Saturday, June 4, 2016

Melissa Swanson: A Rite of Passage with Fibromyalgia

The spring months bring with them a plethora of advocacy opportunities for chronic illness awareness. In my blog, May Awareness: Sharing Our Spoons, you can see the number of disorders recognized, and June is awareness month for migraine. I bring this to your attention as an introduction to a very important interview. My friend, Melissa Swanson, fellow writer, and advocate who lives with fibromyalgia, migraine, and what she calls the “evil sidekicks” of fibromyalgia speaks with me about her experience as an advocate and shares great examples of how diversion and helping others has become her flagship for survival.

Celeste: How did you become an advocate?

Melissa: My journey with fibromyalgia officially began in 2009, although I had several of the underlying symptoms for 20 years prior to my diagnosis.  I spent most of my free time searching internet websites and Facebook (FB), hoping to get tips from those living with fibromyalgia and what I call its “evil sidekicks”. What I found was discouraging. I thought my future would consist of a wheelchair, spending most of my time in bed, and giving up all activities with our daughter. What I wanted--and needed--were words of encouragement and hope.

I became friends with a fibromite, and endearing term we use to describe those who are part of the fibromyalgia community. Laura and I were both struggling with the negativity surrounding fibromyalgia and felt a need for positive behavior reinforcement and reputable medical information. At the time, I was already blogging about my personal journey. Laura convinced me that other's would want to know they were not alone and on September 16th, 2012, the Fibro Warriors ~ Living Life Facebook page was born. It has since blossomed into a support group that strive to help others understand what it means to “LIVE LIFE” with fibromyalgia.

As it continued to grow, so did I. I started contacting experts in the chronic pain community, reaching out to them for help in promoting accurate information. That’s when the dragonfly was born.

Dragonflies have always amazed me. They start to grow in water and then move into the air and fly. They have to adapt to their changing environment. In many cultures, the dragonfly symbolizes the change necessary for reaching your full potential. I strive to live my life like a dragonfly.

Celeste: How has this enriched your life?

Melissa: I have the opportunity to meet and collaborate with incredible people. I have friends around the country that have become family. I value the time I spend with my daughter doing "normal" mom-daughter activities, and I have found ways to enhance the quality of my life by what I do.

Celeste: How has your advocacy helped to divert your attention?

Melissa: I have a perfect example. I am a co-leader of a support group that meets Saturday's from 10 a.m - 12 noon in Golden Valley, MN. I was asked to run the April meeting. I was prepared for the meeting but when Friday arrived, I began to dread getting up early to make the Saturday morning commute, one hour each way. That morning I was exhausted and in pain, but the minute I arrived at the meeting I was filled with an adrenaline rush. The excitement of seeing other members, the discussions that ensued, and the gratitude others expressed made it all worth it. The good feeling lasted even after my hour drive home and my hour nap.   

I have found that when I am researching, writing, creating a picture, texting a friend in need, working with a new client or a project with the NFMCPA, I am focused on helping others. All these things divert my attention from the pain, depression, and loneliness that comes with chronic pain illnesses.

Celeste: How does living with a chronic pain disorder improve your self-worth?

Melissa: That answer requires me to do some self-reflection. I have written poems and mini-stories since I was in high school. In my senior year in high school, I was on the yearbook committee and my 25-year reunion story was used. Only my closest friends knew it was me that wrote it. I did not have the self-confidence to share my work, because I was afraid of what people would think. Like most of us, I was terrified to give speeches in high school or college. But now that I am an advocate, I focus on the message instead of what others think. I now have strength and confidence to speak out for millions of others facing the same problems. I find a sense of worth by being supportive of others who contact me. I have learned that by sharing my stories, others know they are not alone.  At our last support group meeting, I ran a short session of laughter yoga.  It is possibly the most ridiculous thing I have ever done, but I felt none of the usual anxieties because I knew that everyone there, despite their apprehension in participating, would have ten minutes to escape their worries through diversion and mood elevation.

Celeste : How do you feel writing a blog has helped you?

Melissa: I feel blogging about my experiences and my personal truths provides a platform from within. As a person who was self-conscious about sharing, I now find it liberating. and Healthline have both named Fibro Warriors ~ Living Life as one of the "Best Fibromyalgia Blogs".

I am honored that Healthline said this about my blog:  “This Blog has just about everything you need to read on the pain and exhaustion brought on by the illness. Look for treatments, must-reads, facts, and more. This married, full-time working mom is a true warrior against the debilitation's of fibro.”

To Be Continued

I know how difficult it is to hold our attention and I want you to hear all about Melissa’s journey, so we will pick up where we left off in "Melissa Swanson Interview: An Advocates Journey" where Melissa continues to share her role as advocate, writer, and the road she now travels.

You can subscribe to Melissa's  blog, Fibro Warriors ~ Living Life, to receive current news and information on giveaways.

Besides being a staunch advocate and a National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association Leader Against Pain Melissa is a Chronic Illness Blogger and contributing writer at Prohealth. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Stay tuned!

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"Adversity is only an obstacle if we fail to see opportunity."  
Celeste Cooper, RN
Author—Patient—Health Central Chronic Pain Pro Advocate

Celeste’s Website:

Learn more about what you can do to help your body function to its potential in the books you can find here on Celeste's  blog. Subscribe to posts by using the information in the upper right hand corner or use the share buttons to share with others.

All answers and blogs are based on the author's opinions and writing and are not meant to replace medical advice.  

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