9.30.2010

I have Fibromyalgia... and it sucks.

This is going to be a long one, so bear with me.  I was inspired to write about Fibromyalgia today because a few people have been asking me about it lately, looking for answers in dealing with their own suffering.  I’m also having a REALLY bad flare up today and feel awful, so it’s obviously on my mind. 

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain in your muscles, ligaments and tendons, as well as fatigue and multiple tender points — places on your body where slight pressure causes pain.  Every Fibromyalgia sufferer has different symptoms and most have other conditions as well. (Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, etc)

My main symptoms that I suffered with constantly before treatment were painful achy legs, fibro fog (it feels as though your brain just isn't working anymore... like you're walking around in a fog), IBS, insomnia, and exhaustion. My "sometimes" symptoms were aching back and neck, depression, memory problems, and a few other random things (trouble losing weight, headaches, migraines that won't go away, cluster headaches). Basically I have felt like absolute crap for the past 10 years, varying in intensity and it had a huge impact on my motivation and daily life.  I was considered lazy by some, but honestly, I just couldn’t do most things that I should have been able to.

Since I have been little I have been "diagnosed" (and I use that term loosely, as they were all misdiagnosis) with growing pains in my legs (I'm 27, they are no longer growing pains), migraines, GERD, colitis, and assorted other things (none of which I have or have responded to other treatments, since they are all linked to the fibromyalgia). I've also been tested for EVERYTHING under the sun from thyroid problems to brain tumors. Everything has always come back that I'm in perfect health.

Some other weird symptoms that I never paid much attention to until I found out they were caused by the fibro were sensitivity to sound (the tv is ALWAYS too loud for me), scents (perfume makes me sick), light (prefer a dim room), and touch (my skin is sensitive and things that should feel good, like a massage or even just rubbing my arm, cause pain sometimes). Also, my jaw clicks if I open it too wide. When I really started looking into fibromyalgia I was AMAZED at all of the weird things that are linked to it.

I was finally diagnosed with Fibromyalgia last year after going to my doctor with a list of my symptoms and the suggestion from my mom to look into Fibromyalgia.  After thoroughly going over my medical history together we did the tender point test and I had sensitivity in 16 out of 18 spots.  You only need 11 to be diagnosed.  We also did a full physical and a full panel of bloodwork to rule out pretty much everything else under the sun.  It all came back fine.  I started a brand new medication used only to treat Fibromyalgia, called Savella.  The two most popular medicines prescribed for fibro are Lyrica and Cymbalta but from my research (and my doctors) I've seen that they both have a TON of bad side effects. The Savella is new to the market (which does make me a little nervous) but so far myself (and others on it) have really had NO side effects. I was nauseous for a few weeks while getting used to it, but I'm on double the normal dosage right now (100mg twice a day... typical usage is 50mg twice a day) and I feel great! Most of my days are spent pain free and I’m finally able to really think clearly again. I have the motivation and energy to live the life that I want/need to live.

There are days that I still suffer though.  There is no known cure for Fibromyalgia (yet!) and the medication can only help so much.  Today is a VERY bad day, unfortunately.  My entire body is aching… a deep throbbing pain that really makes me want to curl up in bed all day.  I’m exhausted and weak to the point that I almost passed out walking up the stairs to work.  I just keep reminding myself that I used to feel like this for weeks at a time, so a day or two here and there isn’t going to kill me and I just need to muscle through it and remind myself how great I usually feel these days. J

While researching Fibromyalgia for myself I came across something that another chronic pain sufferer wrote.  A way to explain to her friends and family what she was going through (she has Lupus) and what it was like to live with a chronic pain condition.  Please, I beg of you, read the story and really take to heart what she’s saying. 

The Spoon Theory

by Christine Miserandino www.butyoudontlooksick.com

My best friend and I were in the diner, talking. As usual, it was very late and we were eating French fries with gravy. Like normal girls our age, we spent a lot of time in the diner while in college, and most of the time we spent talking about boys, music or trivial things, that seemed very important at the time. We never got serious about anything in particular and spent most of our time laughing.
As I went to take some of my medicine with a snack as I usually did, she watched me with an awkward kind of stare, instead of continuing the conversation. She then asked me out of the blue what it felt like to be so sick. I was shocked not only because she asked the random question, but also because I assumed she knew all there was to know about Lupus. She came to doctors with me, she saw me walk with a cane, and throw up in the bathroom. She had seen me cry in pain, what else was there to know?
I started to ramble on about pills, and aches and pains, but she kept pursuing, and didn’t seem satisfied with my answers. I was a little surprised as being my roommate in college and friend for years; I thought she already knew the medical definition of Lupus. Then she looked at me with a face every sick person knows well, the face of pure curiosity about something no one healthy can truly understand. She asked what it felt like, not physically, but what it felt like to be me, to be sick.
As I tried to gain my composure, I glanced around the table for help or guidance, or at least stall for time to think. I was trying to find the right words. How do I answer a question I never was able to answer for myself? How do I explain every detail of every day being effected, and give the emotions a sick person goes through with clarity. I could have given up, cracked a joke like I usually do, and changed the subject, but I remember thinking if I don’t try to explain this, how could I ever expect her to understand. If I can’t explain this to my best friend, how could I explain my world to anyone else? I had to at least try.
At that moment, the spoon theory was born. I quickly grabbed every spoon on the table; hell I grabbed spoons off of the other tables. I looked at her in the eyes and said “Here you go, you have Lupus”. She looked at me slightly confused, as anyone would when they are being handed a bouquet of spoons. The cold metal spoons clanked in my hands, as I grouped them together and shoved them into her hands.
I explained that the difference in being sick and being healthy is having to make choices or to consciously think about things when the rest of the world doesn’t have to. The healthy have the luxury of a life without choices, a gift most people take for granted.
Most people start the day with unlimited amount of possibilities, and energy to do whatever they desire, especially young people. For the most part, they do not need to worry about the effects of their actions. So for my explanation, I used spoons to convey this point. I wanted something for her to actually hold, for me to then take away, since most people who get sick feel a “loss” of a life they once knew. If I was in control of taking away the spoons, then she would know what it feels like to have someone or something else, in this case Lupus, being in control.
She grabbed the spoons with excitement. She didn’t understand what I was doing, but she is always up for a good time, so I guess she thought I was cracking a joke of some kind like I usually do when talking about touchy topics. Little did she know how serious I would become?
I asked her to count her spoons. She asked why, and I explained that when you are healthy you expect to have a never-ending supply of “spoons”. But when you have to now plan your day, you need to know exactly how many “spoons” you are starting with. It doesn’t guarantee that you might not lose some along the way, but at least it helps to know where you are starting. She counted out 12 spoons. She laughed and said she wanted more. I said no, and I knew right away that this little game would work, when she looked disappointed, and we hadn’t even started yet. I’ve wanted more “spoons” for years and haven’t found a way yet to get more, why should she? I also told her to always be conscious of how many she had, and not to drop them because she can never forget she has Lupus.
I asked her to list off the tasks of her day, including the most simple. As, she rattled off daily chores, or just fun things to do; I explained how each one would cost her a spoon. When she jumped right into getting ready for work as her first task of the morning, I cut her off and took away a spoon. I practically jumped down her throat. I said ” No! You don’t just get up. You have to crack open your eyes, and then realize you are late. You didn’t sleep well the night before. You have to crawl out of bed, and then you have to make your self something to eat before you can do anything else, because if you don’t, you can’t take your medicine, and if you don’t take your medicine you might as well give up all your spoons for today and tomorrow too.” I quickly took away a spoon and she realized she hasn’t even gotten dressed yet. Showering cost her spoon, just for washing her hair and shaving her legs. Reaching high and low that early in the morning could actually cost more than one spoon, but I figured I would give her a break; I didn’t want to scare her right away. Getting dressed was worth another spoon. I stopped her and broke down every task to show her how every little detail needs to be thought about. You cannot simply just throw clothes on when you are sick. I explained that I have to see what clothes I can physically put on, if my hands hurt that day buttons are out of the question. If I have bruises that day, I need to wear long sleeves, and if I have a fever I need a sweater to stay warm and so on. If my hair is falling out I need to spend more time to look presentable, and then you need to factor in another 5 minutes for feeling badly that it took you 2 hours to do all this.
I think she was starting to understand when she theoretically didn’t even get to work, and she was left with 6 spoons. I then explained to her that she needed to choose the rest of her day wisely, since when your “spoons” are gone, they are gone. Sometimes you can borrow against tomorrow’s “spoons”, but just think how hard tomorrow will be with less “spoons”. I also needed to explain that a person who is sick always lives with the looming thought that tomorrow may be the day that a cold comes, or an infection, or any number of things that could be very dangerous. So you do not want to run low on “spoons”, because you never know when you truly will need them. I didn’t want to depress her, but I needed to be realistic, and unfortunately being prepared for the worst is part of a real day for me.
We went through the rest of the day, and she slowly learned that skipping lunch would cost her a spoon, as well as standing on a train, or even typing at her computer too long. She was forced to make choices and think about things differently. Hypothetically, she had to choose not to run errands, so that she could eat dinner that night.
When we got to the end of her pretend day, she said she was hungry. I summarized that she had to eat dinner but she only had one spoon left. If she cooked, she wouldn’t have enough energy to clean the pots. If she went out for dinner, she might be too tired to drive home safely. Then I also explained, that I didn’t even bother to add into this game, that she was so nauseous, that cooking was probably out of the question anyway. So she decided to make soup, it was easy. I then said it is only 7pm, you have the rest of the night but maybe end up with one spoon, so you can do something fun, or clean your apartment, or do chores, but you can’t do it all.
I rarely see her emotional, so when I saw her upset I knew maybe I was getting through to her. I didn’t want my friend to be upset, but at the same time I was happy to think finally maybe someone understood me a little bit. She had tears in her eyes and asked quietly “Christine, How do you do it? Do you really do this everyday?” I explained that some days were worse then others; some days I have more spoons then most. But I can never make it go away and I can’t forget about it, I always have to think about it. I handed her a spoon I had been holding in reserve. I said simply, “I have learned to live life with an extra spoon in my pocket, in reserve. You need to always be prepared.”
Its hard, the hardest thing I ever had to learn is to slow down, and not do everything. I fight this to this day. I hate feeling left out, having to choose to stay home, or to not get things done that I want to. I wanted her to feel that frustration. I wanted her to understand, that everything everyone else does comes so easy, but for me it is one hundred little jobs in one. I need to think about the weather, my temperature that day, and the whole day’s plans before I can attack any one given thing. When other people can simply do things, I have to attack it and make a plan like I am strategizing a war. It is in that lifestyle, the difference between being sick and healthy. It is the beautiful ability to not think and just do. I miss that freedom. I miss never having to count “spoons”.
After we were emotional and talked about this for a little while longer, I sensed she was sad. Maybe she finally understood. Maybe she realized that she never could truly and honestly say she understands. But at least now she might not complain so much when I can’t go out for dinner some nights, or when I never seem to make it to her house and she always has to drive to mine. I gave her a hug when we walked out of the diner. I had the one spoon in my hand and I said “Don’t worry. I see this as a blessing. I have been forced to think about everything I do. Do you know how many spoons people waste everyday? I don’t have room for wasted time, or wasted “spoons” and I chose to spend this time with you.”
Ever since this night, I have used the spoon theory to explain my life to many people. In fact, my family and friends refer to spoons all the time. It has been a code word for what I can and cannot do. Once people understand the spoon theory they seem to understand me better, but I also think they live their life a little differently too. I think it isn’t just good for understanding Lupus, but anyone dealing with any disability or illness. Hopefully, they don’t take so much for granted or their life in general. I give a piece of myself, in every sense of the word when I do anything. It has become an inside joke. I have become famous for saying to people jokingly that they should feel special when I spend time with them, because they have one of my “spoons”.
© Christine Miserandino

 

3 comments :

  1. You poor poor thing! I had no idea the details of Fibromyalgia. I'm so sorry you have to suffer like this. It certainly makes for very unenjoyable days that you could be having fun with Abby. My prayers are with you.

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  2. Wow, that explained it better than anything else could. A friend of mine was diagnosed with fibromyalgia a few years ago after many frustrating years of not knowing what was wrong with her. Now I can see why she can only do so much in a day. Thank you so much for sharing that and I hope tomorrow is a better day for you.

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  3. My MIL has fibro and she's definitely experienced some relief with the Savella. Hopefully it keeps working for you as well!!

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