Sunday, May 13, 2012

Family and Fibro.

So I was going to take today to post about my graduation and Fibromyalgia Awareness Day, but a more pressing issue has come to light.

I hear a lot of stories from individuals with fibromyalgia whose family simply does not believe the pain the are in and view them as "lazy" or "dramatic" or that it's "all in their heads" - something to that extent.

And while I sympathize with them greatly, I'm still left with the question: What if you have an extremely supportive family that still somehow doesn't "get it"?

I'm fortunate to have such a loving and caring family as I do. We are a close little clan, and nothing they do for me goes unnoticed or unappreciated. But sometimes, despite all of the doctors visits and pharmacy trips, it seems as though they forget I have fibromyalgia.

Last night after graduation, my dad immediately had a discussion with me about my future. He also started suggesting I begin to get into all sorts of activities now that I'm done with school. Then he began asking me about my plans, as everyone else has been doing lately.

Up until 6 months ago, I had plans. I was a bartender making a good sum of money that went straight to my savings, which is now completely gone due to medical expenses. Bartending may not seem like that great of a job, but I was damn good at it. In fact, I was a natural. I caught on quick, could memorize a drink easily, and I was extremely accurate, quick on my feet, friendly to customers, and could whip up several drinks at a time just as fast, if not faster, than some of the seasoned bartenders I worked with. And I maintained all of these skills even in the most stressful and busy of nights. I chalk up this ability to my three years of having worked at Sonic Drive-In, where I was the master of fountain drinks.

Regardless, I loved my job. I loved it, I was good at it, and it payed well. I'd already been told I had arthritis, and many nights I could really feel it in my wrists, hands, and hips. I knew I wouldn't be able to bartend for 10+ years like many of my coworkers had, so I decided I would do it while I still could. In the past few years, I've made a name for myself as a bartender. And after graduation, I planned on bartending for maybe 5 years or so before going on to graduate school.

I also planned on running marathons, as I was an avid runner. But the first 12 mile marathon I signed up for which was to take place in November 2011, and which I'd been training for for over six months, I had to drop out a mere three days before. I was falling ill and growing sicker by the day. All of my hard work of running 5-6 days a week all summer in the hot, hot, humid  south Texas heat never came to fruition. I was devastated, but thought "Well, there's always next year and there's always more marathons."

What I didn't realize is that this wouldn't be a normal flu virus that simply needed to run its course.

But running and bartending weren't my only plans. I was also a weight lifter, a dancer, a gamer, a reader, a writer, a musician, an activist, and a volunteer, who was set on learning different languages and fighting styles from classes offered within my community. I had big plans for my post-graduation life, and I was thoroughly excited about them.

But then fibromyalgia happened. And I came to find that I had to give up many of these passions and aspirations. I don't even know if I could handle graduate school in time in the near or distant future.

So what are my plans? I don't know. I'd like to say my plans are simply postponed, but I don't see how I could ever live the hectic and active lifestyle I once had a mere six months ago. I've been a work-a-holic since I was sixteen, and I've never been happy at a job where I'm not constantly on my feet, busy, and moving and working long shifts. Shortly after having my first job, I soon had two simply because of a want rather than a need. I'd work the morning and day shift at Sonic and then go straight to Subway at night as an assistant manager on the weekend, and during the week I'd go to school, basketball practice, and switch up which job I went to at night. Might seem like hell to most, but I had a deep sense of pride in that sort of work.

Now I can barely handle sitting in two hour long classes four days a week without going straight to bed after.

So I don't know what I'm going to do now. I have no idea. But my parents don't seem to understand this.

They also don't understand why I'm uncomfortable with making plans for the immediate future. When I say I'm uncertain about whether or not I'll for sure be able to go somewhere on the weekend, they respond with a stern "Well why don't you know? Are you going to be there or not? It's a simple question." But it's not a simple question, not for a fibromyalgia patient. In fact, it's a very complicated question.

Yesterday I asked my parents several times about what we would be doing for Mother's Day. I asked in advance so that I would be able to schedule the proper time for rest, readying, and recovery. But they kept telling me "I don't know." Then this morning my mom decides she wants to go walk down main street to go antique shopping. That's difficult enough for me, but then they want me to be ready in less than an hour.

When I tell them it'll take me more than an hour, they scorn me for it. They act as though I'm being ungrateful and that I'm being selfish because I won't do what my mom wants to do on Mother's Day.

I've spent an ample amount of time trying to explain to them why I can't do certain things. I've explained that in the process of getting ready, I frequently have to take breaks. Hell, my dad and I share a bathroom together, he sees my shower chair every day. I've tried explaining that while some days my pain or exhaustion may be a four or five one day doesn't mean that my next day will be the same. On the contrary, my next day could even be up to a seven or eight or even possibly a nine. I don't know. I can't know. I won't know until I wake up in the morning. I can promise that no matter how I feel I'll try to push through it to the best of my ability, but I simply can't promise that I'll be successful in pushing through it with certainty.

I asked them yesterday what we would be doing and what time so that I could properly prepare for it and give myself enough time to be ready when needed. They had no answer for me. And now they don't understand why I can't get ready as quickly as they want me to.

And frankly, I don't feel like explaining this to them again. It stresses me out, it aggravates me, it makes me feel very badly about myself and it makes me feel guilty. And I don't understand why I have to keep explaining these things to them. I don't understand why they understand some things about Fibromyalgia but are completely clueless about others.

I graduated and moved half of my stuff out of my apartment yesterday.  I was up on my feet way more than normal, I was moving more than normal, and I was active way more than normal. Because of Mother's Day, I don't really have time to recover as I would usually need. My pain is about an eight today and despite that I'm willing to go through hell walking down main street, even with my cane, which I hate taking in public.

But this isn't enough for them. Instead I receive a bunch of condescending huffs and puffs and passive aggressive responses. Because I'm the lazy one. I'm the selfish one. I'm the inconsiderate one.

And with all they do for me, I feel immense guilt not only being unable to do what they want, but also for criticizing them for not understanding.

I don't know what to do. I'm at my wits end with this. I don't know why sometimes they understand and other times they don't. Do they forget I'm sick every single day? Do they confuse being happy with being healthy? Do they somewhere deep inside think I'm exaggerating my pain? Is it because I make efforts not to cry in front of them when I'm miserable somehow mislead them to think I'm fine? Is simply explaining it to them not enough?

I don't know and I don't know how to fix this. I don't want their sympathy, just their understanding. I don't want to be treated like I'm sick all of the time, but I also want them to respect my limitations. And  I definitely don't want this issue to be such a frequent occurrence as it is.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Purple Ribbon.

October 2nd, 2010 was just a normal day as any.

I woke up, ate, showered, and checked Facebook, where I responded to a message from my best friend, Kayla. A bit after 3 p.m. I headed to work for a 10 hour shift. After work, I headed up to the roof with one of my employees who had closed with me. We only went up because we wanted to check it out, but we ended up staying there and talking until my boss showed up to open shop in the morning around 8 a.m.

We quickly ran down and parted ways before he could catch us. I wasn't usually up and about at this time of day, so I took advantage of it and grabbed some breakfast at Whataburger.

And then I went home. I went home, checked my Facebook, and intended to sleep until my next 10 hour shift that night. It was supposed to be a normal day.

After logging into Facebook, I responded to another message from Kayla she'd sent some time before I went to work the previous day. I then closed my laptop, ready to curl into bed and sleep. But seconds after closing my laptop I hear the chat noise go off.

I've had this happen many times before and I never open it back up to check who it is. But for some reason, on this day, despite working a long shift and having - literally - no sleep, I decided to check to see who it was.

It was my other best friend Sarah.

"Do you know what's going on with Kay (Kayla)? Has anyone contacted you?"

I asked her what she meant by this, and from the limited information we could gather, Kayla was in the hospital and unconscious. This is all we knew. We called her family and anyone that might know anything until finally the fourth member of our little group, Holly, answered. Holly was already at the hospital several hours away from us and the only additional information she had for us was that Kayla had fallen off of an ATV late the night before. At this point, it didn't seem like anything too serious to us.

Still, Sarah and I immediately wanted to go to the hospital, but I had work. So we decided that even though it'd be past midnight by the time I got off work, we would go then. After deciding this, I went to sleep.

A few hours later, I woke up to both of my parents sitting at my bed side - an extremely unusual, if not entirely singular occurrence. In a soft tone, my mom told me that Kayla was not going to make it. She then preceded to tell me that Sarah was in our living room and to get dressed and that she would drive us to the hospital.

Apparently Holly had called Sarah and I earlier, but I had my phone on silent so I missed it. Sarah, on the other hand, did not and came to answer a phone call from a devastated Holly who told her that they didn't think Kayla was going to make it. Sarah, shocked and not knowing what to do, called my mom and relayed the information she'd just received from Holly. Sarah then told her that she didn't know how to tell me, as she knew that Kayla and I had a particularly close bond, especially at that time.

My mom told her that she would go pick Sarah up at her house, which was about 40 minutes away from us. So my parents picked her up and brought her back to the house, all while I was sleeping, and that's when they told me.

We then made the 3 hour trip to the hospital, and there we would stay for the next 12 hours. No one but family was allowed to see Kayla at this point. Hope that she would pull through began floating around when she started moving her arms and legs a bit. So everyone hoped, and many believed, she might make it.

Being the realist that I am, I looked up information about head injuries and body movements only to find ample information that these movements are hardly indicative of consciousness and brain activity, but instead just involuntary movements and spinal reflexes of the body. This reality hit me hard, and it was difficult to see those holding so strongly to the hope her movements gave them, especially her sister. It made me sad to know they were holding on to so much false hope.

In the morning, Sarah and I decided to get up early and go back to the hospital from our hotel. When we arrived, we were the only ones there, and the nurses allowed us to go in and see Kayla.

I saw my best friend hooked up to tubes that I was all too familiar with. We sat with her and held her hand and talked to her and made jokes to her. We told her that if she made it through we would have our next girl's night in Paris or where ever in the world she wanted to go. Right after saying this, her hand squeezed both of ours. I suddenly understood why others who had experienced her movements were so convinced.

Before she'd squeezed our hands, she simply looked and felt lifeless and heavy and still. Her strong squeeze hit me like a train in reminding me that she was still alive. And it hurt. And it was hard to tell myself that it wasn't voluntary, especially since it occurred at such an appropriate time. She made a few other movements while we talked to her and we left once her parents showed up.

Kayla was taken off life support a couple of hours later.

The funeral service followed 5 days later. Kayla's parents knew that many of Kayla's friends were off at college and they didn't want the funeral to interfere with anyone's school work, so they postponed it until the weekend. They are such kind, considerate, and warm hearted people. But the funeral was one of the hardest days of my life.

Though I'm only 20 years old, I've learned something very important about funerals: The absolute worst place to be at a funeral is in the reserved section.

I've unfortunately attended 7 funerals already, one being a "triple" funeral. Of those, I've sat in the reserved section of 4 of them. There are few worse feelings than this because reserved means you share an extraordinarily close bond with the deceased, usually as family and in some cases, as a best friend.

For Kayla's funeral, her parents allowed me, Sarah, Holly, and her other friend Ashley to sit with them. And at this funeral, purple ribbons were given to everyone in attendance. There was no formal "cause" or "awareness" behind these ribbons. It was simply to remember Kayla, whose favorite color happened to be purple.

And every year we take out our purple ribbons on special days - the anniversary of both her birth and death. Those of us closest to her also wear them for special events such as birthdays, graduation (and her would-be graduation), and weddings. Holly, Sarah and I also wear them on our bi-annual girl's nights we used to share with Kay. We do this because we want to try to live our life as if she were still here. Because, you see, if Kayla were still here, she would be sharing these important life moments and events with us, so wearing our ribbons is our way of including her and feeling her presence with us.

Thus, as of October 9th, 2010, purple ribbons have held great meaning for me.

(I don't ever talk about Kayla or the funeral or anything much related. It's been almost two years, but it is still way too much for my heart to bare. Some day I hope to make a more detailed post about Kayla and everything that happened, but for now, this will have to do.)

A year later I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, and for which you are all aware, the color of the awareness/support ribbon is purple.

After finding this out, I decided to look into what else purple ribbons represent. Of course, it represents many, many, things, but among them are a few I can relate to.

These include two other diagnoses I have and heavily struggle with, being ADD and Ulcerative Colitis. Purple ribbons also represent awareness for domestic abuse, which I had over a year of experience with in my last relationship that lead to all sorts of legal shenanigans (though domestic violence is a very serious issue, I do have to state that the second I finally realized I needed to get out, I fortunately no longer suffered any emotional turmoil over the situation. Making this realization most literally set me free and I haven't looked back once. The only aspect of it that even remotely pains me is that I allowed myself to get so low as to be susceptible and tolerant of something I knew was blatantly wrong the entire time it was happening. And although I am no longer  affected by my experience as others with similar experiences tragically are, it remains a part of who I am and I obviously support the cause).

And finally, purple ribbons represent the fight against animal abuse. Given that I'm somewhere in the middle of vegetarian and vegan and have been since I was a child (I never liked meat, but philosophical reasons eventually came into play later on) this adds even further to the appeal. (Note - I hate that I have to clarify this, but I am not a vegetarian of the PETA variety, for many, many reasons).

If you look up ribbon colors and what they represent, you're bound to find something you relate to in one way or another for virtually every color. But I certainly found the most things I could relate to with the purple ribbon.

I'd always planned to wear my ribbon in honor of Kayla on my graduation day. Both Holly and Sarah will be in attendance and wearing theirs, as well. And although we wear them to feel Kay's presence with us on this important day, we'll also be wearing them for a very different reason as well.

Four months ago, several of my doctors advised me not to return to school until my fibromyalgia was more manageable and under control (is fibro ever under control???). With one semester left, I made the difficult decision to push through it and take on the risks, despite a completely unknowable future in relation to my illness, which I was still very new to.

When I finally accepted my diagnosis, I made two goals, one immediate, one long term. The long term goal was to remain happy and avoid the common symptom of depression at all costs (so far, so good). On the other hand, the immediate goal was simply to make it to graduation. And when I started this blog, a big reason for doing so was so that I could blog my way through this semester, as the difficulty of finishing became incredibly clear after just the first week.

And now, with graduation fast approaching I soon discovered that the same day I walk the stage will also be my first Fibromyalgia Awareness day.

I've never really cared about graduation. I don't agree with the commonly held societal belief that a college degree equates to intelligence, qualifications, and capabilities, and I'm also someone who is definitely "not cut out for school." I learn better on my own, and fortunately I actually have a passion for learning. And I still maintain that I've learned more from my own outside reading and research than I've learned from my college courses!

So graduation was pretty meaningless to me. I even begged my mom to allow me to skip the entire ceremony because I just wanted to receive my diploma and go and saw no reason to make a big hoopla out of it. Of course she said no.

But having my graduation end up being on the same day as my first Fibromyalgia Awareness Day since my diagnosis gives it a bit of meaning. This has been one of the most difficult times of my life, and I began this journey with one major goal in mind: graduate on time.

And I did it. I'm proud not because I made it through all of the classes, tests, projects, essays, and all-nighters, but because in the face of adversity, I overcame. From the pain and weakness making it difficult to simply walk to class, to all of the sleep disturbances making it difficult to pull myself out of bed every day and stay out of bed, to the migraines and fibrofog hindering my ability to do my school work, to my sensitivity to smell interfering with my Chemistry labs, to all of the other symptoms that practically made me an alien to some of my peers, I did it. I made it.

Granted, I'm not leaving school with the degree I'd wanted. Up until this semester I'd been double majoring in Political Science and Psychology with a minor in Philosophy, but I only finished my Psych and Philosophy - perhaps one day I'll finish up my poli sci, but for now, I am perfectly content with what I've accomplished.

And tomorrow as I walk that stage, I will be proudly wearing my purple ribbon with my closest friends and family wearing theirs in support of me. Furthermore, with school out of the way, I'll have more time to focus on my situation and truly take the time to figure out this fibromyalgia thing and hopefully find something to help me better manage it.

All in all, I'm proud of myself. There were times I really wasn't confident that I'd be able to carry on and make it, and I'm glad I didn't give up. I hope that all of you fellow fibrobots out there wear your ribbons, t-shirts, or whatever, and contribute to spreading awareness about this debilitating illness. I know y'all will :)

Also, taking a second to get up on my tiny little soapbox here, I ordered some jewelry and silicone bracelets for myself and my family a month ago from, and it still hasn't come in! I checked the shipping information on the site and I don't think it'll be here in time as it still says "processing." I know they probably have a lot of orders right now, but they never notified me about anything being back ordered or something indicating that it would take this long to deliver, and they've yet to answer any of my calls or emails. Definitely not a happy camper about that! >:(

Monday, May 7, 2012

I haven't been blogging lately. Tried a few times, but ended up deleting them as they came to feel uninspired to me. A lot of things have been happening lately, and graduation is this weekend, after which I hope to get back to posting regularly. Hopefully I'll have time to post before that, though.

Until then, it's back to studying Chemistry for me (a task that takes 5+ hours now with a bad case of fibro fog looming over me, haha). Cheers! :)