Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain

By Lynne Matallana

Yes, I am a fibromyalgia “patient”, but more importantly I am a human being.  A living, breathing, feeling person who must face, on a daily basis, a constellation of distressing symptoms that cause both physical and mental anguish.  Like millions of others with fibromyalgia, not only do I have to live with the consequences and challenges these chronic symptoms cause, I have to live with the fact that there are many people who give no credence to my condition, dismissing my suffering because they don’t understand it.

So, in 1997, after spending two years in bed not knowing what to do, I realized that I had to create a life that would allow me to live well despite chronic pain. Even though “pain” is a condition shared by millions, yet one that still in many ways remains challenging and mysterious to the medical community.

Pain is not a new experience, yet many patients report that the medical community does not accept their pain as real or provide effective help, even though it causes so much human suffering? I couldn’t imagine a life where I was supposed to just quietly disappear. Like the women of my Grandmother’s generation who’s complaints were dismissed as one of those “middle-age women’s things,” which left them retreating to their beds for years at a time. I valued life too much not to fight for a life of quality, despite chronic pain.

Unlike most people with fibromyalgia or chronic pain who do not have the circumstances which allow them the opportunity to keep searching for answers, I had the emotional and financial support that allowed me to continue to seek out help, believing that eventually I would find a doctor that would be able to diagnose and treat me. Although there were times that I began to lose faith, my pain urged me on, a constant reminder that there was no room for self-doubt. My pain was real, and it wasn’t something that could be ignored.

Chronic pain is an illness, not a punishment,

a feeling personSo there had to be answers and there had to be people out there who did care. I just had to find them.

Thirty-seven doctors and two years later, I found my compassionate, open-minded, knowledgeable doctor. I came to understand that my quality of life was going to be influenced by our doctor-patient relationship. I realized that it was going to take time to build this relationship and that we both had to make a commitment to working hard and doing our part as a team.

I couldn’t have expectations that my doctor was going to cure me, and my doctor couldn’t expect me to not share my suffering with him. The fact that much of the “responsibility” did fall on me, the patient, his willingness to diligently keep up with new research findings that lead to the implementation of new treatment options, encouraged me and resulted in treatments (both pharmacological and integrative) that helped reduce my symptoms.

When asked, most individuals with fibromyalgia express above all else the need to feel “normal” and understood.  Living with an “invisible” illness can strip away a person’s self-confidence and make them feel isolated and alone.  Everyone needs and feels better when they receive validation, whether it is for what they have accomplished, what they think or what they feel.  Pain that is not validated causes one to feel guilt, fear, and hopelessness, which in turn can even become disillusionment and depression.

In the case of fibromyalgia, one day you’ll be suffering with a burning pain sensation all over your body and the next day you’ll experience cognitive dysfunction, dizziness and anxiety. Then you’ll find yourself gaining confidence as things slowly starting to get better, and then the next day you’ll be experiencing nagging unrelenting pain that seems to come from nowhere.

Living in a world where we look at things in relationship to cause and effect, a fibromyalgia patient can become disheartened by the inability to find this type of relationship when it comes to their pain and symptoms. Over analysis of the situation can lead to nothing but confusion. It’s more helpful to learn ways to adapt and adjust, taking life one day at a time and having the faith that things will get better.  There are many things you can do that might not completely cure you, but have the potential to improve your health and reduce your symptoms.

Pain are not just problems that affect a small group of people.  These health conditions touch the lives of millions of people every day.  As a patient I can live with an illness that causes pain, but I can’t live with others dismissing my pain, or telling me I am imagining it, and so I choose to surround myself with people who do believe that my pain is real and those who share with me their concern and acceptance.