Monday, December 26, 2016

How Fibromyalgia Affected My New Year’s Goals

A year ago, I joined countless people in the annual rite of declaring my new year’s resolutions. However, unlike a lot of people, I had to do so in my characteristically overly-analytical way: I wrote them down, refined them, ensured they were clear and achievable, and then identified sub-goals feeding into them that were equally explicit and realistic. As a package of “resolutions”, I then validated that they were sufficiently comprehensive. Having finished that nerdy bout of planning, I committed to tracking progress over the year.  As I now watch 2016 finish its wind-down and begin thinking about 2017, it strikes me as important to review and reflect upon a tumultuous twelve months.

My goals were varied but comprehensive. In the past, I’ve thrived seeking out physically demanding adventures that create lasting memories with friends and family, which in turn scratched my creative itch by blogging about those events. At the start of the year, I believed I was enduring a series of injuries from those adventures that disrupted my whole cycle of fulfillment. As such, I sought to pursue healing. The “injuries” and my accumulating years left me wanting to get my figurative and literal house more in order. I also aspired to experiment with finding replacement creative outlets, and to seek alternate ways to bond with those around me until we were again backpacking off the grid or mountain biking all day in some other state. On the surface, my aspirations for 2016 ended with a combination of failures and mild successes. But, geek that I am, I updated that document religiously, and it now allows me to see my results as more nuanced, and as a result I choose to see a lot of successes.

The struggle to heal my injuries led to doctors who gave up on me, myopic specialists who wouldn’t look at me as a whole person or listen to me, an inability to return to my old self, and extreme frustration. But, it also led to finding a doctor who does listen, who kept working through possible diagnoses, and who established a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. As a chronic condition that is essentially established by ruling everything else out, that was not an easy feat. In actuality, it was the end result of well over two years of physical problems. This diagnosis will mean a lifetime of pain and impacts to digestion, cognition, immunology, sleep, and energy, so it’s not a pleasant end result. But my perseverance allows me to now know what I’m working with. This is no small comfort, and is a contrast to a point a little over a year ago at which I was struggling and looked despairingly at my partner, Sara, pleading futilely for her to tell me what was wrong with me.

My new eating habits led to losing more weight than intended!
The unrelated efforts to shed weight I’d accumulated from not exercising – but eating as if I still were – led me to an end result of a nutrition plan that turns out to be great for people enduring fibromyalgia. That has led me to take all of the desired weight off, along with another ten pounds to boot. This has since become packaged with a nutritional supplement regimen. An added benefit has been that as long as I stay on plan, I have no further digestive issues. Prior to fibromyalgia, I’d been someone who could practically eat gravel and wash it down with motor oil, with no ill effects. So, for all the negative aspects of this diagnosis, I’ve found one area where I can feel as if I returned to normal.

House projects never seem to go smoothly.
But, these days I really need to pace myself.
When it came to getting my figurative and literal house more in order, I can see a series of tasks that went undone. I can see rooms or a yard not as pretty as they should be. I can see paperwork that a lawyer never drew up. Instead, I choose to see someone who was dealing with a lot of challenges on a daily basis, yet still managed to chip away at everything. There are dangerous trees now removed, garage doors that work, shrubs that were transplanted, rooms that were painted, and finances put into the hands of a professional to help provide security for me and my family. Even though I didn’t finish all I sought to do, I had to persevere, such as squeezing in appointments amidst medical visits. I had to fight off the fatigue and allow for several days to complete paperwork I might have previously banged out in one late night. I had to learn to pace myself, such as after I literally almost collapsed from pushing myself painting all day without breaks. Previously, I would have expected to accomplish twice as much in half the time. But this year, the work I was able to complete took far more effort, planning, and perseverance. That hard work has already produced some results, helped me learn more about how I need to now manage myself, and provides a springboard for my 2017 focus.

Lastly, my adventures and bonding had nowhere near the volume and results I’d sought. I was never hurtling through the woods on a mountain bike, whooping excitedly alongside Sara. I never summited another mountain with my daughters. I never sat in a kayak, listening to the water lapping again it or the shore.  Lacking those adventures, I lost my creative outlet as well. But the limitations that fibromyalgia foisted upon me left me desperate to find some way to search for some sort of alternatives to still have new experiences with loved ones, as it also left me chafing at the lack of a creative outlet.

My girls rode and drove ATV's for the first
time, loving the adventures with family!
In order to not waste the year, experiments led me to help set up a wonderful family reunion filled with horses, ATVs, jamming on a porch with family members, daughters meeting far-away cousins, and countless laughs. I spent time at the beach instead of the woods, and my off-road beach permit allowed my girls an opportunity to host birthday weekends on Cape Cod that they could brag about. My family saw a wonderful play from the second row of an antique playhouse. I welcomed the holiday season with over a dozen good friends on Martha’s Vineyard. Furthermore, not all good moments were the big ones. I was driving home one day and pulled over, admiring a sun descending behind the trees, casting long shadows as a stone wall and dirt road stretched out towards it, and briefly lost myself in photographing that moment. Another time I paused in my errands and stand next to a salt marsh, capturing a sunset that was both scenic and a harbinger of the oncoming autumn. Those moments weren’t just visually serene but also mentally peaceful. Additionally, I rediscovered playing music, and sat in front of Sara on Christmas Eve, sharing a vulnerable moment as I played her some songs I’ve written but not shared.

Again, the year is now done and I can’t change the past. So, I can view the year as full of setbacks, lost opportunities, and wasted time. Conversely, I can reflect and see much effort and perseverance, dogged determination and courage. I can choose to see the progress towards managing my condition, the planning that better sets me and my family up for financial stability in coming years, the house that has a few more projects crossed off the never-ending list, the adventures that materialized, the relationships that deepened, and the experimenting with creativity that were fulfilling. I can choose to see failure or triumph. I can choose to feel frustration or pride.

As I turn my focus to 2017, I think it is important to choose the editorial that points at successes, not failures. Equally, I believe that I should leverage this as momentum for the upcoming year, to build upon these hard-won victories, and to continue converting limitations into opportunities. If I continue to work at setting realistic but aspirational goals towards becoming the best me I can be, I believe 2017 can be a year filled with promise and potential just waiting to be discovered.
The end of one moment is the start of another, so let's see what 2017 has in store.

For now, though, one step at a time.

Jay Bell

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