It’s funny how it happens…well, really not so much. I’m rolling along, feeling pretty good, getting things done and then BAM, I get hit with a random flare in my fibromyalgia symptoms.
During the past few weeks, I’ve been going through my first major flare since completing the Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy treatments. To say that I’ve been disappointed about having a flare again is a huge understatement. It’s been a tough blow. The good news is that the severity of the flare is nowhere near as intense as what I used to have.
I guess you could say I brought this one on myself. I was feeling so good that I overdid it during a visit with my parents. We did a lot of shopping and running around during 3 consecutive days of 100+ degree temperatures. I ate a lot of junk that I shouldn’t have and didn’t stick with my sleep schedule. By the 4th day, it had all caught up with me and I knew I was going to be in for a tough time.
I don’t always know what causes a flare. Maybe I worked too hard. Maybe I ate something with gluten or MSG or who knows what else. Maybe something stressed me out. Maybe a honking horn woke me too early. The list could go on and on…
But the end result is I wake up feeling like I was run over by a Mack truck that backed up to see what it hit.
Usually when a flare hits, I feel it first in my legs, which feel like they are being pressed in a vise.
Occasionally I’ll feel it in my face, usually my left cheek bone, like I have a tooth going bad. I used to go to the dentist to get it checked out, but after a lot of times of being told there’s no problem, now I just try to ignore that symptom.
Then there’s the achy shoulders, bloated tummy, skin issues, overwhelming fatigue, cloudy thinking (i.e. brain fog/gel), twitchy muscles and sensitivity to smells, light and sound. Just a few of the lovely companions that choose to join me during the flare.
This is when it’s easy to find myself headed down the road to a full-fledged pity party.
A pity party doesn’t do me or my loved ones any good, so I try to switch my direction as soon as possible. The further I go down the pity party path, the harder it is to get back.
So, how do I stop and turn it around?
I can’t do much about the actual fibro symptoms, they are going to come or go. What I can control is my attitude.
10 Strategies I Use to Deal with the Fibro Flare
1. Get out of bed.
Sometimes that’s a pretty big deal and requires a lot of self-talk. But, it does help to get up, stretch a little and get moving. I may look like I’m already 80 years old for the first several minutes, but eventually my stiff muscles will start to loosen up and quit screaming at me.
This strategy is closely tied with #9 Maintaining a Regular Sleep Schedule. When I’m feeling bad, the “easy” thing to do would be to stay in bed all day. But, in the end, it’s not the best thing to do for my health. So, like the old Nike commercial says, “Just Do It!” Get out of bed and face the day.
2. Concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.
I make my bed (lest I crawl back into it) and get dressed. Even if that means only a shift dress and some flip-flops, getting out of the pajamas really does help me get off to a better start.
Keep moving and eventually your mind will catch up with your body.
3. Get to the kitchen and prepare a healthy breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack….Not necessarily at the same time.
Taking care of yourself is super important. Diet, sleep, stress…they actually do play a huge factor in how you feel and how long the flare lasts. At least that’s what the experts say.
I try to eat an anti-inflammatory diet whenever possible. My one downfall is caffeine. I’m not sure I’ll ever give up my morning coffee. In my opinion, the jury is still out about whether the pros outweigh the cons on coffee consumption.
Preparing healthy foods isn’t always easy when you are in the middle of a flare…I get that. But, I think it’s one of the most important things you can do. Keep a lot of fruits, veggies (like baby carrots), nuts, gluten-free pretzels and other healthy options always at the ready so you don’t go reaching for the junk food just because it’s easier.
Here is a solid article from Medical News Today quoting the Cleveland Clinic about how diet might affect fibromyalgia symptoms.
I trust what the Cleveland Clinic publishes about fibro. In fact The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Fibromyalgia was one of the first books I read when I was diagnosed. It was a great way to learn more about the disease and had good strategies to help improve my quality of life. Even though it’s over 10 years old now, it’s still a great resource for those who are beginning to learn about their diagnosis.
4. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Some days the first three strategies are all that I can manage. That’s when it’s extremely important to remember this one. You wouldn’t berate your friend if she had the flu, so don’t berate yourself for having fibromyalgia. You’re not lazy or selfish, you’re sick. It’s okay to cancel appointments, call for take-out, take an extra nap, etc.
It’s also okay to ask for some help if you need it. Occasionally I have to ask someone to take care of a task that I would normally handle, like grocery shopping or household cleaning.
It’s also okay to put off some household chores. In other words, don’t push through to take care of something that can wait until you are having a better day. Pushing though and working until I’m exhausted is almost always counter-productive. (See #8 Pacing and Planning)
Of course, there are some things that you shouldn’t procrastinate, like brushing your teeth. But, if you’re having a tough day, you shouldn’t feel too bad about the dust bunnies and fur balls that might blow across the floor. They will still be there when you feel better.
5. Focus on staying positive.
- Watch a funny show.
- Read an uplifting book.
- Call a supportive friend.
- Listen to an audiobook.
- Pray. Pray some more!
- Play some calming music.
- Look through old photos of a happy vacation/your family/your school yearbook.
- Sing a silly song.
- Do whatever you can think of to bring a smile to your heart.
6. Don’t complain, but don’t hide how you feel, either.
Your friends and loved ones need to know what’s going on with you, because they can’t look at you and see what you feel inside. On the other hand, no one wants to listen to someone whining…
Honestly, I struggle with this strategy a lot. I tend to suffer in silence and that’s not good. When I do that, sometimes my husband thinks I’m upset with him. Usually I’m not, but because I’m hurting, I will be harsh and snappier than I should be. We’ve learned over the years that it’s better if I just go ahead and let him know how my day is going right away. To his credit, he usually asks before I tell him. That way he knows where I’m coming from.
I can always update him later if my symptoms change. But, usually I try to mention a symptom only once. More than that tends to slip off into whining mode.
7. Get a little bit of exercise.
This one seems counter-intuitive when you are hurting so much, but it really is vital to living a higher quality of life. As far as we know now, fibromyalgia is chronic. That means it is never going away. Because you will deal with it for the rest of your life (I’m sorry, but the truth hurts.), it is vitally important to take care of your body.
And research backs this up. Here’s a summary of the improvements gained by fibromyalgia sufferers when they tried various types of aerobic activities. Their health-related quality of life (HRQL) improved by as much as 10% over a 24-week period.
My personal favorite activity is a brisk walk. Cactus Jack, my German Shepherd, needs to be exercised at least twice a day. My husband, Ben, takes care of the morning session. That leaves the evening walk for me. Often Ben will join me, but even when he doesn’t come along, it’s important that I get outside and move for a while.
My distance may vary according to how I feel, but I need to include walking at least once a day. I won’t lie, there are times when I have to find a park bench and argue with myself about whether or not to call for a ride home. But, eventually after a short rest, I dig up the energy to put that one foot in front of the other until I get home again.
Owning a pet has a myriad of health benefits, from reducing isolation, lowering blood pressure and easing pain.
Throughout my life, having a pet has been a comfort. And knowing that my pet depends on me to take care of him gives me one more reason to take care of myself.
8. Pacing and Planning.
As a natural-born perfectionist, pacing is always an issue for me. I find it incredibly difficult to ignore things that need to be done. The old saying of “A job worth doing is a job worth doing right” and all that kind of talk continually plays in my head. Thankfully, I’m happy to say that as I get older, that little voice gets a little quieter.
I’ve learned to accept that just getting a job done the best I can at that point in my life is good enough. This means that healthy convenience foods are okay every once and a while. Having a few more pairs of socks and underwear will cut down on the frequency of laundry. It doesn’t always have to be done on Monday. Adding an extra day between hair washes won’t cause the world to stop turning. And, dust bunnies aren’t dangerous…for the most part.
One of the best ways I’ve found to pace myself is to use a planner. When the fibro-fog gets too bad, sometimes I can’t even remember my name, much less what I’m supposed to be doing at a given day or time.
But, if I have tasks written down in my planner, I can refer back to it as often as necessary, even if it’s every five minutes. It allows me to pick whatever task has the highest priority and chip away at it until it’s done.
And it doesn’t hurt to make your planner entries in pencil or erasable ink. That way, you can easily push tasks to another day or even another week if you just can’t get to them.
By having your lists down in writing, it’s easy to see when you are trying to do too much at one time. And, having them down on paper also means that sooner or later you will get to them, and they won’t be forgotten.
Starting a planner was literally life-changing for me. It reduces my stress-level and helps me keep my thoughts just a little bit clearer.
Currently, I use the Big Happy Planner. I love the fact that I can insert papers, notes, forms, etc. and be able to pull them out and rearrange them as needed.
I bought a special hole punch so I could put notes in where I need them, which has been especially helpful for my work scheduling.
In a way, I’ve combined the planner with a form of a Tickler file, which is another way of keeping organized that worked very well for me in the past.
Whatever system you choose, find one that works for you. It’s a great way to cut back on the stress of trying to remember things. And, it really reduces the number of times I forget to do something important.
9. Maintain a regular sleep schedule and practice good sleep hygiene.
This one is incredibly hard during a flare. I often find that I’m awake in the middle of the night, then finally fall asleep about the time I’m supposed to get up. I’ve found that it’s okay to give a little leeway here, but not too much. I’m better off getting up around the same time every day, with no more than an hour’s difference either way. More than that, and I’m going to be “off” all day.
If I get too tired during the day, I’ll allow for a short nap in the middle of the afternoon. Again, keep it short, around 30 minutes or so, if possible, so you won’t mess up your nighttime schedule.
Research is pretty consistent that regular bedtimes and waking times will help you maintain better health. Of all of the top ten strategies, I struggle with this one the most. I am a night owl and often don’t feel really awake until the evenings, which makes it doubly hard to go to bed when I’m supposed to.
But, when I set my bedtime and stick to it, I feel better overall.
Good sleep hygiene is also critical to maintaining your sleep schedule. Get away from your electronics at least 30 minutes (a couple of hours would be even better) before you are ready to go to sleep.
Another good idea is to set your devices to display in nighttime mode. You can check your individual device information about how to do that. Basically, this will reduce the amount of blue light emitted from the device. Research has shown that the blue light interferes with your brain’s ability to produce the chemicals necessary for sound sleep.
Personally, my getting-ready-for-bed ritual includes a leisurely warm bath and a few minutes with a good book, preferably one that’s not too exciting. I have learned my lesson the hard way about reading a thriller right before bedtime. I find them hard to put down and I end up staying up too late looking for a good stopping place.
Instead, find something that will help you slowly calm down. One thing that I especially enjoy is playing my audio Bible. I set the sleep timer and let the voice of the narrator gently read me to sleep.
10. Finally, don’t quit!
If you are feeling like you can’t go on with the fibro anymore, get some help. The only way fibro is fatal is if you give up.
Studies have shown that people with fibromyalgia are 10 times more likely to die from suicide than someone who doesn’t have it. Don’t become one of those statistics. There are a lot of well-trained medical and psychological personnel available to help you deal with suicidal thoughts. There’s no shame in getting help.
And don’t wait!
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Get help early and get help often if you need it. You are precious and irreplaceable! I can’t stress this point enough! There is help – you just need to reach out for it.
Here are a few excellent resources for you:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Veteran’s Crisis Line
- Suicide Prevention Resource Center
- The Mighty’s Suicide Prevention Resource List
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
And remember, the really bad pain, fog and/or depression won’t last forever.
Here’s a couple of quick bonus tips:
I recommend you find ways to clean the chemicals out of your life. Personally, I try very hard to stay away from processed foods with lots of added preservatives and other ingredients I can’t pronounce. Back in my computer programming days, we had a saying: “Garbage in, garbage out!” And that’s true for your body, too. Give your body wholesome, healthy ingredients to work with and it will work more efficiently and productively.
And, right along with the diet, try to use only natural cleaners and other products. We have gradually switched almost all of our cleaning products to organic or natural products. Some of my personal favorite brands are Seventh Generation, Method and Mrs. Meyers. I also rely heavily on lemons, baking soda, vinegar and other homemade mixtures whenever possible. That way I know what’s inside.
I know this has been another long post and I hope to expand on some of the strategies in the future. I’m curious to know if you have any special strategies that you use to help you through the rough times. Please feel free to share those below. Together, we can help each other to uncover our best selves.
Thanks again for dropping by the castle! I hope you’ll visit again very soon!
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