Fibromyalgia is never the same for any two people. For me, it’s near daily brain fog and severe pain in my shoulders, elbows, wrists, and ankles. It’s depression and insomnia and anxiety. The following is a list of the things I’ve learned from dealing with these things for the last several years. I hope they can be helpful to you as well.

1. Appreciate the small things

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I know this sounds cliché, but it’s true. When you deal with the pain that makes you not want to participate in daily life, the small things suddenly become the big things. Being able to make your own coffee, for example, or being able to cook a meal for loved ones are little things that seem to suddenly mean everything.

2. Cherish the good and not so good days

The good days, when the brain fog is not there and the pain is tolerable, are a gift. The not so good days, when you have no idea what’s happening around you and the pain makes you cry, are a reminder that the good days should be fully utilized.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Whether it’s pain, brain fog, or depression stopping you from doing the tasks that need to be done, the best way around it is to make a list and ask for help completing it. It’s been my experience that most of the people are around me are willing to help once I’ve explained the situation to them.

4. Pain is relative

What is nothing for you might be agonizing to someone else, and vice versa? People will probably not understand your pain because they don’t experience pain like that. You can join a chronic pain forum to meet people who will care about you and understand what you are going through.

5. Amazing people stick with you

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The people who stick with you are amazing. I have had a few people walk out of my life because they felt like I was using my pain and depression as an excuse. The ones who stuck with me are truest, greatest friends I’ve ever known. They are the ones that pull me out of the suffocating mess that is fibro fog and help me when I can’t help myself. I love these people.

6. Pets are great pain relievers

As I’m typing this, I have kitten purring in my lap. It’s quite comforting, both for my pain and for my depression. Playing with my cats keeps me moving. Taking care of them and my fish helps keep me focused. If you have a pet, I think you’ve realized this, too.

7. Brain fog can be comical

The times when I do bonehead things like leave the TV remote in the freezer or forget what a nose is called are pretty funny to me. It used to freak me out when it first started to happen, but now that I know what’s causing it, I can joke about it. I would rather make a joke about it than stress over it.

8. Stress makes everything worse

When you’re stressed, you tend to tense up, which makes pain worse. I try not to stress over things that are beyond my control. There’s no point in it, and it makes me hurt worse. It also makes the anxiety and insomnia worse. Employing relaxation techniques can be extremely helpful.

9. People may not believe you

People who don’t believe you or think you’re exaggerating don’t deserve a place in your life. A lot of these people eventually become toxic to those of us suffering from invisible illnesses like fibromyalgia. They make us think we’re crazy, or that we’re bad people when the pain keeps us from doing things. Don’t be afraid to cut these people off. They are a hindrance to your health. Some people will never understand or accept your reality, no matter how well you explain it to them. I have found that many people, even those with good intentions, don’t fully understand what fibromyalgia is and what it does to people.

10. You are not your pain

My pain is not greater than I am. Sometimes, I am in pain twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. But I am not discouraged because I am not my pain. I am a mother, a girlfriend, a writer, a knitter. I refuse to be defined by my pain.

12. Don’t be forgetful

Forgetfulness is, apparently, not a valid excuse. Write it down. I’ve found that people get quite angry with me when I forget things they tell me, so I have taken to writing down everything that seems important.

13. Exercise Regularly

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Exercise is either the best thing for the pain or the absolute worst. There is no in-between. Yoga is the gentlest exercise that I know of, and there are still days where even the easiest stretches make me want to cry. Then there are the days where I can do an hour of yoga and walk a few miles and still be good to go for whatever the rest of my day holds.

14. Sleep is good for you

Sleeping is wonderful. I have bad insomnia, so when my brain and body are both like “let’s sleep” I jump right on board and sleep as much as I can.

These are just a few things I’ve learned that have proven useful in my journey with fibromyalgia, and I can only hope that this list helps you. You can join a fibromyalgia forum, where you can read fibromyalgia patient stories,  find support and meet other people to openly discuss several issues related to the condition.