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
- Brain fog
- Memory issues
- Concentration issues
- Ringling or numbness in hands and feet
- Pain in face or jaw (at times TMJ is diagnosed)
- Abdominal pain (like menstrual cramps)
- 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,
- Physical therapy
- Chiropractic exercises
- 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.
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: 10.1037/0278-6188.8.131.526.
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