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From Fibromyalgia Victim to Survivor to Coach

If you suffer from fibromyalgia, you know how wicked it can be.

Darbi Bealk StolkFormer registered nurse Darbi Beals Stolk feels your pain, literally. Darbi was just starting her career as n RN when she contracted what she later (five months and five doctors later) found out to be Lyme disease. She was quite ill, and it took another five months before she could resume her career.

Five years later (in 1995), she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and learned that the Lyme disease probably triggered it. She did, as many who have fibromyalgia do, she lived with it. It wasn’t easy, but she was managing.

But then, the disease really pounced.

In 2004 at the height of her nursing career, she physically collapsed with pain and fatigue so debilitating that she could barely drag herself to the bathroom (later she learned from a fibromyalgia and fatigue specialist that she had adrenal insufficiency). After a three month medical leave, she had not improved. She had to resign and eventually ended up on disability.

Here’s how she described it:

“The next 10 years were the darkest of my life. I would have periods of deep depression, times when I was bed-fast, episodes of incontinence even, and always pain and fatigue. Relationships, including my marriage, became strained as I had no energy to invest in them.”

Then, in September of 2012, after a month of almost no sleep, she hit rock bottom. Because of sleep deprivation, she was hearing and seeing things, and she became suicidal. She knew she had to get some help. One of the last things she wanted to do was be a patient in a behavioral hospital, but she found herself checking in. It was there she met the psychiatrist that would provide the support she needed to begin the recovery process.

That recovery didn’t happen overnight.

One morning in April of 2014, she had what she characterized as an epiphany. She suddenly saw herself as the victim “I had become”. Her whole life had revolved around her illness. She had forgotten pleasures, goals, plans, adventures because her world was all about the pain and fatigue. She would drag herself to some activities but then her main topic of conversation would always be about how she felt. She was appalled to see herself so starkly. She knew she had to make some major changes.

That day began a slow process of recovery that is still going on.

“I wrote down a list of what I felt was missing in her life, things I wanted to accomplish. It included reconnecting with friends and family, focusing on eating a better diet and adding movement to my regimen, feeding my desire to learn new things, and creating goals for myself.”

Along the way she learned to practice gratitude, look for ways to serve, and most importantly she began to love herself.

Darbi left the nursing profession, but is still in the helping business. She is now what is called an Empathetic Holistic Coach (here’s her website). She lives in Edinburg, Texas.

Here are excerpts from an interview we did with Darbi recently:

National Pain Report: “You are now a Life Coach–what two or three things do you tell folks that you “coach” who suffer from pain and fibromyalgia?”

Darbi Beals Stolk:  “First, Learn to love yourself. This may involve coming to grips with the role you play in your own illness and then forgiving yourself. Taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions, such as the diet we eat, is a very important step in recovery.

“Then accept that recovery is a slow process, although there are some changes you can make that may give you a running start. Eating a diet of organic fruits and vegetables will eliminate processed foods full of modified fats and carbohydrates, and toxins found with GMOs and food sprayed with chemical herbicides and pesticides. That is a sure way to jumpstart your health.

“Finally, educate yourself about your illness and the various studies regarding recovery published by doctors and health experts. Ultimately, recovery is an individual process and you are the only one who can decide what that process looks like.”

National Pain Report:  “What two or three tips you can give the loved ones of chronic pain and fibromyalgia sufferers do to help?”

Darbi Beals Stolk: “Always take care of yourself first. Don’t sacrifice your own health. Also, don’t be afraid to get help with things like housework, cooking, and shopping. People want to help. You have to tell them how.  3) Join a support group for caregivers. You need a safe place to share what you are going through with others who will understand.

National Pain Report: “Finally–what about providers, doctors etc. What advice would you give them on how they treat their patients?

Darbi Beals Stolk:  “Validate your patient’s symptoms and complaints. He or she need to be believed and to feel like you are supporting them wherever they are on the road to recovery. One of the best favors you can do for your patients is to educate yourself about nutrition and the role it plays in illnesses like fibromyalgia. Finally, and obviously, keep abreast of the scientific studies on the causes and treatment of chronic pain.”

Editor’s Note—For our readers who have fibromyalgia or whose loved ones do, how have you coped and what advice do you have for people who suffer from it. The National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association reminds you that May 12 is Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. Let us know what you are planning to do!

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