Tag Archives: National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association

The Big 4-0: aka, My Aging Chronic Illnesses

This past Monday I turned 40 years old. Four decades. Two scores. I am not the type of person who freaks out over getting older. We are all getting older every second of every day. It is no big deal. However, this birthday is slightly different. You see, my fall through the rabbit hole of chronic illnesses and disability all began right around my 30th birthday. I literally see my thirties superimposed by my poor health. It started with a migraine that lasted two weeks and quickly spiraled out of control with shingles, fibromyalgia, raynaud’s disease, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, chronic fatigue, acid reflux… And I am sure the Fates are not done dumping on me yet.

However, I view my forties with hope. A hope that things will get better for me and my health. I am hoping that the mere changing of my decade from a 3 to a 4 will magically change everything. I guess it is no secret what I wished for when I blew out my birthday cake candles. What would you wish for if your life was ruled by chronic pain?

I can honestly say that I did not picture myself in my current predicament ten years ago. Back then, I thought I could simply make an appointment with my doctor and everything would be fixed. Then I could move on with my plans for my career and having another child. Needless to say, neither of those things happened. I lost my career and the chance to give my son a sibling. He seems okay with it, but I still have moments when an overwhelming sense of loss over what could have been washes over me. I know my body cannot physically care for the needs of a newborn. I have babysat friends’ kids and been completely overwhelmed. I accept that reality but the heart doesn’t care. It still longs for what could have been.

I was approved for Social Security Disability when I was a mere 32 years old. At the time, I saw it as a temporary condition that I would change in five years, ten tops. After eight years, I am still struggling to find a livelihood that can support me with my physical limitations. No luck yet. Part of the problem is that I doubt myself too much. I have been out of the workforce for so long and my brain fog has gotten worse so that I don’t trust myself to be able to think properly when it counts. I lack the confidence to put myself out there.

I don’t stress aging, at least not my body aging. I fear the progression of my illnesses and their proclivity to multiply. I started with the chronic migraines, which I thought was a living Hell. Now I know better. I would willingly sacrifice part of my lifespan if I could live out the rest of my life in relative health, able to do all the things I love to do.

Identity Crisis

When I graduated from college, so long ago I can’t remember, I was all set to be an adult and build my career. I was lucky to get a dream job at a management consulting company. It was ideally suited for me. I was given projects to work on independently in my little office. I got to travel all over the country and even back to my home country of Canada. I spent some of the best years of my life there. I was making good money and having fun. Of course, this was all before chronic migraines and fibromyalgia and arthritis…

I was the breadwinner in the family. I earned more than my husband and we were okay with that. I had no intention of ever giving up working. I just couldn’t see myself staying home with the kids while my husband supported us. That simply wasn’t me. I was going to be one of those Super Moms who had a career and kids. I could handle it; I was good at multitasking. I had the world’s best daycare center taking care of my son. I knew he was in good hands so I focus on my work.

Then I was laid off and found a new job. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do but that didn’t keep me from trying to excel because that is just the way I am. Even with a crappy job, I wanted to do the best job I could. But then I got sick. I started missing work. I used the FMLA to get a reduced work schedule because my migraines were so disabling. However, I remained the breadwinner up until I had to quit because of my health. I could no longer manage to work. It was a devastating blow to my ego. Being part of the rat race was a huge chunk of my identity. Without it, I felt lost. Being a mom is great but I wanted, and still want, so much more. I spent so much money and time on getting an education. I didn’t do it so I could stay home babying my fragile health. I was proud of being able to take care of my family financially. Being out on disability was not my dream – let me tell you it sucks.

To combat my identity crises, I started working with nonprofit groups. I took over the local support group for fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. I joined Leaders Against Pain (a part of the National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association). I am becoming an advocate for those too sick to do it on their own. I am giving back to the community in a positive way. But I still miss working. I still miss the joy everyone has on Pay Day. I am still young enough to have hope of jumping back in.