Monday, October 5, 2015

10/5/15: Finding Self-Compassion

Lately it's felt like my life is just one big loop that keeps repeating itself.  I can vividly remember a visit to my physical therapist 2 years ago after the first week of my master's program where I was on the verge of tears telling her that I didn't think I could do this.  I couldn't sit in the chairs in class for more than 20 minutes without being in severe pain and it was so distracting that I could barely take anything in.  She gave me a tens unit--a portable stim machine--and it was a lifesaver for those first few months of grad school before we found some medications that helped minimize the pain.  

Since then, we've tried about a hundred different combinations of medications, procedures, surgeries, physical exercises, mental health support, emotional work, etc., and we've seriously diminished my pain to the point where I was almost pain free for most of last year.  Unfortunately, when I started the PhD program, my pain came back with a vengeance.  It's been ramping up all summer, but it got so bad the last two weeks that I decided I needed to go back to my doctor for help.  We're not exactly sure what's going on, except that we know endometriosis spreads when you're not on hormonal suppression, and I've been off for a year now, so there's a good chance there's more endometriosis triggering the pelvic pain.  Unfortunately, it feels different this time.  I've been having serious fatigue and all-over body-aches, which are tell-tale signs of fibromyalgia.  Now, all of the conditions I've been diagnosed with so far (and there are a bunch) are in the same family as fibromyalgia--they're functional somatic pain syndromes--so when I asked my doctor about it he casually said something to the effect of, "Of course you have fibromyalgia--at least you're on the spectrum--but whether or not that's an official diagnosis won't change the way we treat it, because we're already treating you the way we would treat someone with it."  

This was quite a bombshell for him to so casually drop on me.  I think he saw the shock on my face (he's a pretty observant and emotionally in-tune doctor) because he quickly reassured me that even though this might be something I struggle with my whole life, there will be good times with the bad times, and there are things we can do to manage it, etc.  This didn't make me feel any better, though, because I just heard, "You're going to struggle with this your whole life."  That's really different from, "You shouldn't be in this much pain, and we're going to find out why and fix it." which is what I normally hear from him.  

Needless to say, it's been a rough week over here.  He talked pretty frankly with me about making sure I only keep good stress in my life, and cut out the bad.  I've had to seriously consider my schedule and if a PhD is plausible with how much pain I'm in.  It's the most frustrating thing to be limited physically when mentally I have SO much I want to accomplish!

I'm just taking life one day at a time for now, and we bought another tens-unit to help me get through classes and homework, which is helping just a bit.  But mostly I'm working on not feeling guilty or bad for not being able to make it to all of my classes, or do all my homework, or research as much as I should.  I'm working on allowing myself to have self-compassion and sleep when I need to sleep, and work when I have the energy to work.  

Something Elder Bednar said in General Conference (the LDS Church leaders speak to us 2 weekends a year in this conference) really spoke peace to my soul yesterday--"When you cannot do, what you have always done, then you only do what matters most...Physical restrictions can expand vision.  Limited stamina can clarify priorities.  Inability to do many things can direct focus to a few things of greatest importance."  I know that I've seen this happen in my life.  I've seen SO much good come from my physical pain and limitations, it's just hard to remember it in the moments that I can't get out of bed for class, or pain is keeping me up all night, or I'm struggling to stay with clients mentally and emotionally because I'm distracted by my aches.  

Sorry for a tough post today, but this has all been dominating my thoughts for the past two weeks, and while we've also had some great days and fun with friends and family lately, I feel like this is what my life is really about right now--finding the balance.  
At Chalk the Block with my niece and nephew!

Also, as per request, Pepper found a jungle gym and I thought I'd share :) Enjoy! 

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