On an August day five years ago, I was sitting in front of my computer at 3:00 in the morning, looking for hospitals. We had just moved to the area a few weeks before, and now, I was having chest pains and my heart felt as if it was jumping around in my chest. I thought I could possibly be having a heart attack, and I wanted to know where the closest emergency room was. I ended up going, but thankfully, there was no problem with my heart. I had follow-ups with cardiology, and they didn’t find anything concerning. The doctor said I probably had angina, and that since I had had an extra electrical connection ablated (basically burned off) years before, I was more sensitive to any changes in my heart’s rhythm (hence the jumping-around feeling).
I knew the doctors knew what they were talking about, but I just couldn’t help wondering if they were missing something; if that arrhythmia from before had returned or their tests weren’t picking up on something…… I was having all these weird symptoms that I had never had before, and I couldn’t explain them. I thought something was really wrong.
A few months later, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and it all began to make sense. I finally had an answer to what was going on in my body, but the fear didn’t completely go away; it just changed from worrying about whether my heart might stop beating to being concerned with the day-to-day challenges of living with fibro. Daily life became a series of “what-ifs” for me. ( I talked a little about this in my post What If?) I started structuring my life so that I could avoid as much stress as possible, forego anything that might cause me to have pain the next day, and ensure I never got out anywhere and couldn’t make it back home. My “comfort zone” became very small.
Too small, in fact……As I’ve said before, I don’t want to just exist, I want to really live however many days I have left on this earth and I realized that if I was going to do that, I was going to have to start taking a chance on trying to expand my comfort zone. I was going to have to do some things that made me a little nervous.
People sometimes think that moving outside their comfort zone means that they have to leap out, but when you’re dealing with a chronic illness, huge leaps are probably not the best way to go. What’s wrong with an inch at a time? Have you ever heard that old saying, “Yard by yard it’s hard, but inch by inch it’s a cinch?” Small changes over time can make a huge difference. Yes, it may take a while to get there – I’m five years in, and I’m still working on it, but when I get discouraged, my husband always reminds me of where I was five years, or a year, or six months ago, and I’m able to see the progress I’ve made. Things I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing a couple of years ago, I don’t even think about now. I just do them. Some things I’ve found helpful in addressing my fears and expanding my comfort zone have been:
- Acknowledge your fear – For a long time, I was ashamed to admit I was afraid. I felt if I was afraid, I wasn’t trusting God, but you know what? There are plenty of examples in the Bible of godly people being afraid. In holding the fear inside, I was allowing it to grow. Once I acknowledged it and addressed ways to handle what I was afraid of, I was able to move forward.
- Take baby steps – I don’t try to do huge things that scare me; I do small things that make me nervous, which builds confidence to do bigger things next time. Don’t try to do too much at one time, or you could end up going backward instead of forward.
- Try new things – Having something new to look forward to can help you forget your nervousness – you’re looking forward to what you’re going to do instead of worrying about what might happen.
- Have a back-up plan – For example, when I go out on my little excursions, I know that if I start feeling awful and can’t get back home (which for some reason has been my greatest fear since I have sudden bouts of fatigue and weakness), my husband will come pick me up, or I can always take an Uber or taxi. Having a plan ahead of time gives me a feeling of security.
- Keep your relationships with others strong – When you have others along for the ride, things can be much more fun, and lots less scary.
What I’m talking about here is just day-to-day concerns, not the anxiety that sometimes accompanies fibromyalgia. If you are experiencing anxiety, please talk with your doctor to determine what your treatment plan should be. Never be afraid to ask for help.
What does your comfort zone look like? Is it already big enough, or do you want to start inching your way out?