Do you know the most misunderstood aspects of living with fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia itself is still very much a mystery. Although doctors now have more information, and many doctors now accept it as a “real” issue, we still have a LOT to learn about fibro and chronic pain conditions in general. I personally agree with doctors who believe that fibro is not a condition in and of itself, but the result of other traumas or illnesses.
I was diagnosed with fibro in 2002 when I was in my early 30s, so I’ve had this condition for a good while. I actually went to a young doctor at LSU-S medical center who was a researcher in the field at that time, and to a very good rheumatologist. These and later doctors have certainly helped my condition improve.
I also try to eat healthily (that is, not heavily processed) foods, and MSG drives me nuts, so I avoid it like the plague, but fibro still impacts my life far more than many people would suspect. And, yes, I’ve tried some of the much-advertised medicines. They work, but they also made me gain a lot of weight, which makes the fibro even worse. I prefer to use OTC pain relievers and natural remedies.
- Everyone with fibro has slightly different symptoms, and symptoms can vary widely day to day. The pain and tender points are common to everyone, but symptoms vary WIDELY, as does the level of disability. Symptoms also very widely from day to day. Some days I may be doing GREAT and I’ll be outside trimming goats’ hooves or even pounding t-posts. Another day I may not be able to get off the couch. The unpredictability is maddening. I love to be busy; I love to be outside doing things in my garden, but sometimes I can hardly drag myself to the kitchen. Just because yesterday I could do something doesn’t mean that I can do the same thing today.
- I hurt all the time, all over. Most of the time, thanks be to God, it’s only just above consciousness-level, but it’s there. I usually describe it as the ache you have when you have a slight fever. This all-over-ache is there when I sit down, when I stand up, when I walk, and when I lie down. It never goes away completely, although I can block it out SOMETIMES if I can keep busy. Other people have HORRIFIC pain, much worse than mine.
- FATIGUE for me as just as bad or worse than the pain. (I may have CFS as well as fibro.) I’ve had doctors quip, “Well, I’m tired all the time, too.” We’re not talking about “tired,” here. We’re talking about feeling like you were just unplugged, like you have a bad case of the flu, or like you have on-the-verge-of-tears exhaustion. If you’ve never felt it, you can’t completely comprehend it. Again, the CLOSEST I can compare it to is a BAD case of the flu, where you are so weak and tired you can barely get up, if you can even do that. Your arms and legs feel like they weigh 100 lbs. each. Let me put this in real terms: there are times when I cannot get to the kitchen to make something to eat or when I’m so tired that I cannot go to the doctor’s office even if I’m sick. Getting dressed can be a major undertaking. At the worst times, I even slur my speech. I can hardly think or feel any emotion, because both of those require energy.
- My “tiredness” isn’t relieved by sleep or rest, either. The fatigue comes and goes as it pleases, although it often DOES seem to be worse before weather-changes or after I’ve tried to do too much. Rest certainly helps a LOT, but when I wake up in the morning I often feel as if I’d been beaten. My muscles are incredibly stiff, and it usually takes me at least 30 minutes to be able to walk normally. On a “bad” day, my muscles STAY stiff. In other words, even with medication, I do NOT sleep well. Some doctors have surmised that this poor sleep also means that our muscles aren’t being repaired, which leads to pain.
- My body over-reacts to some sensations…(and perhaps ignores other pain.) When I’m having a flare, anything that touches my back or hits my lower legs or feet feels like an electric shock going up my spine. Do NOT come up from behind me and touch my back, especially my lower back. I will hit you. Seriously. Hard. It’s like you touched me with a taser. This is how bad it is: I was working with a filly one day and she came down on my foot. That hurts, of course, but as it was during a flare the pain was so intense that I fell down on the ground and literally could NOT get up for what seemed like minutes. I was terrified that she would trample me. Finally I was able to pull myself up on the fence with my arms. After that I had to admit that I could no longer safely work with horses.
- That leads me to this: although my fibro is really quite mild in comparison to many people’s it has altered my life in SO many ways. I would simply not be able to work outside the home anymore in most jobs. I get clumsy as heck, and sometimes my hands don’t work well. I don’t drive long distances, either, because if I have a fatigue-flare I would not be able to drive safely. I have to plan my shopping, because standing up can be EXTREMELY painful at times and I’m too proud to use a cart. I’m also not very reliable, because I never know when I’m have a spell. It isn’t that I’m depressed; there is SO much that I’d love to do if I had the energy and ability (like try living off-grid), but I know that’s not reality. I often get in trouble because I plan MUCH more for myself than I can do.
- I want to zero in on one aspect of fibro that literally hits close to home: housekeeping. When you have fibro or chronic fatigue syndrome (now called Myalgic encephalomyelitis) you have to use your brain (if it is functioning that day) to spare your energy. That means that I look around and take as much as possible to on each errand to a part of the house rather than make multiple trips. I now actually have to have someone help me clean. (It’s embarrassing, really.) Sometimes jobs like folding clothes take several attempts; it’s honestly exhausting.
- NO, exercise is NOT a magic bullet. I think doctors often say this because it IS partially true. Obviously if a person is literally lying around with no interests or excitement some exercise MIGHT make him or her feel better. During a flare, however, exercise is like a normal person exercising while having the flu, and it can reduce you to tears. During my “normal” times I can walk a mile (it takes me about 25 minutes because I am rather clumsy and have balance problems on the treadmil) fairly easily; during a flare I can hardly walk to the kitchen. Exercise DOES help, but it’s not a cure and, during a flare, it can do much more harm than good. It can take us DAYS to recover.
- No, all those quack products and supplements aren’t magic bullets, either. Sometimes nutritional products, or gluten free items, or this or that do help certain people who have deficiencies or unknown food allergies. I do think the reason that I do as well as I do and am not completely bed-ridden, is because I keep moving to some extent (the baby goats are excellent therapy), I DO try to eat a reasonably healthy diet, and I discovered by chance that MSG was a major trigger for me (it makes me feel like there is drill going into my joints.) Eating fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean meat (as long as you aren’t allergic to any of these) and cooking them at home really helps some people. (Not all. Again, I think “fibro” is so maddeningly different because it’s actually the result of very different conditions in different people.)
- Fibro may not kill a person, but it can make a person wish he or she were dead. That’s the sad truth. Long-term chronic pain is life-changing, it sometimes occurs in the prime of life, and can bring hopelessness. I’m blessed, but many people with fibro lose their jobs, their spouses, their hobbies/sports, and their friends. What makes it even worse is the fact that it is “invisible,” so many doctors and family members completely dismiss it. Imagine being in a lot of pain and constant fatigue and having a doctor basically tell you that you’re just crazy or a hypochondriac. (Funny, but that’s also what doctors used to say about menstrual cramps and then about lupus. Basically it’s the first answer often given when doctors don’t know what to do about an issue.)
So there are 10 things to know about fibro. Again, every case is different, and I feel very blessed to be able to do what I can do.
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