Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.
It’s true. Most of don’t appreciate our health until it’s gone. It’s only when we become ill, that we understand what a humongous loss it really is.
Aside mental health problems, I’ve always been relatively fit and healthy. I would think nothing of decorating an entire room (from top to bottom) in one day. This would include a couple of hours kip in-between AND working part-time. However, six years ago my mum died (suddenly) and I’ve felt ill ever since.
I’ve had tests done on my body from brain to bum and the results have failed to show anything wrong aside low vitamin D levels. Blood tests? Put it this way. The NHS has more of my blood than I do! Only I never got tea and biscuits.
I’ve been told, time and time again, that it’s ALL down to anxiety. Or age. (I’M 47!!)
I’ve told doctors (time and time again) that something physical is driving the anxiety – not the other way around.
Turns out, I was right all along.
A few weeks ago I was at the doctors. Quelle surprise? Originally, this appointment was to whinge about my painful legs, but I’d had an horrendous night sleep (less) wise, so I decided to moan about that instead. I suggested that my insomnia could be connected to my congested sinuses – a condition I’ve been complaining of for the last two years. So I came away with a prescription for a steroid nasal spray and a referral to an allergist with the warning that the waiting list is massive and I probably won’t get an appointment until about 2046.* Half an hour later later, I snorted some steroid up my nostrils and waited for the ‘pipes’ to clear.
At the same time, I noticed a tight feeling in my chest. I’ve had it before, so I didn’t fall down the rabbit-hole of health anxiety. My therapist would be proud of me, no?
I’m no stranger to chest pain. I’ve had tingling, tightness, pain and muscle spasms galore, but my heart is allegedly healthy. The symptoms usually disappear after a few days to be replaced with pain elsewhere in my body. This time, I thought it could be the steroid, so I stopped taking it and made another appointment to see the GP. She didn’t think this was the case because the nature of steroids are to open the airways, not the reverse. However, she did agree that it seemed too much of a coincidence for it not to be related and so advised not use it again. A week later, I still had the tightness and was struggling to breathe, especially at night.
Meanwhile, I happened to notice that a lot of autistic people had fibromyalgia or ME in their bios. I’d heard of ME, but didn’t know anything about fibromyalgia. So I researched it and there was EVERY SYMPTOM that I have been going to the doctors with for the past six years – including tightness in the chest! (Technical jargon? Costochondritis – noncardiac chest pain or musculoskeletal chest pain)
It was a ‘light-bulb moment’, because I knew that I had finally found out what’s wrong with me.
Armed with a sheet of A4 paper with Fibromyalgia symptoms, I limped off to see my GP. It wasn’t the one who’d prescribed me the steroids (she was on leave) but I’d seen this one just as many times with other symptoms. He studied the paper and said, ‘Yes, fibromyalgia has crossed my mind, but we need to do some elimination tests to rule out other stuff’.
The ‘other stuff’ (such as rheumatoid arthritis) was ruled out and last week I was formally diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
Maybe, if I’d have seen the same doctor over the past six years, he/she would have reached this conclusion earlier? As it is, I’ve seen three doctors in all, so nobody had the whole story unless they took the time to trawl through my numerous notes and, trust me, nobody has that kind of time. If patients notes were still in paper form, they’d need a wheelbarrow to cart mine around. However, had they have read through them, they would have probably realised that the following symptoms (in the absence of other conditions/diseases) suggest fibromyagia.
- Chest pain
- Food sensitivities
- Medication sensitivities
- Muscle spasms
- Burning mouth
- Neck and back pain
- Abdominal pain
- Congested sinuses (for two years)
- Inability to control body temperature
- Low Vitamin D levels
- Pins and needles in arms, hands and feet.
- Brain fog
So, I now know what’s wrong with me. I have fibromyalgia. So what does this mean?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition of widespread pain and profound fatigue. The pain tends to be felt as diffuse aching or burning, often described as head to toe. It may be worse at some times than at others. It may also change location, usually becoming more severe in parts of the body that are used most.
The fatigue ranges from feeling tired, to the exhaustion of a flu-like illness. It may come and go and people can suddenly feel drained of all energy – as if someone just “pulled the plug”. Fibromyalgia Syndrome (fibromyalgia for short) is a common illness. In fact, it is as common as rheumatoid arthritis and can even be more painful. People with mild to moderate cases of fibromyalgia are usually able to live a normal life, given the appropriate treatment.
If symptoms are severe, however, people may not be able to hold down a paying job or enjoy much of a social life. The name fibromyalgia is made up from “fibro” for fibrous tissues such as tendons and ligaments; “my” indicating muscles; and “algia” meaning pain. – FMA UK
In simplest terms, it’s a life of shite in varying degrees.
Fibromyalgia isn’t a disease and it’s not life-threatening (thank fuck) but it is limiting.
Imagine having toothache. Painful, right? You can’t enjoy life, but you know that the dentist will numb you up, yank the offending tooth out of your mouth and the pain will go away. With fibromyalgia, the pain just moves to another area of the body. Sucks, huh?
I’m frustrated with my lack of mobility. Some days, I struggle to walk. This is especially the case in cold and damp weather. I live in England, so that’s pretty much ALL of the time.
After lying or sitting, I’m stiff as a board and I kind of have to shuffle my way off chairs and roll out of bed sideways, which is about as alluring as athletes foot.
I can’t do tasks which involve looking up without them causing me severe pain in my neck.
Sitting in the car can be painful because of my lower back and my neck hurts with every jolt of the vehicle.
Or I get migraines which wipe me out for days.
I could go on, but I’m starting to bore myself. You get the picture, right?
After the initial euphoria of getting an answer to why I’ve felt so shit for the last six years, the reality is setting in: This feeling shit? It’s basically me for the rest of my life.
*sound of balloon noisily deflating*
I had this fantasy that my anxiety would decrease, my menopausal symptoms would level out and I would get some quality of life. I would get the old me back. Little did I know that the anxiety and being menopausal were masking what was really wrong as some of the symptoms overlap and once you’re labelled as a hypochondriac, it kind of sticks.
I feel guilty for feeling sad because my friend would have given anything for her diagnosis to be fibromyalgia instead of cancer, but this is how I feel. This is my reality. Fibromyalgia won’t kill me, but everything is relative and living with long-term (and constant) pain affects you mentally as well as physically.
Also, I’ve had two life-changing diagnoses in two years. Autism and now this, so it’s natural to feel a little overwhelmed, right?
I accept that, being highly anxious, I was probably always going to develop some kind of stress-related illness or condition. I know this could be a lot worse and no doubt it will be if I don’t learn to chill the fark out. I’ve demanded a lot from my body over the years by constantly flooding it with stress-hormones, but I do believe the sudden death of my mother was the trigger for this condition.
Stress caused this.
Stress makes my symptoms flare up – as does the shitty British weather.
My body has deployed the SOS flare. That red glow in the sky? It’s not the sun setting, folks – it’s my body begging for help.
I mentioned earlier that I used to be able to decorate a room in one day? Now I do half a wall and I’m in pain for a week. It’s frustrating not to be able to do what I want to do, when I want to do it. I will adapt, but I need time to accept this version of me. The knackered one. It is what it is. I can only try my best to limit the damage and view this as a warning. My body’s way of saying, ‘Do something about your stress levels or die early of a heart attack, cancer or stroke, dear’.
I’ll find the humour in the situation, as I do with most other challenges in my life. At least I can still laugh, only not too hard cus it hurts. Until then, I need to have a little sulk for the loss of the person I once was.
RIP, old me.
The moral of this story is to listen to your body. The NHS is wonderful and doctors are hard-working and magnificent, but they are not infallible. They don’t get things right every time. Doctors are great with disease and emergencies, but not so great when it comes to ‘invisible’ conditions which require a bit of detective work and, ultimately, nobody understands our own bodies better than us, right?