By Elaine Merryfield
A few months ago I told you about my journey with fibromyalgia and how it has affected my personal life; today I’d like to discuss the role fibromyalgia has played in my professional life.
Although my 20-year nursing career was spent in a variety of settings, my favorite roles always incorporated teaching: hospital inpatient education, occupational health consulting relating to hazards of particular industries, outpatient alcohol treatment, and stress management.
The latter proved particularly important. In 1987, I spent six months training in biofeedback techniques and subsequently began to teach these tools myself. Just one year later, I sustained significant injuries in an auto accident and later developed fibromyalgia. Fortunately, my experience with biofeedback and stress management had given me strategies I could use (and still do!) to cultivate mind and body relaxation.
I left nursing as I’d known it in the mid-90s, when I finally began to come to terms with my body’s new limitations. But I needed to find a way to earn an income while living with fibromyalgia – to create a new way of working for myself. Fortunately, I was able to utilize my nursing skills in two part-time positions: helping a young family and assisting an older couple. Working with such disparate age groups required me to rely on different strengths and sources of energy, and I sensed that this would also serve to refill my emotional reservoir: I really found joy in working with such different ages! I also slowly began seeing clients individually and in small groups in a private stress-management business. In this way, I was able to have more control of my day-to-day schedule and to have much more flexibility in balancing my fluctuating energy needs.
By 2000, I was ready to return to a more formal healthcare position. For the next ten years, I was a health educator at a local hospital’s community education center. My classes included fibromyalgia education as well as a support group, chronic disease self-management, and of course, stress management. Over time, I found I had enough energy to teach mindfulness-based stress reduction to undergraduates for two fall semesters at Pacific University – again, I relished the opportunity to work with people of all ages.
In spring 2010, I retired from these various commitments. And this year I began teaching periodically at The Studio. This is work I love since it is so close to my own heart. I also maintain my stress-management business and am available to work with individual clients in their homes, especially around areas involving fibromyalgia and chronic pain.
It’s important to me to share the stories of my evolving work life, because I know from my own experience that things can get better – even with fibromyalgia. I left nursing, closing a chapter of my life, but I have found deep fulfillment from all the subsequent chapters I have opened. I learned many things about myself and found personal assets I did not realize I possessed during the course of this forced change in my life. Without fibromyalgia, I would be a very different person today. Over time, I hope you find this to be true in your own life as well.
I’ll be away from The Studio much of this summer, but I am teaching two exciting programs this spring, and I’d like to take a moment to describe them.
Although change is the one constant in life, it can be one of the hardest things for us to face. My two-day course, Navigating Life Changes, will focus on the various stages of coming to a place of acceptance when living with a life-altering condition like fibromyalgia. In four hours spread over two Saturdays, we’ll learn new tools to help us in the struggle toward acceptance and talk about ways of caring for ourselves so we can navigate these new paths with less suffering and more skill.
Those of us who have lived with fibromyalgia for many years, as well as those who are newly diagnosed, all have one thing in common: we all feel sometimes like fibromyalgia has taken over our lives! My workshop Introduction to SoulCollage® provides an opportunity for some playtime. You’ll use scissors, glue, and all sorts of images to construct your personal deck of cards to use as a wellness tool: when you look at them, they’ll remind you how rich and multi-faceted your life truly is – putting fibromyalgia into perspective as just a single piece of the whole.
I hope you take the opportunity to join us for one (or both!) of these springtime activities, and I look forward to meeting you soon!