Starting Over: Working Through Pain and Developing Inner Strength

start-overEven when the mere idea of walking around the block makes you want to  crawl back under the covers and never surface again, exercise is essential for people with arthritis and fibromyalgia. Working through stiffness and pain requires accepting responsibility to become your own healer and summoning the courage required to stay the course. When you have had an exercise program and  abandoned it, starting over again is a shame-filled, fear-filled and painful challenge to overcome. 

Fibromyalgia and Arthritis pain

Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain and  additional pain when pressure is applied to specific areas of the body, called tender points.  Those with a rheumatic disease, like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus are more likely to develop fibromyalgia.  Fibromylagia fluctuates from day to day, so you never know in advance where and how intense the pain will be when you awake in what’s referred to as a “fibro-fog”.

Arthritis pain and stiffness comes from a lack of fluid in joints. It’s the effect of inactivity from sleeping or from inactivity like sitting at my desk in front of a computer monitor for too long.  Pre-exercises “lubricate” the joints by pumping fresh synovial fluid back into them before exercise like walking, running, biking and swimming, which involve use a variety of synovial joints.

 Inspiration for Overcoming Challenges

broken-placesTo make a long story short I’m coming back from a phase of inactivity and depression, following a year of grief. I’m working through physical pain from both arthritis and fibromylagia and emotional pain due to family entanglements.

Following  my mother’s death after months of getting no straight answers we discovered the executor of her estate (a sibling) had stolen all of it before she died and chose not to own up to that act. No sooner than that was known than my friend who was fighting cancer died. Then the sibling who ripped us off  chose to become very difficult ie. defiant and combative.  Another sibling responded with righteous anger and I felt that same anger deep inside burning me like a hot coal. As I’m the eldest  everyone appealed to me to provide a solution to the chaotic mess we were in. While reeling with shock from all of that, my brother, who I loved dearly, died an untimely death.

The best way to describe what happened to me is that I quietly came undone. I gradually fell away from taking proper care of myself as I sunk into a deep depression. Predictably, as my immune system was low and my mind was troubled, I manifested shingles and suffered two major fibromyalgia flare-ups.  I needed inspiration to put myself back together again physically, emotionally and spiritually, and I didn’t have to search farther than my library to find it.

Picking up the pieces

How To Be Sick–A Buddhist’s Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers by Toni Bernhard’s is an invitation to gently set aside the fear and the fight in order to truly live. It is based on principles of Buddhism, which she carefully applies to her own chronic disease. She learned ways to make “being sick” the heart of her spiritual practice—and through learning how to be sick, she learned how to live a life of equanimity, compassion, and joy, despite physical limitations. Her book has helped me how to get back to taking care of myself.

true-strengthPema Chodron‘s When Things Fall Apart and The Places That Scare You are books I have had for many years and have read often. It takes great courage to meet challenges associated with disappointment and loss and we continue to face those challenges until we die. Each of us has within us the power to overcome that which causes us fear and pain. Instead of asking ourselves: “‘How can I find peace and happiness?” we can ask ourselves : “Can I touch the center of my sorrow? Can I sit with pain – mine and yours – without trying to fix it?”

Pema Chödrön may have more good one-liners than a Groucho Marx retrospective, but this nun’s stingers go straight to the heart: “The essence of bravery is being without self-deception”; “When we practice generosity, we become intimate with our grasping”; “Difficult people are the greatest teachers.” These are the punctuations to specific teachings of fearlessness. In The Places That Scare You, Chödrön introduces a host of the compassionate warriors’ tools and concepts for transforming anxieties and negative emotions into positive living.

Pema Chodron explains meditation, mindfulness and practices such as Tonglen (taking in the pain and suffering of others while sending out happiness) can be key tools in ridding ourselves of negativity, anxiety and fear.

Tonglen is a gentle, step-by-step process of opening the heart. Tonglen is a practice wherein that which we usually resent and push away becomes the very means by which our heart and mind become open and free. By embracing, rather than rejecting, the unwanted and painful aspects of experience, we overcome fear and develop greater empathy for others.

In her books and videos Pema Chodron explains how we can use meditation, mindfulness and tonglen  to overcome almost any obstacle or challenge.

Good Medicine – Tonglen: The Seeds of Spiritual Awakening by Pema Chodron by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Good Medicine Volume 2 – The Spirit and Practice of Tonglen by Pema Chodron by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

hope-and-strengthStaying motivated

When it comes to exercising that amounts to working through pain, will power alone isn’t enough, as it doesn’t necessarily make you feel better right away, or in my case, better at all.  Here is a Fibromyalgia Slideshow: Fibro-Friendly Exercises to give you readers an overview of the flexibility, aerobic and strength exercises I do.

Grief is not a linear process but by Thanksgiving I had moved from grief to gratitude.  On December 1st I set three realistic goals expressed in a single phrase ie. the title of this article —  Starting Over: Working Through Pain and Developing Inner Strength. I am restoring and re-energizing by focusing on my diet, my 5 days weekly exercise practice and my tonglen practice. Since then I have scheduled my exercise and meditation breaks for the same times every day and try to incorporate variety so I remain motivated.

Do you have an exercise program? (Why or why not?)

If so, who or what inspires you? And, do you have any tips for remaining motivated?

Image credit


  1. Hi TT. Wow !! I stumbled across your LIKE in Sheri’s magnificent blog so I just had to come and visit and found this, a completely different side to the TT I met in the forum.

    I may only come this once as I am trying so hard to cut back on the blogs I am following so this has to be a special visit.

    I am absolutely amazed at how some bloggers, such as yourself, spend their time helping others while suffering themselves. I have a friend who suffers from a permanent migraine and is too poor to buy access to doctors and medicines, yet is too proud to accept financial help, but spends her time making blankets for altzheimer patients and only asks for scraps of wool/yarn to be sent to her. The Internet is her only contact with the outside world as she spends her days in almost darkness. The only way I could get her to accept help was by buying special hooks and gloves for her work.

    I just want to give you a big hug for what you do and it has been an honour to have met you TT :D

    My love and thoughts I send to you. Ralph xox

  2. Dear Readers,
    Thank you all so much for caring enough to comment because writing and publishing this post was not an easy thing for me to do. This is to let you all know I treasure your comments but I do work and don’t always have a chance to reply to them immediately or even on the same day I approve them. Bless you for your understanding and patience while waiting.

  3. This is just what I needed to read right now, timethief. I just had a debilitating attack of back pain. Fortunately, it’s moved on but during the time I could hardly walk or sit. Yes, I need to get back on track with an exercise program. Your point about keeping the fluids moving is so important. I really appreciate this reminder and encouragement. I’m sorry for all the tough times you have been through in the last year. I hope this year is brighter for you.

    • Hi Sandra,
      I’m so sorry to hear about your back trouble. I’ve been there and know exactly what you mean by being barely able to sit or stand. I hope the pain disappears and your mobility returns quickly.

      I’m still struggling with my exercise program physically and will be going forward as would be expected after such a long lay-off. You won’t be surprised to hear the biggest struggle is between my ears. There the mind monkey is continually nattering that the clients, bookkeeping, laundry, cleaning, etc. are more important than exercising is. I have yet to develop deafness. In that regard the best I can do is recognize it’s nattering again and laugh long and hard, while I resolve to ignore it.

      Thanks for your kindness. I do feel sure that this year will be a brighter one for me and I hope it’s a bright one for you too.

  4. Dearest titi, I had no idea all the other stuff in addition to your sibling problems and family deaths, that you have shouldered. There are days I think that coming from a big family, it can be a huge advantage if everyone is generally harmonious. But then, later, it does mean multiplication of sadness when one outlives family members over time.

    I am amazed that you even managed to soldier on with your blogs, though I realize you might be doing bits of advance posting.

    Do I have an exercise program? Yes, I cycle around to do stuff…go to work, shop and for fitness as well as for vacation travel. It is naturally interwoven into the rhythm of my lifestyle. So over 70% of the time I don’t think of it as strictly exercise.

    It helps me remain acutely aware of Nature and weather. And to live in the moment. What inspires me? I dunno. I haven’t figured that one out. One thing for certain, unlike some people, I don’t have a bucket list of personal things outside of life that I want to get/visit, etc. If some wonderful opportunities come along, if it meets my values, objectives, then I’ll take it. All want are to do things that leave a good footprint of myself (ie. the best of me) and for others.

    • Hi Jean,
      You are such a dear friend. There was so much going on and I was in a such a state that sharing what was happening as it unfolded was impossible. It was just too overwhelming and that’s partly why my blogging fell off here. I did have draft posts ready for one cool site, and I continued to create new content when I could.

      The other frustrating factor was, of course, lack of time. Mom died just days after hubby got his new job. That meant there was a shadow over that shift as the position came with travel and he was “off” to work elsewhere, while I was very much “on” in the business and on the home front.

      Your exercise program sounds less like a program and more like a lifestyle to me ie. a healthy lifestyle. I’m attempting once again to incorporate my yoga and strength training exercises into my lifestyle. Once I do that I will be back where I started many years ago in college. Last December I started by cutting my exercise time down, skipping sessions and eventually I abandoned exercising at all.

      Like you I don’t have a bucket list and I have no intention of developing one. What underlies creating a bucket list is wanting to do the things you have always wanted to do before it is too late. Now, that’s a good intent but when I read them what stands out is how blatantly costly experiential items on these bucket lists are. The abundance movement and the entitlement complex breadcrumb trails I detect in these bucket list items mean my head is shaking before I have read more than a dozen items.

      It can’t be a coincidence that the majority of items listed on bucket lists tend to be financially costly and materialistic in nature, and that does not appear to vary when one reads bucket lists on self development and/or religious or spiritual blogs, can it?

      It seems almost all bucket lists have financially costly items with high environmental impacts positioned at the top and any personal development goals are positioned near the end of the list. That makes me wonder if well educated and presumably conscious adults have truly convinced themselves that for example, climbing Mt. Everest and/or traveling world are more important aspirations than altruistic aims like consuming less, cultivating compassion and giving more to others who need it, are? I sure hope that isn’t the case.

      Here’s a quote I discovered in 2010 and bookmarked:

      For me, life is not a “to do list.” Collecting experiences like trophies does so very little for me. I am not an “experiential materialist.” I cannot measure my life in terms of items crossed off a list. I do not believe that my life will be better if I have accomplished one hundred things on a list. A t-shirt I used to own said it best: “He who dies with the most toys, still dies.”

      Like you I’m focused on living lightly on this planet and leaving only good impressions behind.

  5. What a journey and story this past year! So glad you shared your story and what you’re going through. As painful experience all of this is, sounds like you’re on track to discovering your inner strength and finding the hope in your situation. I’ve noticed that during such painful moments in my life, is the time for the greatest spiritual growth and personal development. While I would rather not have that kind of growth and development, haha, I’ve come to embrace it! Actually the growth and development is fine, the pain is not so much.

    Thank you again for sharing your journey and for your courage in moving on and finding hope in the situation you’re in.

    • Hi Vishnu,
      I hope you didn’t give up on waiting for a response from me. I did appreciate receiving your comment, but my hubby was traveling to his work and I had sole responsibility for our business in his absence ie. life got in the way for me. When he returned and the weekend began I decided to do what my body and mind needed to do ie. rest and enjoy his company.

      I’ve made the same observation you have. When times are really tough I get acquainted with my inner strength and after they subside I reflect on growth. That’s when I can be grateful for impermanence and for what I have learned by staying the course through troubled times.

  6. I don’t suffer from fibromyalgia, but I have a great deal of difficulty building strength and recover very slowly from workouts. My weight doesn’t help either. One DVD that really helped me a lot is Peggy Cappy’s “Yoga for the Rest of Us” It’s in 3 chunks of 15 minutes – warm up, stretching, and modified sun salutations. I can now do a full sun salutation, but her DVD was the biggest help in learning how to do yoga. If I’m really struggling, just doing the warm up is enough to make it better the next day for a stronger workout.

    Sorry to hear about your Mom’s death and your sibling’s dishonesty. Family politics are so hard even without deceit.

    I’m glad you’re doing better and working your way out of it.


  7. I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through so much. I understand how debilitating that can be. I’m glad you’re finding your way through the pain and are on good path. As always, great tips, too.

  8. What an overwhelming year for you and no wonder you came quietly undone! You are rebuilding, you are healing, you are on the path to wellness. Excellent authors are guiding you and you are listening! When I was at my worst with Fibro, I didn’t think i would ever get out of the tunnel, much less find light there, but it can be done. it’s a journey of listening to your body, to your heart, and doing that which makes sense to you. Be gentle with yourself.

    • Hi there,
      Thanks for your kind words. My last year truly sucked but it’s behind me now. You are right I’m healing – re-energizing and renewing. Getting back on track with my very minimal exercise program isn’t going to happen over night and I’m not going to go over-board. I’m committed to restoring myself to as good a state of fitness as I can and I’ll accept your advice to be gentle with myself.

  9. Hi Timethief,
    I think one always finds motivation in books, if anywhere else… the books are a source of many encouragements to never give up and to keep on keeping up. I understand your life challenges as huge teachings of survival, physical, emotional and spiritual. You are a source of motivation for many readers and that in itself is a blessing to add to your own motivational “exercises”.

    I am currently finding motivation in the Angels. I’m reading about them, I’m talking to them, I’m aware of their presence like never before, I share love and respect to them. Have you ever connected with the Angelic realm in your spiritual/energy pratices ?

    Pema Chodron… I’ve heard of but never read anything from her, but curiously enough yesterday while celebrating my Birthday I entered in a good bookshop here in London and purchased her DVD called “Fully Alive – A Retreat with Pema Chodron on Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change”. It draw my attention and my Intuition said: “Get It!”. I haven’t watched it yet. I’m looking forward to it, I will share my thoughts then.
    And you mentioned Pema Chodron on your post… what a great coincidence!

    Wishing you peace of Mind and sending you beautiful healing Light ~~~
    Tree Spirit

    • @treespirit11
      Now I’m no longer depressed I find inspiration in books, articles, videos, audio, art, etc. The more I learn the more I want to learn – again. I’m so glad I’m at this stage.

      I’ll be interested to hear your response to the DVD. There’s a review of it here:
      “Living beautifully requires us to stay aware and open in the most challenging situations. It teaches that we must be peaceful warriors, ready to accept the suffering of the world and change it if we can, in any way we can.”

      Thanks so much for your well wishes and blessings.

      • Hello TT,
        You’re very welcome. I am at that stage too: the more I learn the more I want to learn. I just think we need to be very selective because there’s too much of everything out there, especially in the so called “spiritual/self-help/new age” areas. But as always: if we use our intuition, we’ll never go wrong.

        I’ve just read that review you mentioned, very interesting indeed. Thank you for sharing it with me.That’s exactly the DVD set I’ve got here. Will watch it when I find quality time to do it… soon.

        Love & Light to you ~~~

  10. Hang in there girl! I am glad that you are on your way back. I have found that surrounding myself with supportive and positive people is key. You can’t pick your relatives…

    • Hi Susie,
      I’m through with the hanging in – I’m moving forward, albeit at a crawl. You’re so right about having supportive friends. I’m so grateful for them and most of all I’m grateful for my best friend ie. my hubby.

  11. This made me sad that you have had to go through so much difficulty, and all at the same time. There is alot of pain and hurt to deal with, I send my best wishes to you. The part about exercise I will come back to – it is something I really struggle with, and know I need to understand my limits more, and push myself to do some. I am completely fazed by exercise since I don’t want to trigger flare ( fibromyalgia). So this is really going to help me , thank you for sharing it. I truly hope you face a much better few months. And a hearty well done for surviving that onslaught! Love, Anne

    • Hi Anne,
      I was sad but I’m not sad now. I’ve survived and I’ve rallied. I intend to get back to getting the best I can out of life and that means putting the focus on taking better care of myself. I’m slowly moving along with my exercise and it’s good to know you think my sharing on the need for exercising re: fibromyalgia helpful. 2013 is already a better year for me than the last one and I’m now looking forward to shaping up for spring.

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