When I Say I’m Fine

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| This is the 310th story of Our Life Logs |


I came into this world on Thanksgiving Day of 1978 in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I was your typical boy; I loved to annoy my sister, my dad was my hero, and I loved being in the great outdoors, especially if I was playing football or BMXing with my friends.

My mom and sister both suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and lupus. Thankfully as a kid, I took after my dad. There wasn’t even a single allergy between us! Growing up I watched my mom and sister struggle from their symptoms and try medication after medication to achieve some relief. I felt bad for them, but I could never relate to what they were feeling. I had tons of energy. I felt great! I rarely even suffered from a cold. I wish I had appreciated that more—wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll explain that later. 

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Me at 15 years old.

Anyway, I grew up and fell in love for the first time when I was 16. Unfortunately for me, college has a tendency to ruin high school relationships, and I lost my love before even moving on campus. A “good kid” before the heartbreak, I became a different person in college and tumbled into drugs and alcohol. I eventually dropped out of Virginia Commonwealth University and majored in partying instead.

I continued using marijuana for years. It became a part of my daily routine to get through the day. Despite dropping out of college, I found a good job to fund my weed habit, and I dated a few girls here and there, but none of them could rival that first love.

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Then, I met a girl through Internet dating in the early 2000s, and I swear I fell in love with her on our very first date. We spent almost every day together after that. She made me realize that, in life, there is always another door to open.

She didn’t do drugs or approve of them, so I fibbed in the beginning of our relationship and said I only smoked pot occasionally. When I later told her that I smoked more than occasionally, that I actually had a $500-a-month habit, she had a hard time dealing with it. We broke up briefly until I realized that she was more important than pot. I gave it up completely, and we got back together.

After I stopped smoking, things began to turn around. I had proposed to my girlfriend and started a new job in 2004 as a salesman at a recycling facility, and worked my way to sales manager. We were able to buy our first house and start a savings account with the money I wasn’t spending on pot. We even adopted our first rescue dog and began planning a private snow-covered wedding in Alaska. Things were perfect!

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When suddenly, a shift occurred. It was so subtle that I didn’t even realize what was happening. It started with me waking up most mornings aching all over. I attributed it to not being a morning person at first because by early afternoon the pain would be almost gone. Though, eventually, it got to a point where I was snoozing my alarm over and over, unable to pull my heavy limbs out from under the covers. My fiancée was none too pleased with my morning regimen.

“If you feel like this almost every day, then you need to go see someone.”

I ignored her worries insisting, “I’m fine.” Remember, I was the healthy one.

Yet the pains worsened more each day. And they weren’t just in the morning anymore. They were constant. I talked to my mom about my symptoms who looked at me with worry.

“It sounds like fibromyalgia,” she said.

I thought she was just being dramatic. I had seen the pangs of that disease throughout my entire childhood. There was no proof it was hereditary, and I’d been fine all my life. I couldn’t imagine it would just come on out of nowhere like that—in my late 20s, at that. However, as I shared the anecdotes of my pain with my family, we started putting the pieces together.

We deduced that because I was such a heavy pot smoker over the years (a fact my parents weren’t happy with, but knew about), it must have masked my symptoms. Now that I’d been drug-free for a while, the pain that was hidden was coming to the surface.

In 2005, I began seeing my mom’s rheumatologist who did diagnose me with fibromyalgia—just as my mom had suspected.

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Back then, fibromyalgia was not well known, and oftentimes not accepted as a real diagnosis. It was also considered a “woman’s disease.” I worked in a facility with 98% men, and it was not acceptable to miss work just because you had some achy muscles. I explained, unwillingly and completely embarrassed, that I was recently diagnosed with fibromyalgia. My boss told me it was all in my head. He said I didn’t look sick, and he’d seen me laughing at work, so it must not really be that bad. I wanted to argue with him, but what could I say? He made me feel like providing for my family wasn’t enough of my focus. He made me sign write-ups and told me I was just fine. I’d left his office feeling emasculated and furious. Part of me wanted to tell him where to go. And part of me wanted to tell myself he was right. I just needed to focus.

With no relief, I began missing several days of work per month, bed-ridden from the pain. Nothing I tried seemed to help, and if it did, the side effects left me too exhausted to move. I had several sit-downs with my boss to go over my attendance, and I was in jeopardy of losing my job.

So, what was I going to do? Medical marijuana was not yet legal in Virginia, and I was working in a drug-free workplace that ran random drug tests. Not to mention my fiancée would never allow me to bring any illegal drugs into our house. Even if it was legal, it would’ve been a fight for her to be okay with it because she had had a bad experience with pot and couldn’t even smell it without having a panic attack.

I used to be the guy who had built his life back up. I had been the guy who was doing well, sober and soon-to-be-married to the love of his life. And now…I was the guy who would recoil from a pat on the back, the guy who was spiraling back into a life that was hard to live.

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Despite the difficult times I was going through, my fiancée and I still had our Alaska wedding in December of 2009. After we returned, my now-wife vowed to find me some kind of relief. If I couldn’t use pot, there had to be a better, legal solution. We researched alternative medicines, even entertaining the idea of a “witch doctor” who had cured fibromyalgia, until my wife finally found a local acupuncturist and made me an appointment.

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On our wedding day, 2009.

I was extremely nervous, and honestly, very doubtful it’d work. But to my surprise, the doctor I saw was knowledgeable and attentive about my symptoms. He wanted to know things like when the pain started, where it radiated and what time of day was the worst, and then based a treatment plan around which pressure points he thought needed attention. He was certain he could ease my pain without drugs. We set a regimen of three times a week for six weeks.

At first, the change was slow. Some mornings I’d wake up with a little more mobility and with a little less pain. Other mornings were fueled by a burning ache all over. But, as those six weeks of looking like a human pin cushion wore on, I began to notice a difference.

There is a “fog” that comes with fibromyalgia symptoms. Imagine waking up with the aches of the flu along with the medicine head of Codeine. That fog slowly receded. I could finally think clearly. Physically and mentally, I started to feel like myself again.

Once more, I didn’t have to go back to old habits to find relief. There is always another door, I just had to be shown which one I needed to open.

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I have had my ups and downs over the years, and I always suffer from fibromyalgia. Still, I will continue to ride the wave as long as I have people in my life who are willing to help me get back to shore.

I will have some bad days, but the better I treat my body, the more good days I’ll continue to have. These days, if you asked me, I’d say “I’m fine.” The only difference is that, these days, I mean it.

 

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This is the story of Rick Jacobs

Rick lives in Virginia where he owns his own home-inspecting company. After getting his heart broken in high school, Rick turned to marijuana to cope until he began seeing a woman who hated the drug and asked him to quit. After he quit, he began experiencing pains that he discovered was fibromyalgia that his pot smoking had helped him with and he hadn’t even known it. Dealing with the stigma of having an “invisible” illness, Rick searched for a solution to his pain and found acupuncturing. He still experiences pain, but it has dulled since he found a legal solution. He spends his days with his loving wife of 10 years and their three rescue dogs. Rick is an avid dog lover. He donates regularly to his local SPCA where every year he and his wife sponsor a homeless dog in need. He is extremely close with his parents and attends regular family outings. Rick continues to be a strong advocate for medical marijuana, which was just passed in Virginia last year, but is not yet available to fibromyalgia patients.

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Rick and his rescue dogs, 2019.

 

 

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This story first touched our hearts on March 26, 2019.

| Writer: Stacy Clair | Editor: Kristen Petronio, Colleen Walker |

 

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