Fibromyalgia diagnosis brings lifestyle changes, support from friends
I cleaned the sink in the bathroom one evening last week after work. And I walked from the office across the bridge to the Blount County Public Library and back on Wednesday.
What’s the significance of that, you ask?
I’ll tell you. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the energy to even think about cleaning anything at home. Only the most urgent tasks are attended to, and then they have to wait as long as possible. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to walk even the short distance to the library and not pay for it for days afterward with pain so intense I can barely sleep at night. The pain radiates from my neck and shoulders all the way down my back, hip and legs. I wake up at night from the throbbing, stabbing pain, or even better, from leg and feet cramps that only abate by walking them out, sometimes at intervals of two to three hours between episodes.
Add to that the brain fog, and you have a picture of a chronic condition a lot of folks think is a product of hypochondria or mental illness, or both. It’s called fibromyalgia.
I was diagnosed about eight weeks ago. Funny thing is, if the pain in my left arm hadn’t gotten to the point that I couldn’t use my arm properly, and if my fingers hadn’t gone numb, and if my thumb hadn’t started cramping, I probably would not have gone to the doctor. Several friends, some of whom are nurses in cardiac care, were concerned that I was a heart attack waiting to happen. Given my family’s history of heart disease, I heeded their warnings and went.
Turns out not a dadburn thing is wrong with me, other than elevated cholesterol. “Just” fibromyalgia on top of the osteoarthritis I had been blaming the pain on and the clinical depression that also exacerbates the pain when it’s not under control.
It’s a relief to know why over-the-counter NSAIDs and ibuprofen weren’t touching the pain. It’s a relief to know other medications can help with the symptoms I have. It’s a relief to know I’m not the lazy slug I had feared and there is a real reason for feeling as I do. Now that I know what the problem is and am receiving treatment, I have enough energy — for the first time in years — to get up and do a few things. My house is getting into better shape. Now that I can move more easily and have some stamina, so am I.
Probably the most disconcerting of the fibromyalgia symptoms for me is the “fibro fog,” as it’s called. My brain doesn’t seem to want to process ideas and speech properly at times. The medication I take adds a bit to that — you may notice that I am slurring words occasionally, or can’t quite get a particular word to travel from my brain to my tongue. Some days are worse than others. Some days, the brain’s hitting on all cylinders. I rarely know when I get up in the morning what to expect.
The fatigue is a bit of a nuisance, as well. I am fortunate to have bosses who understand how difficult it is for me to get going in the mornings. As long as the work is done, it’s not a problem that I come in later. I’ve found that if I can get here, I can work as long as it takes. The getting here is the problem.
You may wonder why I’m telling you this. It’s the same reason I’ve written about the mental illness and the sugar addiction. It’s to show others that we all have difficulties to overcome — and this is just another of those difficulties. We can do this.
I have had to make some lifestyle changes and will be making additional changes in the future to deal with life as it now is. I need more rest. I need to pace myself at work and with the projects I love to do. I need to accept the help that’s offered and learn to ask for help when necessary instead of being that self-sufficient, determined, stubborn loner who will do it herself or do without.
I also need a support system of folks who are, like me, struggling with the “invisible diseases” like fibromyalgia, who understand the pain, the misconceptions, the challenges and the triumphs. The new Blount County fibromyalgia support group meeting Thursday for the first time will fill a great need for many of us.
For more details about the support group, see the accompanying story on page 3C.
Linda Albert is Sunday Life editor and a staff writer for The Daily Times. Her column runs every Sunday in the Life section. You may contact her at 981-1168 or (firstname.lastname@example.org)