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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