Have you ever wanted to go back in time with the knowledge you have now and give yourself hope that you’ll make it through your illness? In this post, Julie Ryan explores that idea in a letter to her past self.

by Julie Ryan
Posted 8/24/17

Dear Me,

The next few years are going to be pretty awful. You are already starting to feel it,; things just aren’t right. You hurt more than you should, you are worn out all the time, and just walking from the car to the grocery store wears you out… let alone actually doing the grocery shopping.

The good news is that things are also going to get a whole lot better. I promise that I’m not about to tell you anything you won’t learn on your own. I’m just hoping that maybe you’ll listen and learn it a little faster. Here’s what you need to know about your journey in the next few years:

1. Don’t expect the doctors to have the answers.

Once all the blood tests come back normal, the doctors are going to be just as confused as you are. They’ll eventually diagnose you with fibromyalgia, but they don’t have any answers for that, either. They’ve got a few drugs they like to prescribe, but the side effects are awful. I know you are tired, can’t focus and it’s hard for you to think, let alone research the latest med that the doctor gave you, but trust me it’s worth the time and energy. It will save you so many headaches, in some cases, it will literally save you from headaches.

2. Do the work.

If you are lucky, your doctor will send you to physical therapy. That’s going to be helpful, so stick with it and repeat it often. Don’t just do what they tell you when you are at physical therapy — continue those exercises at home. It will help you get moving. Yeah, I know that whole “exercise” thing is frustrating. But, I promise they have good reason for it, even if they don’t tell you what it is. They aren’t saying you are lazy or fat, it’s just that exercise increases blood flow, and increased blood flow helps improve your energy levels and decrease pain.

You’ll ask the doctors about potential diet changes, and they’ll wave you off saying there’s no need for that. But…

3. Trust — and fix — your gut.

This is the most important piece of advice I can give you. If there’s a question burning at the back of your brain, or some signal that says “what about this?” It’s there for a reason. Your gut is going to ask about foods; it is your gut after all. Follow that question and keep asking it. Eventually, you’ll find the answer. In fact, the answer is being given to you — you just have to listen. That nice lady you’ll meet at the nutrition store knows what she’s talking about. Diet changes are not easy, but when you consider what you will gain in the long-run, they are more than worthwhile. Heck, just try it, it’s not like you have anything to lose!

4. Look at your lifestyle.

Stress plays a huge role in your physical health, so take some time to really look at your lifestyle and consider what you can change to reduce your stress. What might help? There are so many little things you can change in your lifestyle that will make a huge difference. Minimize so that you don’t have to clean so much, learn how to adhere to a regular bedtime schedule, learn to plan, and create to-do lists so you don’t forget what you wanted to do. And definitely, learn how to pace yourself so that you aren’t constantly overdoing it. Speaking of which…

5. Pace yourself.

Pacing is simply a matter of learning to listen to your body and hearing the signals it sends when it’s tired and in need of rest. I know it’s hard to walk away from a task before it’s finished. Instead of ignoring your body because you just have to complete that task, learn to break tasks up into smaller chunks. That way, you’ll actually be finished with what you set out to do when you finally do stop. In the end, you’ll be able to do more, with less stress, and feel more at peace.

6. Put yourself first.

Why are you creating stress for yourself just to make someone else happy? Toxic relationships create a huge amount of stress. I get that you enjoy making others happy, but consider the cost. You may need to take a closer look at your relationships and determine that certain people don’t deserve your time. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. If you don’t take care of your needs first, then no one else will.

7. Research as much as you can.

When you can focus enough to research, do it. Find out what other sufferers are doing. Find out what new research is happening on your conditions. Ask your doctor about the information you find. Unfortunately, the doctors who treat fibromyalgia often treat many different diseases and illnesses, so they may not be aware of the latest treatment options, or alternative approaches that involve dietary modifications and supplements.

8. Be an advocate!

You have to be your own health advocate because no one else is going to do it for you. You’ve got to do the research, you’ve got to keep looking for answers, and you’ve got to keep asking questions. But, you can also help advocate for others in the process. Helping others will help you feel better. It will give you a purpose.

9. Ask for help.

Look, I know you prefer helping others rather than asking for help, but sometimes you’ve got to admit you need help. Just ask. Don’t expect people to read your mind and know what you need — they can’t. You’ve got to ask for what you need, or you’ll never get it. And, don’t sit there thinking that no one will help you, because they will. But, they won’t help you unless you ask.

I know this is a lot to take in. I know that just existing right now is about all you can handle. You will get through this. Hang onto those around you who love you and want to help. Ask for what you need. Help others as much as you can, and do everything you can to help yourself. Advocate for yourself, research, ask questions, and don’t stop until you have answers. Pace yourself. Look at your lifestyle and make any changes that you can to help improve your situation. Decrease your stress.

Most importantly, trust your gut and put yourself first. You’ve got to take care of you before you can help anyone else. No one knows your body better than you do, so listen to it.

You’ve got this. You’ll get through this. Things will get better.

Future Julie

Julie Ryan is a patient advocate. She has written for Answers.com, HealthyWay.com and regularly shares on her blog CountingMySpoons. She lives with fibromyalgia, migraines, endometriosis, cluster headache, and thyroid disorder, but she chooses to live positively, despite her illnesses, and encourages you to do the same.