Managing my Fibromyalgia at Significant Life Events

When my friend asked me if I would be her bridesmaid, I wanted, wanted, wanted to say yes. I wanted to scream yes! I wanted to dance around in the street shouting, “she’s getting married!” because I was that stupidly happy for my friend. She deserves much happiness and much success, so the making-it-official day was definitely something I wanted to help her celebrate. Marriage is about more than the wedding, the ups and downs of a relationship, but the wedding ceremony itself is a time to come together with the people closest to you and celebrate the commitment to those ups and downs with a big hoopla. Except, I have fibromyalgia and a gazillion medical bills, so I couldn’t let the “yes!” escape my lips without considerations. I had to ask questions first. I had to plan for success around my illness; I did not want to let my friend down. I am hopeful that my own preparations and decisions about managing my chronic illness may help someone else think about how to tackle participating in such a significant event in his or her life.

Most of my questions were about where the wedding would be, which activities I’d be expected to participate in, and the cost of participating. I would not have been able to fly to where she lives in Ohio and commit to participating in the wedding; travel is invariably, inevitably, and absolutely exhausting. I always need a couple of days to fully recover. Nor would I have been able to really afford the flights to Ohio. Luckily, the wedding was in my hometown. All the activities I’d participate in (bachelorette party, wedding rehearsal, and the wedding itself) were local and within the span of Memorial weekend. The activities would make for a long action-packed weekend, which was a not small concern given that I never know how I’ll feel and piling up activities days in a row generally results in excessive fatigue. Still, I thought I could manage it. My friend was gracious and heartfelt in her concern too about my ability to commit and manage my fibromyalgia symptoms. She didn’t want to overwhelm me, but she also genuinely hoped that I’d be able to participate. As for cost of the attire, I was free to pick any dress that matched the color and was about knee length. She even said that it was kosher to buy a dress and shoes secondhand.

“You can think about it,” she told me.

I told her I didn’t need to think about it.

I did, however, need to have a game plan because I knew that my fibromyalgia would rear its head at some point. I planned to keep my participation in the bachelorette pub crawl down to a about an hour, long enough to make an appearance, not so long that my sleep schedule would be affected. I rested the morning of the dress rehearsal and didn’t exercise, though I did spend some time working in the garden. I took muscle relaxers to ensure a good night of sleep leading up to the wedding. Without sleep, I’m generally an achey mess. The morning of the wedding, I didn’t exercise, stashed my pain pills in my purse, including my extra emergency pain pills, gussied myself off, and headed off to hang with the bride early in the morning.

I alternated between sitting and standing to make sure that my back wouldn’t act up but also to ensure that I was sufficiently well rested. Still, by mid-morning, the angry beast of knotted pain that sometimes resides in the connective tissue below my collar bone in my chest had flared into a raging grumpasaurus sending out constant signals of PAIN, PAIN, PAIN. The bride had a masseuse come in to give everyone short massages, and I most definitely took advantage of that. (Really, we bridesmaids were spoiled:  we had our hair professionally done AND we had a professional masseuse and the ability to choose our dresses – win!) The masseuse worked on my shoulders and my angry pectoral muscles, and I felt some relief.

At one point, one of my friends, another bridesmaid, turned to me and asked, “Are you okay?”

“Yes!” I lied.

“Are you just saying that?”

“Yes!” I said as cheerfully as I could manage.

The pain was incredibly distracting.

Then, however, it was time to head downstairs and participate in the wedding of my dear long-time friend.

As I lined up for the processional, my excitement and joy for my friend filled me with energy. Wherever that energetic font came from, I’m grateful for it. I was so filled with love and happiness that I forgot about the pain. I forgot that I was ill. I walked into the ballroom, marched up the aisle, winked at my husband, and stood up for a friend whom I’ve known for almost 11 years. I teared up as she walked up the aisle. I teared up as they read vows to each other. I smiled as if all the euphoric golden sunshine in the world had bubbled up in this room because I was just so, so happy for her and for him and that they found each other. My friend had such a lovely, beautiful, and meaningful ceremony; it was perfect. I walked out of the wedding feeling buoyant and invigorated.

And then I crashed. Hard.

The hour for pictures and helping with set-up for the reception was difficult. I was at the point where I needed to take my afternoon meds, so I felt the aches and pains more strongly. As soon as things were set up, I sat down in the most comfortable chair I could find and tried to rest so I’d have the energy I wanted to have for the reception. I even permitted myself not to smile, which may sound weird, as I rested in the chair. Sometimes the energy it takes to be “healthy” in public is taxing, so I just let everything go. All of it. I rested. I tried to save those spoons for later.

As I rested, another bridesmaid I didn’t know as well sat next to me and asked if I was okay. (Not smiling has its drawbacks, but I probably looked as exhausted as I felt, so she may well have asked anyway).

I paused. I thought about how to answer. I thought about the “I’m fine!” or the “yep!”

Instead, I ventured after that long pause, “I’m sick.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, with what?”

“Fibromyalgia. I’m just resting.”

There, I had said it. I told someone who was essentially a stranger, though I’d seen her a few times at events with my friend, that I was sick. It’s not easy telling strangers that you’re chronically ill, but since she’s a friend of a dear friend, well, it went about as I expected. She was understanding and sympathetic without being invasive. She let me rest.

I smiled for the photos, and then I met my family for the reception. Because I was sitting for large portions and my medications were kicking in, I definitely felt better. I even mustered the energy to dance with my wonderful teenaged foster kiddo. We did the YMCA and the Cupid Shuffle together. I laughed and danced and again felt that overwhelming joy and gratitude that my friend was having such a beautiful day surrounded by friends and family who love her.

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Hamming it up with the kiddo and having a great time doing it!

Still, the moment I got home, I knew that I had overspent all those spoons. I went to bed at 6 p.m. I listened to my audiobook. I cuddled up with my husband and streamed a show on the computer. I rested. I rested. I rested. I took another muscle relaxer to ensure restorative sleep—often elusive for those with fibromyalgia.

I made sure to keep the next day fairly low-key as well. We met up with my folks who were in town for the wedding too, and we limited our activities (lunch, a short walk around a museum, and ice cream). We decided to go camping, and my husband packed up the car. I sat in my comfortable camping chair and just read for hours in a beautiful place lakeside by myself while they went swimming. To me, few things are as peaceful as a quiet campsite in nature. He cooked; I rested.

I’m so grateful that I was able to participate in my friend’s wedding. Even though my fibromyalgia most certainly reared its ugly head, my plan of attack seemed to have worked overall. Moreover, I wouldn’t trade the experience of being able to participate in such a wonderful event for even a week or two of recovery on the recliner (which I luckily avoided). Having a chronic illness necessitates making hard choices about what you can and cannot do in your life. I can assure you: I made the right choice. I celebrated friendship and love.

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Celebrating friendship
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