How opening up to others and self-care helped me find inner peace
When you’re healthy, you never look around and think, “I’m going to be chronically ill someday.” I know I didn’t.
It started with what felt like the flu — a low-grade fever, chills, and I wasn’t feeling well for about a week straight. Then I felt a pain in my right eye, like someone was jabbing me with an ice pick, followed by vision problems. Throughout the next few months, the pain got worse and so did the fatigue. I was in school, but had to drop a class just to finish the semester. Even the idea of walking from my car to the house seemed like a challenge. Doctors didn’t have any answers for a while until I was given the official diagnosis: fibromyalgia.
It was 2010, there wasn’t yet a blood test to confirm the illness. Fibromyalgia was commonly referred to as the “wastebasket diagnosis,” or the “we can’t figure out what’s wrong with you and all of your tests are clear so here’s your diagnosis” diagnosis. At the time, it was all I had to go on. It fit, so I wore it, but I wondered if they’d really ruled everything else out. As doctors continued to throw different pills at me, I only felt worse. There just had to be a better answer.
My turning point
After two years of this confusion, I’d had enough. The meds just kept making me sicker. I was depressed and I didn’t see much point in continuing to live if life was going to be filled with nothing but chronic pain and fatigue.
I had three choices: I could find a way to end it all, check myself into a psych ward, or I could let my family know how bad my mental state really was and try to find appropriate help. I opted for the third.
It was difficult to be that vulnerable, to admit that I was in that bad of shape and ask for the help that I needed. To ask my mom to call me every day, to ask my husband to really see me. But I asked, and that was the beginning.
I also decided to start a new blog focused on my illness rather than allow my illness to take over my existing blog. I shared what I was going through, I shared the info that I found, the news and media articles I stumbled across. I shared the new medications the doctors threw at me and the terrible side effects. I shared the various supplements and the lack of results. I shared my struggles, my hopes of feeling less alone, and that maybe someone else felt less alone as well.
— Julie Ryan (@drunkitty2000) April 24, 2016
The importance of asking questions
If I was going to get better, I had to stop looking to doctors for answers and be willing to try ANYTHING, which is precisely what I did.
I was questioning how diet might affect fibromyalgia from the beginning but kept getting the same answer: “It won’t.” Sure, I was told nightshades, caffeine, and sugar could make things worse, but it was subjective and no one seemed to know for sure. At the same time, I had nutritionists telling me that if I gave up gluten, dairy, and eggs, I’d feel so much better.
I wasn’t willing to make such a big leap without some justification, so I looked into food sensitivity testing. I also stumbled across “Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead,” a documentary that showed how juicing helped one man reverse his autoimmune disorder. I thought if he could juice for months, I could do it for a week. Maybe changing my diet would actually help.
I started in 2012 with a five-day juice cleanse while I awaited the results of my food sensitivity tests. The results came back and showed I had a mild sensitivity to gluten, whey, eggs, and yeast. I decided to give life a try without those foods and spent a week drinking only fruits and vegetables. Then I slowly reintroduced meat and non-gluten grains. I felt amazing. My husband said he could see the difference in my energy during those first five days of juicing!
Reflecting on the darkest times
It’s now four years later and it’s hard to imagine how far I’ve come. I continue to juice every day. I’ve also continued to avoid gluten completely, as well as eggs and dairy. I found out the hard way that gluten will send me into a flare, leaving me feeling mentally and physically fatigued like nothing else. I changed my lifestyle and my outlook on life by exercising more, being open with others, and making an effort to focus on the positive. And I did finally finish school to earn that degree.
Sometimes, it’s hard to remember just how bad things were, but it seems like about the time that I forget, my body quickly reminds me.
I still have fibromyalgia. I still have bad days. I still struggle. But I’m in a much better place than I was during those two worst years. I continue to blog to remind myself of the changes I need to keep making day after day, and I can only hope than in the process I’m helping others make changes that improve their own lives.
Julie Ryan is a freelance writer and blogger. She shares her journey at Counting My Spoons. Julie is happy to share that while she still struggles with chronic illness, the good days outnumber the bad, and she’s winning this battle. Julie is happily married and is looking forward to many years of happiness despite chronic illness.