Mystery Illnesses:

An In Depth Look At Fibromyalgia

update, part one
by Rebecca Huber

A little over one year ago I ran a series on fibromyalgia and since that time my mail box has been stuffed with responses­­ e-mail from everywhere. In fact it's been hard for me to keep up with responses to my readers. So with my editors' permission I'm rerunning the series with some updates.

I recently spoke to the local chapter of the fibromyalgia support group on the role of massage, nutrition and wellness in fibromyalgia. Some of the faces have changed but the look of pain and distress on the people's faces have not. The stories sound the same, yet each one is different. How can that be? This seems to be one of the most distressing problems for sufferers and doctors alike. But herein lies a clue. If everyone's symptoms are different, how can we expect the doctor to hand us a pill and all will be well again? We must begin to reclaim responsibility for some of our ill health and what caused it. This may feel next to impossible to most of you yet I've seen people put their health back together this very way­­ piece by piece.

Let's look again at a typical fibromyalgia scenario. Sally entered the doctor's office, the fifth one she's seen in less than six months. She nervously sits down. Her emotions are running high. On one side of the spectrum she hopes that she will be told that nothing is wrong; here take this medication and check back with me in six months and on the other hand she hopes that all these aches and pains will finally have a name and that there will be some magical quick fix.

Her pain has become unrelenting, an all-over kind of pain that seems to be making life impossible. The trips to the gym, which she had thought were helping, have all but stopped and now the pain levels have become so intolerable that she is hardly civil at work and, more frequently, losing it with the children.

When the doctor is finally able to see her and asks what is wrong, she begins to give him a list of problems that seems endless­­ blinding headaches, neck and shoulder pain, insomnia, dropping things, inability to concentrate. She's heard the term fibromyalgia before, or FM, no one has ever said she had it. The doctor has already reached for his prescription pad and when she's finished talking, he tells her she indeed has fibromyalgia and gives her a round of sleeping pills, muscle relaxants and anti imflamatories. The doctor also mentions, in passing, that if she's depressed she can have a script for antidepressants.

In the months to come­­ since the medications are of only marginal help­­ she has a battery of blood tests, x-rays, MRI, even a procedure under general anesthetic. None of these exams reveal anything definitive and she is left feeling more depressed and powerless than ever.

If this sounds familiar, you may indeed have FM and you do need to see your doctor. Those of you who do have FM, don't become offended; I know your aches and pains are real but what a garbage can diagnosis! Taking the word apart, Fibro means fibrous and myalgia means muscle aches. Well we already know that from the symptoms. Focusing on a name will not help us find the cause or how symptoms can best be relieved. To simply name a condition for which you have no remedy can condemn a victim to a sense of hopelessness that in itself can be so personally devastating that one may never find his or her answers. So, let us not dwell on a name. We have entered an age of chronic degenerative disease including the complex multi-system "dis-ease" known as fibromyalgia.

Next week I will begin to explore the physiological changes going on in the body and see if I can address the issue from a standpoint of more holistic therapies­­ and possibly find some solutions that will bring pain relief, comfort and healing.

This article posted to Zephyr online June 5, 1997
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