This article represents my personal experience, and should not replace the advice of your doctor or other medical professionals.
I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 2002 and it took a long, painful, exhausting five years before I finally found the formula for managing my symptoms. I’ve also developed arthritis in my back in the intervening years, but have been fortunate enough to find a routine that works for that that as well. Luckily, when we decided to full time in our RV a few years ago I realized that this lifestyle is perfectly suited for my health, and I have never felt better!
The key factors to manage my symptoms include: keeping my stress level low and maintaining a routine of exercise and quality sleep.
Much of my stress was self-induced. I have a tendency to be a bit of an overachiever, and it was hard to accept the limitations that came with my condition. Although I found I no longer had the energy to tackle many of my usual activities, I didn’t want to accept it. I would inevitably overdo it which would cause a painful flare. It became this vicious cycle of self-recrimination, pushing myself too hard, and experiencing a flare. I had to learn to relax and accept myself as I am, not as I once was. I went to therapy and I learned to enjoy new activities. This included finding alternative ways to stay active and exercise without push myself beyond my limits.
The need for exercise seems almost counter intuitive at times. When I’m in pain the last thing I want to do is move, much less exercise. It seems like exercising should make the pain and fatigue worse, but I actually learned it has the opposite effect. Even when I’m in significant pain, I need to move my body if I want the flare to pass. And if I maintain an exercise routine, I can reduce the frequency of flares. The trick was to find exercise activities that didn’t push my body too far, and make matters worse. My doctors recommended walking, light band strength training, and stretching. This was the extent of my routine for a few years until I herniated a disc in my lower back and was sent to physical therapy.
This particular physical therapy clinic had an indoor pool and it changed my life. Even walking often caused pain, but walking in the pool was a whole new experience. According to the Arthritis Foundation the many benefits, of water exercise include:
- Water’s buoyancy reduces the impact on joints.
- Working out in water can help improve cardiovascular fitness, balance and range of motion.
- Heated pools – typically 82 to 88 degrees – can help soothe pain. Cooler temps might not make your joints feels as good, but you’ll still reap the workout’s benefits.
- Water also has greater resistance than air, which means walking in water requires more effort and ultimately burns more calories than walking on land.
As I progressed in my therapy, I was able to improve to the point that I joined a local YMCA that offered water aerobics in their heated pool. Later I took a lap swimming class, and now I water jog and swim whenever I can.
Over the years I have learned the importance of regular sleep. The problem is, it is hard to sleep when you are in pain. Even worse, even after falling asleep I was tossing and turning all night. I had an overnight sleep study because I was falling asleep during the day (even driving), and we learned that the pain was interrupting my deep sleep. The doctor said this was contributing to my increased pain, as well as obviously my narcoleptic episodes. I find that the more active I am during the day, the better I sleep at night, so it links back to my exercise routine. In addition, I took a “sleep hygiene” class and learned some techniques like going to bed and getting up at the same time, as well as employing some relaxation exercises when first going to bed that seem to help. Finally, a quality mattress is a must.
Eating nutritious food and maintaining a healthy weight will also help keep you active. I’ve really struggling with this over the years. When I am feeling bad, I often crave junk or comfort food. Unfortunately, that doesn’t serve my body well. Since adopting a healthy diet and cutting out processed foods and sugar, I’ve found increased energy. And as I said before, the more energy I have to move my body, the less pain I experience.
I’ve also included a few foods with anti-inflammatory properties. For example, turmeric curcumin has long been a treatment for joint pain in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine. I prefer to buy the root and grate it onto the food, rather than use the pills. It’s less and expensive and more natural. Other spices with anti-inflammatory properties include cinnamon, garlic, cayenne, black pepper, and clove.
How the RVing Life Helps
Over the last few years, I’ve found that the RVing life has improved my health even more. Having a smaller living space and a more simplistic life has further reduced stressors in my life (except for backing in at campgrounds, but that’s a different story). We put a new mattress in bedroom, and I sleep as well as I did in our home. Finally, when looking at campground reviews, I look for places with pools and walking trails. All this is not to see that I don’t have bad days or flares, but they are fewer and farther between. When I do have them, the smaller area of the RV definitively makes it easier to manage.
Management, Not Cure
I do want to point out that while these things help manage my condition, they aren’t a cure. I still struggle with flares, and have learned to listen to my body. There are times when I have to admit my limitations and be willing to change plans. And I’ve mostly made peace with my new normal…
Do you suffer from chronic health conditions? How do you manage your symptoms?
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I have fibro, ddd and p.a.. I have had fusions from c3 to t1 and l2-l3 with laminectomies from L2-S1 last Sept. I hurt all of the time
I look forward to getting out and walking in New places and actually bought a new swim suit yesterday. I lo g to me able to sit in a hot tub and actually thought of joining a local club with an indoor pool
We will be hitting the road in 2 1/2 weeks so stress is high as we liquidate our lives.
Thanks for sharing.
I have a lot of admiration for your courage in planning the transition to full time life while you are in so much pain. I used to have a YMCA membership. They often have pools, and the memberships were transferable from place to place. You may want to check it out when you are on the road. Best wishes to you and safe travels!
I have herniated discs 2 in neck, one lower lumbar, arthritis in both thumbs shoulder and back pain.
On May 8, 2017 started wearing a life sensing Oracle…now pain free and very happy senior citizen who loves to RV. Now I can travel and monitor &improve my health and my husbands. My mission is to help everyone live a better quality of life. 2007 cancer survivor ..no chemo!
Thanks for sharing! I’ll have to research that–I’ve never heard of it before.
Very nice post. I’ve been full-timing for 6 months–I was hesitant because I have rheumatoid arthritis that has been difficult to manage. The miracle of it was I only dealt with a few small flares and only 1 big one during that timeframe. I just saw my rheumatologist, and he is ecstatic that this lifestyle (along with some yucky meds) has settled my RA to a manageable state. I love living on the road, pacing myself within my own physical limitations, and having a smaller space/less belongings to eliminate more stress. You have a new follower. I am excited to follow your journey! Safe travels! Dawn
I’m so glad things are going well for you and your RA is cooperating! It really helps to “meet” others who have similar experiences. I’m headed over to check out your blog now.
It’s comforting to hear that travel in an RV is very doable. I suffer with RA, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue (…blah blah blah.)
Much to my family’s dismay, we decided to full time this year as well. We looked at it as the best access to travel because when I have a bad flare of whatever happens to get off track, I’ll already be home. There will be a lot less stress as well as a more relaxing lifestyle. Meds will be ready without any need to worry about packing or forgetting any.
Thanks for letting those of us with health issues that it can be done and done well!
So glad you found my post encouraging! That is definitely what I was trying to convey. It’s not easy to travel with these conditions, but we make it work don’t we?
I think we can make it work for us. My husband is concerned about the number of meds but there’s gotta be a “work around” for it. My biggest concern would be the mail order aspect of my Humira but I think it will work out.
The RV is the best way for us to travel. I will always be home. If there’s a bad day, we can stay in…
I do appreciate your comments on the pool and walking trails. That is really great advice for things we need to look for at a campsite!
Enjoying reading your insight. I also suffer similar issues, so I agree with you.
I have not yet gone full time, but I do find when we get away for a period of time I feel better. I seem to exercise more even if short walks or bike rides. I have learned that sugar adds to my pain so I have learned to greatly restrain my sweet tooth cravings.
Julie Chickery says
I’ve been trying to cut sugar out of my diet, but I have such a sweet tooth! It is an ongoing struggle.
I feel like I could have written this. I also have fibromyalgia and started with water-based PT (it’s such a great thing). My symptoms are well managed, but definitely still there and still flare. We just transitioned to RV life a month ago and we love it! It has it’s challenges but it also has many ways that it makes dealing with these chronic illnesses easier.
Julie Chickery says
The only real problem I’ve experienced is when we had a firm travel day and I had a flare. That is brutal. It only happened once, the other times I was able to extend our stay.