Two days a week, I work at a local cafe as a server. I love the job. The customer fluctuates between packed like Times Square on New Year’s Eve and empty as a school building on a Sunday. Only God knows why it is like this, but it’s still a fact.
This morning, I knew that the local elderly care facility would be coming in, just like the residents had been coming on every third Wednesday of every month for as long as I can remember. It is one of those scheduled activities for residents. Something to look forward to.
I like talking with anyone who comes through the doors, but the elderly hold a special place in my heart. They have the wisdom, foresight, and experience we sometimes lack.
Like clockwork, the bus stopped by at 8:30 am, right on time. There were 16 residents and seven helpers. That makes 23 people. In addition, some parishioners from the local church like to stop by on Wednesdays to visit and reminisce.
There were eight of them. We are now at 31 people. Add the regulars who just hang out at the counter for the better part of the day, and you have a total of 36 customers in our little cafe.
Now our total capacity for seating people is 48. You can imagine we were busy, to say the least. Of course, everyone wants to be served now. And of course, there is just one cook and me as a server.
But let me tell you, we rocked that place. We were the diggity bomb, for reals Y’all. No one had to wait for a drink and no one could have said they received bad service.
Keep reading. I promise you it has something to do with Fibromyalgia. Pinky promise, even.
When the 23 people who were with the nursing home were ready to go, they each paid. As you may or may not know, a server in the United States is paid minimum wage only ($7.35 per hour in Minnesota). It is customary to receive tips as well. The rule of thumb is 15 to 20 percent of your total bill or $1 per customer.
I received $8.23 in tips. A whole $4 from one single customer. $4.23 for the other 22.
And I started to cry. I tried hard to contain myself, but the more I tried to stop crying, the more water came out of my tear ducts. I felt like an idiot for crying in front of the cook (who happens to be the owner and thus my boss).
I did not want the other customers to see me cry. And the more I didn’t want to cry, the worst it got. So I hid in the bathroom. Like a shameful puppy, I avoided eye contact with anyone on the way.
I have never ever in my entire serving career been this emotional about a tip (or lack thereof!). It took me a good four to five minutes to stop the tears from freefalling from my eyes.
Eventually, I felt better and I walked out of the bathroom, pretending like nothing happened. I even convinced myself that I was acting like a spoiled child.
I am always the first one to say that as long as I give my customers a bit of happiness, the rest really doesn’t matter. And all of a sudden, I became that one greedy server who wants everyone to tip 25% and will not hesitate to shame customers who don’t.
What was that?!
You’ve guessed it: it was a mood swing. I was happy one minute, an emotional wreck the next. That is a textbook definition of a mood swing.
You don’t even have to have a good reason for going from one extreme to the other, and it actually qualifies even more as a mood swing if you are as clueless as the people around you. Except that anyone who asks you does so at his own risk.
Indeed, a fibromyalgia induced mood swing causes much havoc for your entourage. Unlike receiving devastating news, or witnessing a tragedy, or provoking a reaction, the Fibro Warrior’s friend or family member present at the time of the mood swing gets no advanced notice, no warning that things are turning sour, not the slightest idea they’re about to get barked at!
What may be more surprising from someone who does not suffer from mood swings, is that the “swinger” is often as clueless as the “swingee,” creating what would have been some highly entertaining exchanges if we were blood-thirsty Romans.
Quite honestly though, we’re 21st Century creatures who value the word of the sword. In other words, mood swings are frown upon. They’re a big no-no. Just ask my kids’ preschool teacher.
Is that really who I am?
And more accurately, is this the person I want to be? Whatever that was, it came from deep down inside my core, and I was not controlling my feelings. Whether I like it or not, that reaction was mine.
Fibro Warriors are often taken aback by their own reactions. It’s like our emotions are suddenly worn over our skin instead of being in our hearts. Anyone and anything can hurt us, in a deep fashion.
Why is that? I suppose the easy answer is that fibromyalgia is a neurological affliction, and it only makes sense that all aspects of our brains would be affected, including the centers responsible for emotions.
It has been conjectured that the mood swings are due to the chemical imbalances some scientists believe influence the overall symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Of course, we should not forget the obvious: pain. We deal with pain on a constant basis, albeit some of us may have control over our pain once in a while.
But there will always be times when the symptoms are flaring up, or we did not sleep enough, or we stood in line for too long, or whatever the trigger might be.
As we know, when pain sets in, there is no getting rid of it until the pain decides to go see somewhere else to see if we’re there.
Now as Fibro Warriors, we have become experts at hiding our pain. I don’t know about you guys, but sometimes I can even just block it out entirely.
What I mean by that is that, yes, I know I am hurting, and of course I can feel it. But I have trained my brain to ignore the pain signals because otherwise, the pain would be all I would ever experience.
Now, where it gets tricky is that our brain may not send back down pain signals into our bodies, but instead of serving as a mere commuting station for nerve signals, it becomes an asylum for lost signals.
In other words, the nerve endings are capturing pain triggers. They are sent up to our brain. But since our brain is nice to us once in a while, it just keeps the signals stored in there somewhere instead of sending the signals back to the area of our body that hurts.
Sure, this sounds quite wonderful at first. I mean, heck, if there was a way for me to do anything and everything I want without feeling pain, that would be awesome.
Except that no. Not awesome.
The problem here is awareness of pain, not the existence of pain. Just because we do not fully process the pain responses does not mean that the pain trigger does not exist.
Have you ever made silly bets with your sister or your brother or a cousin when you were little? Something along the lines of, “I bet you can’t make me laugh!” And they proceed to tickle you and make funny faces and all sorts of antics.
For the first few seconds (and even minutes for the tickle resistance masters among us), you are very much in control. You’re keeping a straight face, and you can somewhat ignore the tickles. But then comes the breaking point.
I don’t care who you are, because yes, even you my dear sister, we all have a breaking point. And when that point is reached, it’s not just a little laugh that escapes our lungs, it’s full-blown yodeling!
The same happens with your brain. For a while, it can ignore the “tickles” with gusto, but after a while, it just HAS to release all that energy.
Unfortunately, for a Fibro Warrior, that means that at random times, our bodies will need to let go of the tension. And even more, unfortunately, the first person who does or says something that upsets us will send us over the edge.
So… will I be a lunatic forever?
Maybe. But you can’t blame fibromyalgia for it! Ha! I’m just kidding. Of course, not. You cannot blame yourself for your brain’s shortcomings.
Look, we know there is something “wrong” with you. But show me, one perfect person. No one has ever met such a creature. You have your quirks and your idiosyncrasies, but you should never ever think that you are crazy, or weird, or abnormal.
Now that we’ve established that you indeed are not a lunatic, should we address the duration of the issue?
Sure. It’s lifelong. No cure. Sorry, not sorry.
I know, this is a bit harsh and blunt, but it is true. And it is OK. Mood swings are a part of life, for anybody and everybody. Are they embarrassing? Yes, sometimes they can be. Should you be ashamed? No, this is who you are.
If you were less sensitive, or more sensitive, than you are right now, you would not be you. And I like you when you’re you. And so should you! (Whoa… that is some serious Dr. Seuss stuff right there!)
Look, you need to love who you are, mood swings and all. If you are surrounded by the right people, they will love you for who you are also.
If you feel like your mood swings are interfering with everyday life functioning, then maybe you could consider talking with your health care professional, and see if they may have a solution to help you regulate your feelings.
Personally, I take two types of antidepressants: one for depression and the other for pain control. It works well for me. It allows me to be me, and I save money on all the issues I don’t have to stock on when I don’t cry as much.
More meds? No thanks!
I get it. You may already be taking medications morning noon and night for fibromyalgia and any other comorbidity that may be affecting you.
If you do not want to be adding medications to control your mood swings, then maybe you can try these next few methods to regulate your mood.
As a matter of fact, anyone can try those, Fibro Warrior or not! Our modern lives are conducive to high-stress lifestyles, so a reminder to slow down once in a while is not a bad thing!
Now, before I go further, I want you guys to know that, yes, I know it’s easy to say these things after the mood swings or to understand tips and tricks when you’re not confronted by the situation.
So, in the name of honesty, I want to tell you that you are only human. I know, it’s a harsh reality check, but if that makes you feel any better, I think I may be human too… **GASP**
In all seriousness though, out of the tips below, you may only be able to implement one or two of them once in a great while. But that’s okay.
Because in the meantime, you will only get stronger, and you will be able to face those stupid mood swings head on. And who knows, you might even be able to tame a few of them.
1- Know your triggers
Hey! Look who’s back! Long time, so see, Captain Obvious! To be fair, while this is the single most evident piece of advice, it is also the hardest one to face.
Because if, for example, your trigger is your boss, you can’t exactly eliminate that trigger. First, because eliminating your boss is illegal almost everywhere.
Second, because your good looks and charms alone won’t help pay the bills. Joking aside, knowing what sends you crying or flying off the handle is a huge step.
The issue here is that it may not be easy to recognize your trigger or the fact that it sends your mood flying off the handle. But once you successfully identify your trigger, the next time it shows up, you will be that much better equipped to face it!
So exactly, how do you figure out what your triggers are? Keep a log. If you can remember to write down when and where you felt out of control, that will help you determine what your triggers are.
You will need to record what was happening and how you felt. Soon enough, you may be able to see a pattern. Once you are able to identify the pattern, you’re on the right path to understanding your mood swings.
2- I can’t afford to avoid my trigger!
So, what do you do if you can absolutely not avoid your stress trigger? You try to soften the blow, so to speak. Chances are, you may be able to find your own little happy place, no matter what situation you’re in.
How do you ask? Well, that happy place doesn’t have to be a physical place, now, does it? Just make up a wonderful place you love to go to, right there in that there brain of yours.
A place where only good things happen, now that is something to cherish! It can be a sunny vacation spot, but it does not have to be.
My happy place is at the top of the Mont D’Aree in Brittany, France. The fog is so thick, you could cut it with a knife. The wind is cold, humid and invigorating. You can hear the grass dance on the rugged terrain. It’s simply amazing, and it reminds me of my childhood.
OK, time to get back to reality!
3- Think happy thoughts?
Are you kidding me? What cliché! Yet at the same time, clichés always hold a teeny tiny bit of truth deep down inside… The problem being, of course, that it is not that easy to find happy thoughts when you are unable to control your emotions.
Which is why I would suggest creating a mantra, a short phrase that makes you happy. So the next time you feel your emotions spiraling out of control, you won’t have to struggle to find the right words. They will come to you automatically!
It does not need to be some profound philosophical observation. My go-to words are, “Pierre qui roule n’amasse pas mousse.” Or in English, “A rolling stone does not gather moss.”
What does it mean? Meh, I’m not 100% sure. But in essence, it means that if you are willing to move around, or go with the flow, you will not find yourself burdened by stagnating thoughts.
4- Here come the platitudes…
Hey, you’ve been warned… I am about to list a few “common sense” things that I personally struggle with regularly. Be kind, I know these are some “no duh” kind of assertions, but I think it does not hurt to repeat them.
- Try to be optimistic – instead of seeing what went wrong, see everything that actually went right
- Take a step back, and take a deep breath – things could always be worse
- Not everything is black or white – sometimes, both parties to an argument could be right in some way
- Be open to change – maybe there is a better or more efficient way to do what you were doing
- Be kind to yourself – just because things did not go your way this one time does not make you a failure
- Turn a negative into a positive – take a good look at the situation, and chances are, you can either grow from it – and if you can’t spin things around, learn from your mistake
- Remember that your mood swing may be deeper rooted than it looks – gently reminds you that fibromyalgia will sometimes have the upper hand
- Be objective – if you were an outsider looking in on your own life, I bet you would find a ton of excuses for your own behavior – stop being so harsh on yourself
- Sometimes, the best thing to do is to literally step away – give yourself some time to regroup if you feel your emotions overwhelming you
- If you can’t walk away physically, take a mental break – I’m not telling you to be rude here, but simply take ten seconds to count from 1 to 10 before you react
- Something as simple as a change of scenery could be beneficial – of course, a tropical vacation may be nice, but walking to the break room or taking a walk around the block will also do the trick
- If you have someone in your life who is a good listener, now would be a good time to call them – venting is sometimes all you need to see things more clearly – if you don’t have access to a sympathetic ear, leave yourself a voicemail or write down how you feel – the idea here is to kick the negative thoughts out of your mind
- Napoleon once said that the secret to learning was attained by following three cardinal rules: repetition, repetition, and repetition – routines are your friends because they limit the uncertainty of your day
- My grandma used to tell me that I should always twist my tongue inside my mouth seven times before talking if I was upset – it is the same idea as counting to ten, except the physical reminder works better for some of us
- Put something in your tummy – Fibro Warriors have enough to deal with without having to suffer from hunger or thirst – remember that your brain is very good at blocking what your body feels
- Sleep well, eat well, have fun – the perfect trifecta for a balanced lifestyle
- Reduce stress by learning new techniques such as yoga or meditation – taking time for just you without having to worry about other people is essential
- Don’t hate me but caffeine and alcohol consumption can put you on edge – and we’re kind of trying to get you away from the edge…
The most important thing you should take away is that everyone is different, and we are all unique. There is no universal solution that will stop mood swings in their tracks. But you can be a much happier person if you know what you are dealing with.
I’ve shared with you some of my personal techniques. What about you guys? What have you tried that works or doesn’t work?
Until next time, Fellow Fibro Warriors, have a good one!