Lessons Learned in Mother Nature-Overcoming My Fibro Symptoms

I took this photo was at sunset where Hurricane River meets Lake Superior.

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My husband and I agreed to be volunteer chaperons for a week of rustic camping at Pictured Rocks sometime last year.  I really had thought I'd have this Fibromyalgia beat by then-ha! Ha! My daughter runs a program called Parks in Focus that gets 14 teens into the wilderness through the use of photography.  Kelley and I have always been outdoorsy, so a free trip to the UP of Michigan sounded like a great deal.

The weekend before the trip had been a really rough one.  I was still dealing with what seems to be the last throws of Cymbalta withdrawal: a weird headache and nausea, besides the pain being more intense, insomnia, and at times a deep sadness.  My resolve to stay off of Cymbalta for at least two months past withdrawal was waning fast. The night before, Kelley said that he could go and I could stay home, but I just didn't want to be left behind.  So, I got up, really out of it, and plopped my bum in the car ready for the six-hour drive to Pictured Rocks National Shoreline, thinking that I wasn't going to be much help and worrying that I would actually be a burden.

The energy of 14 teens from 11-14 years of age (5 boys and 9 girls) was papable.  When we stopped for lunch at Mackinaw City, I was beginning to get my legs under me.  One of the campers, an alumni of 14 and lead camper, remembered me from a trip we did with his group to Ludington State park a couple of years before.  He came up and hugged me and called me Abuela.  Kelley was called Abuelo.  Our role of adopted grandparents was formed.

We arrived just before the thunderstorm that night. That meant we had to all hustle to get out tents up and the camp secured.  Dinner had to wait.  As I lay in our tent, on our new Coleman Queen-sized camping cot, I felt tentative that I could enjoy this week and be of help to the group.

After dinner that first night, Kelley and I did a short walk from our campsite to Lake Superior.  It felt good to listen to the waves slap the sandy shore and the rush of Hurricane River flowing into the lake.  There were no real other sounds.  The air was fresh and the lighting of the sun through the dissipating clouds soft. It was then that I took some much needed deep breaths and did a few half-sun salutations and yoga stretches.  I could feel my mind, my body, and my soul let down.

The next four days were crammed with meal prep and cleanup, amazing outdoor adventures, beautiful sites, and happy faces. At Seney National Wildlife Preserve, while the kids were doing a pond study session lead by park rangers, Kelley and I went for a stroll through the ponds.  Then, at lunchtime, I pulled off to the side of the Pavillon on the grass and did some yoga, meditation, and stretches.  I felt so much better than I had the past several weeks since completely going off of Cymbalta. Even more amazing was the fact that I was using very little in the way of over-the-counter pain reliever for the first time in several months.
I should have tried for a better shot, but trust me, I was feeling great here:)

Loons calling, monarchs flitting around. 

That night I didn't feel the greatest.  I've been having times of pain that aren't exactly pain.  It's a deep electrical-type aching, much like getting your funnybone hit.  It's mainly been on my left side from under my left arm, up into the armpit, into the shoulder, down the arm to the fingers and up into the neck, causing a nausea-filled headache.  I did take two Zyquil that night and ended up sleeping fairly well.  (I did have to get up to go pee.  However, with me having Interstitial Cystitis for many years now, we came prepared with our own travel potty: Reliance Fold-and-Go.) The new camping cot really was a perfect bed away from home.

The next day was to be the big hike.  We drove to Chapel Rock parking area.  The campers all had their cameras and were ready for a 6-mile hike.  The weather was threatening to rain in the later afternoon, so we knew we had to get going early that morning.  After the ranger's presentation about human interaction in nature, we began.  Kelley and I both used a walking stick.  He actually was in more pain than I was because of doing a major brick path laying project at home for the past couple of weeks.  The kids were kind and let us both walk at our own pace.  At about the three-mile mark, I was really feeling good, physically, emotionally, and mentally. 
Abuelo and Abuela-taken by one of our "grandcampers".

Chapel Rock- a metaphor for living FULLY no matter the obstacles.

The kids commented that I was handling the walk better than they were! ;)

At lunchtime, I did get hit with a wave of that weird-electric-nausea headache.  I laid down on the ground and did some stretches and ate a peanut butter and jam tortilla rollup and drank some water.  (One note: we drank a lot of just water on this trip.  More than I normally do at home.) I revived just in time to head back.  I also took the lead of the line.  My daughter had irritated her ankle and was needing to take a slower pace, so Kelley stayed with her. As the threatening thunderclaps were heard off in the distance, the kids and I began a quick hike back with no stops for photos or nature ogling. I have to admit I felt strong when a camper said, "Abuela, you are faster than the rest of us!" That night, I felt energetic and clear-minded. I went into a sound sleep without aches and pains.

The next day, while the kids went on a canoe trip across Beaver Lake with the Ranger, Kelley and I hiked the groups' lunches to the beach we'd meet them later that morning.  That morning, I had woken up with my usual stiff-sore legs and arms, but I was able to get the rust out through the early walk. Kelley and I got separated after I realized I had left my walking stick at our resting spot from a while back.  He went on because we were worried that we'd be late meeting the group for lunch.  Our communication for where to meet up was a bit off, leading me to add on an additional mile to my overall walk.  Towards the end of that 5-mile walk, I could feel I was hitting the end of my energy level. I focused on consciously noticing what I saw around me, the smells of pine and lake, the sounds of waves rolling in and tweets of the birds, and the taste of the wintergreen leaf I chewed. I also focused on slowly breathing in and out. Those ways of being present have really helped me appreciate and FULLY take in these precious moments. 

Luckily, we were all ready to go home and take a nap.  Sleeping in the open air really is refreshing.  By dinner time, I was back up and rejuvenated.  That night, sitting on the beach of Lake Superior, watching as the sunset, I really felt like there was hope that I could live my life, on my terms, without the help of pharmaceuticals.



On the drive home yesterday, I found an article about Rewiring the Brain (brain plasticity).  Dr. Norman Doidge, the author of The Brain's Way of Healing and The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, talks about how walking, specifically, can help to rewire the brain and fix what is broken.  Through the Fibromyalgia Chronic Pain program at Mary Free Bed, I had already bought into the idea that I was dealing with a broken brain that is overprotectively sending out pain messages.  I certainly have made progress through their guidance.  However, going off of Cymbalta definitely challenged my coping skills.  I feel that walking (especially in nature) is a healing thing for me.  I could feel the change. I am now going to do further research in this area.  I highly recommend listening to this talk: The Brain's Way of Healing and reading this article: Walk Your Way to Better Brain Health & How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain
5 days, no shower or bath, yet really feeling good.

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