I am always astonished by how quickly an emotional disturbance in my life attacks my body. The correlation between emotional stress and physical symptoms continues to surprise me, even after two years of fibromyalgia. The past couple weeks have reillustrated this reality. Whether it is an argument with my husband, learning a respected teaching colleague has passed away, or that a friend has cancer, the powerful emotions quickly translate into stiff and painful muscles and joints.
Stress is the number one cause of fibromyalgia symptoms. I spend amazing amounts of my energy managing my stress by following a work, exercise, diet, and sleep routine as strictly as possible. But not all sources of stress can be hyper-managed. What do I do when a highly emotional event occurs? Life is unpredictable – loved ones die, natural disasters hit (as Haiti so recently illustrates), disagreements occur in relationships. These are significant stressors and I cannot stop life from happening. I also refuse to hide from it, to give up living in this world.
How do I manage my fibro when these unexpected events meteorite into my life? First, I have to accept I will have moments I emotionally fall apart and that such moments will translate into physical pain. Grieving, disagreements, shock – all will reappear in a physical manifestation. So I have to take care of myself. I become especially vigilant about maintaining my health routine of exercise, eating right, and getting enough sleep. I have to be realistic about what social engagements I can and cannot handle, what chores I can reasonably do and which ones can wait. The last thing I want to do is run myself so ragged while emotionally distraught that I push myself into a fibroflare.
At the same time, I don’t want to overreact and completely isolate myself. Hunkering down in my bed with only the cats for company at first sounds like a smart strategy, but then I’m isolated from my support network and the parts of my life that give it meaning. I felt my strongest this week when I was working, funneling my emotions into getting a task accomplished. Interacting with friends and co-workers also helped, as it reminded me I am not alone. Sure, dragging myself out of bed in the morning was tough – my feet have been unusually knotted up and painful, as if all my grief and anxiety decided to hold a panic party there. At the end of my day, I may collapse exhausted on the couch, but I am comforted by being around my friends and knowing I’ve accomplished something.
It is really a tight wire balancing act. With each step, a simple gust of wind or tiny wobble of the rope might knock me off to plunge deep into the painful clutches of a fibroflare. But with concentration and careful management of where I place my feet and how I balance my weight, I can walk this tightrope.