Fibro Warrior of the Week (#11)
FWOTW: Anita Wheatley
Location: Southern California, USA
Mantra: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” from the Bible in the book of James 1:2. This doesn’t mean I am to be joyful about my hardship. No, the word consider in this passage is telling me to evaluate my trials and be joyful for God’s goodness in the middle of my sufferings and look for the opportunities to receive God’s blessings. Also, “Be still and know that I am God” from Psalm 46:10 which speaks to me about leaning on Him for my strength and my security.
Our 11th and 12th Fibro Warriors are a mother and daughter who both suffer from Fibro. This week, Anita (mom) tells how she was first diagnosed by a “lady in Bible study”, struggled to find help within the medical community, and ultimately was forced to “slow down” and pace herself or else! Anita is guided by her faith and spirituality informs everything she does. Next week, you’ll meet her daughter, who began suffering from Fibro at age 9. -FD
FD: Tell us a bit about yourself – Where were you born, where do you live now, family, interests, etc.
Anita: I grew up in Colorado and moved to California several years after I married. Some of my hobbies include reading, writing, blogging, crocheting, and crafting. My past life included being a professional dancer and for a while I was a fitness instructor. However, the majority of my career was spent working in a fast-paced, highly intense marketing position in Corporate America. As I better understood my Fibro limitations, the decision to take an early retirement became an easier choice to make.
I have a passion for God and His Word and love teaching and encouraging women on a spiritual level. I am the mother of four grown children, have eleven grandchildren, and live with my husband of 40 years and my youngest daughter, who also suffers from Fibromyalgia, along with 4 Yorkies and a cat who thinks he’s a dog.
FD: When did you first suspect that something wasn’t right? What happened?
Anita: In July of 1994 I became ill with bronchitis which was exacerbated by my asthma. Throughout the month I frequented my doctor’s office while she continued to tweak my medication. My illness seemed to flip-flop and wasn’t responding to the treatment. I remained bedridden with a pharmacy on my nightstand while lying wide-awake most of the dark and lonely nights that entire month. As I noticed other mysterious symptoms appearing I informed my doctor, but was told they were related to my illness. With my persistent complaints about my new discoveries, my doctor finally suggested they could be the result of my medications. Frustrated and thirsty for answers, I marched over to my pharmacy to inquire of the possible side effects of my medicines. Dead-end.
FD: When were you diagnosed with Fibromyalgia?
Anita: Left to my own devices I was adamant to find answers. The Internet wasn’t alive back then so I carefully placed my Mayo Clinic CD in my computer and went on an expedition. My self-diagnostic approach took me to see an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) doctor. He got a kick out of my desperation as I explained what I felt should be the next step in my diagnosis. After a brief examination he made a few notes in my chart, gave me an “all clear” signal and sent me on my way. And so my mission continued. How ironic that I would be diagnosed by a lady I met at Bible study in 1994! Armed with my new found diagnosis, I went back to my doctor. Mystery solved…I had Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue.
FD: When you received your diagnosis, how did it affect you?
Anita: I am one of those individuals who can tolerate a great deal of pain as demonstrated by giving birth to my children all natural. However, that pain that brought new life was temporary. Fibromyalgia is destructive and has life-long ramifications. For me, it’s the type of ailment that without warning screams at me when I lift my arms to dry my hair. It painfully reminds me when I sit in a chair for too long. It causes me to wiggle from side-to-side and straighten my cramping legs when traveling in a car for an extended period of time. It refuses to let me jump out of bed in eagerness to greet the day but demands I cut my evenings short. It is jealous if I do too many things consecutively for it requires lots of rest, but likes to check in on me frequently during the night. With all its aggravations, I am grateful to know it has a name and that my name is not crazy!
FD: Since then, how has your outlook on life changed?
Anita: Initially I felt damaged. I remember looking at others around me and feeling out of place. I had to fight off my self-imposed feelings that I was defective and of no value. I believe when people are diagnosed with a chronic illness it is normal to grieve, just as if you have lost a loved one. But you have… the old you! I began reflecting on the person I once was and the person and new life I had to come to grips with. Thus I began walking down the path that would lead me through the stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally into acceptance.
I felt fortunate to have my good friend Brenda, who had traversed this path before me. She was a source of valuable information and a demonstration that life would indeed go on. Being a logical person, I rationalized that this diagnosis was better than cancer. But, I had something bigger…my faith in the Lord. I realized I needed to look past my “thorn in the flesh” and believe that God would allow my illness for His good. My focus changed from self to others-centered. Instead of suffering in silence, I would use my pitfall as an encouragement and comfort for others. Instead of suffering in silence, I took every opportunity, as appropriate to educate and encourage other fellow-wounded I came in contact with. I took my physical limitations and turned them into spiritual opportunities. Now I had purpose.
FD: How does Fibro affect your day to day life?
Anita: At first, one word… limitations. I focused on what I couldn’t do. Because I had always been energetic and athletic, I felt like a wild horse being lassoed and tied up to a fence. Although I was young and looked fine on the outside my body screamed otherwise. I needed to find a balance in order to walk this new path of life. Early mornings are hard and I have to give myself extra time to get my “brittle” body lubricated and moving. Late nights are taboo. Most of all, I have had to give myself permission to slow down. I have vowed not to give up.
FD: What can’t you do anymore because of Fibro?
Anita: No longer can I bounce out of bed in the morning nor stay up late at night. My type of exercise has changed both in type and duration. The activity I loved so much is now like a love/hate relationship. No more high intensity movement that pound my feet and I become wiped out in a shorter time span. I usually decline when people suggest a get together since I know my stamina is minimal. When my family used to dine out we would leisurely enjoy our meal and conversation. Nowadays, we keep it to a minimum since my body can’t handle sitting for too long.
FD: Name something you do now that you never would have imagined happening before your diagnosis.
Anita: Sitting still! Never would I have imagined enjoying down time and sleeping. I was brought up being told that there was nothing I couldn’t do and sitting still wasn’t in my vocabulary! Now I am forced to listen to my body and curtail my activities as appropriate. I remember hearing a story, which has taken on different variations, about a defiant child who was standing up and refused to sit down. When the parent instructed the little one to sit down he defiantly replied, “No!” After the exchange occurred several times, the youngster finally sat down and replied, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I am standing up on the inside!” My body may be forcing me to rest, but in my mind I am still up and running!
FD: What has been your experience with seeking medical treatment for Fibro?
Anita: Mixed with controversy. The medical community I came in contact with early on labeled this and Chronic Fatigue as a fad as they felt this was an excuse for individuals who lived an active, fast-paced life. Too often I heard comments such as, “Get more sleep” or “You have a busy life-style, so you are bound to forget.” Nobody took me serious.
I finally succumbed to visit what I thought was a specialist in the field only to find out that I was lumped together with like-sufferers for data gathering. I felt like a therapy group member as we were instructed to share our feelings. Obviously, they felt I would benefit emotionally. The only encouragement I received was a prescription for anti-depression meds to help me sleep. Instead of receiving physical help I received a Band-Aid.
FD: How has Fibro affected your relationships, friends, family, partners?
Anita: Let me push the play button on my voice recorder so you can hear the non-stop comments from others around me… “Well, you look great!” With no visible outward evidence to my illness such as a cast for a broken bone or hair loss due to chemotherapy, my pain wasn’t validated. However, nobody at work witnessed me collapsing onto my bed immediately upon returning home. Nobody was up with me during the night when I couldn’t sleep. Nobody felt the persistent pain that moved throughout my body. Nobody joined me at the dinner table where I was the benefactor of many prayers from my children asking the Lord to heal me.
I believe my husband has grown in his understanding of this chronic illness due to the fact that my youngest daughter suffers alongside of me. On one hand I am grateful for my daughter’s compassion because of her affliction; still on the other hand it is a heart breaker to learn that she was struck with this ailment at the tender age of 9 years old. Unlike me, she has never really known a life without the destruction of her chronic symptoms.
FD: What is the biggest challenge you face living with fibro?
Anita: Pacing myself and adjusting to the shackles that bind me. Before my illness, rest was a 4-letter word for old people and diet was only temporary. I have learned to say “no” to activities that are now beyond my reach and actively read labels on grocery items so as to stay away from foods that exacerbate my illness. Although my dietary regiment has changed I still have weak moments and suffer the consequences of my food indulgences. The underlying current for me has been to come to grips with these lifestyle changes and be true to responding properly to my body’s needs.
More importantly, as a writer and blogger, sitting and typing on the computer for long periods of time is challenging. I just released my first book “Choice for Change” and can attest to what a pain it was to write (literally!) At times while writing I pushed beyond my agony, but more often than not I found myself taking time out to rest. Ice and the heating pad were my fellow companions throughout the process.
FD: What inspires you to keep on fighting?
Anita: I realize that my condition is real and painful, but I am not in control. No, I am not self-reliant…I am totally dependent upon the Lord’s mercy and grace daily. I see myself as His chosen vessel for such a time as this and knowing that has made me a better person. In the beginning I asked Him why. Now I ask Him…what can I do to make an impact on another person’s life…who do you want me to encourage…and how do I go about sharing your love for all to see. Let me have a greater purpose to help others living with their symptoms.
FD: What advice do you have for other people who are living with Fibro?
Anita: Research and explore your condition. Realize that you are not alone…and not crazy! There is not a one-size-fits-all scenario for treatment so listen to what your body is telling you. I continue my quest in following a holistic approach for my good will. Entertaining a healthy diet physically, emotionally, and spiritually is key. I don’t advocate fad dieting, but recognize the value of adhering to nutrition that is good for me. I started making nutritional changes after being diagnosed and discovered the positive effects on my body. Clearly I can attest to the fact that the better I feel physically, the better I feel emotionally. In addition to being a vegetable nut, I am currently drinking the Visalus Shake and experiencing more stamina and reduced pain. It has also been instrumental in helping me lose and maintain a healthy weight since this is also a struggle for those of us who can’t or are limited to the type and duration of activity and exercise our body allows. Nothing can beat the inspiration we can receive by reading God’s Word. Furthermore, don’t let it define you as you embrace your new normal!
FD: Do you have a funny Fibro story you can share?
Anita: While my daughter and I live with this ailment we try not to let it get the best of us emotionally and adopt humor whole heartedly. There have been times while we are out shopping and find ourselves in need of assistance from a sales or customer service clerk. While I am talking and begin stumbling into the “fog of fibro” my daughter so lovingly announces, while looking at me, that “It’s okay mama, I’ll take you back to ‘the home’ soon.” The looks we receive from those helping us are priceless. After a few seconds of dead air we bust up laughing. People don’t know what to do, but it sure puts a smile on their faces! Next, I clue them in that I have some “issues” and how grateful I am for my daughter. At the very least we can laugh at our shortcomings and entertain those around us! Proverbs 17:22 tells us that a cheerful heart is good medicine.
Note: Fibro Daily would like to extend our condolences to Anita and Ashley Wheatley on the passing of their beloved cat, Pharaoh, 13. Pharaoh was a loyal companion who brought a tremendous amount of joy and love to the Wheatley family. RIP, Pharaoh.
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