I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and CFS 10 years ago but it became severe about 4 ½ years ago. If you’re not familiar with Fibromyalgia, it’s a blanket term that includes widespread muscular pain ranging from moderate to severe, immune deficiencies, chronic fatigue syndrome it also impairs a number of neurological functions as well such as cognition, speech and mobility. It makes life very challenging some days, some days I’m too tired to even get up shower and make a cup of tea. I find myself just lying there for hours some days wishing I could just get up and about and out the door. Imagine your worst flu, and then multiply by 5-10, you may be able to relate to why it’s so hard to get up and go about your day.
Fibromyalgia takes a lot from you. Over the past ten years, I have lost my car as I can no longer afford one; I have lost many friends, many jobs, much money from lost earnings, my social life, and slowly, my dignity. I used to run to work only a few years ago when I was at the peak of my health and now, I have to use a cane on my challenging days and I move very slowly having to take frequent sit downs. Fibromyalgia isolates you from the outside world that you’re too sick to take part in. It takes away your confidence as you begin to feel more like a failure and burden and less of a person. Friends stop asking you to join them, family members secretly judge you or use phrases like, “Just go to work no matter how you feel” and my personal favorite, “You just need to get out and get some fresh air.” Would you say that to a person with cancer or multiple sclerosis? People, even loved ones can be extremely hurtful and when you add this emotional aspect to your daily physical pain burdened with the financial difficulties that arise from not maintaining full time employment on a regular basis, it usually and understandably results in depression.
Part of the process of trying to “heal” or manage your symptoms better was not only eliminating as much stress as humanly possible but it also meant taking stock of my life. In short, what was working and what wasn’t. I had repressed my sexuality for a very long time. The first step for me was coming out as a lesbian. I actually felt a lot better for a while after I came out. I felt free, like I could finally become more of my true self. The next big step I had to face was my work situation. I literally worked in the bowels of the job industry. If you told me years ago that I could be feeling better and back at my job full time, taking abusive phone calls from pissed of customers from a variety of services ranging from mobile phone customer service, to home alarms, stocks, travel bookings and the like, I would have punched you in the face. I hated the work I did, it meant nothing to me. It never mattered how good of a job I did anywhere as it always boiled down to my attendance from my illness. I left work and decided I was going to try to earn a living on my own terms.
Since I was home now, I had a lot of time on my hands and one thing I had always wanted to try was painting. My wife surprised me one day after work with some starter supplies from a local dollar store. They have great beginner stuff there for you to try. Cheap canvases, paints, brushes everything you need to be on your way to becoming a better artist, you can purchase from the dollar store. I started off with swirly color designs, and then started doing some silhouettes of ladies, one of my favorite subjects. Friends began to comment on my little paintings. Something as simple as a compliment on your work can be so satisfying. You’ve put your heart and time in something tangible for others to see and having someone acknowledge you can really perk your confidence levels. Instead of being criticized for being, absent from work or absent for your friend’s birthday party and feeling so negative and run down, something happens, you feel lighter. When you begin to mix colors and start turning your originally shaky brush strokes in to something beautiful that someone is willing to pay money for that’s when your confidence soars. I did a lot of pet portraits. Dogs and cats mostly. I did some deer and fish as well. From there I went to my next favorite thing in the world, music. Music inspired. I did a deejay painting that sold within a day for $100. From there, I went on to paint roughly 80 different paintings give or take and I have sold most of those. I’m no Van Gogh or DaVinci or even Picasso but seeing a smile on a pleased customer’s face was some of the best medicine I could have ever received. There is a lot of stress and pressure involved in portraits, mainly why I don’t do people. I have been asked but I have to weigh what’s more important to me- feeling healthy or pleasing someone. Although I would love to have the money that comes with that kind of work, I know my limitations and refuse to put that stress on myself.
The lesson here is this, illness can force you to make some tough decisions but you learn quickly how precious life is and methods of coping with sadness, pain, loneliness and guilt. If you suffer from chronic illness and if you would allow me to offer you a couple of pieces of advice it would be this. First, be your genuine self. Whoever God made you to be and don’t be ashamed of who you are. Second, find that passion inside you and nurture it to come out whether that’s through writing or any other means of creativity. If it is painting, just try it. You can invest very little to begin then invest more when you get better. A lot of us have artists inside dying to get out, I am giving you permission to let yours out and see where it takes you.
Live Humbly, Be Charitable, Live Graciously
Please Visit my Art Website: http://sam-clattenburg.wix.com/sparkyleedesigns
Pub Med Health/ Fibromyalgia http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001463/
If you have Fibromyalgia, you may be eligible for some financial relief:
The Canadian Pain Society http://www.canadianpainsociety.ca/pdf/Fibromyalgia_Guidelines_2012.pdf