembered riding my bike to Tom Thumb as a kid and gorging on candy and soda. It was normal life then to eat candy, and I want a normal life again.

The Milky Way was better than I’d imagined. A coworker convinced me to avoid looking at the list of ingredients and just enjoy it. Every bite was delicious, and I wished it were king size.

Every time guilt crept up—I’m eating candy and my back hurts, therefore it’s my fault that my back hurts—I reminded myself that my back was hurting way before the Milky Way fantasy even crossed my mind. Enjoying occasional unhealthy snacks should not bring such guilt, and I know that. But it’s a daily struggle to not feel responsible for the pain, like if I had just eaten a head of broccoli instead of a candy bar, I’d feel better.

But in truth, I’ve lived in complete abstinence from sugar, and while it’s helped me overall, it wasn’t a cure. Just like sugar abstinence isn’t a cure, occasional sugar indulgence isn’t a cause of chronic pain. But I still feel guilty, and I won’t touch sugar again for a very long time.

Merry Christmas

Christmas is a time of reflection for me. I have to be careful not to get caught up in self-pity or dwell on the things I can’t do. Chronic pain is a huge downer, but I do believe that fighting the pain is important. The day that I give in to it is the day I drop into my grave.

On Christmas, the only present that I want is to be free from fibromyalgia. Since that’s about as likely as world peace, I also asked for a new running vest so that I can run through (not away from!) the pain. Merry Christmas, and may you all find peace and painlessness.

Fibromyalgia and Frustration

I’m not sure where rock-bottom is. I keep finding it, but then I find it again and realize I never actually found it before. I hate having fibromyalgia. I’m not a depressed person, but the constant pain and debilitation is making me feel extremely depressed. Working out is how I deal with stress. When I’m too sick with fibromyalgia symptoms to work out, I feel hopeless.

Imprisoned by Pain and Spasms

I’m so, so ready to have a more normal, active life. My lower back has been tied up in spasms for almost two weeks, and every time they seem to abate, they quickly return with more force. Sometime in the midst of the back spasms, I got sick with cold/flu-like crap, and the coughing has made my lower back feel like it might explode. I’ve been on oral steroids for four days and have had tons of cough syrup, ibuprofen, and chiropractic treatments. I was finally able to walk a few blocks very slowly last night after barely making it out of bed for days. I hate fibromyalgia.

After exhausting what I consider the final physical cure frontier—changing to a vegan diet—I feel stuck in a C-list movie about how much the body can make life suck. I’m still a big advocate for veganism. Despite living in hell at this moment with excruciating back spasms and flu-like symptoms, the vegan diet’s benefits are still obvious. My skin looks better than it has in years. My sweat doesn’t stink much when I exercise (although I haven’t exercised in awhile). I have regular bathroom habits. My neck has improved, and I’m sleeping regularly. From a nutritional standpoint, I feel like a million dollars.

I’m not sure what the end game is with fibromyalgia. No soccer? Dammit, but ok. No tennis, another dammit, but ok. But the modifications and concessions keep coming, and it feels like I’m down to almost nothing that I actually can do.

Since my low back went to hell, I’ve found my true breaking point. I thought I’d found it before, but I guess that’s the thing about fibromyalgia—it breaks you down so many times that it’s hard to tell when you really hit bottom.

Back Spasm Hell

I feel like a prisoner to my body today. I woke up around 1:30 this morning to terrible lower back spasms. I could barely get out of bed and had to shuffle painfully to the bathroom.

I’d had a slightly sore back yesterday, but fibromyalgia keeps me sore most days, so I didn’t pay much attention to it. I did a very light workout at the gym—no injury or noticeable aggravation there—but a few hours later, when I should’ve been sleeping peacefully, my back felt like someone held it in a vice grip.

Work was pretty miserable today, although my back loosened up a little bit from walking around. Ironically, I worked with students on proper body mechanics and safe patient transfer techniques. It was quite a feat, considering I couldn’t put my shoes on this morning. Fibromyalgia has definitely forced me to be good at verbally explaining things without being able to physically demonstrate. Some days, my body just won’t cooperate with my words.

I napped this afternoon—a rarity for me—on my back with my knees on a pillow and a heating pad under my lower back. I was breaking all kinds of technical rules, like don’t ever put a heating pad under your body and use ice, not heat, on new injuries, but I didn’t care. My heating pad was microwavable and never got very hot, and I’m not comfortable lying on my stomach because of my stupid ongoing neck problems. Heat just seemed like it would be more soothing than ice, and it was. I’ve been able to walk around semi-human-like, which is a big improvement over this morning’s walking posture.

In keeping with my natural/vegan/organic plan to fight fibromyalgia, I ate a raw veggie sandwich for lunch and am currently snacking on popcorn sprinkled with nutritional yeast. Apple cider vinegar and ice water are mixed in my coffee cup. I don’t believe that proper nutrition can cure everything, but I definitely don’t believe that poor nutrition cures anything.

I’d planned to run today, and am working hard to keep my attitude as positive as possible as I gingerly walk around the house. My knee is finally much improved, my neck is taking a break from its usual painful routine, but now my back is out. Some days, fibromyalgia really sucks.

Running from Pain

Ever tried on pants that were several sizes too small, stretching the seams to the max? This morning, the muscles across my upper back felt like overburdened seams, straining and ripping. I was angry, depressed, cynical, and miserable. I begged my girlfriend to tell me everything would be fine. She couldn’t. So I went for a run.

I made it 61 minutes and 42 seconds in the Florida summer heat. An absolute fury built inside me while I ran. My upper back and neck felt like a feather being pulled apart down the middle, and I could’ve sworn someone stabbed me in the collarbone and left the knife there. The worse the pain, the stronger the fury.

I lucked out today. It’s hard to say that athletes with fibromyalgia luck out with much, but the fury cooking inside me allowed me to wrench loose some of the locked facet joints and muscles spasms. I swung my left arm at an odd angle while I ran, and by the half-hour mark, the tearing sensation gave way to crepitus and popping. And then release, physical and emotional.

Not all days bring such luck. I’ve run many miles where I couldn’t even turn my head to look for cars because muscle spasms locked me in a straight-ahead stare. Sometimes my hips and knees feel like they’re on fire when my bodyweight lands for a footfall. But not today.

I hate fibromyalgia. It may kill me one day, but I’m going to fight every second not only for my life, but for my lifestyle as an athlete.