Dealing With Fibromyalgia
The twentieth century brought tremendous advances in medicine. Antibiotics, in particular, helped to change the medical paradigm to one of belief in ‘magic bullets’. Science and medicine, like technology, were the new gods that were going to solve all human suffering. They certainly have solved many problems, and tremendous advances have been made, however like many gods in the past, they are not omnipotent. They have limitations. One of the most noticeable limitations in modern medicine is its ability to deal with chronic medical conditions. Any disease that does not resolve quickly inevitably moves from the acute stage into a chronic stage. If you are lucky, that stage doesn’t last too long, your body wins the battle and homeostasis is restored. Sometimes we are not so lucky and our body ends up in a stalemate with the pathogen or the injury. Most of us have experienced this in one form or another and end up with a nagging condition of some sort. This is often where the magic bullet, drug intervention approach fails, and you find yourself looking for alternative approaches. This is never truer than with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome- two deeply interconnected chronic conditions for which modern medicine has no magic bullet.
Just what is Fibromyalgia? To quote the Mayo clinic’s web page on this topic “You hurt all over, and you frequently feel exhausted. Even after numerous tests, your doctor can’t find anything specifically wrong with you. If this sounds familiar, you may have fibromyalgia.” Most experts now believe that Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia are the same condition but with a different face, or symptom picture. The diagnosis is partly determined by whether the most predominant symptoms are ones of fatigue or muscle pain. Common signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Widespread body pain, including tender points in the upper back and neck, upper chest, elbows, hips and knees
- Fatigue and sleep disturbances
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)- The constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and bloating associated with IBS are common.
- Headaches and facial pain– Many people who have fibromyalgia also have headaches and facial pain.
- Heightened sensitivity– It is very common for people with fibromyalgia to report being sensitive to odours, noises, bright lights and to touch.
- Other common signs and symptoms include depression, numbness or tingling sensations in the hands and feet (paresthesia), difficulty concentrating, mood changes, chest pain, dry eyes, skin and mouth, dizziness, and anxiety.
One problem that sufferers of these conditions face is discrimination, stereotyping and preconceived notions. People who are healthy seem to have a rough time believing that these symptoms are real, and this also can include health professionals. Fortunately for fibromyalgia sufferers, researchers and clinicians are taking these conditions more seriously and gains are being made in the areas of research and treatment. This is turn is helping to break down the stigma around these conditions.
If you are dealing with Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue it is important that you first get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan from your physician. Secondly you need to actively take charge of your own health (as we all must do) and take the steps necessary to minimize the symptoms. The approach varies from person to person, but the following suggestions are good guidelines.
- Reduce stress- Avoid or limit overexertion and emotional stress. However, note that people who quit work or drop all activity do worse than those who remain active. Try stress management techniques, such as deep-breathing exercises or meditation.
- Get enough sleep- In addition to allotting enough time for sleep, practice good sleep habits, such as going to bed and getting up at the same time each day and limiting daytime napping.
- Exercise regularly- At first, exercise may increase your pain. But doing conservative exercise typically decreases symptoms.
- Pace yourself- As a fibromyalgia sufferer you more know about pacing than anyone else does. If you overdo it you will pay for it.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle
- Get Massage to help with the aches and pains associated with fibromyalgia
- Fill your cup- Do something that you find enjoyable and fulfilling every day.
- Join a ‘functional’ support group– While support groups for any condition or issue can be extremely helpful, many can fall into the trap of becoming dysfunctional.
- Consider complementary approaches such as massage therapy, acupuncture, homeopathy, naturopathy, osteopathy or chiropractic care.
- Become educated about your condition- Learn as much as you can. This put you in a position of power and control (see seminar information below).
As a therapist I find myself continually inspired by my patients who deal chronic conditions such as Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue. They didn’t ask for this illness to happen, but they don’t let it beat them. All humans get down at times though, and Fibromyalgia sufferers typically experience depression, making other aspects of the condition much more difficult to deal with. If you suffer from Fibromyalgia, I urge you to take control of your illness. Try to avoid the trap of victimization that many of us fall into when beset by a painful, life-altering event.
Life certainly isn’t fair. It never was. Before man walked on the planet, animals lived, suffered, got terrible diseases and experienced painful deaths, just as they do now (don’t shoot me, I’m only the messenger). All human attempts to make life fair are wonderful and noble, but the natural system that we were born into knows nothing of the concept of fairness. Bad things do happen to good people. The issue isn’t as much what happens to us, as much as what we do with what we’ve got. The good news is that we get to write the story of our own lives. Each one of us determines, as we write our life story whether we are a victim or a hero in that script. Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue are life altering medical conditions. You are not the same person after your encounter these illnesses. They force you to take control of your health, and typically cause you look at life more existentially. The silver lining in this cloud is that these conditions are not progressive, nor life threatening.
As mentioned earlier, education is an excellent way to take control of your condition. If you deal with chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia, I highly recommend that you read Dr. Alison Bested’s book Hope And Help for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome And Fibromyalgia. She is an expert in this area and has tremendous insight into these complex medical conditions.