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Turning 30 and a Trip

To celebrate my thirtieth birthday, my husband, son and I went away to Hamilton (New Zealand) for a few days. It was something I have been looking forward to for months.

Hamilton is an inland city surrounded by many farming areas with warm days and cold nights. I was born there and my family lived there for about two and a half years. It feels a bit like an anchor point for me. My Maori mihi grounds me in my land (Hamilton), my mountain (Taupiri) and my river (the mighty Waikato river).

Me at the Hamilton Gardens
Me at the Hamilton Gardens

On the way down we visited my Dad’s oldest brother and family. Once we arrived we explored the stunning Hamilton Gardens. My husband loves taking photos, so we posed for a fair few.

On our second day we were at the Hamilton Zoo bright and early, my son and I adore animals so we had a blast. With the animals fresh from a night away from the humans, we were lucky to see most of them wandering about. Nu especially loves birds.

Just Nu, me and some birdsTwo lovely ladies that I worked with a few years ago live in Hamilton now, so we visited them after Nu’s nap. I felt so special, they had prepared afternoon tea, dinner, dessert and a cake!

On the last morning, I did something very special, I made myself ride a horse. I have been scared of these giant, mostly gentle, creatures since an incident at a petting zoo in preschool! I met the most fantastic horse and his team at the Pirongia Clydesdales and we took a few turns in the garden. Me and my new friend

While we were away, we kept to usual (early) bedtimes due to Nu and I performed a body scan meditation each day. On the way home I was not feeling particularly well, so I performed a body scan meditation and sat quietly with my eyes closed for most of the trip.

The fatigue flared up and I had to leave work early on the first day back. Each day since, I have progressively become a bit less fatigued. It is different for the fatigue to be the most dominant symptom, though my neck joined in on the third day. I have mindfully taken it gently.

I am feeling spectacularly blessed, it was an ideal way to sail into my thirties. I look forward to many more experiments, more fun, more challenges and more love. x

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Overwhelmed: A Book Review

I am reading Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play when No one has the Time by Brigid OverwhelmedShulte. Well, reading assumes a more peaceful process, I keep finding sections I adore and then either write them down or Google search something related to it.

You see, the concept of slowing down and looking after yourself is something everyone could do with, but especially a person with chronic pain and fatigue.

“She herself [an assistant professor of psychiatry] works hard at not feeling stressed. Among other things, she gets enough sleep, eats right, exercises, stops to breathe, meditates, sets realistic expectations, and makes constant adjustments to her goals and schedule – as life around her shifts.” P56

She sounds amazing. And like she has no children.

It’s the perfect time to read this book as I contemplate my new work/life balance as a mama.

Shulte explores the current employment law in America (very limited and not at all employee focused) and some of the innovative companies who are incorporating more employee focused measures. Things like flexible work hours, part time hours and less face time, surprisingly, lead to higher levels of productivity and retention of good staff.

I devoured this book.

I clung to it as if it could give me the answers I so desperately need about how to balance motherhood with work with a chronic illness. And it did give me a lot of guidance.

Shulte explores the concept of time and how gendered expectations can get in the road. She weaves memoir with research in a seamless story, leaving you feeling like you’re reading a stream of consciousness as it’s happening.

My learning highlights: Time is power; work smarter not longer; balancing work/rest periods; choose your most important goal and tackle that first; dads are as capable as mums; help kids develop resilience, perseverance and grit; play; meditate.

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5 Things That Keep Me Sane

Having a chronic illness is hard. So is having it while trying to raise a baby.
In addition to coping methods and lifestyle changes, the following things help keep me going:

  1. A close family. We’re all pretty close, but my sister and second brother, Luke, are my best friends. My mum helps me with the baby often and Luke keeps me company a lot. My other two brothers will often watch the baby so I can go for coffee with mum and Luke. My dad also regularly calls to see how we’re doing. If I need them, I know they’ll be there.
  2. My faith. I know there’s Someone bigger than me keeping everything together, so I don’t have to. Prayer, hope and grace are super important mechanisms I use to cope.
  3. Reading. I love to read. It’s my favourite. I usually read a few books at a time, have multiple requests with the library and a giant to read list on Good reads. Getting lost in a good book with a hot coffee is perfection.
  4. Passion. I am passionate about many things. This keeps me putting one foot in front of the other. Currently I’m in love with scrapbooking my baby’s first year and our wedding.
  5. My husband, baby and dog -my little family. They are why I am so fixated on trying to be well, why I push myself, why I smile every day.IMG_20141029_141835-EFFECTS
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Dear Future Daddies

Dear Future Daddies

Congratulations! This is going to be such a soul-stretching, exciting time in your life. Your relationship will be tested and strengthened. You’ll learn more about yourself in these months than your whole life combined.

I have a request for you. Please, please, please be your partner’s champion.

Support her in her pregnancy. You’ll never know the pain and energy drain that pregnancy is. But try to be compassionate. 

Be her rock in the delivery. She will be in the worst pain imaginable. You need to be the safety in her storm. There will be decisions to make and there may be people you need to remove from the room. Do your homework, solidify your partner’s wishes beforehand and try to help her stick to them (unless it’s her who wants to change!).

In the first few weeks at home with your precious, potentially persistently crying bundle, be your wife’s superhero. She is recovering from delivery, she is learning to feed, she is beyond exhausted and there will be a deluge of well-meaning advice.

Be the guard dog. Limit visitors. Avoid them in the first two weeks if you can. And limit their time while they’re there. Watch your partner. If she seems tired or like she just wants to deal with the baby without prying eyes, send them off.

Be her advocate. No matter how you choose to feed your baby, advocate for her. Support this. Yes, breast milk is best. But there are many options and it is a two person relationship – mama and baby are equally important here.

If breast feeding doesn’t work or your wife hates it or your baby doesn’t take to it – whatever reason, then you support the formula route too.

It is your job to protect her from the people that would give their two cents worth. Choose your people to listen to and help your wife say, “we’re following the advice of…(gp, midwife, plunket nurse, mother etc)”

Your attitude and your support will be vital for your new mama. If she must fight you too, it will be the hardest time in the world for her. She won’t enjoy it. She won’t feel loved. She’ll feel alone. There will be some fluctuating hormones, this is the time to support her and honour her feelings. If she cries, hold her. If she feels bombarded, fix it. If she feels happy, celebrate with her.

Of course, you’re important too. I’m just offering the perspective of a new mama with fibromyalgia. What I wished for myself and didn’t always get. 

Good luck!

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What Fibromyalgia Taught Me: My Journey so Far

what living with chronic pain and fatigue taught me

This is an old post but all of it is still true today. I stand by all of the things I had learnt back then. This is the story of how I went from miserable to thriving, before I fully knew what thriving was.

My story of happiness and wellness didn’t begin until a few years ago. Prior to that, I coped, but only barely.

what living with chronic pain and fatigue taught me

The pain began when I was a young teenager and grew over a period of around 10 years. By 17, when I was at university, my shoulders would ache and burn so much at the end of the day that I usually ended them in tears.

No one knew why I had this pain. Some of the doctors intimated that they thought I was making it up.

I was struggling through university, in my final year, when I was hit with an extremely bad bug. Profound fatigue and flu-like symptoms descended upon me like a ton of bricks. There are 9am tutorials from which I can only recall my near inability to keep my eyes open. After a few weeks, I saw a doctor and they gave me antibiotics. It took a further few weeks for the symptoms to recede but the fatigue had made a permanent home.

Doubly burdened, I struggled through the remainder of university, graduated and entered the workforce.

I have since realised that my inability to do, and care about a job for long is related to my illness. I need a lot of passion to drive me through the fog, pain and fatigue to complete my work.

After four years, I was barely coping, feeling just a step away from fainting at every moment. I was sleeping terribly and waking unrefreshed. With nausea and levels of pain at 6/10 by 10am. By 3pm pain levels rose to 8/10, the caffeine needed to keep me from falling flat on the desk caused further nausea; the jaw and temples felt as though someone has a wrench and was turning them constantly tighter. Minutes crept by until 5pm, cue an hour-long bus ride on which to keep from vomiting, falling asleep or crying (or all of the above). The evening was a blur of lethargy, waiting until bedtime.

That was my life. Yet, I managed to look normal (albeit a little paler), complete my work and occasionally force myself to socialise.

After many years of struggling and of tests and regular blood tests revealing nothing, the doctor was able to check the 18 tender points and confirm that I had fibromyalgia. That was all that they did. There was no medicine, no advice, and no referrals. There weren’t many books or websites yet either.

Coop is gorgeousThe turning point came when my parents invited me to move to Auckland with them. I was able to put the changes into place that I’d been dreaming of, starting with slightly reduced work hours. Working 3/4 time, in a warm climate helped immensely. So did meeting one of the loves of my life – a ruby Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Coop!

In the first year in Auckland, I didn’t do much more than recover. I worked until 2.30 each day, utilising my skills to support an organisation that worked with vulnerable families. I rested in the afternoons and gradually increased my evening walks with Coop.

The second year was more eventful. I began a writing course (I’d always wanted to do one) and I found an excellent, caring, knowledgeable physiotherapist who introduced me to acupuncture – the only treatment that isn’t akin to torture, and the effects last. Perhaps most importantly, she was the first person ever to understand the extent of what I had been dealing with.

This year, the most exciting things have happened. I started a blog and my own business – these have enabled me to do what I am passionate about. Also, I met a man who not only loves me as I am (for all my quirks) but also wants to understand my fibromyalgia, who wants to help me with this burden. The enormity of this cannot be appropriately articulated.

Melissa Gershwyn Aug 13

Some of the things I’ve found that help are:

  • Working 3/4 time
  • Eating healthily
  • Yoga, Pilates and stretching
  • Walking my dog daily (for the exercise, the time out and the pleasure of being outside)
  • Resting
  • Seeing my physiotherapist every couple of weeks
  • and following my passions

With the ability to look back, I’ve become very protective of my new life. I hardly ever lose words anymore, my memory is improving and so is my spacial awareness. The nausea is far less frequent and headaches only tend to bother me every couple of weeks – and they don’t drive me to bed so often. My neck still causes me trouble, but the extreme tightness, dizziness, nausea and faintness is much rarer.

Most importantly, I am living life, not just coping.

I have a larger capacity for empathy. I have been forced to work only enough to live, in a job I am passionate about with little stress, and I love it. Seeing friends bust their guts working 40-50 hours per week in jobs they don’t love makes me thankful that I have learnt that I don’t need the money or the prestige. I’ve gladly skipped the year living in London, buying fancy cars and clothes – because my dreams lie elsewhere.

I hope I make a difference in the lives of those that intersect with mine. I hope I always know what’s important.

If you liked this, you may also like these posts:

Fibromyalgia: Definition, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

9 Inexpensive Items I Use to Fight Fibromyalgia

My Top Three Treatments to Fight Fibromyalgia