I have learned to say no and I have also learned to ask for help.
Fifteen years ago I was a single parent of a young son and I had the energy to go from zero to 60 in a second with no issues at all. I was like the Energizer bunny and found myself working as much as 90 hours in a week in my corporate career.
It didn't take long for that to come to a screeching halt. I developed a migraine that simply would not go away!
I had suffered with migraines, some level of fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, and more my whole life, but nothing had really stopped me in my tracks — not until this. The pain on the right side of my head was so severe that it totally incapacitated me.
I had a nonstop migraine for 16 months that eventually crossed my right eye and weakened me to the point to where I could not get out of bed for over an hour at a time. I was unable to eat or sleep and lost so much weight that I was down to a size two.
I struggled with daily tasks of caring for my son and my home and could not perform on the job at my office any longer. Everything that I had loved to do had become impossible for me.
After being tested for everything from multiple sclerosis to a brain tumor, I crossed paths with a nurse who shared her own experience. It was related to the absorption of vitamin B12 — not just a normal malabsorption issue, but something deeper that required special testing to diagnose.
While my neurologist refused to dig deeper, my primary care physician researched my issue. I had heard of this condition in February of that year, and in December testing was done and the diagnosis confirmed.
I had a rare antibody in my system that rejected B12. The deficiency was so severe it had damaged the nerves in my body, predominately along the right side where the migraine had begun.
I have learned to say no and I have also learned to ask for help.
The B12 issue had caused peripheral neuropathy and triggered fibromyalgia. In the beginning, I had to take B12 injections three times a week, then once a month.
Over time, it was determined that the B12 was rejected so quickly by the antibodies that I would need to take shots once a week for the rest of my life.
Everything changed for me — I had to learn to listen to my body and pace myself. I had to restructure my daily routine and schedule based on flare-ups and energy levels. I had to learn to take care of me as I was the ultimate caregiver for my child and my family.
I learned that if my health suffered, then I could not be what I needed to be for them! I became more aware of my diet and food triggers, sleep patterns, and more.
I have developed a life of much more balance — something that I had not mastered prior to my crash and burn. I also began to cultivate talents and skills that I had not slowed down enough to pursue.
Once I grieved over what I was no longer able to do, I embraced the things that I could do. What a gift!
One of the greatest lessons and blessings for me is the art of acceptance and the attitude of gratitude. I know my limitations and I am okay with that.
I have learned to say no and I have also learned to ask for help. I have a fabulous inner circle that has surrounded me with love and support through these years.
My sweet son Josh learned compassion and support early on, as he was only nine years old when I became ill. He turned 24 yesterday and I can honestly say I wouldn't be here had it not been for his love, acceptance, support and even sacrifice at times. He has literally put his life on hold to help me during times when I was unable to work and facing battles such as disability appeals and loss of income.
My retired parents have been a godsend — they have chipped in with finances as they were able, chores, errands or whatever was needed at the moment. When my son was younger, they helped care for him on days I was too weak to do so.
Then there's my 94-year-old grandmother who has been my best cheerleader in life! She has taught me love, acceptance, self-care and how to not take life so seriously! She is like my own personal stress-buster!
I was asked to share my story with the whole Early To Rise Organization and their readers. Just the contestants alone was an audience of 47,000!
This gave me the boost I needed, so I started writing my first book, sharing more of my experience. My first book was published in February of 2014. I had lost my voice through illness, but found it because of it!
My advice to those like me who have walked a similar path is this: take the time you need to grieve your losses, then take more time to love and care for yourself. Once you regain your focus, let go of what you can't do and begin to focus on what you can do.
Life may be forever changed, but it isn't over — it is just beginning. Find your new "normal," look beyond what you are dealing with to what you can contribute through your struggle.
You are not alone. You have a story, you have a voice, and you have a purpose. Don't be afraid to be real with yourself and with others. You'd be surprised who is listening and what a difference you can make! And be kind to yourself along the way!
I know my limitations.
I suppose if I could leave readers of my story with one thought it is never give up! For me, I had to let go of a career, of a charted path that I felt was a calling for me because my body and energy level would not allow it.
But as I began to think outside the box, I saw a world of opportunities. I didn't arrive at this epiphany alone or right away — it was a process of trial and error, and talking and tears, and even times of laughing in spite of myself and my situation.
With the support and love of family and a few close friends who saw the beauty and ability in me when I no longer saw it in myself, I began to explore many possibilities for life. Some of that journey led me on a few rabbit trails, but the love of those closest to me remain my compass and the whisper in my own heart does as well.
I am not the sum total of how my body feels. Last year, my family and I began working on a family business that is allowing me to use my talents and skills to develop a new opportunity for financial independence and freedom from routines that I can no longer maintain.
It may not change the world, but feeling that I can make a difference again has changed me! And mostly, we are committed to paying it forward and that perhaps, is the greatest medicine of all to soothe body and soul through this journey with fibromyalgia!
Starla Rich is an author, blogger, contributing writer, business owner and founder of Blessings for Belles — an organization created for the purpose of "paying forward" hope.
She is a fibromyalgia warrior who is a strong voice for those struggling with health issues that diminish quality of life. Starla is also an advocate for those dealing with the trauma and devastation of domestic violence and abuse.
She hosts a global online community, writes a multifaceted blog, which ranges from reflective devotions to humorous stories of her life in the South. Starla lives near her family along the sunny Gulf Coast of Alabama.
She is co-owner of her family business that was birthed after she had to leave public employment due to health issues. Rather than focusing on what she could no longer do, Starla found new purpose through the help, love and support of her family.
She is also a contributing health writer for the NewLifeOutlook Health Network. Aside from writing, Starla enjoys public speaking and participating in her love of music.
Starla comes from a musical family and began playing the piano and singing at age nine. Her natural talent culminated in a piano scholarship for college. She enjoys decorating and caring for her home as well as cooking and entertaining friends and family as therapy for dealing with fibromyalgia.
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