7 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was Diagnosed With Fibromyalgia
We’ve all heard the old adage that “experience is the mother of wisdom.” For me, this has certainly proven to be true. With regards to fibromyalgia, there is a lot that time and experiences have taught me. Some of these things I wish I’d known when I was first diagnosed, but for a variety of reasons (i.e. my own stubbornness, lack of reliable info at the time, etc.) the learning process took me years.
Truth be told, there is still much to be learned and a lot I wish I understood about fibromyalgia but still don’t. However, as I reflect back on many of the lessons I’ve been taught I know a lot more now than I did when my journey first began. Here are a few of the biggest lessons I’ve learned that I wish I’d known (or believed) when I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia:
It’s Okay to Say “No”
I’m a people pleaser – and I’ve spoken to many other fellow fibromyalgia sufferers who are like me. As a people pleaser, one of the challenges I’ve struggled with is learning to say no to things that may have a negative impact on my symptoms. Sometimes these are things I wouldn’t necessarily want to do in the first place (i.e. take on an extra assignment at work). Most of the time, however, they are things that I may genuinely want to do (i.e. accept an invitation to hang out with friends after a long day at work).
Learning to recognize my limitations and understand the impact certain things can have on my body has helped me understand the importance of saying “no” when necessary. Understanding that this is okay and in many cases necessary for my own health and well-being has helped eliminate most of the negative stigma or guilt I feel because of it.
Listen to What Your Body is Telling You
In the same vein as learning to say “no”, learning to listen to what my body is telling me has had a profound impact on my well being and helped to reduce bad days. Though it can take time, learning to recognize what my limits are and adjusting my pace of life accordingly (when possible) has helped reduce flare-ups due to overexertion. Of course, it’s not always an exact science, but doing my best to pay attention to my body and listening when it’s saying I need to slow down has paid dividends in terms of my overall health.
Diet & Nutrition Can Make a Difference (but everyone is different)
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably received more than one well-meaning piece of advice for how to improve your health from someone who is less than qualified to give it. These often include eating better, exercising, trying this or that treatment, etc. If you’re anything like me, these suggestions usually make you angry because they tend to oversimplify the problem and any potential solutions that might (or might not) work for said problem. For that reason, I found it difficult early on in my journey to give any credence to the idea that diet and nutrition could help.
Of course, as I’ve overcome that initial resistance and tried new things, I’ve found that diet and nutrition can have a meaningful impact on my fibromyalgia symptoms. Don’t get me wrong, eating right won’t cure you’re fibromyalgia (just as eating poorly won’t cause fibromyalgia) – but making small, meaningful changes to my diet has helped. I’ve been able to reduce flare-ups, as certain foods can trigger and heighten pain responses. I’ve noticed improvements in my energy levels and mood. In a nutshell, my overall sense of well-being improves measurably when I am able to stick with a healthier diet (which isn’t always easy, of course).
Find Ways to Reduce “Decision Fatigue”
Everyday we’re faced with hundreds, perhaps even thousands of decisions and behind each decision is a mountain of data we must consume and process. According to a recent article on CNN.com, our minds process 74 gigabytes of data everyday – the equivalent of nine DVD’s worth of data! All of this information can lead to information overload – which can in turn lead to something called “decision fatigue”.
Imagine a computer that has reached its data capacity and can no longer keep up. What does it do? It will freeze up or crash. Like an overloaded computer, decision fatigue affects our ability to process information clearly and make rational, healthy decisions. It can affect all aspects of our lives, including professional life, relationships and social life. It can also cause increased levels of anxiety and negatively affect mood.
Looking for ways to eliminate clutter in my life and planning ahead to reduce the number of decisions required each day has helped positively impact my mental and emotional well-being. Even small things like planning my wardrobe out in advance or making a to-do list each day can help. Creating a fibromyalgia coping plan for bad days can also help reduce decision fatigue on days when your mind and body are under greater duress.
Life can be complicated enough on its own, adding fibromyalgia into the mix takes it to a whole new level, which is why eliminating unnecessary stress factors and decisions is so important.
Find Positive Ways to Handle Stress
Stress is all but impossible to avoid – especially if you’re living with fibromyalgia (or any other chronic illness). Since it is largely unavoidable, finding ways to manage stress in a healthy, positive way is important. If left to its own devices, it will build and ultimately harm us physically, emotionally and mentally. This is especially true for those of us with fibromyalgia, since stress heightens our sensitivity to pain and aggravates our symptoms.
Since everyone is different, we’ll all have different ways of coping with stress. A few general practices that tend to help the body and mind cope more effectively with stress include meditation, deep-breathing techniques, gentle exercises like yoga or walking, hobbies and more.
Alternative Exercises Like Yoga Can Be Helpful
For many with fibromyalgia, exercise is a difficult if not impossible proposition. However, study after study shows that consistent exercise can help improve the symptoms fibromyalgia and chronic pain. For me, an effective alternative to the more traditional gym exercises has been low-impact exercises like yoga and stretching. Yoga can help improve flexibility, relieve tenderness, ease stress, improve breathing and more.
Think Holistically About Your Treatment
While there isn’t a cure for fibromyalgia, there are a number of different treatments and approaches that have made meaningful differences in the lives of many sufferers. For me, not relying on a single approach and being open to trying a variety of different treatments has helped put me paths to a better, healthier life.
When considering my treatment options, I worked with my doctor to include both short and long-term approaches. The short-term approaches are intended to respond to my symptoms in the here and now (i.e. painkillers to help with the pain). The long-term, or holistic, approaches aim to provide more long-term relief by targeting the potential underlying causes of some of my symptoms (i.e. address nutritional deficiencies). This dual approach has helped me be more pro-active in my search for treatments and helped reduce many of my symptoms.
While the list of things I’ve learned and wish I’d known about fibromyalgia earlier on could go on and on (maybe I’ll do some more posts in the future!), these are a few of the ones that came to mind as having had a positive impact in my life. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned that you wish you’d known when you were first diagnosed with fibromyalgia?