Fibromyalgia is a stressing condition in of itself. External and internal factors can increase the severity of stress further impacting the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Last summer I separated from my husband of fifteen years and experienced how divorce affects fibromyalgia symptoms. Here’s my story.
This article first appeared in The Fibromyalgia Magazine, November 2019. Get the digital copy of the magazine from Pocketmags.
Disclosure: I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post, but these are products I recommend and have verified and/or used.
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Divorcing After 15 Years
This past summer I made a life-changing decision to end my marriage of fifteen years. It was not an easy decision to make, especially with children involved. However, staying in a toxic environment was more harmful to my kids and me than leaving the relationship. Once it was certain that a divorce was the best option, I told my husband and the process moved forward.
What a long and painful process it has been and continues to be! As I shared last month, the divorce has caused a lot of grief, disappointment, and negativity. I thought by stepping out of the marriage, I would be stepping out of the pain. What I didn’t realize is that I would be stepping into a new type of pain (more about that later in this article).
A New Me
But I also learned to walk alongside a new me. A stronger, more experienced me in who I’ve found value and self-worth. I’ve learned how to truly give myself grace, be kind to myself, break codependent thinking, and be independent of the actions and words of others.
I’m grateful for the outpouring of support and love I’ve received from family, friends, and Being Fibro Mom followers who have shared their personal experiences with me. The comradery found amongst such a diverse group of people is encouraging and uplifting.
As our family has walked through this process, I’ve been given a lot of advice from divorced parents and children of divorce. While some of it is easy to follow, much of it is difficult. A true “easier said than done” situation.
Tips When Going Through a Divorce
All of it has helped in one way or another. I reached out to fellow survivors and asked them for suggestions about coping with divorce while living with fibromyalgia. Here is what they said.
From Sharaya, fibro parent: “I guess what I’m saying is don’t be afraid to put yourself first. At the end of the day, the decisions that lead to the healthiest you, even the ones that will have a long healing process like divorce, will make you the best mom you can be.”
Throughout the process of separating from my spouse and learning how to be a single parent, I encountered many overwhelming situations. There were many sleepless nights and countless times I skipped meals.
Some days it was as though my body was radiating with energy that tugged at my insides to get out. This would manifest as nonstop cleaning, cooking, and organizing. You should have seen the house during those times!
At other times, it was the opposite. It was as though all the energy was completely sucked out of me by an invisible vacuum and I had no motivation, strength, or will power to get out of bed, let alone cook or clean. I’m glad you did NOT see the house during those times!
Either way, self-care was simply not there. After days of extreme ups or downs, a flare would be triggered. I was either battling physically or mentally. That combined with no sleep and poor nutrition, resulted in flares. This only amplified my existing issues, making it harder to stay positive, which led to a lack of energy and strength to keep fighting, which exacerbated the stress. It was a vicious, ugly cycle.
Eventually, I snapped out of it. I realized how I was abusing myself. It was no longer tolerable and I was determined to stop t. Yes, I was in a stressful situation, but I was not helping it by not sleeping, not eating, and overextending my body.
So, as Sharaya says, remember to put yourself FIRST and take care of YOU. It will help you, in the long run, to lower your stress levels and lift your mindset.
During the writing of my first article about my divorce, I posted on my Being Fibro Mom Facebook page stating how difficult it was to write. I shared how easy it is to look like we have it all together when really we are battling demons on the inside. This is the image I posted along with my statement –
I’m a hot mess this morning writing this article for The Fibromyalgia Magazine. It’s about my husband and me separating and the toll it’s taking on me physically and mentally.
About the guilt, I have for what this is doing to my kids. The anger I’m feeling for allowing myself to be trapped in a toxic relationship for so long. Feeling the desperation, trepidation, and aggravation of it all.
I’ve cried a lot the last two days as I’ve written about my own parents’ divorce and all the feelings it’s triggered as I’ve lived through my own ordeal. Hatred has spewed from my spouse to anyone that will listen over the last few months, but it’s also spilled from my mind to self as well. The negativity I’ve felt through all this will last me a lifetime.
But you know what? I’ve been grateful too. Grateful to have my mom’s experience to have an idea of what might come. Grateful to have my dad’s experience to know what NOT to do. Grateful for my own experience as a child of a divorce to be more mindful of my actions and words.
Grateful for the support from friends and family as I’ve moved through these stages of grief and acceptance. The support has been given in various ways and I’m forever grateful to each person.
Most of all, I’m grateful for the chance to change all the hate into love and to find myself in all of this mess lying in crumbles around me.
To say, “you never know what someone is dealing with” is a vast understatement. A person’s smile can be the glue holding it all together. Don’t let your words shatter it.
After a mutual friend of my ex-spouse and I commented on that post, I decided to share the post and make a statement on my personal account.
For our mutual friends, you may have heard some not so great stuff about me over the last couple of months. About 99% of it is not true. However, I ask that you please understand what is being said comes from a place of anger and hurt, and understandably so, but to disregard what you hear. There’s a lot of issues to be worked out and sometimes a person doesn’t understand how sick they are while in the midst of it.
If you have questions or want to clear the air, PLEASE do not hesitate to private message me. Please send prayers, positive thoughts, and healing energy to our entire family. Each of us needs it in our own way.
Most importantly, I’m not asking for anyone to choose sides. That’s not fair to anyone as the truth can be skewed from wherever you stand. Instead please support in whichever way you see fit. It will be appreciated.
What Came Of It
I got an outpouring of support, advice, and shares of similar experiences through comments and private messages. It was incredibly uplifting and encouraging to be surrounded by such amazing people – strangers and friends. One message in particular resonated with me because it came just as I was picking myself up from yet another episode of crying. It was exactly what I needed to hear. This was the message –
Hey, Brandi, I’m happy for you. You will be a better person and your kids will be better without him. You will be strong and overcome any adversity he brought to y’all. Every day will be tough for some time, but don’t let it be tough on your soul. Just remember in the long run you and your kids are better off…in so many ways. Every day you get out of bed, think of something positive…. Put some of your daughter’s drawings near you etc…put small things next to you to remind you of the good things that you have soon as you wake up. It will get better every day and you are all better off. Take care there!
I love that. Get out of bed and think of something positive. Especially the idea of putting out visual reminders that provoke happy thoughts as a reinforcer of positivity. Being mindful of what you are most grateful for makes the days easier to take on. Sure, there will be bad days. But there will also be good days. So be hopeful for those good days and, in the meantime, try to stay positive.
Be Mindful of Your Words
A divorce is physically demanding as you learn to live independently and care for your kids as a single parent. A body with fibromyalgia is struggling to repair itself and is already in survival mode most of the time.
The transition to living apart is also emotionally demanding. There is an array of emotions and often they come all at once. You can feel both relief and guilt. Angry and sad. This can provoke negative self-talk and cause your body to struggle even more.
Whatever negativity you are spewing on yourself, your body feels. Negative self-talk increases stress levels and deepens the depression. When your mind thinks hateful, guilty, or angry thoughts, it only fuels negative energy throughout the body.
From Leah, fibro parent: “GET COUNSELING!!! Even if you think you don’t need it, or even for just a few sessions. I swore I “was fine”, didn’t need to etc….but I quickly realized how much I had buried or brushed off. Having an impartial person to talk to did wonder.”
Taking the advice of staying positive and remembering self-care works perfectly with minding your words when healing from a divorce. If needed, get counseling. My kids and I are getting therapy as a family to cope, and it is helping with positivity and self-care.
How Divorce Affects Fibromyalgia
Added January 2020
Throughout the separation, my body was in a constant flare of symptoms. I experienced multiple periods of depression, anxiety, and negative self-talk. My energy levels went up and down, and when they were down it stayed that way for long periods.
When those low points took over, I stepped away from the public and stayed in my home where I felt secure from others’ probing eyes. It was difficult to talk to strangers and even more difficult to talk to friends. Paranoia led me to believe everyone knew what was happening to me and were judging me, talking behind my back, and misunderstanding what was happening. The isolation aggravated depression, anxiety, and pain levels.
Due to increased pain levels, I couldn’t sleep which led to fatigue and the inability to think clearly. Mood swings became common and I would fly off the handle over the smallest infractions. Everything became a chore for me – being awake, engaging with the kids, eating, and other daily tasks. Treading water unable to reach the shore is how I would describe it. And we can only tread water for so long before becoming too exhausted to keep moving.
However, I was able to push through a variety of techniques. These included:
- talking to my mom and my best friend who lives nearby,
- writing down all the positive thoughts when I had them in order to read them when I was feeling low,
- putting down the sugary goodies and replacing it with nourishing foods such as smoothies and fresh produce,
- using essential oils both in the air and topically,
- continuing chiropractic care for body pains,
- visiting the beach in order to practice grounding,
- snuggling with my kiddos to boost dopamine levels,
- and, most importantly, not communicating with my ex-husband to avoid criticism and negativity.
How is it now?
It’s been seven months since this process started and while it has been a long and difficult journey, it has been worth every step I’ve taken. I’m stronger than I once thought and I’ve accomplished what I once thought I couldn’t. My kids are in a healthier environment, each of them talks to a therapist weekly, and no longer walk around scared (their words).
In addition to writing and working for the nonprofit, Support Fibromyalgia, I work two jobs making my own money to support my family. My home is full of light, life, and love. We go to bed without the weight of negativity and wake each morning with a smile (and me with a little pain, but we get used to that, don’t we?).
All in all, I don’t see the marriage as a failure, but rather a stepping stone in my life. A stepping stone that gave me children, a sense of self-worth, and a growth that has brought a lot of love and happiness.