Common Questions About Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a complex condition that affects millions of people around the world. There are many questions that people ask when they first find out they have Fibro, and I thought I’d answer some of the more common ones, to help provide some education.

What Are The First Signs Of Fibromyalgia

There are many signs of Fibro but the ones most people experience first is widespread pain and tenderness throughout the body. You may experience pain in only one or two areas, or it may be your entire body. Typically, there are tenderpoints at 18 specific sites on your body, and these are used to help determine if you have Fibro.

Other symptoms of Fibro include:


What Are Tender Points?

Tender points refer to 18 locations on the body that are ultra-sensitive to pain when touched or pressed. Fibro is frequently diagnosed using the Tender Point Test…if you have 11 of the 18 points, you are considered to have Fibro.

Is Fibromyalgia An Autoimmune Disease?

Fibromyalgia is NOT considered an autoimmune disease. Instead, researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.

Fibromyalgia doesn’t qualify as an autoimmune disorder because it doesn’t cause inflammation. Fibromyalgia is difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are similar or associated with other conditions, including some autoimmune disorders.

In many cases, fibromyalgia can occur simultaneously with autoimmune disorders.

How Does A Person Get Fibromyalgia?

Healthprep.com offers this information on how a person gets Fibro.

Emotional or physical trauma can cause the development of fibromyalgia and trigger symptom flare-ups. The mechanism behind this is associated with the affected individual’s hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Emotional stressors can cause the physiological stress response to become activated, and lead to the delivery of sensory input information to the brain.

Repeated and excessive stimulation of the functional units of this response in an individual can cause their effector systems to become more sensitive. Greater sensitivity causes alternative or less significant stressors to activate the stress response easily.

The combination of the stress response, emotional reactions, physiological responses, and biological reactions that occur and interact with each other due to physical and emotional trauma can cause the development of fibromyalgia.

Of the population of fibromyalgia patients, around half has existing post-traumatic stress disorder, and two-thirds of these individuals had developed fibromyalgia after the commencement of their PTSD. Some individuals may be at an increased risk of developing fibromyalgia due to the failure of certain psychological buffers to work effectively on emotional stress that is caused by everyday life events.

Physical trauma contributes because it causes emotional stress. These mechanisms related to the patient’s brain may primarily drive the chain of neurophysiological responses known to cause fibromyalgia.

Is Fibromyalgia Real or Fake?

Doctors and patients alike state that fibromyalgia is a very real condition. Pain is often subjective and can be difficult to measure. Because there are no lab tests that can show Fibromyalgia, people assume that it is fake. As a result, the most common misconception about fibromyalgia is that it isn’t a real condition.

In both Canada and the United States, fibromyalgia is now considered a condition that qualifies for Disability. The European Parliament has signed a declaration calling for the recognition of fibromyalgia as a disease which causes disability with a right to claim exemption.

What Are The Best Medications For Fibromyalgia?

NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) don’t appear to work for fibromyalgia pain. Opioid narcotics are powerful pain-relieving medications that work for some types of pain, but they don’t always work for fibromyalgia. They can also be harmful—and addictive.

The narcotic-like Tramadol (Ultram) has been shown to have some effectiveness with Fibromyalgia for pain relief. Low-dose amitriptyline can also be helpful. Tizanidine and cyclobenzaprine are muscle relaxants that help treat muscle pain from fibromyalgia.

There are three medications that have been approved for use for fibromyalgia. These medications include Cymbalta (duloxetine), Savella (milnacipran) and Lyrica (pregabalin).

Each of them works in the brain: Cymbalta and Savella belong to a class of medications called serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) whereas Lyrica is a drug that targets nerve signals. It has long been used to relieve nerve pain in patients with shingles and diabetic neuropathy. It is also used to treat partial seizures.

For other treatments, this post offers several suggestions for ways to help with Fibro pain. Another option is to try Cannabis or CBD Oil.

How Life Changing Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia can affect you in both mild and severe forms. You may find that with medication, you are able to continue to work and engage in other activities without discomfort. Other people find that even with medications, they are in too much pain to maintain their previous lifestyles.

Disability may need to be sought if you are unable to continue working because of your Fibro. You may need to modifiy activities, use mobility aids or adaptive devices or otherwise change your lifestyle to accomodate your pain and fatigue. Every individual will feel their Fibro differently and you may find that your condition changes constantly as well.

What Helps Fibromyalgia?

Good Nutrition Month

Rest, good nutrition, mild exercise and a positive frame of mind all go a long way in helping to live with Fibromyalgia. Lack of movement is one of the biggest mistakes you can make if you have Fibro. It causes your muscles to tighten even more, so exercise such as walking, biking or swimming can be helpful in keeping you flexible and having less pain.

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean protein and good carbohydrates is essential. If you are overweight, you might want to try losing some extra pounds to help with joint pain.

Getting the proper amount of sleep can be very difficult with Fibromyalgia. Follow a sleep plan at night to get your best rest possible and nap if you need to during the day in moderation. A well-rested body is better able to function fully.

Finally, try to maintain a positive perspective. If you find yourself struggling with negative thoughts, it may be helpful to seek counselling or coaching. Support groups either in-person or online can also be very helpful.

Conclusion

Fibromyalgia can be a very difficult condition to diagnose and treat, but as you can see, there are things you can do that make a difference. The more you can educate yourself, the better your outcomes can be. Remember,

There Is Always Hope

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It’s A Bad Pain Day (Coping With Chronic Pain)

Note: this post contains Affiliate Links which provides me with a small income at no cost to you. Clicking on the links will take you to specific products I suggest. You are under no obligation to purchase, these are simply my recommendations. 

When you’ve been living with Chronic Pain for an extended period of time, you know that you’re going to have good days and bad days. What do you do when you start worrying about the bad days – when they’re going to hit, how long they’re going to last and how can you manage to get through them?

I think one of the most important things you can do with Chronic Pain is to acknowledge it. Just because you live with it every day doesn’t mean you’ve come to peace about it. You may try to ignore it, hoping it will go away or you may confront it head-on. It’s important to recognize it for what it is though…pain that disrupts your life and causes your world to spin on a wobbly axis.

Chronic Pain is a force to be reckoned with. You may live most of your time with your pain at a manageable level, but inevitably, there comes a time when a flare-up happens and you find yourself struggling to manage. There are tips and tricks for flare-ups that might help and I’d like to suggest the following:

Relax

Easier said than done, but when your body has launched into “fight or flight” mode, you need to find a way to slow that adreneline down to where you are back in control. This is a good time to try some deep breathing techniques such as the 7-4-7 approach.

Breath in for a count of 7, hold for a count of 4 and breath out for a count of 7. Do this several times until you are able to feel your body starting to relax a bit. By focusing on the breathing, you trick the body into believing the danger is over, so your heart rate returns to normal. You will likely still feel pain, but it should be more manageable.

Heat and/or Cold

Heat and cold are both equally good for dealing with pain. I personally prefer heat as it helps to relax my tense muscles. Cold is better for acute injuries or when inflammation is a problem. Using a heating pad like this one can offer the benefits of a steady source of heat without injuring the skin:

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Cold Pack

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Essential Oils

Many people find that Essential Oils offer them benefits to help relieve their Chronic Pain. Certain blends of Essentials can help to control pain, relax you and ease your state of mind. There are many sources of Essential Oils – I like these ones on Amazon.com:

Healing Solutions Blends

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Knowledge

Knowing more about Chronic Pain can help you deal with it better. There are numerous books out there that serve as excellent resources for knowledge. I personally have read these two and found them extremely useful:

Managing Chronic Pain

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You Are Not Your Pain

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Yoga

Therapeutic Yoga has many benefits, including enhanced sleep and general well-being. This book provides you with the basics of a beginning yoga practice to help you manage your pain.

Yoga For Pain Relief

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Support Groups

Support Groups, either in person or online can be so valuable when it comes to dealing with Chronic Pain. Just knowing that others are going through the same thing as you can be empowering. To find a support group in your local area, trying Googling “Pain Support” and your city’s name.

Online, I suggest finding a good Facebook group. There’s one for almost every Invisible Illness (and Visible Illnesses as well) and can be easily found by searching by name in Facebook. One that I recommend is here:

Medical Musings With Friends

Based in Australia, they have members from around the world, but predominantly Australia, the USA and Canada. I am a member here and the group is extremely outgoing, friendly and they “get it”. Everyone lives with their own medical challenges, so they understand what you’re going through and are super supportive.

For Fibromyalgia, you can check out Fibro Connect, for EDS and POTs, try The Zebra Pit and for all Spoonies, you can visit Connected Spoonies. I belong to all of these groups and find them all wonderful and helpful.

Remember,

There Is Always Hope

chronic pain and addictions (4)

Interview October – Elisa Austin

Today we meet my final guest for Interview October, the wonderful Elisa Austin. Please join me in welcoming her!

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…

I am a 50 year old, mother of eight and grandmother. I’m a photographer and writer.

One fascinating fact about me is:

I am still existing. 

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

I have underactive thyroid (Hashimoto’s), Fibromyalgia, and IBS

My symptoms/condition began…

The thyroid condition was diagnosed in 1999 because I was just “off” and “dragging.” Fibromyalgia was diagnosed in 2004 although I believe symptoms began earlier.

My diagnosis process was… 

My doctor ruled out most things with blood tests and sent me to a rheumatologist. The rheumatologist ruled out RA and by process of elimination Fibromyalgia was diagnosed.

The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is…

Knowing there is no cure and I will have to deal with the pain every day for the rest of my life.

A typical day for me involves…

Medication, necessary appointments or activities, and with luck some housework.

The one thing I cannot live without is…

It rotates through warm baths, heating pads, aromatherapy, family, exercise

Being ill/disabled has taught me…

That I’m stronger and more determined than I had originally thought. 

My support system is…

My family and an online group

If I had one day symptom/disability-free I would…

I don’t even know. I no longer make plans or have dreams.

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

I am more supportive of others

One final thing I want people to know is: 

I refuse to give up.

Interview October – Shantay Marsh Thompson

I have another great interview to share with you today…please meet Shantay Marsh Thompson!

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…

My name is Shantay Marsh Thompson, and I am 42 years old. I have two grown kids that are working, and one is in college. I spend my time taking online classes since I am not able to work. I spend my time in the house the majority of the time because walking too much makes my back hurt. I do not go to stores to shop. I shop online or if it is something personal that I need, I will go to Dollar General so I can get in and out. My mother does the grocery shopping for me. 

One fascinating fact about me is:

That even though I am down with this illness, I continue to learn academically.  

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have…

I have Fibromyalgia with chronic back pain, depression, Neuralgia, Arthralgia, and Dyslipidemia. The pain in my back is worse. I have trouble sitting and standing for long periods.

My symptoms/condition began…

In 2013 after being diagnosed with endometriosis. After I had my procedure, I started hurting badly after a month. I went back to my gynecologist and asked him to please give me a hysterectomy because I needed to work. I had to wait four months before I could get the hysterectomy, so I continued to work in pain. After I had my hysterectomy in 2014, the pain was still there. I worked for about a month then had to quit my job because I could not stand nor sit for long periods. 

My diagnosis process was… 

Terrible. I went through several doctors in Tuscaloosa, AL. Nobody would give me the help that I needed. I cried every day because my pain was so bad. The medicine they gave me, such as Tramadol did not do anything for me. I had to move back to Mobile County to find me a doctor that could help me. I found one, and he gave me some medicine that would help me reduce the pain some. It was June 2015 before I got a diagnosis.

The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is…

Dealing with the pain in my back. I have tried Fibromyalgia lotions and nothing seems to work good.

A typical day for me involves…

Laying in my bed watching tv or doing some schoolwork. I make myself go to the gym to at least once a week to do strength training and walking but I pay for it the next day. 

The one thing I cannot live without is…

My Lyrica. I have bad nerve pain so I take Lyrica. After my daughter turned 19 in April, my medicaid ended so I had to go without Lyrica for some weeks and I was in pain. 

Being ill/disabled has taught me…

How to appreciate life more and do not take anything for granted. I have worked since I graduated in 1995 and I never thought my working career would end in 2014.  

My support system is…

My one friend, my family, my fiancé, my church family, and the  FIBRO CONNECT Group.  

If I had one day symptom/disability-free I would…

Get out the house and treat myself. 

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

Being thankful that it is not a deadly illness.

One final thing I want people to know is: 

Fibromyalgia is real. I would not wish this pain on no one.

My Links

https://www.facebook.com/Health-Wellness-108684490547162/?view_public_for=108684490547162

Chronic Pain And Addictions

I want to talk about a difficult subject today…Chronic Pain and Addictions. When you live with Chronic Pain, you can find yourself spiraling in a dark hole. Sometimes depression becomes as big of a problem as the physical pain you live with, and in a desperate need to feel better, you find yourself turning to your medications too often, or you resort to drinking or eating as a way of filling the gap.

Addiction is easy to fall into, as often, you are not receiving adequate treatment for your pain to begin with. You find yourself taking your medictions sooner than directed, or you take more than recommended and then suddenly, you’re in withdrawal at the end of the month when your prescription has run out.

Instead of abusing your pain medications, you may turn to alcohol to increase the “buzz”, or food may become the drug of your choice. “Anything to dampen the pain” is what you might be thinking, and sometimes, it works. Other times, it feels like nothing can fill the unending gulf of pain you live with and so your depression deepens and you’re left feeling worthless. Thoughts of suicide may plague you but you resist telling others for fear they will see you as weak.

Let’s examine this problems in more detail.

Medications

Opioid abuse is an epidemic in the United States. In 2016, approximately 11.5 million Americans 12 years and older misused opioid pain medications, and 1.8 million had a substance use disorder involving prescription pain medications. From 2000 to 2015, more than 500,000 persons died from opioid overdoses, with deaths generally increasing as prescription opioid sales increased. In 2012, clinicians wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioids, enough for every U.S. adult.*

Chronic Pain and Addictions

There are a variety of medications that are used in the treatment of Chronic Pain. As you probably know, there is a current push from to cut back on Opioids like Oxycodone and Hydrocodone because of perceived over-prescribing and the number of deaths linked to the mis-use of Opioids. The number of deaths from illegal Fentynal overdoses has increased dramatically, yet the people who actually require the drug for their Chronic Pain are being turned away by their physicians or are having their dosages cut back significantly.

PreGabalin, Gabapentin, and mixed drugs like Tramacet (Tramadol and Acetaminophen) are now being used more frequently, but not always to great benefit. This is one of the reasons the use of illegal Fentynal is increasing – people aren’t getting adequate relief from their doctor-prescribed medications and so they’re looking to the streets for solutions.

Alcohol

Throughout the ages, people have used alcohol to manage their pain. A swig of whiskey after a bullet wound in the old Westerns, or to numb the pain of a teething baby are two minor examples. A study done recently showed that 28% of people with Chronic Pain used alcohol to help control their pain**

Chronic Pain and Addictions

Although alcohol has been shown to reduce pain, it’s a temporary solution and has potential and possible fatal risks. When you drink, you are more likely to abuse your prescription medications, resulting in furthering the sedative effects of both. You also increase the possibility of liver damage or gastric bleeding. Using alcohol as a pain medication often ends up with exceeding the recommended amount that you should drink and overdose of alcohol and/or prescription medications can be fatal.

Other points to note:

  • Withdrawal from chronic alcohol use often increases pain sensitivity which could motivate some people to continue drinking or even increase their drinking to reverse withdrawal-related increases in pain.
  • Prolonged, excessive alcohol exposure generates a painful small fiber peripheral neuropathy, the most common neurologic complication associated with alcoholism.

Food

When a person is unable to control the amount of pain they live with, they may turn to food instead, as a way of finding relief. It doesn’t take away the pain, but satiating yourself gives back the illusion of that control that you’ve lost elsewhere. Anorexia and bingeing/purging become huge risks and lead to further medical problems.

Chronic Pain and Addiction

Anorexia is the elimination of food from the diet, until your calorie intake is grossly under the recommended daily allowance for health. It is a psychological and potentially life-threatening eating disorder.

There are a multitude of health risks involved including mood swings, low blood pressure, heart problems, kidney and liver issues, loss of bone density and the very real possibility of death.

Bingeing and purging causes issues such as gastric problems, dental issues from vomiting and bile wearing at the teeth and gums, dehydration and depression issues. The use of excessive laxatives is hard on your bowels and runs the risk of chronic constipation, resulting in a Catch-22 of needing to use more laxatives to alleviate the constipation.

Excessive Exercise is another form of purging. By engaging in obscene amounts of exercise, you expose yourself to potential damage to your joints from overuse, dehydration, weakness and potential heart issues.

Other Addictions

Other addictions to be careful about including smoking, gambling, shopping and sex although I’m sure you can think of even more. Each of these excessive behaviours can lead to damaging consequences so it’s imporant to be aware of them. When you live with Chronic Pain, you can have an “all or nothing” mentality – you simply want to do anything that will help you focus on something other than hurting.

What Next?

The first step to any of these issues is to accept that you have a problem. Professional help is required to allow you to wean off of the drugs or alcohol, or to start a healthy relationship with food.

Support groups are available both in person and online and are highly recommended. To be with people who have gone through the same experiences as you have can be very comforting.

A Pain Management program may be suggested to help you get to the root of your problems, and to help you find solutions to managing your pain more effectively.

Talk to your family physician to start. Now is the time to be honest about what you’ve been going through and how you’ve been coping (or not coping). Accept that seeing a counsellor on a regular basis may be a requirement for your success. Having a safe place to talk goes a long way in setting goals for yourself and achieving them.

Ask about specific books that may help you understand Chronic Pain more completely. Knowledge is power.

Finally, realize that you are not a bad person. You may have made some bad choices, but recognizing them and changing them is what’s important. We all make mistakes, and even if you think you’re the worst person in the world…you’re not. You have value and worth and are deserving of the best care possible. Remember,

There Is Always Hope

*https://www.aafp.org/afp/2018/0301/p313.html
**https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/PainFactsheet/painFact.htm

chronic pain and addictions

10 Things I’ve Learned About Chronic Pain

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I live with Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue. My pain comes from Fibromyalgia, Osteoarthritis in all my major joints, Myofascial Pain, a condition called Trigeminal Neuralgia, Diabetes (and Neuropathy that comes from that), Pelvic Adhesions, a spinal condition called Forestier’s Disease, aka D.I.S.H. which stands for Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis, Gastroparesis and several other medical conditions.

The author showing various pictures of her face in pain

My many faces of pain

I’ve been living with Chronic pain for over 30 years now, from the time I was a teen, and I’ve learned a few things in those years. I’d like to share 10 of those things with you now.

1. THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE

No matter how long I’ve been in pain for, I’ve never given up hope that things are going to get better. Some days I have are pure agony. Some days are pure delight. I cling to the good days as a reminder that things can be better and often are. There is always hope.

2. A GOOD DOCTOR IS TO BE TREASURED

Doctors have a hard time treating patients with chronic pain because they haven’t been trained well. They’re trained to diagnose a problem and solve it, so chronic pain is frustrating for them as well. If you don’t have a sympathetic doctor who is doing everything they can for you, find another doctor. When you do find one, be honest with them. Share everything…your depression, your anger, your worries. A good doctor wants to help you, but if you can’t share with them, you’re not giving them the chance to do all they can.

3. SUPPORT GROUPS AREN’T RIGHT FOR EVERYONE

Some people thrive in a support group. Others tend to get tired of the constant back patting and “Oh my gawd, I’m so sorry” conversations. Some are in the middle. I think a support group can be a great thing, as long as it’s the right fit. You want a group where you can feel heard and valued while offering support to the others as well – not just a one-way street. I also think it’s important to not jump into every group you hear about. That just becomes confusing and almost like a competition, to see how much sympathy you can drum up. You have to be willing to give back and you can’t forge honest relationships with people when you’re in a dozen active groups in my opinion. Unless that’s all you do all day long. And if that’s the case, I feel sorry for you, because you’re obviously not getting something you truly need.

4. CHRONIC PAIN IS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO EXPLAIN TO OTHERS

Despite having great tools like the Spoon Theory and the Battery Analogy to talk about how much energy it costs us to live with chronic pain, it’s almost impossible to get others to understand what it’s like to live with chronic pain day in and day out. Here’s the thing…THE PAIN NEVER GOES AWAY. I can’t make it any more clear than that. No matter what I’m doing, or not doing. I’m hurting. Sometimes I’m in agony, like when I get a Trigeminal Neuralgia Flare up. Try to imagine the last time you experienced brain freeze from eating/drinking something cold…do you remember that sensation? That agonizing pierce of pain in your brain?  Now try to imagine that same feeling but in your cheekbone…for 12 hours in a row. Can’t imagine it?? Go try and get brain freeze as a reminder. That’s what my TN flare-ups are like. They start in my cheekbone and spread to my sinus cavity and my eye, then down to my jaw, and to my esophagus. I get spasms in my throat and often I get chest pain as well. For 12 hours.

My Fibromyalgia pain feels like my limbs are in concrete…it’s a heavy throbbing sensation in my arms and legs that make them impossible to move. The Neuropathy I feel in my feet is like pins and needles that never go away. My back pain is so intolerable that I can’t sweep my floors for more than 5 minutes without my lower spine seizing up.

5. DID I MENTION, THE PAIN NEVER GOES AWAY.

Sometimes it lightens up a bit, maybe after I’ve had a rare good night’s sleep, but if I’ve done too much on a particular day, the next day will be agony. Every day is different, and I’ve learned that there is no rhyme or reason as to what might cause a flare and why some days are better than others. Even as I’m typing this, my hands and wrists are throbbing and I’m making more mistakes typing than I normally do. When I sleep, I have to make sure my fingers aren’t curled, or I’ll wake up and won’t be able to move them.

6. COMFORT ROUTINES FOR FLARE UP DAYS ARE LIFESAVERS

In order to combat chronic pain, you need to have an arsenal of weapons at your disposal. This can include medications, therapies like massage or chiropractic care, acupuncture, heat, cold, stretching, yoga, and other items that help you when your pain is flaring up. Warm fluffy blankets and socks, a TENS machine or massaging unit, a roll-on pain medication – whatever you find works for you is part of your comfort routine and it’s important that you use these items when needed before your pain becomes even worse.

Kitten resting in a fluffy blanket

7. PACING REALLY DOES WORK

One of the important things you learn when you have chronic pain is that you have a limited amount of energy and you have to pace yourself throughout the day/week, etc. in order to stay ahead of the pain. Pacing is critical in helping to prevent flare-ups or in helping to reduce the number of flare-ups you may experience. There comes a point when you may have to consider outside help for chores because you can’t do them all. Perhaps a teenage neighbour can help with cleaning or laundry or care in the garden. Maybe you decide to hire a cleaning service twice a month for a deep clean that you can’t get to. Whatever you need and whatever you decide, my best advice is to lose the guilt. It’s not your fault you have chronic pain. You do what you need to, in order to make your home a happy one again.

8. SLEEP IS A VERY GOOD THING

Most people with chronic pain struggle to get good sleep, just by the very nature of being in pain. Take the time to establish a good sleep routine and don’t be afraid to nap during the day if that’s what your body requires. Just sent a timer for no more than 90 minutes (one sleep cycle) and do it early enough that it won’t interfere with bedtime. If you need to ask your doctor about sleep medications, then ask. Don’t be afraid of them, but perhaps try the more natural solutions first, like melatonin. Your doctor can give you the best advice.

9. WE ARE ALL WARRIORS

Just by the mere fact you are reading this and identifying with it, you are a warrior. Living with chronic pain is no picnic my friend and those of us who do it struggle every single day of our lives. Some days are good, some days are bad and some days are too difficult to talk about. It takes a special kind of strength to manage chronic pain and life at the same time and I admire every single person out there who is doing it. You are a warrior.

10. I’VE FINALLY ACCEPTED MY BODY THE WAY IT IS

For all my bravado and positive spirit, it took me a long time to learn to love this pain-filled body of mine. When I was forced to leave my job at the top of my game in 2009 I was devastated. I didn’t think I’d ever be useful to anyone again and I sank into a deep depression over how my body had let me down. It took several years before I was able to accept that this truly was my “new normal” and that returning to work wasn’t going to happen for me. When I found myself in a place where my health had improved somewhat, and I felt I had something to give back, I started volunteering for the Patient Voices Network and that really helped me get back on my feet. I am able to take part in committee work again, but at a pace that works for me and my health. I’m better able to accept my body and all it’s medical failings because I’ve found ways to contribute again.

I’ve also been able to get involved in hobbies again such as crafting and reading. I’m learning how to crochet and do needlepoint, all things I didn’t have time for when I was too busy working. So accepting my limitations also opened the door to new things for me to try, which has been a blessing. Perhaps you’re in the same place now, ready to accept that this is your new normal, and it’s an okay place to be. If you’re going to be in pain anyways, doesn’t it make sense to accept it and find ways to make the best of it.

CONCLUSION

I’ve been blessed with a positive nature that has helped to get me through a lot of difficult situations in my life. Chronic pain and my medical conditions are part of that. I believe in God and trust Jesus every day to be there for me. I have wonderful family and friends who have been so supportive of me. I belong to a great support group online that genuinely cares about me. More than anything though, and as my first point says,

There is always hope

May 12th Is Fibromyalgia Awareness Day

May 12th is (1)

Fibromyalgia is a Chronic Pain disorder that affects millions of North Americans and others around the world. People who live with this condition experience widespread pain throughout their bodies, along with a host of other symptoms. Sufferers are diagnosed by the “tender points” they have developed over their body as per this illustration:

FibroSymptoms2

In recognition of May 12th, Fibromyalgia Awareness Day, I wanted to share with you a post from the past. It’s titled An Attitude of Gratitude. I wanted to put a different spin on having Fibromyalgia because so often, we focus only on the negative side of illness. It’s natural when you’re chronically ill, but there are reasons to be grateful as well. Read on to see what I mean:

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Are you grateful for your life?  Are you grateful for the things you’ve been given? Are you grateful for Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue? What about your other Invisible Illnesses? For Fibromyalgia? I am, and let me explain why.

I have had my Invisible Illnesses for over half my life now, and they have been a predominant part of my life since 2004 when I went into a major flare that I’ve never recovered from. That was the year I had stomach surgery for severe Gastric Reflux disease – a procedure called a Nissen Fundoplication. The surgery itself was successful, but I suffered nerve damage in the sternum area from where an instrument being used was pressed too hard against a nerve for an extended period of time, causing it to be pinched for over an hour.

This caused me excruciating pain that didn’t resolve for almost a year and had me addicted to morphine pills to the point that I was hallucinating. In fact, at one point, the general surgeon called in a Thoracic surgeon, who was going to crack open my sternum to try and fix whatever the problem was – a drastic solution indeed.

I’m grateful this didn’t happen and the Thoracic surgeon had the sense to suggest a drug called Gabapentin for nerve damage which is what he suspected was the problem, and he was right.

I spent almost a year in a hunched over position, trying to “contain” the pain, it was so bad. I ended up having to go for physical therapy and massage in order to loosen up my muscles to where I could stand in a straightened up position again.

I’m grateful for the therapists that helped me.

I’m grateful there are medical teams in place when we need emergency surgery, such as when a cyst I didn’t even know I had on my ovary burst, causing me horrid pain. It needed immediate removal and there was a team to do that. Just like there was a team to remove my gallbladder and my other ovary when it went rogue as well.

And I’m grateful for my four doctors who have worked with me and my overall health issues over the last five years, Dr Leong, Dr Winston, Dr. Wilson and Dr Burnett, my orthopedic surgeon who did my hip replacement.

Okay, you say…it’s easy to be grateful to the people who help us, but how can you be grateful for having Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia and all the other stuff. Well, I’ll tell you.

When you have Invisible Illness, you tend to miss out on a lot of life. You may have to give up your job or volunteer activities, your hobbies and family life. You end up losing a lot more than you seem to have left. But what having a Chronic illness does is force you to dig deep to FIND what you’re grateful for. I made a list:

  • Sunrises and sunsets
  • Quiet mornings after a good sleep
  • A perfect cup of coffee
  • A day where the kids get along and no one is fighting
  • A day where the cat or dog doesn’t barf all over the place
  • Feeling energetic enough to accomplish a few things on the “to do” list
  • Feeling rested
  • Feeling less pain than normal
  • Being able to go for a coffee date with a girlfriend or two
  • Having dinner with your family together instead of needing to lay down
  • Date night with your spouse
  • Watching a movie together instead of early to bed
  • Having a bath or shower
  • Having enough food on the table and money in the bank
  • Laughter
  • A sense of safety and security
  • A roof over your head
  • Feeling loved
  • Having a close friend you can confide in
  • Books to read and art to admire
  • Social media like Facebook and Pinterest
  • Ice cream or a favourite treat
  • Family and friends to share memories with
  • Vacations

I could go on and on…the point is, there is so much to be grateful for, but when you live with Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue and Invisible Illness, it’s easy to get stuck wallowing in the negatives, to the point you forget to stop and remember to be grateful.

Take a moment now to list a few things that you’re grateful for and make it a habit each day to say thank you. An Attitude of Gratitude is easy to cultivate, but like a good garden, you need to tend to it every day.

Remember…

There is always hope!

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So, what are your thoughts? Were you surprised at how easy it can be to be grateful? It’s not hard to make a list like I did, and I highly recommend that people give it a try.  We live in a busy and scary world, and this is also a good way to take back a bit of control over the craziness. 

Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude and see how things change in your life. Even if you don’t make a list, there’s one thing you can count on…

There is always hope

Interview April – Amber Blackburn

Let’s welcome our next guest, the adorable Amber Blackburn!

AmberBlackburn

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…

Hi y’all! My name is Amber Blackburn, I am 33 (almost 34) and live in the middle of the United States.  I am a Registered Nurse by trade who is now a Chronic Illness Blogger and Advocate due the fact that my health has declined to the point that I can no longer work a standard job!

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have…

Way too many for someone my age!  I don’t even know where to start!! I have Systemic Lupus (SLE), Fibromyalgia, Bertolottis Syndrome, IBS, Anxiety, Depression, Endometriosis, Interstitial Cystitis, Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency due to long term steroid use, POTs, Debilitating Migraines (Some of which are hemiplegic). I think that’s all my conditions. Or at least the important ones. I will note that many of my issues alone are not disabling but in combination with all the others they can be.

My symptoms/condition began and My diagnosis process was

I am going to combine these two questions as it makes my response easier.

I was admitted to the hospital for a respiratory illness in February 2012. I was in the hospital for 5 days and they could never really figure out what was going on. So I was put on high dose steroids and antibiotics and was told that would probably fix it. Over the following months more symptoms started showing up beyond the respiratory issues like extreme fatigue, joint pain and joint swelling. They had done all kinds of labs up to this point and nothing had shown up. But finally my Pulmonologist did a repeat ANA and lupus markers in April 2012 and they came back very positive. The joint pain and swelling continued to worsen to the point that I had to buy bigger shoes and could hardly walk.

So I saw a Rheumatologist in the summer of 2012 and was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus and Fibromyalgia. But looking back my symptoms go back to the late 90s, early 2000s. During my junior year of High School in 2001 I was diagnosed with Mono and it lasted SIX months, which does not happen. So we are pretty sure part of that was actually my first lupus flare. My official Endometriosis and Interstitial Cystitis diagnosis was in November 2011 but those symptoms went back to 1998 when I started having such horrible abdominal pain that no one could diagnose and blamed it on IBS.
The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is…

If I am being 100% honest the hardest part of living with my illnesses is not always dealing with my health. Outside of the pain and fatigue when they get really bad, I find the hardest part to be the social aspects. This may sound silly but it’s super hard to have to stay home all winter because you pick up every germ despite wearing a mask and washing your hands. It’s hard having to cancel plans because you don’t feel good enough to leave the house. Also, trying to explain to those who aren’t sick why you are canceling for the third time this month is awful and hard on relationships. For me (and surely others) the social aspect is probably the hardest part of living with a chronic illness, outside of the obvious health issues.

A typical day for me involves…

A typical day for me starts with me waking up and rolling over and stretching. Trying to see what hurts and what doesn’t. Then spending the next 10-15 min actually getting out of bed because if I don’t do it slowly I’ll pay for it later. What happens after that depends on the day. If I have a doctors appointment or somewhere to be, I will start the getting ready process which can take 10 mins or an hour depending on how I feel, and how ready I need to be. As well as how many breaks I will need to take. If I don’t have anywhere to be I go straight upstairs to eat and take care of my dogs. In the morning I will always be checking social media and do my daily posts (that sometimes become 3 times a week posts) on all my platforms.

I will most likely be writing for my blog and posting if it’s a day to post. I try to write something for the blog everyday, that way I don’t feel rushed at anytime because I don’t have anything written. I may not get a whole piece written every day but I try to write something. There is always an afternoon “nap” if I can’t get comfortable and sleep than I at least lay in bed and rest. And the evenings are usually pretty chill. Generally speaking, I spend the evenings watching a show or reading a book. I take a shower and try to be in bed by nine. When I fall asleep will depend on what I did that day and how much pain I’m in. Everyday is different for me because I never know how I will feel. I always know if I did a lot the day before that the next day will be a day of rest. Honestly, I can’t plan to far in advance because I never know how I will feel.

The one thing I cannot live without is…

I hate to admit this, my phone.  I say this because I use my phone for everything. I use it for communication, with my friends, family and medical providers. I use it to help run the Chronic Illness Support Group on Facebook (Lupie Groupies) I started about 5 years ago which continues to grow. I use it to blog, to research, and post on social media. And I use it for my jobs, I sell Senegence Makeup as well as the Chronic Illness Symptom Tracker that I created for those with chronic illness.. For those reasons my cell phone is important to me.

Being chronically ill/disabled has taught me…

Being chronically ill has taught me so so many things. But I honestly think the biggest thing is that being sick has a way of showing you who your true friends (and family sadly) are. I know it sounds cliche but it’s very true.

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed…

The biggest piece of advice I would give to someone who was recently diagnosed would be to find a support group!  No matter if it is online or in person, just find one. Your friends and family are good to talk to, but a support group filled with people in similar situations is imperative for anyone newly diagnosed as well as for those who have been ill for many years. A support groups gives you a place where you can share what is really going on and know that you are talking to people who will understand and won’t judge you.

My support system is…

My support group is AMAZING!! I have the most amazing family and group of friends a person could ever ask for. If I didn’t have my family I don’t know where I would be right now. I am truly lucky.
If I had one day symptom/disability-free I would…

Go to the beach or lake (really any body of water) and spend the day outside playing in the water without the fear of a flare.

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

One positive thing about having a chronic Illness is meeting a group of wonderful and amazingly strong people whom you would have probably never met had you not gotten sick.

My social media links are:

Fibromyalgia and Pet Therapy

Fibromyalgia and Pet Therapy

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Fibromyalgia can be a lonely disease. Staying connected with friends and family becomes difficult when chronic pain and fatigue make it hard to get out and about like you used to. Sometimes, having a pet can make all the difference in the world!

Not only will a furry friend give you some companionship, but it turns out that pet therapy can actually be a pretty effective way of dealing with fibromyalgia pain. Here’s how it works.

What Is Pet Therapy

Pet therapy is a guided interaction between a person and a trained animal. It also involves the animal’s handler. The purpose of pet therapy is to help someone recover from or cope with a health problem or mental disorder. Basically, it involves using specially trained animals like cats and dogs to provide comfort to people who suffer from diseases like fibromyalgia, cancer, dementia, etc. The animals provide companionship while the patient pets or plays with them, reducing the amount of stress and pain they feel.

The biggest concern when it comes to pet therapy is making sure that the animals are well-trained and vaccinated. Because pet therapy is often done in hospitals, doctors want to be sure that a dog won’t get loose and run around contaminating the area.

With that being said, pet therapy, when done by a professional, is perfectly safe and can be very effective in treating fibromyalgia pain.


What Are The Benefits Of Pet Therapy?

Pet therapy builds on the pre-existing human-animal bond. Interacting with a friendly pet can help many physical and mental issues. It can help reduce blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health. It can also release endorphins that produce a calming effect. This can help alleviate pain, reduce stress, and improve your overall psychological state.

How Can Pet Therapy Ease Fibromyalgia Pain?

While the idea that simply petting a cat or dog can actually help your fibromyalgia pain seems a little far-fetched, there’s some basic science that backs it up. You see, petting an animal has been shown to cause your body to release lower levels of cortisol, which is the hormone linked to stress. And cortisol levels are directly linked to the amount of pain people with fibromyalgia feel.

And in addition to helping deal with your fibromyalgia pain, pet therapy also has other benefits. Depression and anxiety are both common among people with fibromyalgia, and it turns out that pet therapy can also help significantly with those symptoms. People who engage in pet therapy report consistently lower levels of stress and anxiety than people who don’t. There’s something about stroking a companion animal that lends a level of comfort to people who are suffering.

And taking care of an animal also helps people with fibromyalgia get more involved in daily life. Taking the animal on walks or playing with them in the park are great ways to coax yourself out of bed. And that’s especially true on days when your fibro pain makes you want to just close the curtains and go to sleep. So, a therapy animal can even be a link to the rest of the world when you have fibromyalgia.

So pet therapy can not only help you reduce your fibromyalgia pain, it can help you feel happier and less anxious.

How Can You Start?

Your doctor or therapist managing your treatment will administer pet therapy. A trained handler, often the pet’s owner, will take the animal to every meeting and work under your doctor or therapist’s direction to help you reach your goals. In most cases, the handlers work as volunteers. Discussion of proper pet handling is needed to ensure the safety of both the person receiving treatment and the pet.

Or if you prefer, you can also purchase your own animal that has been trained to be a therapy animal. There are lots of different breeders and trainers. And one should be able to help you find what you are looking for. A quick google search should be enough to find some in your area.

So maybe you’re the kind of person who hates having to leave their loyal pet behind. Well, getting them certified to provide therapy means that you can get comfort from them anywhere you go. And that can be a great thing when you’re suddenly struck by a fibromyalgia flare-up during your daily routine.

Animals make great companions, and it turns out that they might actually be great for treating fibromyalgia pain too. So if you’re tired of trying side-effect riddled medications, some alternative pet therapy may just be for you.

Outlook

The success of pet therapy depends on establishing realistic goals and expectations and meeting those goals. You and your doctor or therapist will establish these goals at the beginning of your treatment. You’ll also discuss how to reach those goals and how long it will take.

Your doctor or therapist will monitor your progress and help you stay on track to meet your goals. If your progress is slower or faster than expected, they may alter your treatment plan.

Gastroparesis Is A Slow Go

One of the many conditions I live with is called Gastroparesis. Gastroparesis means paralysis of the muscles of the stomach. Gastroparesis results in delayed emptying of food from the stomach into the small intestine. It can be minor or quite severe; in my case, I have a moderate degree of paralysis, and the food sits for 2-3 days before being processed further in the digestive system.

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I wasn’t aware there was a problem at first as the usual signs of Gastroparesis are nausea and vomiting. I didn’t suffer from either of those, but I did experience a lot of bloating. It felt like whatever I ate just sat there in my belly forever.

Some of the causes for Gastroparesis include:

There are many symptoms of gastroparesis, including:

  • Heartburn or GERD
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting undigested food
  • Feeling full quickly when eating
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Poor appetite and weight loss
  • Poor blood sugar control

Some of the complications of gastroparesis include:

  • Food that stays in the stomach too long can ferment, which can lead to the growth of bacteria.
  • Food in the stomach can harden into a solid collection, called a bezoar. Bezoars can cause obstructions in the stomach that keep food from passing into the small intestine.
  • People who have both diabetes and gastroparesis may have more difficulty because blood sugar levels rise when the food finally leaves the stomach and enters the small intestine, making blood sugar control more of a challenge.

HOW DO THEY TEST FOR GASTROPARESIS

To diagnose gastroparesis, your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history. He or she will also give you a physical exam and may order certain blood tests, including blood sugar levels. Other tests used to diagnose and evaluate gastroparesis may include:

  • Barium X-ray: You drink a liquid (barium), which coats the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine and shows up on X-ray. This test is also known as an upper GI (gastrointestinal) series or a barium swallow.
  • Radioisotope gastric-emptying scan (gastric scintigraphy): You eat food that contains a very small amount of radioisotope (a radioactive substance), then lie under a scanning machine; if the scan shows that more than 10% of food is still in your stomach 4 hours after eating, you are diagnosed with gastroparesis.
  • Gastric manometry: A thin tube that is passed through your mouth and into the stomach measures the stomach’s electrical and muscular activity to determine the rate of digestion.
  • Electrogastrography: This test measures electrical activity in the stomach using electrodes placed on the skin.
  • The smart pill: This is a small electronic device that is swallowed. It sends back information about how fast it is travelling as it moves through the digestive system.
  • Ultrasound: This is an imaging test that uses sound waves to create pictures of body organs. Your doctor may use ultrasound to eliminate other diseases.
  • Upper endoscopy: This procedure involves passing a thin tube (endoscope) down the esophagus to examine the lining of the stomach.

I underwent the Radioisotope gastric-emptying scan. In my case, they wanted me off ALL of my meds first to make sure they weren’t contributing to the problem, so for 2 days prior to my test I had to quit my medications cold turkey. That included my meds for Fibromyalgia, my anti-psychotics AND my opioid narcotic for pain. Do you have any idea what going through withdrawal is like? It was horrendous. I had the shakes, the runs, I couldn’t eat or sleep, and for those 2 days, I alternated between thinking I was dying and wanting to die.

DAY OF TEST

On the day of the test, I went to the hospital to where the Nuclear testing is done. I knew that I was going to be eating an egg sandwich with a radioactive tracer in it and that tracer would be monitored through a series of special x-rays, but I explained to the nurse that everything I ate was immediately running right through me like water. She was so sweet…she “reserved” me a private bathroom, brought me my sandwich and told me to eat as much as I could while I sat there. Talk about embarrassing!!! It’s embarrassing writing about it!!! But, I managed just over 3/4’s of the sandwich, which she said was enough. She brought me into the x-ray room where there was a gurney to lay on, and then gave me a warm blanket.

The first pictures were taken every 2 minutes, so I just sat. Then they took them every 5 minutes apart, then 10 minutes apart, then 15, then 30 and finally 2 pictures 1 hour apart each. In between, I slept on the gurney, and my nurse brought me as many warm blankets as I wanted. She also brought me a cold wet face cloth for my forehead. When it was all over, I gave her a big hug and thanked her for being so kind. Then I took my medications asap!!!!

The tests showed that I have a moderate degree of low motility so my food sits in my stomach for a long period of time before moving on to the intestines. This explains why I always look bloated and pregnant. There are medications that can be taken, but I’ve asked my Doctor if we can just hold off and wait on that for now. This is more of an inconvenience than anything right now, and I just don’t want any more drugs in my system than I absolutely need. If the problem becomes hugely bothersome, we’ll revisit it, but in the meantime, I’ll just try to watch what I eat, drink more water and try to exercise a bit more.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of Gastroparesis, please make an appointment to see your family doctor as soon as possible. There are treatments available and you won’t have to put up with the suffering. Thanks for reading and remember…

There Is Always Hope