Taking up the Slack: Flares, Frets and Fibro


By Celeste Cooper

One of my most severe sources of pain has me in its grasp and who always shows up for the party? You got it, fibromyalgia! What was I thinking? Why did I try to adhere to the New Year’s resolutions I fretted over making in the first place. Wait, isn’t setting goals important? Of course having goals is important. But, why did I try to do too much? Why do I have to be in a flare?

Sound familiar?

It’s the conundrum of balancing when we live with a chronic illness. We have a good day, so we overdo or we pretend to be okay so we don’t look like a wimp. I have written plenty of articles on how to pace and avoid flares, but the truth of it is—despite the best plans—fibro is consistent in its unpredictability.

When a flare hits us in the face like a snowball thrown at 50 MPH, I think it’s safe to say our internal dialogue becomes “woe is me.”  A normal reaction, a reaction any other reasonable person would have when they, say, experience the flu. So why are we so hard on ourselves? Maybe we are afraid if we indulge ourselves, we will start to slack when we shouldn’t. Guess what, everybody slacks from time to time. So are we holding ourselves to an impossible standard? For sure, we should do what we can when we can, but we should also respect the role fibromyalgia plays in our lives and accept there are times when our body needs tender loving care, rather than entertain a dialogue of self-abomination.

So, I thought it best to sit down and write about what I may or may not have done during the holidays that had an impact on the way I feel now.

  • Thinking celebration transforms me into the Incredible Hulk.

  • Making decisions based on desire instead of need.

  • Letting plans like shopping for gifts or other activities interfere with my usual maintenance routine.

  • Forgetting I need to work in increments.
    See Incredible Hulk.

  • Thinking I am Martha Stewart, but I don’t have the help of a paid staff.

  • Creating an unmanageable “To Do” list.

    • Setting unrealistic or rigid goals.

    • Forgetting the best plans are those that allow for flares.

  • Forgetting its okay to allow myself to react like any normal person would act.

  • Letting others determine my energy meter for fear of being judged. (Able-bodied people have an energy meter too and we respect their limitations, so why is it so hard to accept our own?)

  • Forgetting that certain foods affect me differently than they do others.

  • Forgetting to exercise my given right to delegate. (When someone offers, accept.)

  • Forgetting to take periodic mental breaks. (Meditation is very doable under any circumstances.)

  • Expressing empathy for others, while forgetting myself.

Paying close attention helps minimize post-celebration flares that occur throughout the year, but the very nature of fibromyalgia lets us know we should be flexible with ourselves.

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.
Art is knowing which ones to keep.
~Scott Adams

Sometimes we may know why we are experiencing a flare, and other times we may not have a clue. There is creativity in allowing ourselves to make mistakes; after all, it means we are doing something, but fretting over what we can’t change does not allow us to know which ones to keep. So, for me, I am going to change my “woe is me,” I am going to look at it differently, I am going to say…

Dear body, I am sorry if I wasn’t listening when you gave me subtle messages to care for you. I can’t go back and change it, but I can deal with this flare in a way that is respectful to you. I appreciate that you got me this far despite the way I treated you. You deserve the same loving care and words of encouragement I would give anyone under these circumstances. You are steadfast in giving me slack, but I understand that you have limits too. I will give you a complete spa day for as many days as it takes to help you out of this rut. If I need to massage you, I will. If you need an ice pack or heating pad, I am there for you. If you need me to quiet my mind, I will meditate. If you need me to lie down, I will.

We are in this together, and we will enjoy the victory together. 

Celeste Cooper, RN, is a frequent contributor to ProHealth.  She is an advocate, writer and published author, and a person living with chronic pain. Celeste is lead author of Integrative Therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Myofascial Pain and Broken Body, Wounded Spirit, and Balancing the See Saw of Chronic Pain (a four book series). She spends her time enjoying her family and the rewards she receives from interacting with nature through her writing and photography. You can learn more about Celeste’s writing, advocacy work, helpful tips, and social network connections at CelesteCooper.com.

Editor's Note:  The Incredible Hulk picture is courtesy of Gramma Cinny's sweet Cooper.

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