Pushing Against My Seasons of Stress

Pushing Against My Seasons of Stress
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stress

Christine Tender Points

I’ve always known that my fibromyalgia (FM) symptoms worsen whenever my stress level increases. However, rather than seek out and remove the cause of the stress, typically, my doctors and I have treated my symptoms: pain, insomnia, cognitive symptoms, fatigue, and irritable bowel syndrome.

I once worked a job I disliked. Although I suspected my stress was largely related to the job, I continued to work there for one reason: The company paid tuition benefits for its employees. I was on a quest to continue my education to qualify for a different line of work — one I knew I’d enjoy. Near the completion of my master’s degree in health services management, my husband suddenly died.

At age 46, I suddenly realized I had no one to support me but me. Widowhood and that realization were the most stress-inducing events of my life. From that point on, my job took on a new meaning. Without it, homelessness and hunger lurked around the corner. Rather than complete the costly degree my employer no longer subsidized, I put my nose to the grindstone. Although I excelled at what I did, which earned me promotions and pay increases, all I felt was stress. I had to drag myself to work each day. Only the fellowship of my friends and coworkers enabled that effort.

As the months and years went by, all of my physical symptoms gradually increased. After three hospitalizations, I could no longer ignore the cause of my stress. My only choice was disability. I actually felt my body relaxing as I settled into my new life.

Health improvement became my new focus. I swam regularly. I read everything about fibromyalgia I could find. I attended several schools of yoga before finding one that was doable and therapeutic for me. I meditated regularly. I saw a nutritionist and changed my diet. I joined two different FM support groups and was trained to be a leader by the Arthritis Foundation.

When an opportunity arose to move across the country to a gentler climate, I took it. Yes, that was another stressful event. In fact, I spent most of the first month in my new home. I knew no one in my new location and I considered the experience an adventure. My focus remained on improving my health, and in time, my symptoms improved. I continued to participate in healthful activities in a new locale with sunshine instead of snow. The better I felt, the more new and challenging activities I added to my life.

Over time, my life became very full and very busy, so much so that I’ve experienced a crisis of sorts. I’ve begun to look stressfully upon the things I regularly do and enjoy. When seen in a large picture, they become overwhelming. Suddenly, all of my physical symptoms held at bay for so long have re-emerged.

To deal with this development, I’ve retained the services of a very skilled cognitive behavioral therapist. Together we’re dissecting the causes of the stressors in my life. I’ve begun to make a connection between memories of traumatic events in my past and the way I see the world today. I’m hopeful that my symptoms will soon be under control again. With any luck, stress itself will dissolve into just another memory.

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