Fibromyalgia (fi·bro·my·al·gi·a) is defined by the Center for Disease Control as a “condition that causes pain all over the body, sleep problems, fatigue, and often emotional and mental distress”. Fibro affects about 4 million adults in the US, yet the cause still is not known. The CDC reminds us however that fibromyalgia can be “effectively treated and managed”. Someone hasn’t told my doctors this
Okay, but what does that mean?
Fibromyalgia, like many other chronic conditions, affects everyone differently. The most common indicator is widespread pain. Sometimes that pain is an ache, other times it’s a muscle cramp, or a bruise feeling all over your body. People with fibromyalgia also tend to be more sensitive to stimulus than others, and can experience symptoms because of it; for example, they might be easily overwhelmed in crowds or noisy places, or be very particular about their bedding, towels, and clothing as certain fabrics irritate more easily than others.
In my case, fibromyalgia manifests itself most frequently in general aches and pains. Basically that means that at any given moment, at least one part of me is hurting. It’s like I’m trapped inside the body of an 80-year-old woman, but without the life experiences and cats.
On good days, my pain, on a scale from 1-10, is about a 3-4; think a headache you can work around, or the soreness from working out. On bad days, my pain can be anywhere from 6-9; 6 being broken fingers and toes, 9 being someone repeatedly slicing me open with a katana while a truck backs over my mangled corpse. (I don’t like using the 1-10 pain scale without examples because everyone’s scale is different, but more on that in a later post.)
Managing the pain
As mentioned above, the cause of fibro is unknown, so treatment plans are all about fighting the symptoms. For me, that means keeping ibuprofen on me at all times, going to physical therapy, using hot and cold packs, and occasionally using mobility aids such as a wheelchair or cane to keep everything in check. Recently I’ve started practicing a lot of holistic methods, and while they don’t work for everyone, some of them have worked for me. When I can concentrate long enough, I like to do a 5-10-minute guided meditation specifically for pain management. These tend to focus on allowing the pain to just be, instead of trying to make it go away. I also have essential oils for relaxation and energy, and I take supplements to fight inflammation.
Being in pain 24/7 can be overwhelming, and can feel isolating, especially when the pain keeps you from the things and people you love. It’s also quite frustrating; doctors can only offer short-term solutions, the embarrassment of not being able to do what you used to, and the fact that despite the absolutely massive numbers of patients (the majority female), fibromyalgia is still up for debate in the medical community.
Anyone who knows me knows I love a good mystery. I am always down to put on my sleuthing cap, grab the nearest Nancy Drew, and begin working out a puzzle. I guess it’s only fitting that the one I’m working on now is The Case of the Mystery Illness.