By Nancy Gordon, LCSW

Are you alone with your losses? Are you imprisoned as a “Health Hostage”™ facing the “Chronic Illness Thief”™ ---all by yourself, without support?

Well, you are really not alone. There are millions of us! In fact, according to the National Fibromyalgia Association's website,* It’s estimated that 6 – 10 percent of people in the United States have fibromyalgia. According to the National Institute on Health (NIH), "chronic pain affects an estimated 100 million Americans, or one third of the U.S. population." **


How do we begin to deal with this large number?! I believe and have experienced that there is great power and healing when you join together in community.

One such community I found 20 years ago, that continues to impact my life, is the National Fibromyalgia Association and the founder, Lynne Matallana. I met Lynne and the NFA shortly after I was diagnosed with FM many years ago. I had no idea what I was in for, but finding the NFA and becoming involved in that community changed my life and my trajectory in terms of how I experienced life with FM. 

NFA became the most amazing resource for knowledge, support, and advocacy for all of us in pain. Ultimately, they became one of the biggest supporters of my mission to help others through my service dog, Toaster, a rare, ancient hairless breed, called Xoloitzcuintli.

I believe that chronic illness and disability are undeniably about loss. Having the support of others (community) is a significant key to successfully overcoming loss. It is something we must seek and allow, because we cannot heal alone. Nor should we have to. Nor DO we have to. Finding a community of support and inspiration is vital to our healing and our well being, for our hearts and souls.

When I had to "lift up"  Toaster and Pink (as I refer to "putting down"), I sent emails and facebook request for prayers and support to as many people as I could who knew of Toaster (Jan 2016) and Pink (Oct 2016). Lynne responded right away with this email:  "I want to keep all of you in my prayers and this weekend, if you can, please tell Toaster for me that there were a lot of people who were really sick, who became happier and better because you and Toaster shared your story through the NFA and brought people the joy that only a  doggies' love can do! Give Toaster a kiss and say thank you from me."

When you have others with whom to share your feelings, they can challenge your skewed perceptions. With Toaster, I was totally immersed in anticipatory grief of my own loss, not remembering the message Lynne conveyed about how my Xolos helped the world, which gave me a sense of pride and comfort. In those kinds of moments, support and community can offer you a different lens through which to view your situation. They can be your telescope to hope and healing. That is the power of community.

When I was invited by the National Fibromyalgia Association to write the featured article in the NFA's special edition newsletter celebrating NFA's 20th anniversary and National Fibromyalgia Day, May 12, 2017, I jumped for joy at the invitation! I was so grateful to be chosen; what an honor. Now, I’ve come full circle back to this community with an opportunity to pay it forward.

Practicing gratitude not only makes someone else feel valued and appreciated, but our brains release endorphins that literally make you feel good, too! Being grateful is a simple concept, yet it is one of the most powerful practices you can have in making your life work in a way that not only allows you, but inspires you to live life fully. Why? Because it feels so good when you are in a grateful state of being and who doesn't like to feel good? Especially when we are in pain!

When you are that state, even in what feels like a negative situation or interaction, seeing the glass half-full and practicing gratitude will make you feel better in an split second. When we are in a place of gratitude, we can’t help but experience a state of grace. Gratitude IS the recognition and expression of grace. That's powerful. And it's free to do! It’s my favorite state of being. I practice it every day.

In fact, I want to express my deep gratitude to Lynne Matallana, the NFA, and the Managing Editor, Laura Walker, for all the community you have created, and for giving me a place to have a voice within it.

Click here to read my article Do You Feel Like a “Health Hostage”™ Kidnapped by the “Chronic Illness Thief?”™ My article provides insight, hope--and a BONUS exercise from my 7 Steps of Hope and Healing  workbook to help you plan your escape!

Click here to read the entire NFA special edition 20th Anniversary Newsletter

*National Fibromyalgia Association