When suffering takes its toll, it’s difficult to remain hopeful. One way I found to battle this is to scan my brain, spine, legs, and almost every part of my body, hoping I would know what was wrong with me. Internal organs had their fair share of ultrasounds and injections as well. But when that didn’t work, I decided to be selful.
I spent years of my life suffering from head-to-toe pain without knowing why. At first, I didn’t tell anyone about the pain because I assumed it was because of how tirelessly I worked everyday. I juggled three jobs, an education, and still maintained a healthy social life. I refused to give the pain I was in a name or a voice, fearing it might eventually have power over me. If I didn’t acknowledge the pain, then maybe it will just go away, or maybe it didn’t exist after all. Perhaps it was ALL IN MY HEAD! - as my mom kept insisting. But, when I started shoving my legs under the bed’s mattress with heavy objects on top just to numb my legs, I decided to listen to my body’s cry for help.
I thought that a diagnosis would put my mind at ease, and I would finally come to terms with my pain. But, being diagnosed with an invisible illness that cannot be detected through blood or imaging tests can be frustrating. Oh, did I forget to mention that it has no cure? When the doctors told me there’s nothing they can do, I imagined running them over with a truck because guess what?... That's how I feel every single day of my life. Assuming that doctors had no idea what to do with me, I resorted to the medication they prescribed. None took the pain away. Not a single pill stopped me from having flare ups or ending up in the ER at 2:00 am in the morning. Although medication did not cure my illness, anti-psychotics and antidepressants helped manage my symptoms. But that wasn’t enough.
I experience pain on a daily basis from the moment I open my eyes till the time I close them. I don’t even get to close my eyes and go to sleep like a regular person. I wait for the 25 mg of Quetiapine to kick in to knock me unconscious. Waking up is just as tortuous. On a good day, I’d wake up with a brain fog, an inflamed bladder, and throbbing leg pain. On a bad day, I can’t make it out of bed, even if I drag myself.
While my diagnosis does not come with much information about its underlying causes, it did make me understand how my body responds to my brain. Here’s what I learned: Fibromyalgia is a neurological disease driven by the central nervous system. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way the brain and spinal cord process painful and non-painful signals. In other words, Fibro makes me feel pain all the frickin time. No, I am not exaggerating, I feel pain 24/7. If it’s not my leaky bladder, it’s my restless legs. If it’s not my pelvis, it’s my intestines, and the list goes on.
What was really surprising was finding out that how I feel has an effect on my body. If I were to experience anxiousness for some reason, my body would go into shut down mode. If I were to experience anger and frustration, a flare-up would paralyze me and restrict oxygen circulation. Apparently, my physical pain is in sync with my emotional well-being. The more I care for myself and my mental health, the more control I have over my symptoms. Caring for myself and mental health also meant feeding my brain positive affirmations, starting with radically accepting my illness.
One night after coming home from the ER due to drug toxicity, I engaged in a conversation with a woman who completely changed my perspective on my illness. In retrospect, I think of her as an angel god sent to give me a second chance at life and how I choose to live it. First thing I had to do was accept that I will be chronically ill for the rest of my life. You must think I am totally out of my mind, but believe me there is no other way. My mental health suffered just trying to process the idea of me being loved by god instead of being punished by him. “God must really hate me, otherwise he wouldn’t inflict such pain on me”- that was something I would say before I came to the realization that my pain was not a curse, but a blessing. Hear me out, all the things I’ve been through from being ruthlessly bullied as a child to the traumatic experiences I’ve been subjected to led me to where I am today. I was supposed to go through this, all of it.
I radically accepted they all happened to me because God was trying to show me something far greater than the pain I feel. God showed me pain because he knew I’d find a way to overcome it and keep pushing through. He was trying to show me how strong and resilient I can really be. God was saying: “This girl is going to go through unimaginable pain and still flash a smile everywhere she goes.”
It’s that kind of mentality that put my mental health into repair mode, and that’s when I stopped complaining about my pain. “Sure, everybody feels pain, but I will do something about it.” And, I’d like to say that I have - (me causally hinting at BEselful). Just because I choose not to focus on the pain does not mean it does not exist. It does, BIG TIME! When I do experience physical discomfort, I do everything in my power to relieve my body, hence the prioritization of self-care.
I have pushed myself to the limit for way too long and refused to tend to the aches it had caused my brain and body. But, it’s all different now. I choose to look after my mental health like I look after my one year old nephew, and that is with love and care. I no longer waste my energy or time on things and people that do not positively impact my mental health. If I don’t like the way someone is talking to me, you bet I’m going to give them a piece of my mind. If I don’t feel comfortable doing something, I would refrain from doing so. If I want to go home because I’m tired, I will leave even if I had just arrived. My mental health comes first, and I refuse to bottle up my emotions and have them attack me and my body later- emotions I should have properly and rightfully expressed in the first place.
Through BEselful, I try to raise awareness about the importance of self-care and mental health. It warms my heart seeing all of the customers who have shifted toward a self-caring lifestyle. And it is in these rare moments that I feel no pain, only joy. I have a chronic illness, I have mental health issues, and my meds help me stay on board. But, I’m a fighter, and I’m living my best life with a community I have chosen to share my experiences with. And if there’s anything I have learned from everything I have been through is that mental health is a crisis, it matters, and you should not take it for granted. Talk about mental health with zero shame.