Receiving a diagnosis of fibromyalgia is life-changing for most of us and I know that I have changed a lot as a person as a result. Capabilities, livelihoods, relationships, hobbies and interests may be impacted when you have fibromyalgia, to a greater or lesser extent. Speaking to others who also have chronic illnesses (not just fibromyalgia), I think this is a fairly common experience. So let’s take a look at some of the ways in which a diagnosis of fibromyalgia might change us:
1 – Being More Grateful
Being diagnosed with any illness really brings home life’s fragility. But this realisation means that we often have heightened awareness of the importance of the little things in life which can bring us joy when they do occur and an appreciation of the good days, when we have them.
One of the things I learned on a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) Pain Management course right at the start of my fibro journey was to keep a gratitude journal and note down three positive things about each day. At first, it sounded trite but I cast aside my doubts, gave it a go anyway and to my surprise, over time, I became much more adept at noticing the positive things in life. Whereas pre fibro, I took my life and capabilities very much for granted, this is something I try not to do and am much more grateful for what I have in my life.
2 – Being Less Judgemental
Living with fibromyalgia, we probably all know what it’s like to be judged by those who don’t have a clue about our condition and who believe that just because we look OK that we are OK or just because we could do something yesterday, that doesn’t mean that we can repeat the feat today. Because of this, those of us with invisible illnesses are generally much more aware and understanding of the potential struggles of others, because we know what it is like to struggle ourselves.
On a wider level, being less judgemental can help us develop more fulfilling personal relationships with people being more likely to feel comfortable opening up to you and also helps with adopting a more compassionate view of the world as a whole, which can only be a good thing.
3 – Becoming More Mindful
Life with fibromyalgia may be lived at a much slower pace than before, I know mine certainly is! We may no longer be able to rush from place to place chasing the bigger, the better and the faster and a more mindful life could be the result. I now have the time and space to focus solely on whatever I am doing and actually find that life is so much the richer and more pleasurable for it.
Mindfulness helps us to be fully present in our lives whether that means connecting with people we’re speaking to or taking time to really notice the beautiful details of, say, a flower, rather than racing along an autopilot barely noticing anything. Whilst we might not be able to do everything we used to do in terms of quantity and ticking items off our to-do list, the quality of life can be enhanced by a more mindful approach.
Of course, other well documented benefits of mindfulness are that it can help to reduce stress and anxiety and also act as a powerful pain management tool.
4 – Understanding What’s Important
I used to spend a lot of time acquiring “stuff” that I thought was important and life was lived always looking to the next thing – bigger house, newer car, job promotions… In fact I think that the stress of chasing this dream contributed to the development of my fibromyalgia in the first place and I have since reached the conclusion that it just wasn’t meant to be for me.
But fibro has given me the time and space to consider the most meaningful aspects of my life and I’ve discovered that it’s actually things like the buzz from helping others through volunteering, developing relationships and being out in nature that mean most to me. Without fibro, I may never have discovered this and I’d still be running like a hamster on a wheel chasing the life that I thought I should have.
Don’t get me wrong, life with fibro is hard and I wouldn’t want to look at it with rose tinted glasses, but living with this illness has, in some ways, allowed me to have a more meaningful life than I’d have otherwise had.
5 – Becoming More Skilled at Dealing with Life’s Big Stuff
Following a diagnosis of a chronic illness, the chances are that we will have to overcome lots of challenges, whether it’s adapting our old life to our new condition or trying to build a new one. We may have to learn new skills to manage the illness, change jobs or stop working, learn to live with much less money and/or cope with changes to relationship dynamics. However difficult this all of can be, we have no choice other than to adapt and continue. But the silver lining could be that it serves to build our confidence in dealing with future major life changes as they occur, as they surely will.
Nobody can take away the experiences and skills that we learn through living with fibromyalgia to draw upon whatever life throws at us in the future. After all, we’re called Fibro Warriors for a reason!