Being ‘Normal’ With Mushrooms… For Mental Well-being


“In the depths of winter, I finally learned there was in me
an invincible summer.”

— Albert Camus

(Written two days ago)

I love the days when I head to my brother’s farm.  They are my favourite days of the week.  My brother has a mushroom farm about 40 minutes drive from me, just outside the boundary of the city.  He has owned it for two years, having chucked in the corporate career for a chance at running a business with his wife.

Four weeks after he took over the farm, our first, and largest earthquake struck Christchurch, NZ.  The damage to his farm was immense with the epi-centre of the 7.1 richter scale quake being about 8 kilometres away.  The business was almost destroyed.  He is still trying to rebuild, with many long waits for insurance companies to act, but he has managed to keep operating… and producing mushrooms.

At one stage the plan was that I would be employed by him, but because of my fibromyalgia it kept having to be put back, over and over again.  It has been frustrating for both of us.  I wanted the work and he needed the help.  We’ve reached a point where, because I am unable to get medication for my fibro, we realise that official employment isn’t going to happen.

But I try to help where I can, partly to support my brother but if I’m honest, mostly because I enjoy going out there and feeling, dare I say it, a little bit ‘normal’.  What I mean by ‘normal’ is doing a physical job where I can see the outcome of my efforts, interacting with real flesh and blood people (rather than my cyber world), sitting down for morning tea with the other workers, and feeling like I’m actually physically contributing to something and making a difference.  I know I make a difference anyway (of a different sort), at home in cyber world but this is different.

Today was my day for packing bags of mushrooms.  I do this once a fortnight as a special order for a client of my brother’s.  I pack and weigh one kilogram  and 500 gram bags of mushrooms.  It’s not earth shattering.  All my years at university did not equip me with the skills I needed to do it.  Actually it’s boring and repetitive, but I don’t mind.  I feel like I’m actually doing something and that is the best feeling.  I love it.

But let me be honest, I’m not packing mushrooms all day.  Actually I wouldn’t manage to do that.  Today I packed for two hours.  By the end of that time my legs and hips were aching badly from standing, as were my arms from carrying boxes of mushrooms.  Two years ago I wouldn’t have thought twice about doing this but now, I can’t carry as much as I could or as anyone else does, and I can’t work as long as I could.  After two hours I was physically shattered, and it’s not as if this work is that physical.  Mushrooms don’t weigh much.

The two hours packing was followed today by  an hour of paper work.  My brother (love him as I do) couldn’t administrate himself out of a paper bag (although he will tell you he can) so needs a little sister’s help.  Just as important though is spending time with Duncan, the family dog who is feeling a little lonely while everyone else is busy.  Duncan recently destroyed a pair of my shoes by chewing and then hiding them.  When they were found they were beyond presentable.  He’s just lucky they weren’t my Doc’s.  I am now very careful about what I leave in Duncan’s care but meanwhile he is trying to make it up to me.  That’s what I tell myself anyway.  Unfortunately he has yet to take me shoe shopping.

Of course one of the best parts of the day is lunch in the company of my brother and my niece L.  She is so adorable (my brother is okay too) and is really my reason for being.  Today she was delighted to share a lamington with Aunty Cate.  I was pretty happy too.  It’s a good chance to catch up, although I always wish the rest of the family was there too (they were at school).

But now I am home again and I admit that I am in a whole lot more pain than usual.  Sitting at my computer isn’t too bad but every time I move, I hurt.  I just hope I sleep well tonight and  hope tomorrow the after-effects of my ‘normal’ day won’t be too harsh.  Experience tells me it will be harsh but at this stage I’m still glad I had my little bit of normality.

Cotton wool           Image credit: Wikipedia

The Next Day

Anyone with fibro will tell you that we learn the full extent of the previous day’s activity when we wake up the next morning.  I have to say I dread this moment often.  It’s like I was brought up with the line “be sure your sins will find you out”.  I was always fearful so maybe that threat worked, but now it is even more telling with fibro.

This morning I have woken up after the longest sleep in a while (about 10 hours broken in two).  My head feels like it is full of cotton wool.  It’s that awful feeling you get with the flu.  But perhaps a little bit worse.  Sometimes I think of it as feeling like trying to walk through a vat of molasses.  Nothing is easy. I’m struggling to think.   My typing is affected and while I hit the right letters on the keyboard they are consistently in the wrong order.  Spellcheck will be busy today.  Added to what is commonly known as fibro fog, my body feels like it has been run over by a train (at least twice).  Everything aches.  And the left side of my face feels swollen, although I can’t work out if it actually is.

I would be tempted to try to sleep it off, but I know that if I do I will actually wake up in more pain.  The nerve pain I get on waking is excruciating, and I avoid it if I can.  It’s a weird feeling that all I want to do is curl up in a ball and sleep, but I know I will be punished by nerve pain if I do.  Fibro sufferers will know what I mean.  So anyway, I’m just going to try to take it easy and hope tomorrow is better.

The thing is that this happens pretty much every time I help out on the farm (usually once a week).  Some times are worse than others, it’s a bit of a lottery really, but it’s still worth it.  I would rather have a day of normality, or as close as I can get, and know it will be followed by pain and excessive fatigue, because feeling like I have contributed something (physically) is the best feeling in the world when otherwise I am prevented from doing it.

When we are restricted in what we can do, both mentally and physically, the smallest thing can make an enormous difference to our mental well-being.  I know that I will feel better mentally if I spend a day out there, than if I sit at home protecting myself from the pain of fibro.  I have yet to fully work out how to best manage this illness, especially without medication, but I don’t want to stop living.

If it ends up hurting then so be it.  I’d rather have a couple of days of pain and fatigue after my day at the farm.  It’s not necessarily logical but I don’t think anything about chronic pain is.  Yes I will suffer, and I guess one could call it self-inflicted, but I am determined fibro isn’t going to completely control and dominate me.  And I’m determined that my physical health is not going to do more damage, than I can accept, to my mental health.  Packing mushrooms for me, is a perfect way to feel well.

“Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds.”

~Orison Swett Marden


10 thoughts on “Being ‘Normal’ With Mushrooms… For Mental Well-being

  1. I love this post on so many levels. First, I LOVE mushrooms. They are one of my most favorite foods. So I love that you and your brother help bring them to the world. Second, I love that you’re a warrior, that you would risk immense pain so that it doesn’t rob you of life. So many people would opt out of activity and let the spectre of illness overtake them. Everyone does the best they can, of course, but it heartens me (even though I have only secondhand knowledge of Fibro pain) to know that you still grab ahold of life with both hands, that even punishing physical pain cannot hold you back from seeking joy. I *don’t* like that you have to live with this pain without the aid of medical/pharmaceutical assistance. I don’t like that at all. But I do love that you have a spirit that no pain, physical or psychic, can permanently extinguish. I think that’s unspeakably beautiful, while I honor and wish I could take away your physical suffering. Still, I think of you as a warrior woman.

    1. Thanks Eileen. I have a picture of fellow kiwi Lucy Lawless in my mind (warrior woman!). I should say I share your passion of mushrooms. They are my favourite vegetable and I was so touched that my brother would choose to own a mushroom farm for me. Actually he doesn’t like mushrooms. LOL.

      Early on in my diagnosis I heard of a woman with fibro who had been in bed for five years. I was so shocked and terrified! I know fibro is different for everyone but I’m simply not prepared to go to bed for five years (or life) as I know it would completely wreck any mental health that I had.

      Thanks for your comments. They help. Although today is day two and I’m feeling worse… but it was still worth it.
      Cate 🙂

  2. I do some volunteer work on a helpline every so often. Being out talking to people and living rather than existing makes a huge difference to my outlook. I’m delighted you do physical work because I tend to agree that as much as we know exactly what’s coming tomorrow it is worth it for an achievement today. I think that sense of achievement is what gets us through the hard days afterwards. I’ve yet to meet anyone who does feel they have control over there fibro but I would certainly take a couple of days pain and fatigue after a day close to normality rather than taking to my bed for five years! Keep helping out your brother when you can and enjoy the sense of achievement it brings 🙂

    1. Thanks for that. Yes the thought of five years in bed is something I’m not prepared to consider. It would completely do my head in. Unfortunately I am now three days on and my fibro flare is kicking it’s heels up wildly and as you will know, that’s not much fun. Still glad I did what I did and still will do it again when I can. 🙂

    1. Aww thanks Kathy. That’s just what I need. I’ll head over and check it out. I’m sort of back on my feet (well maybe one foot) this morning so I’ll get somethign done today. 🙂

  3. Pingback: A Letter of Fibro Musings | Infinite Sadness… or hope?

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