I love British mysteries, and I think that the fibromyalgia mystery can play out in much the same way. I love to see how the murder plays out in detective series. It’s fascinating to watch how each detective goes about their way of solving each complex case. I love the part when the killer is caught in a high-intensity chase down cobbled, winding streets. I sit back satisfied and applaud the work of each detective, pushing that button to play the next episode.
Sometimes I think of fibromyalgia as an evil shadow or criminal lurking about, causing pain and attempting to get away without a trace. We could bring in the best Sherlock Holmes, DCI Barnaby’s and DI Stanhope’s, and the case still wouldn’t get solved. Fibromyalgia is an enigma machine.
Fibromyalgia Mystery: How to solve the case
Not only do people report different symptoms, but they report different ways in which it began. Everything from surgeries gone bad, to military deployment, abuse of any kind to car crashes. Some women get the condition in their twenties, others far later, in their mid-fifties. It strikes women who were previously fit and healthy (I never drank, smoked, or did drugs; I ate well and exercised) and those with other comorbid health conditions.
What are the First Signs of Fibromyalgia?
Then there’s the factor of the symptoms changing on a daily to weekly basis, when it’s very humid or cold and damp, which makes it all the more frustrating. Plans go to waste and appointments and schedules are hard to keep. It’s like playing a game of roulette. Every. Single. Day. Work production decreases, academics slide due to poor concentration, and family and social life seem more like chores than anything.
It’s nothing straight forward like asthma, where all you need is an inhaler and you’re good to go or diabetes and avoiding sugar and inactivity are the remedies. Patients spend years, on average about three to five, seeking out a diagnosis. In my case, it was a year or so.
Detective Google helped me figure out the puzzling symptoms I was experiencing. When I finally stumbled upon the name and matched the criteria, sans tender points (I only have one on my left shoulder), I was relieved. At least there was a name for it. The criteria of tender points is no longer on the list of symptoms as of 2010, as many people have no tender points or half of them).
Poor sleep, daytime fatigue and all over body stiffness/aches/soreness are the symptoms doctors go by, along with comorbid stuff like:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Tension headaches (usually migraines, but in my case, thank god, I don’t get those)
- Tinnitus (I get this off and on)
- Brain ‘fog’ (A.K.A fibro fog)
- Painful periods
- Anxiety and feeling blue (well no wonder, feeling these symptoms and making life difficult to enjoy!)
The process of getting diagnosed is long and painstaking. Transportation can be a hassle in some cases, for those who live outside of cosmopolitan areas or who have no access to a vehicle or have the great fortune of knowing someone able to take time off to lend a ride. Worry fills the days, wondering how your body could be in so much distress when all the tests, all the scans, all the x-rays come back as negative. Patients spend money on tests and clinic visits, and transportation costs, each withdrawal making it even more stressful for the patient. Money is a resource in short supply when it’s hard to work full time, let alone work at all in some cases.
What Can Fibromyalgia Be Mistaken For?
Doctors get frustrated that they can’t help. There’s no great depth of learning about fibromyalgia and it’s many working parts: biological, psychological, social, spiritual, etc.
It doesn’t help that some doctors tell patients "it’s all in your head" or act in disbelief when the patients tell them how they feel. It's also common for doctors to prescribe antidepressants and cognitive behavioural therapy, as though implying that the patients are in fact suffering not a physiological experience, but a mental health crisis. Sure, this can be one of many side effects of long term pain that is invisible to other people (increasing isolation from unbelieving friends, family, co-workers, and bosses). Oh yeah and fatigue that doesn’t go away with eight, ten hours of sleep.
It’s also aggravating and stressful to travel to clinics and hospitals and wait around in the waiting rooms, only to get five to ten minutes of time with the medical professional. It is also why some fibromites and chronic illness patients flock to alternative care services because the conventional medical system is just too much of a hassle to deal with.
The Obsession with Quick Fixes for Chronic Pain
With that said, western society is one that is obsessed with quick fixes to everything. Weight loss. Money gains. Business growth. Better sleep. Romantic partnerships. Escapes from reality in the form of alcohol, drugs, sex, and junk food. Of course, one needs to be reminded that at the end of the day, all these ‘quick fixes’ are with profit in mind. The companies have no interest in helping you get rid of the pain of whatever ails you. In the case of antidepressants, there is no scientific evidence that low serotonin is the cause of depression (but lack of social interaction, emotional abuse, and poor boundaries can be factors).
When we feel a cold or flu coming on, or did too much at the gym, we pop some Tylenol or take some cough medicine to cope with the annoying symptoms of being physically sick (or in pain). When we go through more mental injuries, like friendship or intimate relationship breakups, we feel heartbroken and hurt. There’s always a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, chocolate, or chips that we devour to numb it all. Everyone has a way of dealing with it, whether it’s rebound sex, starting rumours, or going out to parties and getting drunk or stoned.
If we are fired or let go at work, we feel so many things. Anger, hurt, and sadness. Sometimes insomnia sets in. As human beings, we’re programmed to be productive in some way. Despite the fact, we’re no longer ploughing fields all day or working in dusty cotton factories for twelve hours a day, we still want to be productive beings. It hurts our egos when we cannot contribute to the economy, as often happens when we are fired or have limits on work due to chronic health conditions.
Being Rather than Doing
It doesn’t help that western society values people for what they do, for how productive they are, then for who they are. We are conditioned by many entities, from school to the media, and our family and friends to dream big, to aim for the moon. Anything less is unacceptable. Perfectionism is the hot word of western society, taking hold of our personal and professional lives.
No wonder we’re burned out, having to do all kinds of things simultaneously: make good money, be a good employee/boss, a good spouse, a good parent, a good friend, a good child, and a good person all around. I think we need to strive for progress more so than perfection. Perfection can make us have stress, give us fear, make us procrastinate, cause addictions, and give us poor sleep and chronic illness (if we’re not careful).
If we put moments aside for ourselves, devoid of anyone else’s opinions or aspirations, we can find our true meaning, our true existence. I believe that fibromites are people who have taken on too much over their lives, sacrificing their health in the process. It is concluded that we need to do more of what makes us happy, do more of what brings us meaning. Even if that means just doing nothing for a little while. I think detectives would agree that we need to give ourselves more breaks and more credit.
To focus more on being rather than doing, join the waitlist for Chronically Kind Yoga. A yoga course for those with chronic pain and fatigue who are ready to show kindness to themselves and their bodies.
This is a guest post from Ivi J. Canadian, history alum, writer, fibromite, HSP, and novice photographer. She’s also a virgo, avid walker, and fan of Orlando Bloom. When not writing or snapping photos, she’s enjoying some dark chocolate, a warm cuppa and a bloody good British mystery. You can follow her on her social media:
Instagram: @nature_nomad and @what_awoman