A little bit about The Dynamic Diva Duo and the birth of this blog

Hi all! I'd like to properly introduce myself and tell you a little more about me and the driving force behind this blog. My name is Jennifer,  but I'm usually referred to as Mommy or Nana. I am married and have two little girls, 5 & 7, and was blessed with two beautiful & smart stepdaughters when I married my husband. One of which has blessed me with 3 grandbabies that I adore.

I love my role as a mother and wife and I cannot even begin to think about what my life would be like now without my Dynamic Diva Duo. Before they came along, my true love was criminology. I had received a Bachelors Degree in Psychology, but after taking an elective course in criminology, I was hooked. I loved it and it really became my passion. I went on to earn a Bachelors Degree in Criminology as well. I was accepted into the graduate program in criminology and loved every single stressful minute of it. It was difficult with two kids under three and a household to run but it gave me something that felt like it was mine, something I could do & think about that wasn't changing dirty diapers or washing bottles or doing laundry. I could get out of the house a few hours a week and enjoy some intellectual conversation that didn't involve Dora the Explorer or Barbie's. Things were going well, we had 30 start the program the semester I did and only 7 of us were left by the end of that semester. I felt empowered by the thought that I made it through that first tough semester, even though I had many people doubt my ability to juggle grad school and small children. It was hard but I enjoyed the challenge. Then my life was hit by the wrecking ball known as fibromyalgia.

I had been having a lot of weird physical symptoms for several years but just thought it was all due to stress. Then I noticed a steady cognitive decline. I walked out of school on day and on the way to the car I stopped & looked back and said to myself, "I'm never coming back." I (and probably most of those around me) thought I must have had a total mental breakdown. And in hindsight I can see why I and everyone else around me would think that. Over a five year span I got married, had two babies back-to-back (one of which had colic and cried 24/7 for about 8 months) and moved three times. My father was diagnosed with cancer and passed away after a long fight during which he lost his sight and at that point I knew his time with us was almost over. My oldest daughter was 8 months old when he died. I was blessed to be able to be with him and watch as he left his earthly body and went to join our Father in Heaven. My grandmother went to live in a nursing home and while there fell out of her wheelchair & broke her neck. I watched her suffer for a week before she finally gave up the fight and joined my dad in Heaven. Watching her in that state, in that much pain, was just about more than I could take. It was the first time in my life that I prayed for God to take someone Home. I knew it was her time, she would never recover from her injuries. I just wanted her out of pain and at peace. And of course there were financial issues...what grad student, whether married, with kids, or not doesn't have financial issues! That's another topic for another day😀 And of course the daily struggles we all face.

So looking back I can see why I might have thought I had suffered a mental breakdown. I am in no way trying to garner sympathy for the events in my life, I am sharing them to give you some context so you can better understand my situation and my reasons for starting this blog, and maybe someone out there reading this might get something out of it...I hope.

I was having trouble concentrating, organizing my thoughts, felt really confused all the time. I could barely follow a recipe or clean my kitchen without becoming totally overwhelmed. I went to the doctor & was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder & Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I began a months long journey through hell trying out one drug after another, nothing helped. Well, the Xanax did a little when I felt like I was about to implode...but that was just masking the real problems- although it did help me sleep a little better-which I miss! After about 6 months of this I stopped all meds, all at once. Some advice: don't do it like I did! That was the lowest, most miserable two weeks of my life. Take your doctors advice and stop any meds slowly! In all honesty, if I didn't have two kids who need me, a family who loves me and Faith in God, I might not have made it through that two weeks. I had never had a suicidal thought in my life until then.

Thankfully once all the meds were out of my system I felt a little better. All the cognitive & physical problems remained but at least I wasn't dealing with all the side effects from the drug cocktail I had been put on.

I decided at that point that I must just be some weird kind of crazy that even modern medicine couldn't fix. But I knew something was 'off', and I told anyone who would listen that something wasn't right with me but I just couldn't figure out what it was. I wasn't 'me' anymore. I could barely keep up with my girls, the messes, the bills, even making a grocery list would send me into panic mode.

I had been having pins & needles feelings in my body for quite some time (again, figured it was 'nerves') but this particular day it had really ramped up and even my tongue felt numb. My husband urged me to go to the ER as I have a family history of stroke and my symptoms were really scaring me so I decided to go in. The did an MRI and found several lesions on my brain but I had not had a stroke, thank goodness, but talk about a shock! I truly thought I would get there and they tell me I had anxiety & send me back home; not tell me there was something wrong with my brain! The causes of the lesions according to the radiologist, could have resulted from many things ranging from small strokes, vasculitis, multiple sclerosis, etc... He recommended I see a neurologist.

I saw a neurologist who, after reading the MRI report (but not actually looking at the MRI itself...) diagnosed me with having had TIA's caused my migraine headaches. This was after telling her that I wasn't aware of ever having a migraine headache. I tried to explain all the symptoms I was experiencing and her recommendations were better sleep hygiene and exercise. She was unwilling to entertain any other possibilities even though I'm an otherwise healthy 39 (at the time) year old woman with no risk factors for stroke & a multitude of symptoms that should have warranted further evaluation. So for the next year I would panic anytime I thought I was getting a headache (I may not get migraine but I get a heck of a lot of tension headaches...spend an hour at my house and you would, too!) I was afraid I would have another TIA. If you know anything about TIA's, you know that if you have a history of them you have a much greater chance of a 'big' stroke. I've seen the damage a stroke can do, and it scared me to death.

After a year of this worry, we changed insurance and I sought out a second opinion from another neurologist. He actually looked at the MRI, with his own eyes! It made me feel better knowing he looked at it and didn't just rely on the radiologists notes. He said his first thought for a woman my age would be multiple sclerosis. I agreed, my symptoms were textbook MS. I underwent a repeat MRI, had an EMG (which kinda hurts!), was tested for everything from lupus, Lyme disease, West Nile virus, vitamin deficiencies to heavy metal poisoning. All tests came back clear. No new lesions on my brain and none found on my spinal cord. They found that I do have cervical stenosis, where part of my spinal cord is being pressed on by bone damage but didn't appear to be bad enough to be causing all of my symptoms. MS, for now, has been ruled out but he's watching me closely and will do another MRI in 6 months. There is still, and may never be, a clear reason for the lesions that were found. Then he uttered the words that would turn my world upside down, "Jennifer, I think we are dealing with fibromyalgia."

At that moment I thought he had lost his mind!  Isn't fibromyalgia a condition that causes excruciating pain where you can't even get out of bed? Well, it is that for some people, and God bless those people. I can't imagine being in that kind of pain everyday. I had even thought to myself that it wasn't even really a "disease", or so I had thought I heard or read before. I just didn't know much about it and it was never even on my radar of possibilities. He said it explains all of my symptoms and that we would get me on medications to start helping me feel better. He had suspected it from the beginning but he had to be thorough and rule out all other possibilities.

I came home and immediately began googling any and everything fibromyalgia to find out what the heck it really is. I was shocked to find that it was a perfect fit for all of my symptoms. I had been convinced I had some weird type of shingles, one that doesn't produce any sores...because of the horrible pain I get on my sides, the kind of pain that you feel right before you get a fever blister but more intense, like electrical shocks. Now I know that it is neuropathic pain. So is the pain I feel in my legs, in my back and neck. My cognitive symptoms can be explained by what they call "fibro fog". I now know that this is a real illness, and it is a chronic illness with no cure. But I at least feel better getting a diagnosis that I feel I can trust. The worst part of all of this has been not knowing what was wrong with me, but knowing 'something' was wrong, but not knowing what to do about it. It doesn't help when you hear comments that make you question if it's all in your head...well, I can tell you this- you may not be able to see my disease, there are no wounds to look at, no X-rays to see a broken bone, but this is a real and often debilitating disease.

I went from excelling in graduate school to being unable to make a grocery list. Imagine what that would do to your self esteem. I've spent the past 2 1/2 years hating myself because I didn't know why I couldn't do the things I did before. Why I couldn't go non-stop from 6am till midnight & get up & do it all again the next day and the next. Why there were times I could barely garner enough strength to get off the couch to pick up my kids from school. I felt like I was failing in every area of my life. I was failing my kids, my husband and myself.

I still battle with those thoughts every single day. I only received this diagnosis a few months ago and I'm still in the "a little bit angry" and "a little bit feeling sorry for myself" phase. I'm learning more about the disease and what it means for me and my future. I am determined to get it all back together and learn how to function at the best level I can. The hardest part is forgiving myself for all the things I've missed, the things my kids have missed out on and for feeling like a complete and total failure at life. I can tell myself all day long that it's not my fault and that I couldn't help it, I did nothing to cause it, but I'm not there yet...those thoughts aren't silencing the pain I feel in my heart, especially when I think about my kids. I'm on my way to figuring this thing out, and I know it's just going to take time and a lot support from those around me.

I am pretty sure this is way more information that you might really care to here about why I have started this blog! I just felt like it is a way to share with you some of the struggles I've faced and maybe you've faced some of the same struggles yourself. You may not have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia but you may have your own demons you're dealing with that cause you to question who you are and the guilt you may feel when you're not performing the way you feel you should as a mom, wife, employee, etc... Know that your not alone. We may be fighting different battles but the resulting feelings may be quite similar.

Okay, so now I'm really going to tell you about the blog, I promise! I spent 8 years of my life during college doing not much other than writing. I enjoyed it and became pretty good at it. I haven't written anything of any substance since the day I left school for the last time. I am hoping this blog will enable me to write again, to have something of my 'own' again. I want this to be more than just a blog. I want it to be a family, where we can get together and exchange ideas, show off our craftiness or even vent if you need to! I love crafting, my husband jokes that I should have gone to 'craft college' instead of 'real' college. In hindsight, maybe he was right! I love home decorating, organizing, cooking, saving money & finding ways to make a little extra money. I also have a little bit of an obsession with any and everything vintage so you'll be seeing a lot of that❤️. These things were all a big part of my life before my life was forever changed by the monster called fibromyalgia. My hope is that this blog, and having this outlet, will allow me to get back to that place I loved so much and found so much pleasure. Where I can be creative, communicate with people with similar interests, be inspired by others and maybe inspire someone else along the way.

If you've made it to the end of this epic introduction, I truly thank you! I wanted you to get to know me a little bit, instead of just being just another blogger out of the millions out there. I always welcome any feedback or comments. I hope you get a little something out of this blog. I have very varied interests so you may not be interested in everything I'll be blogging about, but I'm certain they'll be something here to interest you!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to get to know me! I look forward to meeting all of you!

Jennifer