Fibro Warrior of the Week (#32)
FWOTW: Shelly Bolton
Location: Kaufman, TX, USA
Mantra: Life is full of both difficulties and blessings- you will find whichever you are looking for!
Fibro Warrior of the Week #32 is Shelly Bolton, author of Fibromyalgia: A Guide to Understanding the Journey… Besides her work as an author, Shelly is a family woman with a strong faith and a love of D-rings…
FD: : Tell us a bit about yourself – Where were you born, where do you live now, family, interests, etc.
Shelly: I was born and raised in north Texas, and my family is a huge part of my life and my greatest support system. My mother (Lauren Taite Vines) and my grandmother (Pauline Zacharevitz) are both authors as well. I have a wonderful husband and a 15-year-old son who is the light of my life.
Also my faith is a huge part of who I am, and I consider my church family to be just as much “family” as the rest. When I speak of my faith I know there have occasionally been people who are put off by that because they may not agree with my views. I would love people to understand that it is never my intent to make them uncomfortable. I will be among the first to advocate for your rights to disagree with me and believe whatever you choose— by sharing my faith I am simply trying to share something that has been such a big part of finding my way through this disorder and has been such a comfort for me.
FD: When did you first suspect that something wasn’t right? What happened?
Shelly: After my son was born, I began having some digestive problems. I experienced frequent nausea and abdominal pain as well as some nutrition/absorption problems. I was diagnosed with IBS and started working on learning to reduce my stress levels.
I had experienced back pain off and on pretty much my whole life, but reached a point in my late twenties when it was just constant. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but always there. I had seen my doctor about it and she sent me for various X-rays and other tests to look for what was causing the problems, but nothing ever showed up.
In the meantime, I had many other things crop up that I now know to be part of the Fibromyalgia picture, but until recently, I had no idea that they might all be connected.
FD: When were you diagnosed with Fibromyalgia?
Shelly: Oddly enough when Fibro first came on the scene as a potential diagnosis, it was during a hospitalization for the one health issue I’ve had that is not— as far as we know— connected with the Fibromyalgia: kidney stones. I’ve had them several times, plus a few surgeries for them. During one of these hospitalizations, I had a nurse that looked over my medical history and asked if I had ever had a doctor mention the possibility of Fibromyalgia. Prior to that I never had any idea how close of a match it would be to all of my adulthood health issues (except for the kidney stones). It was still a couple of years after that before we knew for sure that Fibro was the culprit.
FD: When you received your diagnosis, how did it affect you?
Shelly: Many things go through your mind in that moment, but for me I think the biggest one was relief. I know that sounds nuts, but it was such a relief to have a name to put to the pain and other issues. And even bigger was the relief of knowing it was something real— I wasn’t imagining things or a hypochondriac. Or just crazy.
FD: Since then, how has your outlook on life changed?
Shelly: I have learned so many things, each from different aspects of this disorder. I think the most valuable has simply been that I am stronger than I ever thought. I had never seen myself as someone who was strong enough to get through some of the challenges I’ve faced, but you never know what you can survive until you are faced with it. Of course, I attribute that strength not to myself, but to God. In and of myself I am very weak, but I firmly believe that it is in my weakness that His strength is made perfect. How comforting is that!?! He supplies me with the strength necessary to face anything.
I’ve also come to understand that your happiness, joy, peacefulness, etc… those things are not just a product of your circumstances. You choose them. I choose whether I will walk through today with a smile on my face, and that is unbelievably freeing. If you wait for your circumstances to make you happy you will be waiting a long, long time, because we live in an imperfect world and there will always be challenges.
FD: How does Fibro affect your day-to-day life?
Shelly: I must work hard at not allowing it to dictate every aspect of my life. You have to work around it, for sure. For one thing, I have had to make it clear to my family, friends, and anyone else I might make plans with that all plans are tentative. Anyone with Fibro can probably attest to the fact that you never know how you will feel from one day to the next and you never know when a flare will occur. I have noticed that mornings are generally more difficult, so I try to plan meetings for afternoons when I can. Other than that, I just work around the challenges the best I can and try to focus on what I CAN do rather than what I can’t. I have been so blessed to be able to work from home, which allows me more flexibility to work around my body’s irritability. I pray daily for those Fibromites who have no choice but to work outside the home as I have been there and know what a challenge that can be at times.
FD: What can’t you do anymore because of Fibro?
Shelly: There are several physical things that are no longer in my repertoire… When we were younger my best friend and I used to love riding roller coasters! She and her husband still do, but this isn’t something that is on my list of activities anymore. I used to love playing volleyball as a teenager, but that’s out now too. However, like I said before, I prefer to concentrate on the things I can still do… and to be honest it is a shorter list than the one of things I cannot do anymore.
The best way to answer this, though, —- I think— is that I cannot go back to being someone who doesn’t understand what this disorder is like. I cannot be that naïve, or be who I was before all of the “character” that these challenges have developed in me. I believe I am emotionally and spiritually stronger, and I know that I value the little things more. I can’t go back to being someone who thinks they cannot survive some of life’s most difficult experiences. I do not like what this disorder has taken from me, but I really like what the challenges have given to me.
FD: Name something you do now that you never would have imagined happening before your diagnosis.
Shelly: Probably the biggest thing is laying down in the middle of the day. Even sometimes while I am writing, I lay down to do so because of such pain in my back that can only have the edge taken off by laying down. The other big thing would be that I ask for help sometimes with things I could not have imagined needing help with. A couple of months ago, I took a fall and actually used a walker for a couple of days. At thirty-nine years old, I never thought I’d be in that position.
However, I also never thought I would write a book that had people telling me that this was exactly what they needed to feel someone understood or that their family finally gets it because of reading this book! I never expected to have that kind of impact on anyone. (Shelly’s book, Fibromyalgia: A Guide to Understanding the Journey, is available now on Amazon!)
FD: : What has been your experience with seeking medical treatment for Fibro?
Shelly: Best way to describe it would be, “hit-and-miss.” I have been blessed to have doctors who truly care, but feel that I have yet to find a doctor in my area who fully understands this disorder. It is becoming part of my goal to try and raise awareness and to get funding into the hands of some of the research organizations who are actually motivated to find answers, really effective treatments or even a cure. The drug companies who have done a great deal of the research currently available— they are not motivated to find a cure. Let’s be honest: they’re motivated to find a treatment that we can continue to take for the rest of our lives.
FD: How has Fibro affected your relationships, friends, family, partners?
Shelly: Everyone in my life has been affected- –if only because I have a wonderful support system who are all concerned and hoping for cures, relief, understanding, etc. My husband and son are probably the most affected. I know that my son has gained some understanding to really appreciate having the physical abilities and health that he has. He also helps me with lots of household tasks while my husband is gone through the week. My husband… I know he worries and prays for me daily. He is a strong support for me, both spiritually and in simple daily tasks. He is only home on the weekends and an evening or two, but when he is here he does everything within his power to make life better for me. I am so very blessed. I have heard from so many Fibromites who do not have such a support system and I hope to do what I can to support them.
FD: What is the biggest challenge you face living with Fibro?
Shelly: My “interview” answer to this is “maintaining a positive attitude.” But when you get down to the nitty-gritty of what that really means, it is not letting the pain take you to a dark place. When you are in pain and sick day in and day out, depression is a constant looming possibility. For me, staying in prayer and spending time reading my bible are a huge part of keeping my mind from the gloom of wallowing in the pain. Probably, though, the biggest single thing I have found that keeps me from spiraling is helping other people. Sometimes I can’t do it the way I’d like because of the physical challenges, but there is always something I can do. I go online to Fibro support groups and try to encourage people. I serve in my church however I am able. Even just going onto Yahoo Answers and helping answer kids questions about their grammar homework can be enough to lift me and get my mind off of my own issues.
FD: What inspires you to keep on fighting?
Shelly: Knowing that I don’t have to do it on my own strength. Knowing that I am not alone. Knowing that something I am doing may make a difference for someone else.
FD: What advice do you have for other people who are living with Fibro?
Shelly: Connect with others who understand. There are several online options for making such connections. Facebook has a few Fibro groups and lots of Fibro pages. There are also some discussion forums. Also find a caring church and make a point of attending. Plug in if you can— meaning try to find some way that you can serve or be of help. You’d be amazed what a difference it can make to focus on someone else’s challenges.
FD: Do you have a funny Fibro story you can share?
Shelly: Most of my funny stories involve Fibro Fog and forgetting things, putting ice trays into the oven or placing dinner in the oven but not turning it on… that kind of thing. I have gotten to where I clip my keys on to a D-ring on my purse unless I have them in my hand, and I keep my purse right next to me pretty much all the time. Some days I feel as if I would actually leave my head behind if God had not had the forethought to attach it to my body!
Follow Shelly on Twitter: @ShellyRBolton
Follow Shelly on Facebook: facebook.com/svbolton
Follow Shelly’s Website (coming soon!): FibroMighty.com
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