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Discovering the Real Me: From Fibromyalgia to My True Self and Beyond

This week is Women's Week on WLIR. Today's essay comes to us from health educator Emily Shaules. From the moment we first met Emily, at the Garam Masala retreat in the Poconos, we knew she was a special type of person. Her ability to share so openly and authentically about her personal journey created the space for others to share comfortably. On top of that, Emily's story is so touching and inspirational that we knew we had to share it with as many people as we could. We've asked Emily join us here today on WLIR to talk a little bit about her struggle with Fibromyalgia, how she overcame it and what she learned about the mind's relationship to dis-ease.

Discovering the Real Me: From Fibromyalgia to My True Self and Beyond

Last summer was the absolute low point in my life.  I had just separated from my husband, the only man I have ever loved, after telling him that I could not be a mother because of my fibromyalgia.  For those of you who haven’t heard of fibromyalgia, it is a chronic pain disease which causes constant pain pretty much over one’s entire body.  Experts estimate that it affects 3-6% of the US population, as many as 90% of who are women.  My experience with fibromyalgia, or fibro, started on May 13, 2001.  It was exactly one week after I graduated from Northwestern Law School when I flipped my head back to get some hair out of my face, like I had done a thousand times before.  Suddenly I felt a shooting pain go down my neck.  Over the next few months the pain dispersed throughout my body and viola, I had fibro.

The next six years were a whirlwind of doctors appointments (I saw at least 30 different ones, including a few at the Mayo Clinic), prescription drugs (I took anywhere from 20-25 pills a day for fibro, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, depression, TMJ, etc.), and alternative treatments- none of which helped.  In fact, over the years I consistently got worse.  I lost jobs because I couldn’t work the long hours or deal with the stress, I lost friends because I often canceled plans due to my pain, and slowly I lost pretty much every ounce of my self-esteem and confidence.  I finally had to tell my now ex-husband that if I couldn’t lift our 12-pound dog for more than a few minutes without having my entire body burning in pain, I couldn’t be the kind of mother I would want to be or the kind a child would deserve to have.

So here I was, living alone, only able to work part-time at a legal aid office, and having no idea how I was going to support myself.  In a fleeting moment of initiative and in an effort to meet new people, I started a support group for people with fibro.  At the second meeting, a woman told us how she had basically cured herself with raw and living foods within a week.  Now I was very much a slave to the Standard American Diet (SAD- and we know it’s called that for a reason!) and always HATED fruits and vegetables, so the idea was not the most appealing to me, to say the least.  However, I was desperate and decided to make one last effort to eradicate this ugliness that had taken over my body.  I thought, “Hell, I can try anything for a week!”  And the rest, as they say, is history.  On Day 5 of eating 100% raw and two hours after my first-ever colonic, I felt better than I had since before I got sick and was hooked.

I hear raw foodists say it all the time, but it was like a veil had been lifted from my eyes and I was finally able to see the world, and myself in it, clearly.  For example, I finally allowed myself to admit that I had never really wanted to have children (and yes ladies, it’s OK to say that!) or be a “successful” corporate lawyer.  I followed that path thinking it was the only one because it was what I had seen growing up.  Also, I realized that I developed various illnesses at transitional times in my life, like getting ulcerative colitis before my last semester at college or contracting fibro right after law school when there was nothing left to stop my ex and I from getting married and starting a family.  It dawned on me that all of this was my body was trying to tell me that I was going down the wrong path, not following my instincts, not doing what I really wanted to do in life.

That’s not to say that it has been easy.  I had decades of destructive eating habits to overcome and even today still have occasional cravings for foods that I know hurt me.  But I am so much more aware of what I do when I do it and am therefore in a position to make better choices and accept the consequences of my not-so-great choices.  I am by no means perfect but now I no longer want to be.  A lifelong Type-A personality, as many fibro people are, I recognize that the pressure I put on myself is as damaging as the cooked food I put in my mouth.

In fact, a study published in the March issue of the medical journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity shows that college women who felt they were not living up to their expectations (described in the study as "high self-discrepant") reported more cold and flu symptoms than women who felt they were meeting their goals.  When these high self-discrepant women were given journals in which to vent their frustrations, they reported fewer symptoms and responded better to the flu vaccine.  According to one of the researchers, "When people thought they were failing, the natural killer cells ("NKC") became less effective.  But when they thought they were making progress- it's not that they attained the goal, it's just making progress- the NKC's  showed an [improvement]."

When I read about this study in a newspaper clipping my mom sent me (yes, Mom, I do read them no matter how many you bombard me with!), it tied so much together for me.  We women, those with fibro and without, tend to put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect- whether it's being the perfect mother, wife, daughter, employee, dieter...that we often make ourselves depressed or sick.  After switching to raw and living foods, my mind cleared enough that I was able to recognize those self-defeating voices in my head and finally choose not to listen to them!

Now I make decisions in my life depending on what I want, not what someone tells me to want.  I have let go of attachments and desires for the latest car or coolest handbag and am so much happier because of it.  And I finally found the courage to follow my professional dream of educating as many people as possible about the amazing power of raw food through private coaching and public speaking.  This is my passion because people ask me what my first reaction was when I started feeling better, expecting me to say "thrilled" or "ecstatic," but truly my reaction was shear anger.  Angry that no one had told me that I could heal myself simply by eating fruits and vegetables.  Angry that millions of people struggle daily with diseases like fibromyalgia, obesity, depression, cancer, etc. and are told that it's all a part of life and aging when it not! 

So now I move on with my body growing stronger every day, my mind clearer than it’s ever been, and my heart ready for whatever life may bring my way.  If you or someone you know is struggling with a chronic illness or is just thinking they want to feel better than they do, please contact me at eshaules at yahoo.com, (I'm currently not taking on coaching clients, but I will be in the near future). I would love to help you in your journey!

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