Takeover Tuesday: A Journey Through Fibro & Fatigue

by Kara Leigh Miller

I was never a very healthy child. In fact, without even thinking about it too hard or long, I can easily recall half a dozen incidents of infected teeth that would swell up so bad I had trouble opening my mouth far enough to slurp soup. If anyone near me got sick, I’d undoubtedly catch it, too. I’ve had Whooping Cough, Hand/Foot/Mouth Disease, Strep throat (more times than I can count), nose bleeds that would send me to the ER, Rheumatic Fever, Sydenham’s Chorea, bronchitis, upper respiratory infections, pneumonia—you name it, I’ve probably had it. Oddly, though, I’ve never had the chicken pox… But I digress.

So, back in 2018 when I came home from attending a concert with my daughter and her friend and I got sick, I didn’t think much of it. Except, this “cold” was really severe. I wasn’t able to get out of bed for almost a week straight. My head constantly felt like someone was beating on my temples with a hammer. I lost my appetite. Had no energy. Couldn’t think clearly, let alone try to work. Then, the coughing fits started. I couldn’t walk up to the bathroom without getting winded, and then there was the time I coughed so hard I bruised a rib and couldn’t move. That was fun…

Eventually, I went to the local urgent care and was diagnosed with a sinus infection, strep throat, and a severe upper respiratory infection. With some heavy meds and a lot more rest, I finally got over all the ick.

But I didn’t. Not really.

As I said, this “cold” was different. First, I’d never been that sick before, despite all my childhood ailments. Everything about that just felt… wrong and weird. Maybe, subconsciously, I knew things weren’t ever going to be right again, but I was feeling better, so I went about with life.

Fast forward to early 2019, and I couldn’t ignore things any longer. My body was in constant pain. I was popping Tylenol like Tic-tacs, and my heating pad became my best friend. I’d wake up in the morning (after sleeping for a solid 9-10 hours) and be tired. When I did sleep, I’d twitch and jerk, and that often interrupted my sleep. I’d sit up in the morning, and my entire body would just slump with utter exhaustion. My husband and kids would want to go places and do things, and I just physically couldn’t do it without intense pain or wanting to curl up and take a nap. Focusing on anything was impossible; I felt like I was in a constant fog. And don’t get me started on what it was like every time I’d eat a meal and then have to run to the bathroom because of digestive issues.

At one point, my husband made a comment that I wasn’t the same woman he married, and that really hit home, because he was right. I’d changed—through no fault of my own—and not for the better. I was moody, miserable, forgetful, angry, depressed, tired. I hated being in my own skin.

I needed help.

After a lot of visits to the doctor, numerous tests, and a ton of tears on my part, I finally had a diagnosis: Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue.

Like me way back then, you’re probably wondering what the heck Fibromyalgia is. In the simplest terms, it’s a widespread pain disease that also affects a person’s sleep, mood, digestion, and memory.

There is no cure for Fibromyalgia, and it’s a lifelong disease. However, it can be managed, and so that’s what I set out to do. My doctor advised me to try to lose some weight, because the less weight I had on my body, the less strain on my joints and muscles, which would help with the constant pain. I was also given some really strong medication to help with the pain, but also to help me sleep better and without consistent interruptions.

Armed with all of this, I began to do my own research into this disease, and I talked to a few friends who had it. The number one piece of advice I was given? Cut the carbs from my diet. *Cue the panic* I couldn’t possibly give up my bread and pasta and candy! The horror!!

A woman and her teenage daughter stand on the front porch of a house.

This is me with my daughter back in 2017, before my diagnosis, when I was at my heaviest weight: 186 pounds.

I had a long way to go to get the pounds off and ease the pain. But, I really wanted to feel better, so with the guidance of a friend who was in my same position, I put myself on the Keto diet. I cut out 95% of the carbs from my diet, increased my protein, started drinking a lot of water, and began to exercise every day. I began my official weight loss journey in May 2019.

A healthy woman poses in a hallway with her arms in the air.

Within months, I was feeling like a new person. I had more energy, my mind was clearer, my moods had leveled out, and I’d lost 50 pounds!! By January 2020, I was down to a much healthier 136 pounds. It truly was life-changing for me.

Then, the pandemic hit, and the world was in lockdown. Working out and being active was suddenly a lot harder. My stress levels went up, and my eating habits started to slip back to my old ways. I was much more in-tune with my body, though, and I caught myself before things went too far south. But, the pain had returned, and my meds were no longer helping. So, I went back to my doctor, and she changed my medication. I bounced back quickly, and I was able to maintain my weight. Things were good again.

Fast forward to March 2022, and I’d taken a major slide backward with my disease. The pain was nearly non-existent, but the fatigue was kicking my butt. I couldn’t make it through the day without a nap—and when I say nap, I mean a 2-4 hour period where I’m dead to the world—and I’d packed on about 10 pounds that I just could not lose no matter what I did.

A woman poses leaning against her sports car in front of her house.

Back to the doctor I went! We agreed that my current medication was doing more harm than good, and so we’re now in the process of weaning me off all meds, and I’ll attempt to manage my fibro and fatigue with my diet and exercise. This is me today, happy and healthy at 144 pounds.

Kara Leigh Miller lives in Michigan with her husband, three (of five) kids, five pit bulls, and four cats. When she’s not busy writing romance novels that leave readers swooning, she’s spending time with her family, working out, or binge watching Netflix. And sometimes, she’ll even play golf with her husband, even though she totally sucks at it. Represented by Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary Agency, Kara writes primarily young adult romance. She’s also the Editorial Direct for Anaiah Press, LLC. You can learn more about Kara and her books on her website: www.karaleighmillerauthor.com

Wellness Wednesday: The path to health isn’t straight, but there are road signs to help point the way

A few weeks have passed since I shared my commitment to being the best me I can be. You can read the full post here, but to summarize, I’m a recovering perfectionist, learning to recognize that I am perfect enough and love myself just the way I am. Loving myself means taking care of myself, feeding my body with love and care, and practicing healthy habits like exercise, meditation, and journaling.

What I’ve found over the last few weeks is that my journey isn’t turning out to be as linear as I’d envisioned. I pictured a straight shot to my best life: do the hard work, reap the good rewards. Boom, done.

That is, in fact, not what it’s like at all.

While I haven’t journaled every day, I’ve done it more days than not. Exercise is quickly becoming a daily habit for me, and meditation is definitely my respite from a world with more stress than I care to acknowledge some days. And while I’ve absolutely seen positive impact on my mood, my outlook, my emotional health, and my stamina, I do have days where my OCD tells me public places are dangerous and I don’t get out of the house like I need to, or that food isn’t safe and I don’t end up eating enough. I do have days where I can’t lift as much or do as many reps or go as many miles as I did the day before because I’m under-fueled, overstressed, or overtired (or any combination therein). I know I will continue to have days like that for a long time because recovery from OCD is a marathon, not a sprint. Statistically speaking, I will likely struggle with my mental health for the rest of my life. But it’s hard not to beat myself up for my perceived failures on those tough days.

Something that helps me to be gentler with myself on the hard days is reminding myself to look at the mile markers, not the end goal, to keep my eyes on the road, not the destination. As long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other (both proverbially and physically), I’m moving in the right direction.

So, today, I want to share some of the mile markers and road signs I use to remind myself that even an inch of progress is still progress.

My stamina then and now

The first day I worked out with my trainer, I legitimately almost passed out after 25 minutes, and y’all… he was going easy on me.

Now, I can make it through 15 minutes of Tai Chi, then half an hour on the stationary bike followed by a full half hour of bodyweight exercises with my trainer. That’s more than double what I could do two months ago when we started.

My one regret is that I haven’t been logging my progress in my journal. It would be nice to have that record to go back to on days when I don’t do as well and remind myself that even on my bad days, I’m still leaps ahead of where I was when I began.

Going forward, I’ll be tracking my progress. Let me know in the comments if I should start posting about my progress, if that’s something anyone would be interested in.

My sleep

Once upon a time (in my teens and early twenties), I suffered from horrible insomnia, sleeping 2–3 hours a night at best, or lying awake all night only to fall asleep at dawn and sleep most of the day away. While my sleep hasn’t been nearly that bad in at least 5 or 6 years, I do still struggle to fall asleep sometimes and often wake up feeling like I haven’t slept at all. But since I’ve been focusing on my physical and mental health, my sleep has improved. Not only do I fall asleep within minutes of going to bed now and wake up actually feeling rested but I also use the Pillow app on my Apple watch to track my sleep stats, and I’ve consistently seen improvement in my sleep cycles and my time spent asleep.

Listening to my body

The first time I worked out with my trainer (for less than half an hour), I was so sore for the next several days that I couldn’t even sit down without groaning and holding my thighs. This past weekend, I worked out for an hour, then went outside with the family and did yard work (shoveling, digging, planting, laying mulch) for a few hours and wasn’t sore the next day. That means my muscles are getting used to the work.

How I feel about exercise

Before I started on this health journey, I hated exercise. I did not like sweating or being tired/worn out, or any of the not fun parts of exercise. Now, I look forward to it. I look forward to that time when I am making myself and my health a priority and focusing on me. Getting on the exercise bike or the row machine is a form of self-care. Putting on my boxing gloves and using the punching bag is a way to blow off steam, and instead of feeling worn out after, I feel energized like I can mentally and physically take on the world.

My comfort level putting myself out there

There was a time when I would run, yes actually run, from the camera whenever someone tried to take a picture, and don’t even get me started on my near debilitating stage fright/fear of public speaking. Over the years, I’ve gotten better about being “seen.” It helps that my work in publishing requires me to be in an absurd amount of zoom meetings. But even though that’s been the case since even before the pandemic, I never did get comfortable with having my picture taken, taking selfies, or posting pictures and/or video of myself online. For a long time, my social profile picture was of a squirrel. That’s how diligently I avoided showing myself. But the more I put myself out there on this journey, the easier it is each time after. There’s actual science behind why this is the case, and I talk a little about it in another post if you’d like to read that.

My weight

Just kidding! My weight hasn’t changed, and I still wear the same size clothes, but that’s not why I’m on this journey. To be fair, I certainly wouldn’t complain if weight loss were a side effect of my healthy lifestyle, but that’s not where my attention is at right now.

So, in closing, to borrow from something my spouse told me when I was struggling with some anxiety recently after having so many really great, anxiety-free days: the journey to be healthier is like the stock market. It’s not a consistent rise day after day. There will be dips, and even depressions, but ultimately, when you step back and look at the big picture, you can see the results.

If you’re reading this and you’re on a journey like mine or thinking about joining me on this health adventure, don’t forget to read your mile markers, whatever reminds you that you are making progress, and don’t let your distance from the destination discourage you!

If you’re thinking about stepping out on a health journey of your own, connect with me on social media so we can cheer each other on!

Perfect Enough

Perfection is a Roadblock to Progress words on a road construction barrier or barricade to illustrate that a drive toward perfect results can paralyze you from taking action or moving forward

I should have written this post days ago, but I haven’t known where to begin. Being vulnerable is hard, I think for everyone. But I’m on a journey to be the best me I can be. So here I am, opening up to friends and a world of strangers on the internet.

Red balloons with ribbon - Number 38

I turned 38 this weekend, and while it isn’t exactly a milestone birthday, it felt pretty momentous to me. I’ve officially been an adult for 20 years. Most days, I don’t feel very adulty, but that’s a topic for a different day, I suppose. Today, I want to talk about health. Mental, physical, and spiritual. I want to talk about illness and shame and societal expectations. Because at some point or another, I’ve been a slave to all of these things, to the idea that perfection determines worth. And even though I long ago realized that I have value, regardless of whether or not I’m perfect, those old insecurities still crop up when we least expect them, don’t they?

So, I decided that this year is going to be the Year of Me. A year of health and happiness that will hopefully lead to a lifetime of it.

My areas of focus are

  • My mental health
  • My physical health
  • My spiritual health

I’ll start with the easy stuff first: mental health. I have OCD. Not like when people say “Oh, I’m a little OCD about that,” or when people joke about liking their books alphabetized so they must have OCD. I have the kind of OCD that leaves a three-year-old unable to color because the crayons are broken and out of order and they HAVE TO BE ORGANIZED BEFORE ANY COLORING CAN TAKE PLACE! The kind of OCD that keeps a fourteen-year-old up all night worrying in circles about whether any of her friends actually like her or if they’re all just being nice. The kind of OCD that sends a new mother around the house checking and rechecking and re-rechecking to make sure that the appliances are all unplugged before she can go to bed because if she doesn’t it will start a house fire and EVERYONE WILL DIE AND IT WILL BE ALL HER FAULT! It’s genetic and pervasive, and I will have it for my entire life.

But I don’t have to let it run my life. I’ve been working with a wonderful therapist for a few years now, and we’ve made great strides in improving my mental health together, but I’m resolving to push myself, to get outside of my comfort zone more, to do the things that scare me and trigger my OCD-based flight or fight response. This year, I will expand my bubble of safety until it bursts and I am able to feel the fear, greet it with love and acceptance, and then send it packing so that I can live my best life with joy.

I’m claiming my headspace.

Pair of dumbbells, green apple, measuring tape and bottle of water. Exercise and healthy diet concept.

Onward to physical health!
I have Celiac Disease. For those who don’t know, Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten that causes the body to attack itself. I was sick for many, many years before I found out, and as a result, was malnourished for much of my childhood and the first ten or so years of my adult life.

Due to the malabsorption and malnutrition, my body protected itself by going into what’s informally referred to as “Starvation Mode,” meaning, my metabolism slowed down—way down—and I packed on the weight—a lot of it. Despite averaging 1500–1700 calories eaten most days. While the extra weight isn’t ideal, my body adapted to keep me alive during a very lengthy period of malnutrition. And, it nourished two pregnancies and gave birth to two healthy babies, during the height of my illness.

I am proud of my body (see pictures as proof).

What I’m not proud of is the way society treats people who don’t meet stereotypical beauty standards. I’m too big to be considered “beautiful.” Another woman might be too skinny, too tall, too short, too human. If I had a dollar for every time throughout my life I’ve heard, “You have such a pretty face,” or “You’d be so pretty if you lost weight,” or my personal favorite, “You could stand to skip a meal or two.” (because that’s exactly what my starving body needed, right?) I would be a rich woman.

It’s no secret that I am “built for winter,” as one of my favorite coworkers once said about himself—because even men feel the weight of beauty standards. But that doesn’t mean I have to hate myself or hide in shame. Or skip meals.

So, this year, I’m resolving to reward my body for all of its hard work keeping me alive. I’m going to feed it healthy, nourishing foods and give it lots of physical activity. My goal is to make my body the strongest and healthiest it’s ever been. I started working with a fantastic trainer about a month ago, and I wish I had started sooner. But after bad experiences trying to work with personal trainers in the past, I was hesitant. I first heard about my new trainer about a year or so ago (what is time anymore?) and he came highly recommended by a close family member, but my fear kept me from taking the leap.

Y’all… this man is 25 and in great shape and kicks my butt every time we work out, but he has never once made me feel like I’m not measuring up. He doesn’t judge me; he just meets me where I’m at and encourages me to do what I can, never pushing me to go too far but always pushing me to my limits. And bonus: working out improves your mood/mental health.

In the interest of really getting my health in order, I gave myself a birthday gift: converting the garage into a home gym. Because OCD and pandemics don’t mix well, and joining an actual gym just isn’t where my mental health is at right now. Plus, if the gym is only a step outside my kitchen door, I can’t make excuses not to get there. I want to work out daily.

I’m claiming my health space.

We’ll close with Spiritual Health. I believe in a higher power. What I call God, you might call Spirit, or the Universe, or something entirely different, but I, myself, believe specifically in God (and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit). I don’t commune with my higher power nearly as much as I should. Once upon a time, I journaled daily, read my bible, studied devotions, and started every day with a prayer of gratitude. While I still do this from time to time, I miss it more often than I manage it. Just like exercise is important to both physical and mental health, practicing faith is important for both spiritual and mental health. So, the final goal for my Year of Me is to practice my faith, commune with God, and write in my gratitude journal daily.

I’m claiming my heart space.

I’m on a mission to be the best me I can be, this year and each year after. But whatever I am, I will continuously remind myself that I don’t need to be perfect. I’m Perfect Enough just the way I am.

Are you interested in joining me on my journey? Connect with me on social media so we can cheer each other on!