ESTIMATED READ TIME: 5 MINUTES
Recovering from Chronic Illness: Acknowledge Your Limits and Stay within Them
Read Part 2 Assembling a Healthcare Team and Plan
In the summer of 2002, I had a very bad car accident that initiated the process of becoming chronically ill. 11 years later, I was still struggling with these illnesses (fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome/ME) and doing everything I could to not give up and keep seeking answers and health. You can read a little more about where I was in May 2013, 11 years from my initial diagnosis, from my post (You are Not) BROKEN. This is a blog series about that journey and what I did along the way that ultimately led be to being healthier than I was pre-diagnosis. DISCLAIMER: Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are very unique and complex illnesses. I am not suggesting that my path to wellness will work for others. I am hoping by this series that I can encourage others who are ill on their own journeys to wellness. Please be sure you have a good doctor and consult with them!
When I had my car accident, I was a 20-year-old-former-competitive-gymnast-all-A-student perfectionist. I didn’t really know how to set limits and I always pushed to live beyond them. I had finished competing as a Level 10 (the highest level before the competitions you see on TV) gymnast two years prior, and had an over-loaded schedule as I was a double degree student. I was socially active, held positions on leadership teams, coached gymnastics and was getting my As. So when I got in my accident, I continued in my typical type-A style: I got my ducks in a row and called my acupuncturist from the scene. I was actually relatively ok at the scene (other than completely unnerved from having to climb out of my car with another one on my roof), but I knew I needed to get on top of treating what had just happened to my body.
Within 2-3 weeks of starting treatment with my acupuncturist, my pain levels had increased significantly and we had more and more to treat. I then contacted one of the best doctors in the world (no, that is NOT an exaggeration) and arranged to see Dr. Larry Nassar that August while he was working at the USA Gymnastics National Championships. I had seen him before for a previous back injury (significantly more acute to start, but never turned chronic) and he worked miracles for my back. When I returned from that trip, I started seeing TWO osteopaths. They treated a bit differently, so I thought I was just giving my body extra healing. My main Osteopath, Dr. Laura Ramipil (also one of the best of the best), finally told me that I had to chose between her and the other. Basically I was OVER-treating. My nervous system was still too freaked out from the accident to even allow my physical injuries to be treated, and I was doing TOO MUCH. Of course I had the best intentions, but I had to take a step back.
So I slowed my roll a bit, and after about 6 months, she was finally able to start treating my tissue. Trauma is no joke! The kicker is no one told me the MOST important part in preventing my acute injuries from turning chronic: STOP. SLOW DOWN. YOU AREN’T A SUPERHUMAN. And even if you have managed to function in superhuman mode in the past, it CAN’T WORK NOW. No one told me was that I needed to slow it down in ALL parts of my life: treatment, physical and mental activity (if you struggle with these illnesses, you know that mental work = physical work). I was still trying to manage everything that had been in my life pre-accident and that was simply more than my body could handle. When you are processing trauma, be it emotional or physical or both, the body just can’t do it all. It needs time. Space. Rest. I didn’t give it any of that. Instead, I ADDED more to my list as I was trying to get well… which quickly amounted to 8–10 appointments a week between acupuncture, massage, osteopathic and physical therapy.
STOP. SLOW DOWN. YOU AREN’T A SUPERHUMAN.
Three years later, I graduated college and began working as a Creative Director, which is a very demanding job. It wasn’t until 2009 when another doctor (Dr. Charles Lapp, one of the leading fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue/me docs in the world) finally told me: “YOU MUST STOP [working] or you will be irrecoverable.” The word irrecoverable to a 28 year-old is pretty scary. And serious. It was finally enough to slow me down. I stopped working for what was supposed to be 6 months. Several years later, I was still ill, even more so, but there were different reasons for that which I’ll get to in another post. There is absolutely NO WAY I would have ever gotten better if I hadn’t slowed down and made rest a priority. There are so many other things I did that were really important, but without this step, none of it would have ever mattered. I had to work hard at not working hard. If you are like me, and many of you are, you are a type-A go-getter that has always done “everything.” You need to stop. Now. Listen to your body and go at it’s pace—as much as possible it’s non artificially created pace (as in if you drink 5 cups of coffee or a take a stimulant med, you are just creating false energy that is allowing you to push your body beyond its limits). That’s the only way.
Next time I’ll talk about the team of doctors I assembled over the years and the treatments that helped me the most.