You’ve just gotten the news, and it’s not good.  You’re feeling alone, scared, overwhelmed.  Your future seems so bleak and you’re depressed.  But this is not the end, my dear friend, this is the beginning.

When I was 22 years old I began experiencing unexplained, generalized pain.  It was intense, and I began seeing various doctors.  None of them knew what was wrong with me, and they all prescribed pain medication.  Now I was doped up and in pain.  This cycle went on for six years before I received an accurate diagnosis.  I have Fibromyalgia.  This is a chronic, widespread pain disease for which there is no cure.

At first, receiving the diagnosis was a bit of a relief, until the reality of what was in store for me set in.  All these years, I’d been struggling with my health and wellness and getting nowhere.  Now I knew what I had, and I could tackle it head on.  But my health was not my only consideration.  My illness had impacted my career, my relationships, and my hobbies.

For the six years after college, due to struggles with my health, I’d had to quit my eight-to-five job and start doing something with a bit more flexibility.  I went into real estate, as that afforded me the opportunity to make an income while still being able to make my own schedule.  This was priceless to me, as I never knew when my bad days would be.

This worked for a while until I had kids.  I’ve had to get more creative with ways to earn an income around my health issues and around the kids’ schedules.  Now I am a work-at-home-mom, a blogger, which is super flexible and affords me the time I need to care for my family and my health.

As for my relationships with friends and family, they had suffered because I wasn’t being honest about my unique situation.  I was ashamed and embarrassed to not be healthy, to not be able to do the things that everyone else was doing, so I isolated myself.  Instead of making plans for activities with friends, I just wouldn’t make the plans at all so that I wouldn’t have to cancel if I didn’t feel well.

Do not be ashamed, my friend.

One of the hardest things I’ve struggled with in regards to my illness is shame.  It is prized to be strong, and when you are sick, you feel weak.  But you are not weak!  It takes strength and will and fierce bravery to fight your fight.

I’ve always viewed myself as an athlete, but over the years have had to make some changes to my health and fitness routine.  Where once I’d been a gym bunny, going to the gym several times a week and weight training, I now do yoga.  I do what I can, and it’s okay.  There is no one judging me, but me.

Be kind to yourself, be gentle with yourself, love yourself enough to do what is best for you, and forget about what other people think.

There are several changes that helped me make the transition from victim to survivor.  I’ve reached a level of acceptance!  I no longer feel sorry for myself.  I stand up tall and face my challenges head on.  The following are some of the keys that have worked for me in reaching the point where I could flourish.  Whatever your diagnosis or your particular challenge, these tips can help you too.

How to be an Invisible Illness Survivor

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER

Arm yourself with information.  Read every book, article, and blog you can so that you can be the best advocate for yourself.  Reading about others’ experiences will also help you to know you are not alone.  One of the best things I did for myself throughout the years has been to do my own research and manage my own health from an informed perspective.

ADOPT A HOLISTIC STANDPOINT

Over time I realized that it wasn’t just my health that had deteriorated, but my emotional being as well.  It wasn’t just my body, but my depression over having this illness that was making it worse.  My nutrition was off, and I needed to heal my core before I could get truly healthy.  Remember that you are a whole person, not an illness or diagnosis, and every aspect of you deserves attention.

BE PROACTIVE

I got a little angry with my illness before realizing that everyone has something, their own crosses to bear, so to speak.  Get angry if you need to.  Don’t be a victim.  Take charge of your diagnosis and stay one step ahead.  Seize control of your illness and allow yourself to heal.

NUTRITION

No matter what your ailment, nutrition is always important and beneficial.  My nutrition used to be horrendous.  I’ve even been hospitalized for dehydration 4 times!  Since then, I’ve taken charge of my health by eating and drinking more thoughtfully.  I’ve also added green drinks to the menu on a daily basis and highly recommend them for total health.

YOGA

Of all the medicines and traditional treatments I’ve been on for Fibromyalgia, yoga has been the most effective at easing my pain.  Whatever type of exercise you choose, getting some movement into your life will heal you on many levels.

ESSENTIAL OILS

In keeping with a holistic approach to my health, I’ve begun opting for natural remedies before traditional medications.  I regularly use essential oils for many of my symptoms, from body aches and pains to sleeplessness, and they gently compliment my health care regime.  Arm yourself with natural remedies, and don’t underestimate their power.

TRIGGERS

It took me quite some time to learn what my triggers were, but careful examination and awareness helped me pinpoint them.  I cannot tolerate the cold, so I avoid it.  Also, I cannot tolerate over exertion, so I have to pace myself always.  I encourage you to get to know what triggers your symptoms so that you can address them before they are an issue.

My point to you is this, life goes on in the face of an illness, and with some changes in your lifestyle and tweaks to your attitude, you can and will thrive.  Was I depressed and scared about my future?  You bet, but I took charge of what I had control over, my outlook.

This is your chance to take control of your life.

How to be an Invisible Illness Survivor

ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE

Even if you can’t control your circumstances, you can control your attitude!  Take this opportunity to count your blessings and focus on gratitude.  You have so many things to be grateful for:  the people supporting you through this, your friends, your family, your future.  Be grateful for the day, for the delicious cup of coffee you got to drink this morning, for the nice, long hot shower you were able to take today, for the little things.

Do not be a victim.  Do what I did and educate yourself, be proactive, and know your triggers.  You are no less of a great, fantastic, wonderful, and beautiful person because you are sick.  Take these thoughts and count your blessings.  You will get through this.  You are strong, vibrant, and capable.

This will not beat you.

(Update:  I still live with fm and all the fun that goes along with that, but I now also have chronic back issues and will be having a fusion surgery in the coming months.  I do get frustrated.  I think that’s normal.  But my outlook is good and I’m very excited to get some of these issues resolved so that I I can do the things I once did.)

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