pain is an opportunity

Chronic Pain Can Be a Powerful Opportunity

This Tuesday, May 12 is Fibromyalgia Awareness day. I thought it would be appropriate to share another encouraging post of how chronic warriors hang on to their faith to get through the worst of days.

I was greatly encouraged to hear Olivia Wolfertz story about her struggle with Lyme Disease. What an incredibly strong women she is. Please read on…

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curleque by Coffee at pixabay

Share the short story of your chronic pain journey. What is your diagnosis? Share some about the journey to this diagnosis.

I was diagnosed with Lyme disease in May 2016. After several months or so of increasingly bizarre symptoms—chest pains, stiff neck, headaches, stabbing pains in arms and feet, and severe trouble walking, I was officially tested and diagnosed by a rheumatologist. I was fortunate that my diagnosis was relatively quick and that I had a positive Lyme disease test even by CDC criteria, as that is actually somewhat rare.

From there, I went on the pretty typical goose chase of finding the right Lyme-literate doctor and treatment combination. Unfortunately, even though I was treating my illness, symptoms continued to spread and expand to affect more and more of my body and mind. Throughout this four-year timeframe, I’ve seen several specialists and explored numerous treatment protocols ranging from conventional antibiotics and herbals to more unconventional methods like rife machines, essential oils, and now a nebulizer treatment. While I’ve seen tangible bouts of improvement and had seasons of “better days” in the mix, I continue to suffer daily with symptoms that largely impair and limit my life.

Throughout this time, how was your faith walk impacted? Did you lose faith? Get Stronger?

Olivia Wolfertz #chronicpaininterviews
Oliva Wolfertz

At the start of my treatment journey, I felt a strong conviction that God had given me this illness very intentionally. I felt like this was God telling me it was my time to walk through one of my first “major trials,” as I had never before had a serious health issue before. At the time I thought I would go through it, get treated, get better and move on and be able to look back at it as a story of how I joyfully clung to God during a hard time.

I subconsciously was viewing it as a test and thought that if I just stayed positive and did my best to fully trust God, he would soon enough heal me, and then I would move on with life and have this story to encourage others with. I viewed it as very transactional if I’m being honest. Needless to say, I didn’t have the slightest idea of what I was getting into.

I didn't have the slightest idea what I was getting into… #chronic pain #lymedisease #interviews Click To Tweet

Little did I know at that time how devastating and long-term this illness would be or how much it would affect every other area of my life. I would say for the first two years or so, I wasn’t terribly worried about this being the rest of my life and I was able to trust God relatively well all things considered. Of course, there were many difficult battles and symptoms and challenging times that I struggled more, but I felt very supported in the beginning and continued to believe healing was around the next corner.

It wasn’t until probably three years in that I really started to experience more sobering doubts and struggles in my faith. Not only was I still not where I thought I would be after 3 years (still unable to work or be financially independent), but I was feeling a lot of new and difficult symptoms, including serious mental health and sleep struggles, that were very challenging to live with.

Not to mention I was getting emotionally exhausted from the day-to-day struggle. With my worsening symptoms, it became a lot harder to be regularly plugged into a community where I could be spiritually supported, and the isolation made everything a lot harder.

I also wrestled with a lot of shame over the fact that my life isn’t “normal” that affected my self-image and ability to make friends and be vulnerable. Even still, God provided the right people at the right time and sent me some incredibly supportive believers whose prayers were a huge factor in keeping my faith from crushing beneath the pain.

Was there a specific event that became a turning point in your faith during this journey?

As I mentioned above, the anniversary of year three was a turning point where I really started to struggle with doubts and fears that this might actually be the rest of my life and I may never get better. When I realized I wasn’t even close to getting better or even if I was on the right track with treatments, I began to wrestle with anger and disillusionment towards God and a lot of fear that things would never change.

Accepting the Inevitable

I also began to realize that all that I lost might never come back—

  • financial independence,
  • the ability to take care of myself and work a full-time job,
  • live on my own or at least away from my parents,
  • be able to have a normal social life

-all of those things suddenly seemed like things that may never happen again. This realization was the beginning of a very dark season of depression and increasing hopelessness.

Letting Others In

What made the most difference in turning from despair to surrender and trust, though, was taking small steps to let people in my struggle more. Whether that was being honest about my doubts, struggles, or the extent to which I was feeling lonely or needing support, that act of humbling myself opened the door for more people to encourage me in ways I actually needed.

This was such a hard lesson and one that I likely will continually need to relearn, but God definitely wanted me to get to this point.

God definitely wanted me to get to this point. #lymesdisease #chronicpain Click To Tweet

Keeping a Strong Faith is Critical

Keeping a strong faith and hope is absolutely critical to fighting a chronic illness—but there are times where we can’t get there without inviting others in to help. Sometimes the struggles are too hard to emotionally or even spiritually deal with on our own and the turning point doesn’t come until others are invited in the mix and given the opportunity to pour their strength and hope into us. I continue to pray for a supportive community to walk through whatever my future has in store.

What scripture has become a comfort for you in this journey? Why?

There have been several different scriptures that I’ve turned to during different stages of this journey. Here are some:

#sripturecomfort
#chronicpain
  • 1 Peter 5:6-7
  • 1 Peter 4:19
  • 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
  • Romans 4:18-22
  • Isaiah 40:29
  • Proverbs 15:15
  • Psalm 34:19

Not surprisingly these are all verses that shine a light on suffering or trials and trusting God’s deliverance. Widening my scriptural vocabulary to include more specific truths to apply to pain and suffering has made a huge difference in my outlook during rougher patches.

Sometimes when everything seems to be falling apart, it can be all too easy and natural to feed into self-pity, anger, and overall exhaustion with our circumstances. It can feel like we are at the end of our rope and don’t know how we will get through the next hour let alone the rest of our lives if things don’t change.

I’ve found it absolutely critical at those moments to turn to a verse like one of these and allow it to penetrate my despairing thoughts.  It does make a difference, and meditating on or carrying around these verses proactively help arm me so that I am more prepared when those despairing thoughts come and can be quicker to replace them with truths from Scripture.

How do you find comfort on especially painful days?

That’s a really tough question to answer and it definitely depends on the type of bad day I’m having. Sometimes a bad day might mean a ton of pain, in which case I will usually try to rest my body laying down but can find comfort in reading a good book or doing some Bible study if my mental energy is there.

Some days a bad day might mean an extreme excess of fatigue or dizziness or headaches in which case I am not up for reading or blogging or anything but can find comfort in closing my eyes and listening to a good podcast or sermon or take a bath. I find that this will be a good way to encourage my soul and heart even when I don’t have the energy or mental ability to read my Bible or an encouraging book.

Then a bad day might be where I feel more depression or anxiety or discouragement and something that brings me comfort on those types of bad days is talking with a friend or journaling my feelings or painting or getting fresh air if I am feeling up for that physically.

Chronic Pain  #opportunity
Olivia’s Painting

Painting has become an unexpected yet powerful channel for encouragement, as the feeling of tangibly creating something beautiful to share with others is rewarding when you feel like you can’t be productive in other areas of life.

What are some things that your family and friends do that bring comfort in your pain?

The best things my friends or family can do for me during harder times are going out of their way to practically help me or take time to ask me how I am doing and listen to me. I live with my parents, so the best ways I feel comforted by them is when they respect my needs, whether that’s for space or independence or the freedom to not be okay all the time. It is also very comforting when they help out with practical things like meals and laundry or giving me rides to places on days where I can’t handle it.

I moved a few states away to go back home about a year and a half after getting sick, so a lot of my good friends are states away and it’s been hard to get involved and socialize regularly enough to make good friends here as easily. A great way that these friends have comforted me over the distance is through phone call check-ins, cards, and other gestures to show me they are thinking about me. And especially prayer!

Are you involved in any ministries or community service to reach out to others with chronic pain? Share about this.

Olivia's cards #comfortothers #chronicpain
Olivia’s cards

I’m not in any formal capacity but it’s something I really have a desire to work towards. One way that I have started to give back towards others who are suffering (in any way) is to create and write sympathy or encouragement cards for people in my church or community.

I’m involved with a Bible study where the leader is very involved with the church community and she often notifies me when there are people in the area who are going through something hard. Since I love to paint, I love the opportunity to create a card and then bring it to Bible study for the whole group to sign. It’s a great way for me to feel like I’m giving back and tangibly support others with my unique talents and passions.

Offer some words of encouragement to those who may be searching for comfort in their own chronic pain journey.

Chronic Pain - a Powerful Opportunity
Olivia’s painting

Something I would say to someone who is struggling in his or her chronic illness journey (whatever that may be) that I hope might be encouraging is that I believe suffering in this kind of way is a unique calling. I would tell that person that they are very brave for carrying a burden that is much harder than most people realize.

I would affirm that they were chosen with this particular trial for a reason that I believe comes with it a special opportunity for God to work in a very powerful way if they let Him.

suffering in this kind of way is a unique calling #chronicpain #paininterviews Click To Tweet

I would encourage someone in the thick of their suffering to find inspiring examples and role models in the faith that triumphed through immeasurable hardships. I have found inspiration in people like Charles Spurgeon, a nineteenth-century preacher who struggled with deep depression and Elisabeth Elliot, a twentieth-century missionary who went through devastating loss and hardship in her life.

1 Peter 4:19 comfort powerful opportunity

I would also recommend reading the testimonies of Christians who have suffered or are suffering immense persecution or incarceration for their faith in Christ around the world. Hearing about how other believers have walked valiantly through deep trials always gives me strong motivation and inspiration to keep fighting the fight to trust and hope in God no matter where my health may be.

Olivia Wolfertz

Thank you Olivia for your encouraging words.

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Letters to Friends ~ How Are You Doing Since Your Diagnosis?


It’s time for another Letter to Friends! Right after diagnosis, is probably the best time to share with your friends about fibromyalgia and how it affects you. Mainly because our world is so fast-paced, people will quickly forget that you have a health issue at all, especially when it comes to fibro and chronic pain. When we are seen in public, most people see a healthy person and never think twice about it. Others may ask, “how you are doing?”

I recently came in contact with Kate Straus through chronic illness communities. She worked in the education field for over ten years before fibromyalgia changed her life’s path. With a background in special education and early childhood intervention, she has compiled a toolbox of skills to help those with differences navigate life to make them the best that they can be.

Kate has learned, herself, that while fibromyalgia can be an obstacle, it has also revealed strengths that she did not know she had. She is easy to work with, listens well, and is compassionate. She is now a certified fibromyalgia coach helping those with fibromyalgia adjust to their new life.

Today, she has offered a letter that she wrote previously to friends and family to help them understand the struggles she faces with fibromyalgia. I invite you to continue reading to understand more fully challenges we, as fibro warriors, face.

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curleque by Coffee at pixabay

Dear mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, aunt, uncle, grandmother, grandfather, son, daughter, friend, co-worker,

In speaking to a close friend recently, I realize that this letter isn’t just important, but crucial.  I need to share some important information: Chronic pain is not a choice, it’s not enjoyable, and it’s not faked. Whether it’s LYME, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia, Myofascial Pain Syndrome, Lupus or any of the other disorders and diseases that cause chronic pain. According to the Mayo Clinic:

“Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals”.

Mayo Clinic

We are not looking for pity, and for those that are lucky enough not to deal with chronic pain, we don’t even require understanding. What we do ask for is respect. Respect that our pain is real, that the side effects of our pain, and the medications we take for our pain are real.

“How are you?” is a loaded question.

Do you want the answer that is given so that you don’t have to hear the whole *sordid* story; or, do you really want to know how we are doing? Because, we, as chronic pain sufferers, are phenomenal actors and actresses. I believe we should win awards for our “I am fine” answer. When we talk to others who suffer from chronic pain, we ask about each other and give a number from 1-10, in terms of the level of pain, with 1 being low and 10 being out of control. I’ve been lucky to have some friends catch onto that and ask me with the rating.

I guess what we want you to know is that our fine is usually different from your fine. Chronic pain means just that. Hardly a day goes by without some level of pain; however, we do have some days that are better than others. But, just because we “look good”, doesn’t mean we are ready to tackle a marathon or swim from Cuba to Florida (as one fellow “fibromite” made news – a clear exception to the rule – my mother is waiting for my turn to do the swim – just for clarification, I’ve NEVER been a good swimmer). Some of us are lucky enough to deal with low pain, and some of us are in so much pain, we require aids to help us walk (i.e. canes, walkers, wheelchairs).

Pain Affects Every Part of Your Body

Pain affects every functioning part of your body: physical, emotional, psychological, and sensorial. It affects your sleep, often causing disordered sleep. Some can’t seem to get enough sleep and some actually aren’t getting enough sleep.

It causes depression and anxiety.

It affects all five senses. Because you are in persistent pain, it’s difficult to exercise, whether it be gentle movement or anything at all, on some days.

It affects your ability to focus. For me, to be able to sit still is nearly impossible. If I’m watching TV, I’m also playing a game on my computer and texting with a friend. If I am reading, sometimes I need to re-read a paragraph over and over again. Some of us lose time. I am not referring to blackouts, per se; however, for me, I will stare off for what seems like moments, and its 20-30 minutes later.

We can be forgetful and have what’s called “brain fog”. It literally feels like there is a haze around your thoughts. It’s as if you have to wade through pea soup to be able to complete simple tasks. Honestly, sometimes I would prefer the pain to the fog.

Up until a few years ago, people were fascinated by my ability to remember things. My long-term memory still stands strong; however, my short-term memory has become quite weak. I try to play puzzle and quiz games to strengthen this present weakness.

After Diagnosis

My chronic pain diagnoses are fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Interestingly enough, these are two disorders that my father researched over 30 years ago. There are many overlapping characteristics that fall within these two disorders. I am lucky and grateful that I have had a friend introduce me to support groups (all online) which in turn have brought me more friends that *get* me. It’s nice to be understood in that respect.

Ask me Anything

I am open, as are most of my friends, in talking about our chronic pain disorders. Please feel free to ask me any questions you’d like about either of these two disorders. I can tell you how I feel, and if I don’t have answers to other questions you might have, I have places to direct you.

… not a comprehensive list

Just please understand that chronic pain illnesses are often thought of as “invisible illnesses” because you can’t see a visible reason for the pain. This doesn’t mean we aren’t hurting. So, the next time you see someone that you know has a chronic pain disorder, or you see someone walking out of a car in a disabled parking spot with seemingly no difficulty, please don’t judge. Don’t assume.

And for goodness sake, please don’t ever say, “But, you don’t look sick.” Click To Tweet

Sincerely yours,

Kate Strauss

Certified Fibromyalgia Advisor

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curleque by Coffee at pixabay

Thank you, Kate, for these words of wisdom.

Readers, if you are a fibro warrior and need some life coaching to adjust to your new different life.  You might like to contact Kate for that assistance. She is certified to help you. Learn more about her at her own website, Spoons to Share   Don’t miss any of the “letters” we are writing. Check out previous letters and subscribe to this series on the main “Letters to Friends” page.  If you know someone with fibromyalgia (and you probably do), join my Facebook page Fibromyalgia, Is it For Real?

Mandy Farmer

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