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Living With Fibromyalgia – Understanding What It Is and How to Move Forward

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!


Fibromyalgia (FM) is a musculoskeletal disorder that is currently getting a lot of social media attention with Lady Gaga speaking up about her diagnosis, but what is it and how does it affect us as parents?

Diagnosis for Fibromyalgia happens after all other similar diseases have been ruled out by testing and has become well recognized as a life impacting illness that affects a person’s mind, nervous system, muscular functions, and energy levels.

Common symptoms for FM are:

  • widespread body-wide pain
  • jaw pain and stiffness
  • pain and tiredness in the face muscles and adjacent fibrous tissues
  • stiff joints and muscles, especially after any kind of workout
  • headaches (more than three a week)
  • irregular sleep patterns, or even what seems like insomnia
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and uncomfortable gas and bloating that lasts for weeks
  • painful menstrual periods (similar to the pain experienced in endometriosis)
  • tingling and numbness in the hands and feet (often times the first symptom of Fibro)
  • restless leg syndrome (RLS)
  • sensitivity to cold or heat (and temperatures can increase your other symptoms as well)
  • difficulties with memory and concentration known as “fibro-fog” that can affect your ability to speak or form sentences
  • exhaustion or severe levels of fatigue
  • problems with vision
  • nausea
  • pelvic and urinary problems
  • weight gain
  • dizziness
  • cold or flu-like symptoms
  • skin problems
  • chest symptoms
  • depression and anxiety
  • breathing problems

This does not mean everyone with Fibromyalgia will walk around looking like they are struggling – quite the opposite. We look fine.

And maybe that’s part of the problem and why misdiagnosis happens so often.

As a patient, I had gone to see a doctor about backache various times – and got sent to physiotherapy and given pain medications, but there were no results. My backache was so bad that I needed to support myself against a wall to stand up at times. I complained for five years that something was wrong. But there were no answers.

I had also gone at a different time to have my hormone levels checked and to find ways to boost my energy levels as I was passing out during the day – not something a mother of three young kids can allow to happen. But all my levels were fine. I did these tests annually for three years.

I had gone for x-rays on other occasions to check for arthritis in my feet and hands as the pain became unbearably bad, to the point where I wouldn’t be able to walk comfortably or do simple tasks like opening the peanut butter jar. I couldn’t hold a broom with one hand … but the exams showed nothing.

I was having headaches constantly, reaching for ibuprofen daily. I kept blinds shut and sunglasses on at all times to see if that would help, but it didn’t. I started to call them my exhaustion headaches as they typically hit me mid-day when I had to force myself to stay awake when all my body wanted to do was fall asleep.

I went from being the mom always running around the basketball court with a kid held up above my shoulders so he could “make net,” to not being able to pick up my three-year-old at all some days without fear of dropping him because my arms felt so weak.

I found myself some days needing to stop mid-way climbing the stairs from our basement to our top floor because my legs were throbbing as if I’ve completed a marathon run the day before. But it was just doing laundry, I would think to myself.

I was getting snappy at my kids. I was getting snappy with my husband. I felt terrible most of the day and I started feeling like I was slipping away from myself and my family. But as much as I was trying to find answers, it just didn’t seem to lead anywhere.

I struggled with whether or not to write this article, I didn’t want to seem like I’m looking for sympathy or attention. But I was reminded that oftentimes this struggle in self-advocating is one that too many people lose.

You give up on yourself.

You start believing others who tell you there’s nothing wrong.

So I am writing this article for those of you who might be feeling lost right now.

There are answers and there is help.

You just need to know your own body and you need to believe in yourself enough to keep advocating for it.

I believe my diagnosis finally hit the right mark because I finally got to the point of just letting go with my doctor. No holding back.

My life is changing. Who I am and will be is changing and these same things may very well be happening to those you know with this disease.

They can’t help it. They can’t stop it. They can’t cure it. They can’t just get over it.

There is no known cause of FM, but it is believed for about one-third of persons the onset may be attributed to a triggering event, such as a severe illness, a traumatic incident, or a stressful, emotional experience.

So what we can do if we have FM?

We can educate ourselves on what works best for us. From dietary changes to the various treatment possibilities – self-education and experimentation is a must.

We can work on keeping our minds as positive as possible and focus on things that makes us happy – because any way you can boost serotonin in your brain is a good thing for the rest of your pain.

We can also talk to our support system and let them know when we may need a break.

We can stay active – in a way that helps our bodies, not worsens it – and not give in to some of the statistics that surround this disease like obesity and suicide.

If you were a runner who now gets tired and achy after a mile, then run that mile and walk the other four – or however far you like to go. And if you have days where even just running one mile seems too much – then simply walk for 30 minutes.

We can rest when we need it. But we can’t give in to it. We can’t let it beat us or take our passions from us.

We can adjust our lives.

We can still do this. But you need to be determined to kick butt every single day. You need to be determined to prove the statistics wrong. You need to be determined to remain as much YOU as possible.

More resources on understanding Fibromyalgia that I found helpful:

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Toddlers can alternatively be the sweetest and most tyrannical people on the planet. Figuring the world out is tough, but it is possible to teach them how to care for and respect others—and the first steps start with you.

Here are five tips from Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of Harmony in Parenting Dr. Azine Graff on teaching empathy through modeling and playtime, with some of our favorite dolls from Manhattan Toy Company.


1. "I wonder if she's sad." 

Think about it: The first step to understanding the emotions of others is being able to recognize them in yourself. Graff recommends looking for opportunities to label emotions throughout the day by helping your child identify sadness, anger, happiness, and fear.

You can do this by pointing to someone smiling in a book or noticing a baby crying in the grocery store. Try saying, "The baby is crying. I wonder if she is sad." Over time, your little one will learn to label emotions on their own.

2. "How can we take care of her?" 

Dramatic play can be a great time to model care and compassion for others. That's one reason why baby dolls make such great toys for toddlers—not only are they great for open-ended play, they also provide the opportunity to teach caretaking.

For example, you can ask your child, "The baby is yawning and seems very tired. How can we take care of her?" We love the award-winning Wee Baby Stella doll from Manhattan Toy Company to turn playtime into a time for empathy teaching.

3. "It is really hard when all the blocks fall and you're trying to build a tower."

You can set the best example of empathy by taking time to notice and validate your child's feelings. Instead of trying to immediately shush crying, react from a place of compassion.

For example, if your child throws a tantrum over a fallen block tower, try saying, "It is really hard when all the blocks fall and you're trying to build a tower." This demonstrates the importance of understanding feelings, even if they are not our own.

4. "Do you want to try with me?"

Once your child is better able to identify their emotions, they're in a better place to find solutions with your help. "When we can help our children through challenging feelings, especially when they are struggling, we are modeling care for others," Graff says.

The next time your child gets upset, you can say, "It is frustrating when something falls apart. It helps me to take a deep breath when I'm frustrated. Do you want to try with me?"

5. Express your own feelings

It can be tempting to hide your feelings from your child, but when modeled appropriately, it can teach them that feelings are a normal part of life. Over time, you will see them use the same strategies of empathy on you, like kissing your "boo-boos" or suggesting you take a deep breath when you're upset.


This article is sponsored by Manhattan Toy Company. Thank you for supporting that brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Dr. Azine Graff is a Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of Harmony in Parenting, which is based in Los Angeles and offers groups, classes, therapy and consultation services informed by the latest research on child development.

With the big news now out of the way, pregnant Meghan Markle and her husband Prince Harry have begun a massive tour of Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. Over the next two weeks the couple is set to make 76 engagements. (We're tired just thinking about it.)

With a schedule like that it seems like Meghan is probably feeling as good as a pregnant person can, and reports suggest she's had a 12-week ultrasound, which means she's just rolling into her second trimester—a time many mamas look back on as their "easiest" part of pregnancy.

The tour schedule is a daunting one, but of course many women travel and work during their pregnancies, and Meghan has never been one to sit still long. Basically, there's no reason an uncomplicated pregnancy would warrant a big change in her plans.

Here's what we know about Meghan's pregnancy so far:

She's well aware of the Zika situation

Entertainment Tonight reports the Duchess will not be accompanying her husband to engagements at the Fiji War Memorial or the Colo-i-Suva forest (she'll be doing morning tea at the British High Commissioner's residence and meeting women vendors at a local market instead, Hello reports), and this schedule tweak is possibly pregnancy-related.

The World Health Organization advises against travel to by pregnant people to Fiji (and Tonga, another island on the Duke and Duchess' itinerary) due to the risk of Zika virus, which is transmitted by mosquitoes.

The Duchess has likely discussed Zika risks extensively with her medical team, and if they've given her the green light, no one should hassle her about this. It's her choice, and in both Tonga and Fiji, the risk of Zika infection is now a lot lower than it was in 2016, CNN reports.

We can expect to see lots of long-sleeved outfits on that part of the tour.

While she's technically experiencing a "geriatric pregnancy," that term is outdated 

"Geriatric" is absolutely the last word we would ever associate with the youthful beauty that is Meghan Markle, but at 37, she's technically in the zone that some doctors (still) refer to as a "geriatric pregnancy."

The unfortunate (and downright rude) term has been replaced in the vocabulary of many medical providers by "advanced maternal age" (which is slightly less rude), but is still being used by many members of the press covering Markle's pregnancy announcement.

Labeling the Duchess' pregnancy as geriatric may be technically correct as she's over 35 but it's hardly necessary when there are much kinder ways to phrase it. And while many royal watchers are pointing out that Meghan's advanced maternal age puts her at higher risk for some pregnancy complications, plenty of healthy 37-year-old women have babies every day.

Now is actually a great time for her to travel 

While a lot of airlines don't recommend or even allow traveling (especially a long international flight) late in pregnancy (we're talking like 38 weeks) Meghan is still far from that stage.

The UK's National Health Service advices British moms-to-be that late pregnancy and early pregnancy are the trickiest when it comes to travel, noting the airline rules and that: "Some women try to avoid travelling in the first 12-15 weeks of pregnancy because exhaustion and nausea tend to be worse at this early stage."

It sounds like Meghan is just beyond that uncomfortable bit and into the fun part of pregnancy. We can't wait to see some royal bump pics.

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Mamas rarely get to treat themselves to a new wardrobe when they're focused on everyone else's needs. However, a new season is the ultimate opportunity to add a few new staples to your closet.

With temperatures dropping, you might be tempted to wear leggings and large sweaters daily (okay, that's not going to change) but these pieces will easily update your go-to fall wardrobe. Add a great pair of shoes, or swap in a new accessory and you'll be ready to take on this new season.

Here are some of our favorite items we keep reaching for day after day.


1. Functional dress

Since the weather isn't cold enough just yet, transition pieces are essential for your wardrobe. This dress is cozy and can be dressed up with heeled boots or dressed down with sneakers. Add tights and a scarf when the temperature drops.

Mock-Neck Shift Dress, Old Navy, $34.99

BUY

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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What would an extra $1,000 per month mean to you? Would it mean an early retirement? More Travel? The ability to save for a house or pay for your kids' college expenses? No matter what your lifestyle goals are, earning extra money is a great way to reach them, but earning extra money can be a daunting task.

However, if you're willing to put in a little extra work or find that you have extra time in the evenings, you can earn an extra $1,000 per month. These are some money making strategies to consider.

1. Negotiate a raise

If you're a valued employee at your company, the best way to make an extra money each month is to negotiate a raise. To do this, write down your accomplishments and research salary data on Glassdoor.com. Then schedule time with your manager to discuss a raise.

Your manager may make it seem like it's not possible to get a raise outside of the annual schedule, but that is not always true. Great companies want to retain their best employees, and if you've proven yourself, leverage your value to earn more money.

Most people avoid asking for a raise because they do not like confrontation, but a few minutes of discomfort can yield a substantial income boost. If you utilize data and tact to request a raise, most companies will offer a raise if they're able.

2. Change companies

If you're an excellent employee, but you can't negotiate a raise, consider searching for new jobs if possible. The easiest time to earn extra money is when you switch companies as you have more leverage because you know that the potential employer wants you on board.

In general, when you switch companies, you can expect a 10-20% raise in base salary whereas annual raises tend to be around 2-5%. Job searching might stress you out, but a few weeks of effort can allow you to earn an extra $1,000 per month.

3. Take on a weekend job

If you've maxed out your earnings in your day job, consider taking on a weekend job if your schedule allows it. Because you're trading time off for money, you want to be sure that the job is worth it, so target jobs that will allow you to earn $25 per hour.

You may be surprised how many weekend jobs yield that type of pay. For example, some car dealerships hire weekend employees to be salespeople or your favorite store could look for some extra hands. Taking a job like childcare isn't a bad idea either, especially if you're already taking care of your little and they could benefit from having others around. Although those jobs won't necessarily equate to an extra $1,000 per month (unless you work a ton), they may lead to other opportunities.

4. Start a side business

If you want to earn an extra $1,000 per month, but you want to do it on your own terms, consider starting a side business. If you've got house repair skills, you can start a handyman business; if you're an accountant, you can take on some bookkeeping clients on the side.

Consider starting a service for a passion of yours, like teaching music or tennis lessons. If you're price conscious, you can find items to flip on eBay, or you can start a business selling products via Fulfilled By Amazon.

If you've got a business idea, bring it to life on the nights and weekends. Although starting a business tends to be a slow path to extra income, the upside potential is tremendous. In time, a successful side business can allow you to earn well in excess of $1,000 per month.

5. Freelance

If you work in an in-demand field, you can earn extra funds by freelancing. Becoming a freelance consultant will allow you to charge a premium rate for your services while you take on just one or two extra projects a month. Small businesses who don't need full-time services may pay two or three times your typical rate if you produce results for them.

Switching from a traditional employment situation to freelancing may also yield a big income boost, but before you make the jump be sure your extra income isn't eaten up by paying for your own benefits, such as taxes or startup fees.

Originally posted on Financial Gym.

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[Trigger warning: This essay describes a woman's experience with anxiety.]

Dear anxiety,
We've been together for as long as I can remember. You've always been there, especially during those nights when I couldn't fall asleep—my mind hot with worry, ruminating over the day's events, making mental to-do lists that went on forever (and ever… and ever…).

You were there the time my husband arranged to meet a seller from a virtual yard sale site in a store parking lot to pick up a pair of kid scooters. He had our two young children in the car, which already had me on edge. Perfect for you, I was an easy target that day.

I knew their meeting time and I figured it should take less than five minutes for him to hand the man cash and put the scooters in the trunk. Five minutes turned into ten. Ten turned into fifteen.

You were there when I left multiple messages on my husband's phone. You watched as I found the seller's page on Facebook, scrutinizing his family photos and quickly realizing that most of the pictures were blurry and you could only see his kids' backs in all of them—never their faces.

In that moment, I was convinced the seller had attacked my husband and drove away with our kids in the car. You watched as I took slow, deliberate breaths and went outside for some air. You watched as I answered my cell—my husband finally calling back to explain they'd stopped at Home Depot where there was bad cell reception.

You'd gotten the best of me again, stealing time I should have spent doing anything other than obsessing over the multitude of awful things that could have (but didn't!) happen to my family.

Ugh. Anxiety.

You're on the playground as I follow my children who are running after older kids with toy guns. I watch as they climb boulders, fly off swings in mid-air, and get too close to strangers who could, I don't know, snatch them up in a blink of an eye?

You're with me in every parking lot in the state of New Jersey where strangers stare or park dark vans next to my SUV. You follow us into stores as my son darts down another aisle, losing sight of him for a millisecond—that millisecond that makes my heart stop.

You love farms where my kids stick tiny hands through wire fences as a cow's large tongue licks grains off their palms and a donkey's teeth get dangerously close to their fingers. And there's that wandering peacock who looks at us with wild eyes.

You're at the pool where my son is going off the diving board backward and my daughter is staying under for way longer than her lungs can handle and I feel like every child is about to drown.

You're there when the library books are overdue and the cheerleading uniform isn't washed and the shoes are all over the floor and there's that strange spot on the back of my throat and what looks like black mold on the patio cushions.

I've tried to get rid of you—truly I have. But anti-anxiety medication, yoga, and mindfulness classes were all lukewarm attempts to band-aid the agony you can cause.

Unlucky for you, I've discovered your kryptonite: gratitude.

It's the acknowledgment of what has gone right that anchors me and pushes you into dark corners. There's power in an underlying thankfulness that washes out worry and overpowers the never-ending string of "what-ifs."

Gratitude comes in the form of a time when my husband likes his job again and we have extra money for new garage doors and guest room furniture.

It's living in a house that's much larger than the two-bedroom apartment I grew up in but our 7-year-old still describes as warm and cozy.

It's the start of the school year when the kids are happy with their teachers and have kind friends and birthday invitations in the mailbox. It's a winter free of strep throat or illness.

It's having a capable, confident husband who can fix anything. It's being able to work from home doing a job I love so I can still be there for after-school snacks, library volunteer shifts, and class trips.

When we focus on the minutiae of our days, we see they're jam-packed with countless joys that far outweigh the bad. But if disaster does strike—whether it's a death or job loss or unexpected tragedy—that's when community and faith step in, taking the place of anxious thoughts or worry.

Because you see, anxiety is anticipation—not reality—that feeds off the future like a leech and is rendered powerless in the present.

Here's where our relationship ends, my old friend. You've manipulated me for too long—tricking me into thinking all those misguided internet searches and late-night texts over something small was worthwhile—and we're done.

Love,

A very grateful mama

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