Living with Chronic Pain - The Spoon Theory
I had the pleasure of chatting with Julie Ryan, the author behind the blog Counting My Spoons. Her blog is inspired by The Spoon Theory- an incredibly accurate description of what it feels like to be living with chronic pain and other invisible illnesses. When I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I felt such relief when someone shared this spoon theory with me- I felt that finally, someone described the struggle that I go through each day, just to get through my day, dealing with pain and exhaustion. This spoon theory had put into words something I was never able to articulate before. Click here to read it.
Julie and I talked about the struggles of living with fibromyalgia (since we both have it!) and she shared with me her story and some tips on how she manages her pain using food and movement. Here is Julie's story (as summarized from our conversation):
Andrea: Tell me about the first time you got sick, and your journey to feeling better.
Julie: In 2010, I found myself sick for several months. Of course, some of the symptoms had been with me before, but they all came to a head during that time in 2010. I was in school and I had a week where I felt like I had an awful flu- and then it never went away. It got so bad I had to drop a class, and eventually stop going to school all together. I fell into a deep depression and even considered suicide. Finally, I realized I needed help and reached out to family members, doctors, and then started therapy. The doctors and therapists all put me on so many prescriptions- which had their own awful side effects- and I wasn't feeling any better. The medicines made me feel like I was stuck in a cocoon, trapped inside my own head and body in a fog. And eventually, I was put on so many prescriptions that I ended up in the ER due to complications from the interactions of all the many drugs. I hit my breaking point- I knew that I could not continue this way.
Andrea: So what did you do?
Julie: I stumbled upon the documentary Fat Sick & Nearly Dead. He had spent 60 days juicing and reversed an autoimmune condition. I thought if he could do that for 60 days, maybe I could do it for six. What's the worst that could happen? So, I did an elimination diet- starting with juicing (fruits and mostly veggies)- and after 6 days, I already felt better. I added whole fruits and vegetables back in, and then I re-introduced meat. By the end of the third week of the elimination diet, I went from being couch bound to making an 8h drive on my own. I drove the 8 hours to go see a friend who was gluten free, and who promised to teach me how to cook and live a gluten free lifestyle. Since then, I have remained gluten free, and I feel like that’s a huge part of why I feel better.
Andrea: Could you share some of your other tips for managing your fibromyalgia?
Julie: First, control your stress. This is very important. When I feel stressed, I try to remember to stop and breathe, to take a break and rest. I give myself the freedom and allowance to listen to my body. I also recognize how I’m feeling each day. Some days my body is working but my brain is off, and other days my brain is working and my body is off. I try to make choice to support this- using my body more when it is feeling good, and using my brain more when my brain is feeling good. I try not to push either my brain or my body too hard; I try to recognize when they each need a break. And, yes, there are days when neither my brain or my body is working, and on those days I just rest.
Andrea: What role does exercise and movement play in your life?
Julie: Movement is a big part of my life, and it certainly helps me manage my pain. I have to make sure that I have a balance of moving enough but not too much. I choose things that I enjoy- like walking on my treadmill while listening to a podcast, or using the Just Dance program on the Wii. I try to make movement fun for myself. I use a Fitbit to keep myself in check- I have learned that if I walk more than 6,000 steps, my pain or fatigue may flare. So, I pay attention to where I am in the day, and if I hit 5,000 steps before lunch, I try to rest for the rest of the day.
Andrea: Thanks for sharing these tips, Julie. Autoimmune Strong is a program designed to help people struggling with chronic pain issues like fibromyalgia exercise in a way that you just precisely described: daily movement, but in a way that doesn't overwork or overtax the body. But you have touched on an important tip for movement- make it fun! Playing great music, or listening to a podcast, or doing it with a friend- all of these things can help you enjoy your workout, which makes you more likely to continue. Thank you again for sharing your story, and giving such helpful advice!!!
To learn more about Julie, go to her website www.countingmyspoons.com.