3 Fibro Technology Hacks For Getting Things Done

3 Fibro Technology Hacks For Getting Things Done

Fibromyalgia makes it hard to get things done. Pain, fatigue, and brain fog conspire to slow your progress no matter how determined you are to accomplish your goals. I want to share the three most helpful technology hacks that I use for getting around the challenges of living with chronic illness. (All of my suggestions are based on my own preferences, and are not sponsored or affiliated with any companies or apps).

Voice Dictation Software: The last time I was able to type a single page on my computer was the year before my fibro diagnosis. Shoulder pain, neck pain, carpal tunnel, pinched radial nerve – I developed any and every pain related to computer-work. No amount of ergonomic-anything was able to make it comfortable for me to type. Like many people with fibro, home is where I’ve spent most of my time since my diagnosis. Being unable to use my computer was very demoralizing because the internet was my gateway to the wide world beyond my home.

In the past few years voice dictation software has become significantly more accurate. In fact, voice dictation is 2-3× faster than touch typing! Most importantly, it’s significantly easier on your body. Once I realized how much pain I could save myself, I began exclusively using voice dictation on all of my devices. On my phone and tablet, I use Google Voice typing to dictate text messages and emails. This is more gentle on my wrists than texting, but editing  any mistakes has to be done manually. On flare days, I have to stay away from doing too much on my phone.

My favourite voice dictation software is Dragon Naturally Speaking by Nuance, which is for desktop and laptop computers, both PC and Mac. Not only can you dictate and edit by voice, but you can also command your computer and mouse by voice! It takes a while to get up to speed on how to use Dragon (eventually I got the book Dragon Naturally Speaking For Dummies). However, with a little bit of patience, I’ve been able to use my computer again, and reconnect with the great big world out there. Most importantly, I have been able to spare myself a lot of upper back, neck and wrist pain. One unexpected benefit is being able to work on the computer while standing, sitting or even lying down via my headset. That’s about as fibro-friendly as it gets!

Pomodoro Pacing Apps: So you’re feeling pretty well, better than you have for a few days, and you decide it’s finally time to get some things done. You dive into doing the laundry, clearing your email inbox, or getting the groceries. But in your rush to finish the task, you blow past your limit and end up crashing. The next day you wake up with a flare. Sound familiar?

Theoretically, I know I will be more productive if I do things in small chunks, rather than trying to get it done all at once. I know that I should take small breaks. Closing my eyes and resting for a few moments helps to prevent brain fog. Shifting position, stretching or walking around really helps to banish back pain. But in the moment I find it really hard to remember to take those breaks. In frustration, figuring that ‘there must be an app for that’, I decided to research productivity apps. That’s when I learned about the Pomodoro technique.

The Pomodoro technique is based on the principle that the most productive way to work is in short focused bursts, with mini breaks in between. Typically, this means 25 minutes of work followed by five minutes rest, with a longer 15 minute rest after several work sessions. For people without fibromyalgia, this technique has been shown to increase productivity. And, of course, there are lots of apps for that!

I use one called Good Time, which lets me customize how long I want my work/break sessions to be. On a particularly brain foggy, achy day, I sometimes make my work-break sessions equivalent (15 minutes on, 15 minutes off). On a good day, I stick to the 25/5 minute Pomodoro technique. It’s particularly useful because I can customize taking a longer rest break – usually about half an hour – after two or three cycles of work/mini break bursts.

The problem with simply using the timer on my phone’s clock is that I forget to reset it once a single session has elapsed. You can set the timer on a Pomodoro technique app  to work continuously, so it automatically pings when a new session of work or break begins. It’s brain fog proof! No matter how many times I resolve to pace my activities, I always end up pushing past my limits. The notification bell reminding me that it’s time to take a break is the only solution I have found that actually works.

Voice Activated Virtual Assistant: The bane of my fibromyalgia existence is being unable to remember when I need to do things – deadlines, appointments, responding to emails or texts, or anything of that nature. The answer seems simple – add things to my to-do list when I remember them, and that way I’ll be able to keep track of all my tasks. Except, in order for that to work, I need to remember to check my to-do list! For the life of me, I can’t seem to do that. Brain fog is one of the most frustrating fibromyalgia symptoms, but virtual assistants can do some of the planning for you.

One day, when I was explaining my frustration about forgetting my to-do’s, a friend said to me “all you have to do is enable the Google assistant on your phone, and then verbally ask it to remind you about task X whenever you need to address it.” This was really a eureka moment for me. I can press the home button on my phone to activate the assistant, and say “remind me tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. to call Dr. Smith and book an appointment.” Then, the next morning at 10 a.m. I will get a reminder on my phone to call Dr. Smith. The reminder stays on my notification drop down menu until I clear it. You can even set reminders that will be sent to based on your geographical location. For example, when you get to the grocery store, you will receive the pre-set reminder telling you to “pick up cereal.”

Many of us don’t use the full functionality of assistants like Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant, Alexa, Bixby or Dragon Mobile. You can save notes to yourself if you want to jot something down before you forget it. If you want to compile multiple notes, like ideas for a project, you can send an email to yourself with of a complete list of your ideas at the end of the day. Additionally, you can add general reminders you might want to access at any time, like the license plate of a rental car. If you ask “what’s on my calendar tomorrow?” your assistant will tell you what you have scheduled the next day.

Virtual assistants can send texts, make calls, read aloud your messages, find emails and more by voice, which I find helpful when I have eye strain or sore wrists. Assistants can do calculations, so if brain fog is preventing you from figuring out how much to tip, you can ask for a little help.

How to Plan a Chronic Illness-Friendly Wedding

How to plan a chronic illness friendly wedding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was daunted about taking on the chaos that is wedding planning. Through trial and error we were able to plan a wedding that mixed tradition with our own style and my health needs. I wanted to share what I learned about how to plan a wedding that a spoonie bride (or groom!) can not only survive but enjoy.

*Spoonie: A person living with chronic illness, based on the spoon theory

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1. Be unconventional –  the standard all day, all night wedding format is not spoonie friendly. You know, getting ready, early afternoon ceremony, pictures, sit-down dinner, speeches, and dancing until late in the night. Add to that the fact that a wedding is an emotional high in itself. Most of us would lose all our spoons before the ceremony was even though! So pick the traditional elements that are most important to you but design the rest of your day within your limits.

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In our case we picked a venue where we could have both the ceremony and reception, to limit the travel time – a historic house and gardens in Toronto called Cedar Ridge Creative Centre. We had an afternoon wedding, from 1-5, which was the length of time I thought I could handle. We had a garden ceremony followed by a cocktail style reception inside, with buffet lunch and wine. I gave up on dancing, because it’s not something my body agrees with. Finally, our photographer took mainly candid photos, except for a few posed family ones during the reception. This saved additional time.
I brought a bar chair to sit on during speeches (but still got sore from standing for too long overall). I was lucky that my best friend was an incredible maid of honour, and she did an amazing job at keeping me hydrated and fed  and reminding me to take mini-breaks. As the bride, you become very distracted by meeting and greeting all of your guests, so asking someone to help you remember your self-care plan is a key element to you enjoying your special day.

2. Be budget conscious …without too much DIY
Spoonies are often on budgets because of constraints on work and expenses on care, but  there is no need to go into debt to have a lovely wedding. We spent approximately $7000. The only additional expense was our choice to have a green wedding – organic flowers, catering and wine is slightly more expensive, but we felt it was worth it.

Here’s how we kept costs under control:

  • We rented a municipal property, which was far less expensive then private venues. Cedar Ridge Creative Centre is a historic house preserved by the city as an art gallery with public grounds.
  • We limited flowers. We only had bridal/bridesmaid bouquets during the ceremony, with the garden flowers standing in for floral arrangements. During the reception we had a few floral arrangements on serving tables – mostly single flowers in vases.
  • We only served wine rather than having an open bar.
  • Most significantly for saving on expenses, we didn’t have a sit down meal but rather a catered buffet lunch.  Everyone mingled and enjoyed chatting, which we really enjoyed.
  • Finally, we didn’t go away for our honeymoon, mostly so I could recover without the stress of travel. It also kept our costs down!

DIY can be taken to extremes and will most likely lead to flares. I would rather keep it simple than crash because I decided to do everything myself!

See if you can delegate – Our families helped by creating wall hangings (wallpaper on rectangular foam hung like paintings), and favours (seed bombs). My best friend baked a delicious gluten-free vegan cake (yes, it is possible but it took several trial runs!).
The only DIY I did was using rubber stamps on craft paper to make signs for the serving tables.

 

 

 

3. Organize brain fog away

  • Make a spreadsheet or use a planning app. When things randomly occur to you, add them immediately. Set aside time to review your lists when you feel less foggy. Most importantly, have your partner and maid of honour double check regularly. You will forget things and things will go wrong, so try to be accepting that this is part of the process.
  • I became good at delegating, and this was a surprisingly rewarding thing to do, Initially I felt guilty, but it was a warm and fuzzy feeling that  my friends and family were happy to help, showing their love and affection. Our wedding was better than we had hoped it would be and part of that was the feeling that everyone had pitched in to make it that way.
  • In order to relieve my anxiety that  would forget to tell someone something they needed for their tasks, we made checklist spreadsheets for all our ‘helpers’. It may have seemed a bit OCD but as I’ve said, stress is toxic for spoonies, and since it made me feel better, it was worth it!

4. Plan around tension and keep your boundaries
Oh family – things can sometimes get complicate. For example, I have divorced, remarried parents. A sit down dinner with seating arrangements seemed like a nightmare, so a cocktail party was my solution.

Because we planned our wedding in under 7 months, we came up with our plans for our day quickly. One bonus was this gave less time for anyone to share unwanted advice during the planning process 😉 Actually our families were mostly happy for us to plan the day how we wanted. From talking to friends planning weddings, I advise not having conversations with people whose opinion you don’t want while you are still in the planning stages.

In my opinion the advice that it’s your day so you can do what you want is unhelpful. It’s your marriage and you can do what you want… But the wedding is a celebration with your nearest and dearest. The day is really about celebrating with them. We compromised on a few things, but then we stuck to our plans. I found the phrase “oh that’s an interesting idea, I will talk to my partner about it” helped so much to show you are listening to your family members, but reserving the right for you and your partner have the final say.  Boundaries are important for spoonies as a key way to manage stress and tension in relationships –  which can be toxic to our health and well-being.

5. Practice self-care and take it one day at a time
Plan your self care! I asked my doctor for stronger sleeping pills for the days leading up to the wedding, which helped relieve my anxiety that a sleepless night would ruin my day due to fatigue. I put in appointments with my massage therapist, physiotherapist and naturopath in the days leading up to the wedding. I planned time alone and time alone with my fiance,  just to have fun. Still, I did not do this enough and started to resent the wedding for taking up all my available energy, which is limited enough as is.  In hindsight I would double the time taken for self-care and to make time NOT spent wedding planning.

My maid of honour carried an ’emergency kit’ throughout the wedding day. In addition to make-up and comb, we put in pain killers, indigestion relievers,  and scented calming oils.

Secondly, what I eventually learned was that there is only so much you can organize in one day. At some point you have to let go of what you can’t control and focus on the point of it all – celebrating this love you have found. I learned this by just getting too overwhelmed and having to give up on extra tasks. I  wish I had started by taking it one day at a time! But being a bride inevitably takes over for a little while, as any married person will agree.

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6. Finally, don’t read bridal magazines! This is NOT “the landmark taste-making event of your life” or whatever panic inducing nonsense they write. This is about love and family and friendship and fun. It’s A day, a big day, true, but not THE day. Spoonies don’t need extra stress! Or extra work! Or hand-dyed organic cotton ribbons to tie around chair backs for a shabby chic effect… Plan this day for you, your love, and your family and friends, not for anyone else!

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Chronic Illness and Money Pain: The Honest Truth About Coping with Lost Jobs, Less Income and a Tight Budget

 

Chronic Illness and Money Pain: The Honest Truth About Coping with a Lost Job, Low Income and a Tight Budget

Chronic illness hurts all over, and that can extend to your budget. It’s not polite to talk about money, and that can lead to a cone of silence around this difficult subject. When I developed fibromyalgia five years ago, I was forced to leave my graduate program because I could no longer keep up. In the process, I lost my scholarship and my teaching assistant position. Now my husband and I live on a single income. I think it’s important to be open about how illness and disability impact income. First, it is vital to break down the stigma that ‘people who live on a reduced income are lazy.’ Second, I think it can be helpful for people living with long-term health problems to share their experiences and support each other with advice on how they cope with the challenges of life with illness.

Unfortunately, my inability to work is far from being an exception.  According to a Community Health Survey, 14% of people with fibromyalgia report being permanently unable to work (Parlor, 2007). That rate is 25% for working-age people with arthritis (Arthritis Society, n.d.). In Canada, only 51% of working-age people living with a disability are employed, compared with 75% of non-disabled working-age people (CCD, 2013). In addition, people living with a disability are two times more likely to work part-time than non-disabled people (CCD, 2013).

Not surprisingly, the reductions in employment levels among people with illness and disability lead to reductions in income. For example, 43% of people living with fibromyalgia reported their annual personal income to be below $15 000, compared with only 29% of the general population (Parlor, 2007). Overall, 20.5% of Canadians living with disabilities live below the poverty line  (CCD, 2013).

In addition, there are out of pocket medical expenses. This is bad enough in Canada, my home country, where many people may not have extended health insurance for medical drugs or treatments like physiotherapy or massage. In the U.S., there is no public medicare (national health insurance), so the medical expense of just seeinge a doctor can be prohibitive. The CDA (2013) reports that, in the U.S., medical problems are behind 62% of personal bankruptcies and almost 50% of home foreclosures.

Finally, for those who qualify for social assistance, income support is severely limited. In Ontario, Canada, the maximum financial support for a person living with a disability is $1151/month, for all expenses (Community Living Ontario, n.d.). In the U.S., the average monthly benefit for a family paid by Social Security Disability Insurance is $1,130 (CDA, 2013). Since this amount would barely cover rent and food, it is hard to imagine how anyone could even begin to pay for vital medical expenses or enjoy any quality of life.

Those numbers can look pretty bleak and do not capture the strength and resiliency shown by so many living with chronic illness!  It is important for those who do not live with chronic illness to understand that we work harder than anyone you know, everyday, to manage debilitating symptoms, earn a living if we can, participate in our family and social lives, and advocate for ourselves and others.

If your politics tells you that social assistance should provide only survival support for medical and living expenses in order to “incentivize” recipients to work harder, then you are condemning to poverty people whose only ‘crime’ has been to develop a chronic illness. Working harder is not a cure fore a chronic disease or permanent disability. I believe a compassionate and farsighted society should provide adequate medical and income support to people living with illness and disability, because inequality wastes human ability and restricts the freedom of people to participate fully in society. Appropriate accommodations can be put in place so that we can work, including flex hours, remote work opportunities, and many others. We all have something to contribute, and many of us would be able to do more if adequate social supports were put in place.

I’ll get off my soap box now. It’s time to get practical. Since we are where we are in terms of reduced income for people with chronic illness, what can we to do?

  • Build a budget. No matter how limited, every dollar will stretch further if we spend it on what we need. For a simple and practical approach, I like using Gail Vaz Oxlade’s budget builder http://www.gailvazoxlade.com/resources/interactive_budget_worksheet.html
  • For your weekly expenses, use cash! If you also suffer from brain fog, then you will sympathize with how hard it can be to remember how often you swiped your plastic this week. If getting out to the bank is a hassle, then get cash back at the grocery store, so you can do two chores in one.
  • Put your cash in labeled jars or envelopes, keep your receipts, and record your expenses. Clear glass jars work best for me. My budget jars are labeled: groceries, entertainment, drugstore, pet, clothes, transportation and allowance:  http://www.gailvazoxlade.com/articles/budgeting/magic_jars.html.
  • Don’t be too proud to get the help you need. Whether asking for financial advice, applying for social assistance, buying second hand, or going to a food bank if the fridge is bare, remember this isn’t your fault and you deserve the best quality of life possible.
  • Coping with debt and bankruptcy when you have a chronic illness, by Lene Andersen https://www.healthcentral.com/article/when-the-money-runs-out-chronic-illness-and-bankruptcy
  • Here is some advice on winning your fibromyalgia social security case, by Donna Burch: http://nationalpainreport.com/winning-your-fibromyalgia-social-security-disability-case-8831202.html
  • If you are interested in extra ways of making money from home, here are a few resources from Being Fibro Mom:     http://www.beingfibromom.com/category/financial/make-money/

References:

 CDA (2013) Disability Statistics

CCD (2013) Low Household Income and Disability

Parlor (2007). Canadian Women’s Health Network: Understanding Fibromyalgia

Community Living (n.d.) ODSP

Arthritis Foundation (n.d.) Arthritis Facts

Arthritis Society (n.d.) Facts and Statistics

 

Real Life Round-up: Bloggers Share What It’s Really Like to Live with a Chronic Condition

REAL LIFE ROUND-UP: BLOGGERS SHARE WHAT IT'S REALLY LIKE TO LIVE WITH A CHRONIC CONDITIONLife with a chronic condition is a kind of quiet extreme. Often, you’ll find us resting at home, surrounded by blankets, pillows, heating pads, tea cups, pill bottles, furry friends and a tablet or tv. It may seem like a quiet kind of life, but it’s actually a constant breath-taking roller-coaster. Internally, physical symptoms of pain, fatigue, and zillion other things are in a constant state of flux. Emotionally, we react to the confusion in our bodies and the dramatic changes to our lives. An incredible strength is forged by waking up each day and trying again to not only survive, but live.

This past week, my endometriosis pain continued to worsen, with weeks yet to go on my post-laparoscopy consult. My back spasmed. I had a few dark 3 am moments of wondering if I will ever find answers or solutions. At the same time, I had a really freeing realization about my internal critic. I’m always after myself to be more productive, equating self-worth to overachieving. I listened to a meditation about radical self-acceptance. What if your internal critic became your chief encourager? I’m trying to be much more mindful of those internal criticisms- and challenging my internal critic to be kinder and more encouraging. It feels like a load off my back. Every time I grow as person because of my chronic illness experiences, it feels like a silver lining to all the difficulties.

Here is a round-up of fantastic blog posts about real life with chronic conditions – the unfiltered truth about the challenges of this life and the ways that these bloggers have found to live better despite the obstacles!

REAL LIFE ROUND-UP: BLOGGERS SHARE WHAT IT'S REALLY LIKE TO LIVE WITH A CHRONIC CONDITION

Brainless Blogger Understanding and Being There is all about the misconceptions normal folks have about chronic pain but also encourages #spoonies to be patient with their family/friends as long as they try to be there for us & to understand our reality.

Color me lyme Words for the Chronically Ill Patience. Never Give Up! Believe. This post talks about how these affirming words can help on the illness journey. “This doesn’t mean we should corral our drive or initiative…[but] there are times when we have no choice but to let PATIENCE – and faith – take the lead.   (Easier said than done, right?!)”

Damsel in a dress. Why I talk openly about being sick. A powerful and humorous advocacy piece on challenging the stigma of invisible illness. “I sat back and realized that my illness has taken a lot from me, but there is one thing it has given me: a voice. I knew I had to unapologetically talk about my illness because being sick isn’t something I should have to apologize for.”

Invisible Warrior Minding the Pain A thoughtful post on using meditation to manage pain, especially if the pain is always with you. In order to break the pain cycle, we need to learn how to understand and work with the pain and our reactions to it. I really like the list of guided meditations at the end, using the awesome Insight Timer app

Let’s Feel Better The Determined Weeper A funny take on the emotional and physical side-effects of changing medications. I completely relate to being in a “chemical stew” as you come off a medication in order to try to get pregnant.

Being Lydia Is it all in my head Ever wished a test result would be positive? Then you probably have a chronic illness that constantly tests negative…over and over and over in your search for answers.

 

 

 

 

The Magic Bullet of Nutrition?

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Do you remember the part in the Father of the Bride when the marriage is almost cancelled over a blender? The groom-to-be gifts his fiancee with a blender and she is furious because she takes it to mean he expects her to be a 1950s housewife!
My significant other remembers this and so it was with great reluctance that he bought me the birthday present that I asked for – a Nutribullet blender. But he wrote me a very romantic letter to make up for it!
I’m actually kind of a nutrition nerd so it’s a great gift from my point of view. I also have high hopes that it’s going to make me feel better.
First of all, what is a Nutribullet blender? It is a high powered blender that makes “a nutrient extracted drink designed to feed your system as many servings of easily absorbable fruits and vegetables as possible”.
I got the Nutribullet Pro blender. It comes with four BPA free plastic containers so you can choose the size of smoothie you want to make. The containers have lids for storage so you can take your smoothie with you. The blender has a powerful 900w motor so the smoothie is ready in seconds. The idea is to make the nutrients as bioavailable as possible by fully breaking down the veggies and fruits – and taking stress off the digestive system. Unlike juicing you get all the fibre in addition to the nutrients. The maker claims the Nutribullet doesn’t oxidize the smoothie as much as other blenders because of its speed and cyclonic action … But you have to drink it right away.
The blender comes with smoothie recipes, called Nutriblasts. The basic formula involved 2 cups of leafy greens, 2 cups of fruit, and a ‘boost’ of nuts or seeds, like chia seeds or almonds. It also comes with a recipe book that includes recipes for FM! It’s pretty affordable at around $115.
The best thing about the Nutribullet is the convenience. When I first got fibromyalgia I gave up on eating healthily because of all the work involved in cooking whole foods from scratch. As time has passed I have learned that the only way to manage this condition effectively is through lifestyle choices – making time for gentle exercise (walking, yoga, qi gong, tai chi), taking supplements, going for body work appointments (massage, physio, osteopath) … and eating well, most importantly. But my healthy eating choices have to be quick and easy to be viable. Throwing a cup of leaves, a banana and frozen berries into a plastic cup meets these criteria! I used to try to use my giant blender but it’s hard to clean, heavy and made more dishes. Most of the time it ended up in the fridge for a week with quickly separating smoothie servings left in it.
Although this particular product works for me, I think whether you use an old Oster work horse blender, a juicer or a vitamix, green smoothies are one if the best things you can incorporate day to day if you have chronic pain and fatigue.

Part 2 of How to outsmart your foggy brain

Supplements for Adrenal Fatigue

So last week I wrote about my recent energy crash and brain fog (which seems to go along with digestive symptoms). I think it has to do with starting school courses again (two online classes). At any rate, the things I tried last week improved my coping, but not enough to ward off the zombie fatigue permanently. So I decided to add some more supplements to the mix. I rechecked my CFS bible ‘From fatigued to fantastic’ by Dr. Teitelbaum and realized I’ve been overlooking adrenal fatigue. He recommends Vit C (500-1000mg), Vit  B5, also known as pantothenic acid (100-150 mg) and licorice (200-400 mg).
I got all three (but my pantothenic acid supplement was 250 mg). I didn’t sleep well but my energy was much better sustained during the day! The downside was the side effects (diarrhea), probably from taking more than Teitelbaum recommended… And my sensitive tummy! Obviously I need to take less and even try to work up to the recommended dosage. Hope that gives someone out there more tools to add to their arsenal!

Update: after two weeks my energy has been much better, so my adrenals must have been zapped!

How to outsmart your foggy brain

Since I began taking two classes my brain fog has become more of a problem. It got really bad this past weekend – I must have had a crash. If I’m honest I was pretty scared and thought seriously about withdrawing. My fibromyalgia first started when I was in school last time- although back then it was a full time graduate programs. I was very worried about all my symptoms, but of course I thought they would get better once I was able to take a break. They didn’t. I have been so grateful for my fairly predictable, although limited, energy supply; having low energy and brain fog is not my most difficult symptom. I know for many people with FM and CFS have it much worse in the fatigue department than I do. If I take my sleeping pills, sleep for 11 hours and don’t over schedule myself, fatigue does not usually bother me. This most recent crash made me worried that if I push myself too hard at school again there may be no going back.
So, I tried everything I could think of and seem to have been able to recover my energy almost back to normal levels. The most helpful thing was taking a daily scoop of my protein powder (25 g) in a berry and greens smoothie. I have also doubled my D-ribose supplement amount to 5 g twice daily.
I have also stopped trying to push through my fatigue and instead have been listening to guided relaxation tracks when I feel a dip. Here are a couple of sites you can stream from for free:

http://www.dartmouth.edu/~healthed/relax/downloads.html

http://medweb.mit.edu/wellness/resources/downloads.html

Finally, I have been setting two alarmfor each evening to get to bed on time. One of them just went off so I should cut this short! Hope this gives some ideas if you’re looking for them!

Freedom from Bra Pain

If you have fibro and you’re like me, bras can sometimes feel more torturous than supportive. I have large trigger points all around my upper back/shoulders/neck. Sometimes I just can’t stand my bra straps digging into the muscles. I found a couple of great solutions!
One is silicone bra strap cushions that go under the straps and distribute the pressure, like these ones: http://www.amazon.com/Flirtzy-Silicone-Cushion-Shoulder-Discomfort/dp/B002BZXMCU/ref=pd_sim_hpc_1

The second is reusable adhesive silicone cushions that cover the nipples (preventing embarrassing nipple-itis) on days when I just can’t stand to wear a bra at all, like these: http://www.amazon.com/Nippies-Skin-Reusable-Silicone-NON-ADHESIVE/dp/B001O482W4/ref=sr_1_1?s=apparel&ie=UTF8&qid=1372098771&sr=1-1&keywords=silicone+nipplies+cover

I buy the brand at my local drugstore, so these links are just to illustrate. Enjoy the freedom!