Author: Stepp, Ph.D., LPC, LCCC, CART, CGSC

Fibromyalgia and Mental Health

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a term used and suffered by many but understood by the few. It is a chronic disease that many professionals do not really understand or even believe is an illness.

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculosckeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS, 2021), fibromyalgia is a chronic long lasting disorder that creates widespread pain and tenderness. It also causes fatigue, sleep disturbances, and sensitivity to pain. Scientists do not really know why people get fibromyalgia and unfortunately there is not a cure (NIAMS, 2021).

Fibromyalgia is most commonly seen amongst middle aged women, however, further studies have identified fibromyalgia amongst men and people from all ages (NIAMS, 2021).

Other studies have also identified it through genetic dispositions and those with no familial history of fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is an enigma within the medical sciences and its young discovery has not given researchers opportunity for full studies and exploration on the subject. According to Dellwo (2022) and NIAMS (2021) common symptoms of fibromyalgia include,

  • Sleep difficulties
  • Exhaustion/fatigue
  • Depression/anxiety
  • Brain fog
  • Memory issues
  • Concentration issues
  • Headaches
  • Ringling or numbness in hands and feet
  • Pain in face or jaw (at times TMJ is diagnosed)
  • Abdominal pain (like menstrual cramps)
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Chronic widespread pain throughout the body or pain in multiple places at once in the body
    • Often felt in the arms legs, head, chest abdomen, back and buttocks
    • Described usually as aching, burning, throbbing or needle sensations
  • Heightened sensitivity to light, noise, odors, and temperatures
  • Muscle and joint stiffness
  • Allodynia (skin sensitivity or pain usually with clothes or touch)

The symptoms can be overwhelming alongside with the journey of getting the proper diagnosis. Hence why mental health for people with fibromyalgia, depletes. Fibromyalgia is only a little more than 30 years old from its discovery and identification.

Because it has not been that long since its finding, many doctors and medical personnel do not believe it exists or place importance on the detriment it has on the people who suffer from it.

Fibromyalgia and mental health

When getting diagnosed with fibromyalgia, it can be a tedious, frustrating journey. Not only are you having to go from doctor to doctor explaining how you feel, the symptoms you are having, but having to undergo every physical, blood, and neurological test doctors can think of only to say, “All tests came back negative, you are fine.”

This creates feelings of disappointment and frustration with not only the symptoms that you are feeling, but with the medical sciences that are supposed to help, not dismiss. You begin to think it is all in your head and doctors start override your case and become unempathetic as well as blaming you for not being better at your own health. Comments such as, “It’s your weight,” “you’re not exercising enough,” “you’re not eating right,” etc… create deterioration in your mental health.

According to Dellwo (2022) 27% through 58% of people with fibromyalgia report having feelings of hopelessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide. This is due to factors of being dismissed, difficulty managing symptoms, and there not being a cure.

Fibromyalgia however, has also been linked to many other forms of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, and trauma (Johnson et al., 2006).

Trauma is a change in our psychophysiological chemistry. Trauma affects how the chemical and anatomy of our brain function (Johnson et al., 2006). Trauma and prolonged stress in adulthood influences brain modulatory circuit of both pain and emotions (Romeo et al., 2022).

It is important to also understand that when high forms of trauma—or prolonged trauma such as childhood ongoing trauma—dissociation (separation from consciousness) can occur. Some dissociative disorders include psychoform (psychological separation from consciousness) and somatoform (body dysfunctions).

Researchers have found high levels of both these forms of dissociative disorder symptoms with people who have rheumatic disorders and medical unexplained disorders (Romeo et al., 2022). In a study conducted by Romeo and colleagues (2022), they found high levels of psychoform and somatoform dissociation with fibromyalgia and a relational connection between childhood and prolonged trauma.

In other words, prolonged, cumulative, and childhood trauma affects the brain chemistry in which changes the ability for the brain to process pain, possibly creating fibromyalgia. However, it’s important to realize this does not mean “it’s all in your head”. It is a true and valid illness that was created by chemical changes in our brain by trauma in which we were exposed to. The pain is real, the symptoms are real, the suffering is real.

Ways to cope.  

Coping with fibromyalgia is hard.

It is not only a physiological coping strategy, it’s also a psychological, spiritual, and social support form of coping.

It takes motivation, determination, and self-care to be able to feel functional, FUNCTIONAL, when managing fibromyalgia. Sometimes to world around us does not understand and it is hard for them to empathize.

However, it starts with our own self-empathy. When we learn to empathize with our symptoms and how our body is managing stressors, and past traumas, we learn to appreciate the strength we generate throughout our every day lives that we wake up. Other important forms of coping techniques include,

  • Exercise
  • Stretching
  • Massages
  • Acupuncture
  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic exercises
  • Hobbies
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Healthy eating
  • Educating self on symptoms
  • Swimming/water aerobic exercise (my personal favorite)
  • Anything that makes you feel whole, alive, strong.

As someone who has had to cope living with fibromyalgia, I realized it is a journey. It is a journey with the pain, learning the struggle, empathizing with myself, determination to continue, hope that I will feel better, strength that I have gained, and resilience.

The more I learned about my pain, the more I was able to comprehend and empathize with myself and fall in love with my strength to manage the everyday pain and adjustments of fibromyalgia.

If you would like to learn more about our practice and different mental health counselors please contact (915) 209-1234 for more information.

 

 

References

Dellwo, A. (2022, October 19). The 7 types of fibromyalgia pain. Verywell Health.  https://www.verywellhealth.com/seven-types-of-fibromyalgia-pain-716138#toc-hyperalgesia

Johnson, L., Zautra, A. J., & Davis, M. C. (2006). The role of illness uncertainty on coping with fibromyalgia symptoms. Healthy Psychology, 25(6), 696-703. Doi: 10.1037/0278-6133.25.6.696.

NIAMS. (2021, June). Fibromyalgia. National Institutes of Health.https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/fibromyalgia#:~:text=Fibromyalgia%20is%20a%20chronic%20(long,a%20heightened%20sensitivity%20to%20pain.

Romeo, A., Tesio. V., Ghiggia, A., Di Tella, M., Geminiani, G. C., Farina, B., & Castelli, L.             (2022). Traumatic experiences and somatoform dissociative in women with fibromyalgia. Psychological trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy, 14(1), 116-123.             https://doi.org/10.1037/tra0000907

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intimate Partner Violence Amongst Men

This blog is dedicated to all individuals that have been subjugated to violence, abuse, and distress within their relationships even though this blog specifies abuse towards men. Readers’ discretion is advised.

 

 

This topic is a little more distressing than others.

However, I have found that this topic is important to discuss especially for those individuals that believe there is no way out, that nobody would understand, empathize, or care for their well-being after being subjugated to some form of abuse by a partner.

 

If you have been keeping up with the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard case, you may have come to realize the severity of intimate partner violence—no matter what stance you take within this case—one thing is imminent, men are and can become victims of abuse by their partner.

 

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is defined as intimate partner (whether current or former) who perpetrates violence through physical, sexual, psychological, stalking, and coercive acts (Douglas & Hines, 2011; Miller & McCaw, 2019). The CDC has considered IPV to be a national and social health problem affecting thousands of people each year (Douglas & Hines, 2011).

 

Past research has concentrated on IPV amongst women, however, as time has passed, more cases on IPV amongst men have risen and have become an important focus for our society, community, and health departments.

 

In 2010, a study conducted to measure IPV, 37.3% of women have experienced some form of sexual, physical, or stalking by their partner and 30.9% of men had experienced the same by their partners (Miller & McCaw, 2019).

 

Alongside this, 23.9% of women and 13.9% of men experienced severe physical violence by their partner where medical attention was needed (Miller & McCaw, 2019).

 

As we can see through these statistics, men experience a high percentage of IPV from their partners, so why are we not talking about it more?

 

Well according to Campbell-Hawkins (2019) in her study amongst African American males who experienced IPV, some barriers for obtaining help included fear of being viewed as weak by their society, culture, and peers.

 

Men will less likely seek out help when experiencing abuse due to their community’s stigma on what being a “man” consists of.

 

However, as we have seen through the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard case, it does happen, and it can lead to violence, aggression and abuse.

 

Even though the stigma on men says they “should” be stronger and able to defend themselves amongst women or their partners; these toxic ideologies can perpetuate suffering in silence for men.

Let’s talk about some of the abuse and IPV men can experience from their partners.

  • Physical abuse
    • This includes hitting, slapping, scratching, shoving, pushing, pinching, biting, hair pulling, throwing things to hit the person, destruction of property.

 

  • Psychological/Emotional abuse
    • Humiliation (i.e., “you’re not man enough,” “you’re a coward,” etc…)
    • Shaming, invalidating feelings (i.e., “quit being so sensitive you’re a man.”),
    • Isolation of family friends (i.e., severe jealousy), threats (i.e., removal of children, lawful consequences, self-harm/suicide threat if left, etc…)
    • Stalking and harassing either at work, home, social media, phone calls, to family members, and so on.
    • Manipulation/coercion
    • Screaming/yelling
    • Blaming
    • Chronic infidelity

 

  • Sexual abuse (yes, men can be sexually abused by their female partner)
    • Manipulation in doing something they do not feel comfortable during intimacy.
    • Threatening their masculinity (different from toxic masculinity) if they do not engage in specific acts.
    • Inserting foreign objects into the body without their permission.

 

These are some examples of IPV amongst men.

 

However, this does not minimize the abuse women go through as well, many of these examples also apply for women and other parties.

 

For men, it is also important to be aware of these examples and seek out help. There is help for you through no judgement and unconditional positive regard.

 

Remember, you are a person and should be treated as such.

 

This isn’t just a “woman” issue, it is a man issue as well and being aware, empathetic, and active in ending IPV in general is a community, society, and individual duty.

 

If you are or have experienced some of these examples, please do not hesitate to contact the National Coalition against Domestic Violence (NCADV) 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224

 

If it is an emergency, please call 911 immediately.

 

Kindly,

 

Elda Stepp, PhD, LPC, LMHC, CART

 

References

Campbell-Hawkins, M. Y. (2019). Intimate partner violence (IPV) and help-seeking: The experiences of African American male survivors (Doctoral dissertation, Walden          University).

Douglas, E. M., & Hines, D. A. (2011). The Help Seeking Experiences of Men Who Sustain Intimate Partner Violence: An Overlooked Population and Implications for Practice.      Journal of family violence, 26(6), 473–485. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-011-9382-4

Miller, E., & McCaw, B. (2019). Intimate partner violence. New England Journal of Medicine, 380(9), 850-857. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra1807166.

 

 

 

 

 

La Magia del Amor Interior

 

En esta escritura, los invito a buscar en sí mismos la magia, y no magia en la que se puede sacar un conejo de un sombrero o una moneda de las orejas del participante, si no una magia espiritual, magia de amor y los milagros.

 

¿Qué significa lo que digo? ¿Qué significa la magia espiritual, la magia de amor?

 

Primero propongo a que se pongan a pensaren todas las cosas que han declarado estar mal en su vida. El sentimiento de estar atrapado en un trabajo miserable, un matrimonio que no parece mejorar, en una situación solitaria, o una carrera en la que se estudió con fuerzas, pero no realizo los sueños.

 

Todos estos sentimientos son muy comunes entre la sociedad. Van a ver veces donde no sentimos que en nadas nos va bien, esto no significa que es el fin del esfuerzo. Esto solo quiere decir que estamos presenciando un cambio mágico. Desafortunadamente, no sabemos como apreciar esta magia, y pues, se nos va de las manos para no volver y después aprendemos arrepentirnos del momento perdido.

 

Así con esto, los invito aprender como cambiar nuestro sistema de vida para poder valorar esta magia espiritual en donde podemos apreciar los milagros del día tras día e incrementar nuestro estado de ánimo. Así para lograr amarnos a sí mismos.

 

El primer paso para esta magia espiritual y los milagros es aceptar que el sufrimiento es igual de importante que el amor.

 

El sufrir no es para siempre y después de este sufrimiento viene el amor y la paz. Sin el sufrimiento y el dolor interno, no sabríamos entender la verdadera belleza de nuestra humanidad. Es muy humano sentir coraje, tristezas, miedo, y felicidad. Cuando peleamos contra los sentimientos, imponemos reglas de amor.

 

¿Y qué quiere decir esto?

 

Que queremos decidir como amar cuando el amor no tiene reglas. Las reglas en el amor disminuyen la intensidad de su poder, la belleza humana, y la magia espiritual.

 

El autor Paulo Coelho explica que, -Sufrimos porque no conseguimos imponer nuestras reglas-

 

El amor interior y la magia espiritual consisten en poder amar sus sentimientos incomodos, sus sufrimientos, sus fallas, así como amamos nuestras alegrías y logros.

 

Amarnos sin condiciones, sin reglas.

 

Todos los días que aceptamos amar sin reglas, es una oportunidad para llenarnos de milagros y de la magia espiritual.

 

Los invito a poder sentir estos milagros diarios de manera humana donde valoramos lo bueno junto con lo malo, ver la vida de manera hermosa, y saber que todo es pasajero.

 

Agradecer y contemplar los días, el sol, la luna, la naturaleza, los sentidos, la familia, y el universo. Todas estas son los milagros que se nos han dado y cuando amamos, se vuelven mas intensos y mas bellos y dejamos de sufrir en un estado constante.

 

 -Los milagros pasan cuando dejamos de tratar en controlar nuestro alrededor- Paulo Coelho.

 

Amablemente,

Elda Stepp, LPC, LMHC, CART

The Tummy & Brain Connection

What is the one thing that is most annoying when it comes to thinking your stomach?

        Is it doctors saying that you are overweight? Or family members commenting on your weight which in turn makes you feel terrible about yourself? Or is it not feeling good about how you look? How does this make you feel? How does this change your appetite? What about your health overall?

It’s common to struggle throughout the years to a point in which we don’t even want to hear the word “stomach” ‘tummy’ or even look at it. Maybe this has been the case for you or perhaps not.  However, our stomach is an important part of us.

Well, what would you think if I told you that your stomach is attached to your brain and affects your mood? For some of us, it may concerning to hear that since it may impact the way we treat it.

Read more

2 Important Types of Empathy

You matter.

What is empathy?

We have heard this word go around the internet and even in conversation when considering the emotions of others and those that surround us; but what is it really?

According to Lanzoni (2018), it is the ability to understand and experience the pain, happiness, excitement, sorrow, and so on of others. It is the ability to see the world through their eyes and comprehend their decisions along with the reactions to the world around them. Pretty powerful stuff, right?

However, empathy is much more than this definition.

So, a little history, the concept of empathy—or being able to comprehend and experience other’s pains—goes way back to the Greeks, more specifically, Aristotle. He believed that the human journey to happiness and humanity, consisted of being able to connect emotionally with others’ despair/happiness (Lanzoni).

            As time has progressed, science evolved, and the implementation of psychology and psychotherapy, so has the concept of empathy. Empathy has actually split into two different concepts of comprehension.

There is emotional empathy and cognitive empathy.

Read more

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