On my 32nd birthday, I vowed to get healthier. It wasn’t like I was on this mission for a bikini sexy body. It’s not that I was promoting myself to be thin or lose weight for self confidence. I just started noticing little quirks about myself that didn’t make me happy. Like hearing myself breathe in SnapChat videos or feeling pain when I walked up the stairs. Little things that I thought needed some serious change in order to live a more fulfilling life.
My husband bought me a FitBit Flex as a birthday gift, and it really encouraged me to start tracking my lifestyle. I didn’t realize how negative I had become and how much I complained about my health. I never realized how much sleep I wasn’t getting and how much I was sitting on my ass until I started tracking. I mean seriously. It was horrifying to see. I was averaging 5 hours of sleep a day, not just at nighttime. Literally for 24 hours, I was averaging 5 hours of sleep. I was also averaging less than 5,000 steps a day. (Center for Disease Control & Prevention recommends 30 minutes of exercise/10,000 steps per day.) I started examining what I was eating, and not only that, I started evaluating my overall health. I became very self aware of what my body was telling me and decided it was time to find answers for why my life and health were headed in a downward spiral.
Image credit: Fitbit.com
For years, I’ve struggled with leg pains. I can remember sitting on the living floor in 2010 at my best friend’s house crying hysterically, trying to chug a bottle of Nyquil because my leg pains were so intense I couldn’t breathe. I just wanted to knock myself out and hope the pain would go away. The shooting, yet dulling pain over took my entire body and I couldn’t focus on relaxing. It always happens at night when I want to sleep. My body can’t get comfortable and I will literally break down. It doesn’t happen every single night, but more nights than not, I toss and turn from the pain I feel in my legs, hips, and lower back. As years passed, I learned to accept the pain. I’d find ways to lay in bed or I’d merely sleep on the floor to find whatever “comfort” I could to get myself to sleep.
In 2013, when I became pregnant with my first daughter, I began sleeping on the floor. Every. Single. Night. It’s been 3 years, and it’s safe to say I’m still sleeping on the floor. At least for the beginning of the night anyway. Chronic fatigue started setting in and I chalked it up to the life sucking human I was creating. My joints began to feel tight and the inability to focus on everyday conversations became a past time. It seems as time moved on more and more symptoms started to show. But I really didn’t notice. I had come to accept that my “symptoms” were a part of my everyday life. That what I was experiencing was normal. I had 2 beautiful baby girls within 12 months of each other. Creating an infant while raising a newborn is a great justification for why I felt so broken.
At approximately 18 months old, Alaina began sleeping through the night. She wasn’t waking one to two times per night to nurse and my ability to get longer stretches of sleep became more attainable. I started weekly therapy and actively worked on changing my cognitive habits. I saw a psychiatrist monthly and experimented with various antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. I had my family doctor give me cortisone injections in my hips to help with leg pain. I began and completed the 21 Day Fix, exercised daily, and vowed to get myself healthier. But why didn’t I feel healthier? Why weren’t things changing? Why did I still struggle to focus? Why did I still feel like an alien was inside my body sucking the absolute life out of me? Why were my pains still so severe? And why was I still sleeping on the floor???
Determined to find answers, I forced myself to head to my family doctor. I was sick of putting a band-aid on a bullet wound and really wanted to find the cause of my pain. Yes, you can treat symptoms without knowing the cause, but my symptoms weren’t subsiding. And it was time I found out why. My gut, my heart just wanted to know where my problems were stemming from. I genuinely thought it would help! At the appointment, I went into great detail about every ache and pain I’ve felt. I created a list on my phone of all the abnormalities I’ve had in the last 3 years or so. I explained symptoms I had prior to children along with symptoms that have been exacerbated by children.
My family doctor ordered labs. 8 vials of blood. That’s a shit ton of labs, lady. But she was determined to find the cause as well. She completed a physical exam, took a lengthy family history, and assured me we’d get to the bottom of all it all. What. A. Relief. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve visited my doctor, the eye doctor, the chiropractor, psychiatrist, therapist, you name it, and they’ve always chalked it up to my kids. “Well, of course you’re exhausted. You’re raising two babies!” Yes, children are exhausting. There’s no doubt about that. But I feel like I’m living in a fucking twilight zone. Like someone is standing in front of me holding a black and white crazy circle and spinning it in front of my face all the time. Not to mention most days I feel like I can’t move from the couch due to the pain I feel in my body. And it depresses that fuck out of me!
Two weeks passed between my appointments. It was time to go back. Mentally I had prepared myself to hear “Oh it’s all normal and you’re fine.” That’s typically what I’m use to hearing. Blame it on my life sucking children. Never did I think my doctor would drop a fucking bomb on my life. She asked me to reiterate my symptoms and the issues I was having. We reevaluated my family history. She completed another physical exam. My gut knew where this was heading. All along I think deep inside I knew what she was going to say, but I tried convincing myself otherwise.
No doubt about it.
My mother has fibromyalgia. She’s been struggling with it for years. When I started noticing my symptoms, that word kept popping up in my research likely due to me remembering all of my mother’s complaints. My husband and I talked about it, and I told him that maybe I’m just crazy. People struggle for years to get their doctor to see that diagnosis. A lot of doctors still struggle believing it even exists. There’s no way mine would come to the conclusion that I’m struggling with something so severe. So permanent. I was wrong. She did. It’s funny, too. Not funny haha, but funny ironic. I’m practically the fucking walking definition of fibromyalgia, and I never noticed. I actually just thought it was normal. Stupid me… chalked it up to my life sucking children.
Image credit: Pacific Med Research
The pain of fibromyalgia is profound, chronic and widespread. It can migrate to all parts of the body and vary in intensity. FM pain has been described as stabbing and shooting pain and deep muscular aching, throbbing, and twitching. Neurological complaints such as numbness, tingling, and burning are often present and add to the discomfort of the patient. The severity of the pain and stiffness is often worse in the morning. Aggravating factors that affect pain include cold/humid weather, non-restorative sleep, physical and mental fatigue, excessive physical activity, physical inactivity, anxiety and stress.
In today’s world many people complain of fatigue; however, the fatigue of FM is much more than being tired after a particularly busy day or after a sleepless night. The fatigue of FM is an all-encompassing exhaustion that can interfere with occupational, personal, social or educational activities. Symptoms include profound exhaustion and poor stamina.
Many fibromyalgia patients have an associated sleep disorder that prevents them from getting deep, restful, restorative sleep. Medical researchers have documented specific and distinctive abnormalities in the Stage 4 deep sleep of FM patients. During sleep, individuals with FM are constantly interrupted by bursts of awake-like brain activity, limiting the amount of time they spend in deep sleep.
Other symptoms/overlapping conditions
Additional symptoms may include: irritable bowel and bladder, headaches and migraines, restless legs syndrome (periodic limb movement disorder), impaired memory and concentration, skin sensitivities and rashes, dry eyes and mouth, anxiety, depression, ringing in the ears, dizziness, vision problems, Raynaud’s Syndrome, neurological symptoms, and impaired coordination.
Source: National Fibromyalgia Association
So what does this mean for me? Does this mean I’ll be able to sleep in a bed at some point in my lifetime? Does this mean I’ll be able to walk comfortably or have a conversation with my husband without wandering into la-la land? Does this mean I’ll be able to find comfort for my daily headaches and skyrocketing anxiety? Does this mean that my body will stop hurting or that I’ll somehow be cured?
My doctor discussed treatment options with me. She went through every success she’s had with patients and every failure. She talked about the benefits of medicinal treatment along with developing a healthy lifestyle. She stressed the importance of clean eating, daily exercise, and maintaining a strict/predictable routine. My doctor discussed the patience needed in order to find a good recipe of treatment. What will work for me and what won’t. Every patient responds to medicinal treatments differently, so it will take some time for my body to figure out what works. At the end of the day, though, this isn’t something that will go away on it’s own. It’s not something that can be cured. It’s a lifelong struggle and something I will have to work hard to treat. That’s a lot to wrap my head around.
Due to my continued desire to breastfeed my (almost) 20 month old daughter, I am unable to begin medicinal treatment per my family doctor. She isn’t comfortable treating me with medications that have no research in regards to the effects it has on breastfed children. So I’m in the process of experimenting with non-medicinal treatments. Essential oils. Yoga. Daily nighttime cardio. Clean eating. I’m determined to find that perfect cocktail that brings me relief. Just because I was given this incurable diagnosis doesn’t mean I can’t find relief on my own. It doesn’t mean I have to flood my body with medication to find relief either.
Not every day is a good day, but some days are better than others. Fibromyalgia is a disease. A lifelong struggle. It’s something I will consciously work towards treating or it will consume my mentality with dark thoughts. For now, in my fresh minded diagnosis, I am determined to find relief. Some days are more motivating than others. Some days I pop out of bed feeling great and ready to challenge the day. Other days I’m in so much pain I can’t leave the floor. It’s a learning experience. It’s a lifestyle change. But I am beyond determined to continue to learn and find help for myself… and I’ll continue to surround myself with those that support me.
“With each new day comes new strength and new thoughts.”