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I am a 36 year old female. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 2002.
Currently, I have a full-time job in the media industry as a finance executive, and I train for triathlons and other endurance sports on the side. This is a huge contrast to where I was 3-5 years ago, when I was barely making it to work and when I was not at work I was bed-ridden and depressed most of the time.
How did this change come about? Exercise, healthy eating, healthy thinking and sleeping well.
I was diagnosed with it back in 2002. I believe i had it before then, it just took me over 2 years to actually get a diagnosis. Starting in 1997/1998, i started having problems with my health - it was a shock to me because I always used to be such a healthy person. I never missed work from being sick, I really never had the flu or the cold too often... In the beginning, i just thought i had the flu, feeling so achy all over my body, which made it impossible for me to get up in the mornings. Then i started getting the "flu" a little too often...as often as every other week! I was cancelling social engagements with my friends so often that my friends started making bets if I would make it to a particular event. I started missing work a lot more.
My life was being changed by these weird, frequent "flu"-like symptoms. I didn't know what was going on. Every time I was sick, I went to my doctor and whined about my symptoms. I must have gone through so many tests, including tests for Hyperthyroid (I was losing weight fast in the beginning, my heart was beating fast, or it felt like it was), liver disease, ulcers, migraine, etc...you name it, I got tested for it. Fortunately, i had none of those. But my symptoms were so frequent and not knowing what it was frustrated me so much that i had wished I was finally diagnosed with something. But no. Finally, my doctor suggested that i may have something called "Fibromyalgia." I had never heard of it back then.
My Theory on What Gave me Fibromyalgia - I was healthy before, but now I'm not. What happened in between?
I won't go into too much detail. This is not about my past, I'm not writing this to have a pity party on the web. I'll just put in bullet points some of the key events which I think may have contributed to my illness.
Stress - ENEMY #1. To me, the biggest contributor to my illness trailed back to stress. Family/personal stress that lasted for more than 5 years prior to my diagnosis; work stress that accumulated over my 3 years of investment banking days...and then I generally became a high-strung person that would get stressed over EVERYTHING. Obviously, I never had a specific health issue. After numerous tests, my doctor finally asked me if there was anything stressful in my life - I thought about it, and I went straight to a psychologist. It's still an on-going process.
Physical exertion - unlike my healthy past, I started getting easily tired, lethargic and achy after a long hike, walk or a night out with friends. Moreover, recovery took longer than usual (2-3 days vs. 1 day or less).
Unhealthy diet - I used to eat everything, mostly unhealthy foods. I always liked pasta, steak, fries, sweets etc.... vegetables were not a significant part of my diet. I really never thought of eating healthy. I also never took vitamins or other supplements. Just old habit of abusing and being unappreciative of my health.
Fibromyalgia, according to the articles out there, is highly related to stress. I would even say (and this is my personal opinion) fibromyalgia is 80% related to stress, and even depression. I do believe that for a while I was depressed - and all the years of stress and depression, unaddressed and unspoken, had been buried under my chest and started manifesting itself through actual physical stress. Who would have thought it.
It was like a slap in the face, the face (i.e, my own face) that used to blow off the theory that mental stress could lead to physical pain.
I found a clinic in the UCLA Medical Center (East-West Medicine) that specializes in fibro patients. I submitted my symptoms and they "qualified" me for treatment...at my first appointment with them, the doctor diagnosed me with Fibromyalgia. I was official then. Finally, something to blame. :-)
Although there may be something to blame on, fibromyalgia has no cure. According to various articles, it is more mentally triggered through stress (accumulated over a long period of time) and is even related to depression.
**My usual symptoms**
I read that fibromyalgia symptoms vary from person to person. My most frequent symptoms are severe achs in the ankle, wrists and tightening up of my shoulders. When i say they "tighten up" I mean the muscles really tighten up, knots just roll up together like rocks and i feel paralyzed. Usually my legs weaken and i feel like i can't use any of my leg muscles. Aside from the physical symptoms, I do tend to feel lethargic, almost to a depressing degree. On a normal day I am a very happy, active person. I'm positive, i'm social, i'm just ridiculously happy. However, when the physical symptoms kick in and i'm laying in bed in pain, it feels like the world is closing in on me and I just feel really really down on myself. It is both a physical and mental battle, as I wait for the pain to subside. It usually takes about a day or two for myself to feel better. On a good day, it just takes half a day. On a tough one, it's a two-day streak of misery.
**Learning and Coping**
It took me a while - almost 2 years - to learn how to live with Fibro. When I said "how to live," I mean "how to live well." The first two years, I have to say, was just letting the illness just invade my life and make me miserable. I was living with it, but I was getting killed by it. Actually, let me rephrase - I was letting it kill me.
I was sick every other week, I couldn't keep my social commitments, I was missing work quite often, I was spending more time in bed on my muscle relaxers than I did up and living like a normal human being. I accepted it as my "fate." Needless to say, I was more depressed and negative than EVER.
In the midst of it, I had this crazy idea to join my boyfriend back then to do an Olympic-distance triathlon (0.9 mile swim, 26 mile bike, 6.2 mile run) to fundraise for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. He survived cancer and we were celebrating 2 years of his remission. I committed to train and fundraise just thinking that it would get me to shape. I think that's when my life started to change. (it gets fun after this!)
** Personal Treatments and Preventative Measures **
--PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS NOT IN ANY WAY WRITTEN TO ACT AS MEDICAL ADVICE - THIS IS ONLY TO SHARE WITH YOU WHAT HAS BEEN WORKING FOR ME. WE ALL HAVE DIFFERENT SYMPTOMS SO DIFFERENT TREATMENTS MAY OR MAY NOT WORK FOR DIFFERENT PEOPLE. PLEASE CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE MAKING ANY DECISIONS.--
1. Acupuncture - I don't think acupuncture necessarily heals "fibromyalgia," but what it helps is the relief of muscle tightness. I have huge knots on my neck and shoulders, and they have subsided a lot through acupuncture. When my symptoms are bad and I'm in a lot of pain, I go twice a week for about two weeks. After that, I usually try to go once every other week as maintenance.
2. Massage - if you are active, massage is KEY. Normal people who work out regularly need massages to help muscle recovery, so people like us who have muscle tension issues must do even more. Definitely once a month, at least.
3. Supplements - I used to not believe in supplements. Now I'm finally a believer. Here are some of the things I take regularly (and making it a habit took me MONTHS). I think multivitamins and Greenergy have been the most important so far.
a. Multivitamins (2x /day, with a meal)
b. Glucosamine - helps with joint pain. 3x/day with meal.
c. FRS plus - www.frsplus.com I cannot emphasize how much this stuff has helped me with maintaining my energy level, stay focused on tough days at work, and just feeling good overall. Please read about it, and try a sample order.
d. Greenergy (from www.EnergyFirst.com) - the best "green" drink out there. One scoop of this mix contains 5 servings of our daily required vegetable intake. I take 2-3 scoops a day throughout the day.
4. Sleep! - funny I say sleep is a treatment, but sleep is very important to me. I need my 7-8 hours a day. Once my sleep pattern is broken, it's very hard to recover. Be selfish and try to keep your sleep schedule.
5. Eat healthy - I have stopped drinking alcoholic beverages. If I drink wine once in a while (because I love wine very much), I immediately feel that lousy, tired pull from the bottom of the earth. But at least I know what I'm up against when I choose to drink it. While I do indulge in steak and fries once in a while, I definitely eat them less frequently. Fresh vegetables, fruit, fish and chicken, legumes are my most frequented food list. I never used to believe in it - but we are what we eat. I still LOVE my sweets and I usually have my desserts after dinner. However, after a couple of bites, I am happy with my fill. Controlling the amount of sugar in my body has helped me feel healthier.
6. Exercise smart! - need I say more
7. Manage your stress level.
8. Be happy. Happiness is a choice!
I currently keep a blog to document my training regimen and experiences with fibromyalgia. www.tribeyondlimits.com I hope this gives hope to some of you out there who are working hard to be better every day. In my opinion, there is no single magic pill that will make us feel better. It is a combination of the appropriate treatments (that fit YOUR needs, not the doctor's), a healthy lifestyle and regular, low-impact exercise and our constant learning about our body and mind that will help us live through our burden, one day at a time. Twitter users, look for me: tribeyondlimits