This is the earlier article in the same magazine and I think it is very good and interesting to read - got permission to republish it from Lynne Matallana and AJ earlier for The AJ Site
From Fibromyalgia AWARE Magazine ~ May 2002
AJ Langer…Finding Permission to Follow Her Heart
The Actor, The Athlete, The Artist and Now The Advocate:
AJ Langer reflects on being a sit com star with fibromyalgia
by Lynne Matallana
“It has always seemed like such a ridiculous disease to me…I didn’t want it. I convinced myself that I, being the strong self-sufficient woman that I was, could overcome it! Through positive thinking (denial)…and just keeping that smile on my face (denial)…but…
I do have it.”
AJ Langer admits that her fibromyalgia had to get really bad before she paid attention to it. She had always defined herself as an athlete…a woman mountain climber, hanging off the side of a cliff who knew no bounds to her endurance and her strength of will. A surfer who could feel every cell in her body coming to life when she would shoot the curl along a beach in Chile. Her life had been cheerleading, sports, working out three hours a day and whenever she could, long runs along the beach near her home in southern California. Her life was defined by activity and she loved being in a natural environment, tuning into the vibrations of the earth, wind and sky. But now the vibrations that she has to live with are those of nagging pain. The pain that comes from fibromyalgia.
AJ’s home is warm and comfortable. Full of luscious smells, glowing candles, soft colors and pictures of family and friends. It reflects her personality…warm, unique, and unpretentious. She has surrounded herself with an eclectic collection of sentimental pieces and beautiful “artsy” type things. A quote from Henry David Thoreau hangs framed in her dining room, a gift from her mother when she was just a baby. It talks about those who live life to the beat of a different drummer. AJ is amazed that her mother knew that her daughter would be just such a person.
As we settled in to talk, AJ sunk into place on her big white overstuffed couch, clinging onto a bright red pillow, looking child like and fragile. But as she started to talk I realized this woman was anything but fragile. Her openness and honesty were almost unnerving, as she dug deep into her soul to expose her most genuine emotions and thoughts about living with and learning from fibromyalgia.
LM: Why were you willing to come out and speak about having fibromyalgia?
AJ: “Because people were asking questions. I put it off for awhile, waiting until I was healthy and when I would have all the answers, but then I realized I didn’t have to have anything perfected. By relinquishing control over the situation and letting go and just not knowing what is going on with my body right now is OK… until the answers come. I am actively “not knowing” right now. But I am not going to beat myself up about it. I hope that I can just help people to know what they already know or to help them see a perspective on what they already have. We can learn things on our own, but we do benefit from other people.”
LM: How has FM changed how you go about being an actor on Three Sisters?
AJ: “I have been frustrated…the way that I study is that I don’t learn the lines immediately, because the lines can change. So I make sure that I understand the intent of the character throughout and get continuity and then the lines come easily. But recently [with fibromyalgia] I can’t work that way. I have to sit there and grill the lines into my head, so I hope when I get out there I will be able to connect things with the person I am working with.”
LM: I don’t see that when I watch the show. You don’t look like you are struggling.
AJ: “In life you can see it. But on the show I’m acting, and it’s not acting for a half hour straight. I remember to breathe and try to concentrate on what the character is feeling. And usually that overrides what my body is doing…that is the scary part, because you can hide it. When you are up in front of a live audience you get that adrenalin rush and you are all made up with makeup… you don’t look sick.”
LM: What makes you a good actor?
AJ: “I have always loved people and loved trying to figure out people. I can emotionally relate to people in all sorts of situations, and I think that might be because of the over sensitivity we have.”
LM: Do you think people with FM are more intuitive because we are physically “over sensitive?”
AJ: “Absolutely. Over sensitivity means you are more open to the electro-magnetic frequencies. Therefore, your body is affected by these frequencies, so therefore just like a bright light will hit us or high pitch sound is irritating, these things can even make you feel pain. For example a loud person, an angry person or a sad person… you can feel them with your whole body. You can feel the spider webs of nerves down your arm…that’s not normal! You can feel the spider webs wrapping around your head into your eyes from a point on your neck… you can press on one place and hurt in another. Even some doctors don’t know how things are connected.”
LM: In getting to know you, I have noticed that you have a strong need to understand life and to understand the purpose of your life. Do you think this has been helped or hurt by fibromyalgia?
AJ: “Only helped. I don’t know if I would have picked it up quick enough. It had to get this bad for me to pay attention. It had to hit me over the head. In this society you go, you go, you go. I grew up in a very loving family, but I was taught, you do your job, you suck it up…which works for them and can be healthy for them. But, in all of this rushing, and going, going, going… I don’t know if I would have learned how ridiculous it is if my body hadn’t been so sensitive and to tell me.”
LM: Are there other good things that have come out of having fibromyalgia?
AJ: I know what love feels like. That is one thing I have found. That is one thing that is much clearer because of fibromyalgia. Because once you experience real pain you recognize the vibration, the feeling of being healthy, happy and loved. If I’m not living from my heart, I get sick. I need to do things that feed my soul, like being with people I love, or playing my guitar, or listening to music.
LM: Are you a perfectionists?
AJ: “I had this very special acting coach. I was doing a Disney movie. And we were shooting the first scene and I missed it. I did it once in the rehearsal and the Director said yes that was what he wanted and then I missed it three times in a row. That was it. We were moving on. It was a tiny thing and no one would ever see it. But I beat myself up for the rest of the day! So I talked to my acting coach and he asked what had I been feeling and I told him I had actually written it down. So he had me read it out loud to myself. And it was brutal…you stupid idiot, obviously you are not cut out for this business if you can’t even do one simple scene! This should be cake! And then he had me pretend that I was sitting down and I had a 5 year old me sitting on my lap. And he told me to look at her and to say those things to her. Well, of course I broke out in tears. I told him I got his point. I have used that almost every day of my life since. Listen to the way you talk to yourself. Be kind to yourself.”
LM: What do you say to people who you care about that don’t know about fibromyalgia?
AJ: “You explain to people who don’t understand. But if they don’t believe or have an interest, then that is their issue. The best way to deal with it and to deal with everyone is to deal with my body first. I’ve even been saying it for years and not doing it. If you start doing it more, the more you find out how much easier life is. I didn’t get any of my Christmas presents wrapped, or out to anyone at work, but my health has just been bad. And instead of having a cup of coffee and charging through it and getting everything done for everyone else and staying sick …I’m over it. I’m going to have a cup of Chamomile tea, I’m going to leave a message on my answering machine that says I’m doing my best, have a Happy Holiday and I will get back to you when I get a chance. At first you feel guilt. Then you breathe it out and then when it’s gone, because it will go away, you adjust. That’s one thing we learn with FM. It’s always changing.”
LM: How do you get through the tough times?
AJ: “We’re in this for the long run and it is worth it! If you decide to be happy, you will be happy. It is such a balancing game. You have to concentrate on what feels good and just stick with it and just always have faith… in whatever you find faith in. If you push too hard you can’t enjoy it. It’s important to get simple.”
LM: You have told me that you want to support fibromyalgia awareness, but that you don’t want to be called a “spokeswoman.” Why is that?
AJ: “I don’t want to claim too much knowledge about fibromyalgia. I am speaking only for myself. It was a huge relief for me to meet other people who could understand what I was saying and how I was feeling. I know that if I don’t care for myself I’m not going to have anything to say. It takes a minute to switch gears, to realize that I have to take care of myself.”
As the afternoon wore on friends came and went, packages were delivered and AJ’s attempt at “peaceful sanctuary” was interrupted by bursts of enthusiastic welcome and passionate interest in a variety of creative diversions. But just like most people with FM, AJ understands that she is passing through the normal stages of denial, acceptance, learning, evaluating and re-establishing her life. She is recognizing that good things can come out of having fibromyalgia and that you need to let go and accept change. She says, “There is no choice- you have to move on. The things I have learned by having this illness are difficult lessons to learn. This over achieving thing helps you to keep going, but if you are moving too fast then you are actually running away. By identifying the things you are having a hard time accepting and realizing they are going to take more time and work to change… you will become a better person.”
As AJ again relaxes back on her couch and takes an inventory of her self, this awareness comes across her face as she slumps back in exhaustion. The look is a familiar one to me as I have seen it in the reflection of a mirror on many occasions. It is a mixture of feelings all wrapped up into the crinkle of her eyes. It is pain, fatigue, frustration, fear, determination, intensity, anger, fortitude, courage, control, strength, compassion, envy, love, and a hundred other emotions all rolled up into a split second. And then it is gone and AJ’s face becomes calm and serene again and she says, “But for right now, I’m just doing the best I can.”