Fibromyalgia Taught Me To Fight for My Health

Words describing fibromyalgia and chronic pain
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My mother would often declare that I am as stubborn as the Minnesota winter is cold and that I do what I want rather than what I am told to do. But, in the same breath, she will admit that I have my father’s sense of academic adventure. If I don’t know something, I will pursue it until I do. She would declare this with hands up in the air and a shake of her head. If only she knew that the stubborn nature and intuitive spirit they passed on has saved my life. It enabled me to transition from a depressing, bed-bound life of pain and disability to a healthier human with a renewed spirit. I have been both a chronic pain  patient and an advocate for pain sufferers for more than 40 years. My personal experience demonstrates how a misunderstood chronic pain  and fibromyalgia diagnosis can alter a life. 

I am far enough along in my path to well-being (finally) to offer a view of how harmful the treatment for pain can be when improperly diagnosed. I’ve suffered from something as simple as a mild headache to a life-threatening reaction of paralysis because of the medical system’s practice of prescribing drugs before fully understanding the cause of the condition — and the harm that can result. 

The mind and the functions of how our memories work are a glorious, yet frustrating instrument to use each day. We remember the trauma and emotional circumstances as long-term memory and discard the rest as mundane scrap mail. Pain is a combination of both and our brains have figured out how to hold onto the pain in ways that work against us. 

When the central nervous system (CNS) decides to “remember” pain it does so literally. A great example is the well-known phenomenon of “phantom pain” from a missing limb Unfortunately for fibromyalgia sufferers, you don’t need to lose a limb to experience this phenomenon. 

Fibromyalgia is thought to be a painful stress-related disorder that generally starts with a physical trauma, infection, surgery or significant psychological stress. But sometimes it is the response to an accumulation of events. Trauma to our peripheral nervous system (PNS – all the nerves outside of the CNS) is remembered and replayed over and over, whether or not the peripheral trauma still exists. It does so by turning up the volume control within our CNS on that moment of trauma and then pulls off the volume knob and tosses it away. It leaves the memory of that pain level stuck on full volume with no way of turning it back down. Some researchers also suggest fibromyalgia can manifest or worsen as a result of a buildup of gadolinium—a chemical that helps doctors read your MRI scans.

Up to the time that I had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia I had never heard the word. I set out to find others with the same thing and learn from them. I began a support group so small at first that we met in a coffee shop. We shared our stories and our journeys and became a close group of friends. 

Mind Over Body? 

In learning about fibromyalgia I had been told that the CNS can be tricked into turning the pain volume down, but no one had ever been able to show me proof. Until one day during a physical therapy evaluation, I met a therapist who had a great smile and easy demeanor. He had heard my story as an advocate for pain patients and asked me if I understood nociceptive pain, the pain related to PNS trauma?  I was relatively new to the medical terms for the different types of pain, so I asked for more insight. He said that by using cognitive behavior therapy the CNS can be tricked into thinking it was no longer in pain. Obviously, I had my doubts so he decided to prove it with a tall mirror. 

I stood there, in a bright and cheerful therapy room with a mirror held up directly against my body, sideways, so that my reflection was that of only one side of my body. Before the mirror was placed there I was in generalized pain all over my body and all of the same intensity. However, the moment the mirror was placed there and I was allowed to look at myself in the glass, half of my pain suddenly disappeared. I was in shock and I had him remove the mirror. My pain returned in full force. 

It was at that point that I understood that my fibromyalgia pain possibly was “all in my head,” and the significance of that often-cited statement rocked me hard. There is an ongoing debate about whether fibromyalgia is a make-believe disorder that patients create in their heads, for whatever reason. The stigma that follows that debate leaves chronic pain patients feeling ignored and traumatized further. I fought for a very long time, as both a patient and an advocate, to prove that my fibromyalgia pain was real. This day, however, I had a new perspective on that debate and the implications of how the pain is “all in your head” can be viewed as a hurtful remark that is an insult to one’s own experience or seen as a scientific evaluation based in neuroscience.

Let me make one thing very clear: I have no idea if this cognitive deception could be sustained. If I were to walk around the world with a mirror attached to my body would I only be in half the pain I would normally be? Parlor trick or not, the fact that my brain registered so quickly as only being in pain on one side of my body, was enough of an epiphany to warrant further research and rethink how I viewed my pain. I saw how much I did not understand and would need to explore to be able to take some semblance of control over my ongoing pain. 

That day was the turning point in how I managed my pain. If my brain could remember any memory, it was that day in the physical therapist’s office with the almighty mirror. 

I’ve had many an epiphany in my life; each one a determining factor in my movement forward to well-being. But it wasn’t until the “mirror” epiphany that I realized there was so much my support group and I were missing on the topic of how pain works. I felt it was the least I could do for my own well-being, as well as for all those who joined me at the coffee shop: learn about a subject that had taken over our lives and yet was so misunderstood. . Up to that point, I had let my medical team determine my fate with diagnosis and treatments. I had passively allowed their medical degrees intimidate me. As chronic pain patient I surely didn’t want to argue with their assessments.

I stopped focusing only on pain relief and dove into learning about my body, my mind and how much control I truly had over my medical care. Any person in chronic pain understands that pain is a serious motivator. I am not referring to an average headache or a sprained ankle. My definition of chronic pain is that of one that cannot be relieved easily, lasts more than six months and includes long-term treatment or medical intervention. My version may be different than a textbook, but for the sake of this story, let us just agree that is a relatively general idea of the chronic pain I’m referencing. No two patients experience chronic pain the same way, but we can all agree on the disabling nature it has on our lives. 

My life before fibromyalgia diagnosis

Fibromyalgia was the culmination of years of small, unexplained affronts to my health. During my teen years my early symptoms were brushed off as normal. I remember always being tired. That’s normal for any teenager — sleeping is 50% of a teenager’s daily routine! I also remember having stomach pains that kept me bent over in tears and convinced I was on my deathbed. Finally, I remember having suicidal thoughts quite often. Periods of ongoing crying, depression and dressing morbididly (think: goth) were common for any kid going through puberty. It is easy to see how my parents and doctor dismissed these symptoms as “growing pains,” especially in a generation without the internet. I was raised to “suck it up, buttercup, rub some dirt in it and you’ll be fine.”

 If I were an adult during that time (1980s), those symptoms could have been seen as insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome and major depression and treated appropriately. Instead, I lost a solid fifteen years of medical treatment. However you wish to view that time, I lived through it to tell my story. I did my best to rub dirt in it and was “fine, Buttercup”! 

When these issues didn’t resolve after puberty, the adults in my life thought I was overreacting or that I was seeking attention. It wasn’t until my symptoms interrupted life as a responsible adult that doctors  treated my complaints as serious medical conditions. My first pregnancy in 1988 was followed with degenerative disc disease of my lower spine. Low back pain for pregnant women is as common as the sun rising and it, too, could easily have been overlooked by the medical community. Luckily, I was diagnosed properly from the beginning and have managed my back pain ever since by increasing my core muscle strength, correct posture, stretching and exercise. 

As I was learning how to manage back pain, I had several herniated episodes that left me bed-bound for several weeks with intense physical therapy. Opioid pain medications are a common prescription for low back pain of this nature. I was no exception to this treatment plan and had plenty of medications to choose from over the course of decades. It was not until recently that I became aware of how much damage those prescriptions were causing. Opioid pain medications caused me to suffer from short-term memory loss, chronic constipation, additional pain in the form of generalized pain, migraines and it aggravates my depression. Those are just the side effects that I am aware of and tracking well. I decided that for me, opioid damage was worse than the pain relief. (for more on back pain, see Pain in the Back) 

Major depression consumed several decades of my life, with successful and unsuccessful treatments. I managed to survive several suicide attempts and still raise two children. I spent a lot of time managing anxiety attacks in an attempt to lead a semi- normal life. I managed to raise emotionally balanced children because I had a lot of support from all sides of our family, along with my husband of twenty years. I credit the patience and tenacity as those family members for the well-being of my daughter and my son. I remember enough to know that it was their love that got me through life with my kids. 

Those diagnosed with major depression are given antidepressants that have been on the market for decades. There is no easy test to see where you stand with your depression and the common way to treat it, when prescribed medication, is by trial and error. If a particular antidepressant class works, then the doctor has an idea of the next steps. The side effects listed on a label are lengthy, but are considered more advantageous than harmful; and thus, are prescribed and closely monitored. 

Like many other patients, I had to go through many different types of antidepressants to find the ones that worked. But I also suffered from side effects such as weight gain, suicidal ideation, mood swings, fatigue and headaches. When using multiple drugs to manage several conditions, such as I did, it’s hard to decipher which one is causing which side effects. I can now see how easy it is to assume that some of the side effects were caused by other medical conditions. For example my headaches and fatigue were probably drug side effects. As of now, I am on an antidepressant that for me has minimal side effects and allows me to think clearly and live what I consider to be a normal life.

I was 39 years old before a doctor diagnosed me with fibromyalgia. Even though I’d had  many traumas before, it was a broken tibia and fibula (the two bones in the lower leg) that brought about fibromyalgia pain. I broke my leg jumping on a trampoline. 

Surgery included inserting a rod and screws for five break points and then removing them all a year later when my body rejected the metals. The first surgery was on Labor Day before the national trauma of the terrorist attacks of 9-11 and the combination was enough for my brain to say “I’m done!” While the pain from the broken bone in my leg was resolved with removing the metal, other, traumatic pain, continued to the rest of my body from that point forward. Over the next decade, my bodily functions began to decline with the increase of pain throughout my body that could not be explained. I saw many different specialists and received many different diagnoses after and on top of fibromyalgia.

At the time of my fibromyalgia diagnosis, I already had a long list from various specialties, who had jointly agreed they were valid. Are they distinct from one another or are they related to fibromyalgia? I believe they are a little of both. It was much like a snowball effect, the longer it rolled the bigger it got. The list below is a combination of diagnosis at the time I broke my leg, some resolved by now very simply with proper diet and changes in lifestyle: 

Degenerative Disc Disease, Major Depression, Migraine, Anxiety Disorder, Hypothyroidism, Adrenal Fatigue, Hypoglycemia, GERD, fibromyalgia, Insomnia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Endometriosis, Arthritis, Hypertension, Insulin Resistance, Chronic Fatigue, Occipital Neuropathy and Chronic Myofascial Trigger Points (TrPs).

Managing the diagnoses 

By the time I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I was on many antidepressants, several opioid pain medications, muscle relaxers, intestinal medications and corticosteroid injections. I was also living an emotional nightmare of old memories that wreaked havoc on my soul, causing debilitating anxiety attacks.

Insomnia: My insomnia diagnosis was a happy accident out of the empathy of a physician who was trying to help me sleep through chronic pain. He was a pain management specialist who suggested I undergo a sleep study to find out if my pain and fatigue were being caused by something other than my lower back pain or fibromyalgia. During the wait period of having that study approved by insurance, I was given a prescription for sleep meds. It was the first time in 40 years that I had slept for more than two hours. I awoke refreshed and was able to get up in the morning with my family and get through a work day. For forty years I had no idea that I was not sleeping properly. I never had that sleep study, as it became a lower priority once other bodily functions returned to normal with corrected sleep.

IBS: Irritable bowel syndrome wasn’t diagnosed until it was completely out of control when I was in my mid-40’s. For several years leading up to IBS I visited the emergency room on an annual basis with spastic colon episodes. IBS is a painful motivator for a proper diet. To disregard your digestive tract is the equivalent of a very, very painful sentence. I am still learning that delicate balance, but with the help of the endless internet articles I have plenty of options to choose from until I get it right! 

I was given several prescriptions for IBS over the course of many years, each one a painful reminder that I was going down the wrong path. I had severe reactions to each prescription and in the end it was a strict diet change that ultimately made the difference. I often wondered why it took so long, for so many medical professionals along the way, to simply suggest something so easy as pay attention to your diet and your body’s response to foods..

Myofascial Trigger Points: My chronic pain was the accumulation of all those health problems over many years, combined with undiagnosed myofascial trigger points. Myofascial trigger points or TrPs are knots in your muscles that refer pain in several ways. Referred pain is a pain you feel in one part of your body but is caused in another. Sciatica, for example, is felt as a shooting pain down the leg, but is caused by a herniated disc in your back.

Some medical professionals believe that TrPs and fibromyalgia are related. I did not learn about TrPs until my 40’s. The same man who showed me the trick with the mirror taught me about TrPs and the treatment options. 

I am laughing out loud as I type, simply because it seems crazy that my pain lasted this long without proper treatment. However crazy it may sound, the truth is that my central nervous system remembered enough from the individual traumas, diseases and disorders that it built up a solid foundation for an ongoing pain volume of seven out of 10. 

Have you ever been so upset that it caused you to get sick to your stomach, or suffered from tension headaches over a minor stressful event? Imagine taking that to a whole other level of full-body malfunction because your mind is filled with fear. Is it possible that the mind is so powerful that it can wrack your body with pain and create disease for no other physical reasons? I believe it to be true. I had to learn to heal my mind and soul in order to begin healing my body. 

Sabrina made several diet changes to improve her condition.

What Works for Me  

 At the date of this story, that list of 18 has been reduced to eight. Many of my health issues were resolved with diet changes alone —  insulin resistance, hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, adrenal fatigue and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). I removed many things from my diet including: artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup, dairy, pork and other fatty meats, replaced all oils with olive and nut oils and most importantly, I removed processed food. I learned to shop on the outside walls of the grocery store and not go down the aisles where the processed foods reside. I included probiotics, but not from dairy yogurt. I balanced my meals with food that naturally have nutrients I require, rather than getting them via supplements. I drank more water, a lot more water!

Time: Some damages simply needed time to heal or were resolved with surgery. I am still working on taking the time to heal my mind and soul. It is easy to forget to slow down and let time work its magic. When I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia and learning what it meant, I began a daily diary that included: food intake, medications, symptoms, sleep patterns, mental state of being and even the weather. Over the course of a year, time gave me a solid picture of the consequences of my actions. A personal diary of my actions and feelings helped me to remember the sequence of events I was forgetting due to short-term memory loss. It also gave me a better perspective of how important time can be in the healing processes.

Integrated therapies: I became good at being the “guinea pig” for my support group and was very willing to try almost anything. After many years of trial and error, I found my most successful therapies to be a list of three primary practices. My most important therapy is meditation, the basic practice of calming the mind and allowing myself to let go. Secondly, I continue to stretch and practice yoga, but I am also an avid visitor of the local gym! For too many years I believed that bad advice that exercise was a bad practice when you have fibromyalgia, as it increases the pain and fatigue to the point of going into a flare-up. However, I found that to be the exact opposite for me and I found that idleness was my enemy. Finally, I go to a deep-tissue massage therapist, without fail, every single month. I have my TrPs worked on and released, no matter how painful it is at that time. Not releasing my TrPs simply creates an environment of unnecessary pain that builds into an overall level of pain very similar to a fibromyalgia flare. It took a very long time for me to learn to differentiate the two different pains. This is where my education on the CNS and PNS became a defining factor in my life.

Understanding the type of pain I am experiencing helps me to choose a proper treatment plan.

I also continue to experiment with many other alternative therapies, such as essential oils, dry needling, deep breathing exercises, saltwater bath, cognitive and psychiatric therapies. So far, the daily routine of proper diet, exercise, stretching and meditation has brought me to a state of well-being that I had yet to achieve otherwise. I learned the hard way that being complacent in these routines pushed me backwards very quickly!

Drugs: My seemingly simple antidepressant keeps my serotonin levels at a rational level. For reasons I have yet to understand, my serotonin levels drop dramatically if not maintained with medications. One day I will find out why and hopefully find a way to treat it naturally. I may not know if this medication is doing more good than harm right now, but it has worked for me for almost five years, and for that I am thankful. However, I am very conscious of the potential effects of psychiatric drugs and continue to monitor this medication very closely.

Water pills: Interestingly, my water pills maintain my blood pressure, which in turn helps my headaches. This is not completely understood yet but I am still working on identifying where the issue truly lies. Let me explain the sequence of events with this situation. I began retaining water in my 30’s and subsequently began experiencing headaches that could not be resolved. My neurologist spent the next three years trying many treatments to relieve my ongoing headache. Including, but not limited to: inpatient opioid therapy, anti-seizure medications, corticosteroid injections, muscle relaxers, Botox injections, light therapy and massage. 

During that time my blood pressure had risen to alarming numbers and my family physician was concerned enough to prescribe blood pressure medication. My headache disappeared for the first time in three years on the day I took that medication. Once I had worked back to a healthy weight, normal bloodwork and a steady exercise routine, my blood pressure returned to an almost normal number. However, I am still unable to regulate my water retention and, if I don’t take water pills, it creates a higher blood pressure, leading to the same headache.

Autonomic nervous system dysfunction had been suggested, by another random physician, as the culprit for my water retention. The autonomic nervous system regulates water retention, heart rate, digestion and other bodily functions. However, we have yet been able to prove it nor successfully lower my water retention in other ways. I have done ANS testing, but it was inconclusive and did not warrant further treatment. Is this related to fibromyalgia? That is an excellent question and I have seen some studies that are looking into ANS and its relationship to fibromyalgia. I hope to one day see more information on this topic. 

Sleep meds: Sleep meds give me the necessary REM sleep I need to simply function. The reason for my insomnia has not yet been discovered, as I have yet to do a sleep study and see a specialist in this field. I do the necessary things that put me to sleep easily enough, but staying asleep and getting into the proper restorative sleep has yet to be successful without Lunesta (eszopiclone). I am a proponent of this prescription simply because it is the only reason I am asleep for eight hours and energetic the remaining time. It is simply too wonderful to finally have a life without daily fatigue to be able to walk away from it until another solution is presented. I was diagnosed improperly with Chronic Fatigue and put on many types of medications until that point. I simply needed proper sleep.

Opioids: Interestingly, I also suffer from migraines, which began about the same time as my fibromyalgia diagnosis. I had never experienced a migraine until this point in my life. For many years, it was believed that my blood pressure-related headaches were migraines. Once the headaches resolved, it was clear that I suffered from migraines as well, but in a much different fashion. My migraines have various triggers, both internal and external, and I have learned what many are by now. I had been given an emergency opioid prescription to relieve my migraines, as a migraine stops my life dead in its tracks. I try very hard to avoid taking that medication, if at all possible, as my history with opioids dictates this as a healthy decision. However, when I am brought to the ER completely debilitated, it is the first line of defense and it is effective. In my opinion, migraines appear to remain a mystery to the medical community. I do my share of research to aid in the decision my neurologist suggests, but the lack of migraine research makes this very difficult. My primary goal is to one day be completely medication-free and I hope to find an alternate form of treatment for my migraines. 

Mental health:  I had a judge review that list of medical conditions and he determined that I fit the definition of disabled without having a hearing. My medical team had agreed that my health conditions were such that I would never work again, nor be able to care for myself on my own. The Social Security Administration then began sending me payments that I would have otherwise held onto until retirement. I struggled with the label of “disabled” and eventually succumbed to the nature of its definition. I knew I was retired before the age of 50 and identified as a disabled person. However, the more I learned about my health and how to take control of my well-being the more I questioned that label. 

Mentally, I was in an ongoing fight with that word. Each time it was thrown in my face, I felt even more defeated and depressed. I was holding onto hope of a “normal” life by a thread, a very frayed thread. My support group and my husband were my lifeline. Helping others was my attempt to make sense of my own suffering. It wasn’t until I read a book on identification and empowerment that I chose to no longer be defeated by the term “disabled”. The Intelligent Body: Reversing Chronic Fatigue From the Inside Out by Kyle Davies reminded me that my body was responding to the energy I was directing and how stress-management and forgiveness is a vital part of self-healing. How do you choose to heal through forgiveness and how does it change your life? It was not easy, but it was another epiphany in my life. 

I learned to have a stable frame of mind and soul. The hardest part of well-being is to live a life of pure love, no matter the circumstances! Holding onto emotional pain, staying convinced that I was unable to heal my mind, let alone my body, was my biggest enemy. I had to forgive all things, heal the emotional blockages that created an unhealthy environment for my body. The old adage to forgive and forget is more powerful than you can ever imagine. 

For those wondering why I have not mentioned cannabis and my experience with it is because I have not tried it in my 30 year journey to health. I have been waiting for it to be legalized; which, as it appears will be soon! I do hope to give it a try when it does, as I believe in its treatment abilities and the research that supports it. 

How did I get from point A to point Z and back to another letter in the alphabet? That’s a story for another time. But I will say this: I am blessed to have a series of medical professionals and physicians who supported my efforts of continued research and trial treatments. They communicated with one another properly, they stuck by me for decades and they continue to look after my well-being with integrity and compassion. It was not just one doctor but a combination over many decades. Although, I will definitely give credit to my primary physician of twenty years. He is a brave man to have endured my babbling, suggestions, crying, resentment and late night emergency phone calls. He has done so with a smile and comfort and I thank him with all I have. 

There is something to be said for the family who takes you as you are and loves you anyhow. Through thick and thin they stand by and support you the best that they can. Spouses, children, parents and siblings endure so much with a loved one suffering from chronic illness. Their side would simply say that is what family does. But, from the side of the person suffering, it is more than just blood. It is the blessing from the angels. I am positive they were sent to hold me up high when I want to fly but also when I can’t stand on my own. They are my cheerleaders, therapists, critics, comedians, advocates, lovers and friends. I could write a novel on the ways I wish I could thank my family and friends. 

Disability and Employment

Several years ago, I was given an opportunity, through my advocacy work and support organization, to be a Patient Representative for the FDA. As a Patient Representative on the Advisory Committee, you join other committee members (all doctors and pharmacists, most with multiple medical degrees) to review product applications. This was an opportunity to learn more about how the medications we are prescribed are reviewed, as well as, a deeper understanding of the studies being done prior to review. I was worried about my capabilities, yet excited about what was being presented. I had seen many employment opportunities come and go with my disabilities and thus my concerns were valid. It was ad-hoc work, so the fears of daily employment stress was not as prominent. I was very honored by the opportunity as a Patient Representative and thus it was much easier to put aside my fears. 

However, the day I chose to return to work after ten years was a day that brought upon old fears and stresses that I vowed to remove. It was a turning point in my life and I had to make a choice that defined my mental well-being from this moment forward. I could not look back. 

After I started working on the FDA Committee, I decided I could handle a part-time job. I contacted Social Security and declared that I wish to return to the workforce. As scary as that day was, it was also liberating to know it was now a possibility and I was holding it with both reins.

I had made a declaration to the universe that I required three things: 

  1. To work on something I enjoyed and that would challenge my mind.
  2. Work for an employer who understood my needs after a ten-year absence in the workforce due to disability.
  3. Make enough money to support myself if I successfully returned to full-time.

Be careful what you ask for, you may just get exactly what you want! Employment opportunities were abundant and employers were looking for qualified candidates of skills that were becoming harder to find. I had an Associates degree, was an intelligent middle-aged female with experience in multiple fields and a solid work history. Recruiters found my resume to be highly sought after, therefore my choices were expanding quickly. It was my own fear that held me back. The fear that I could fail and be homeless, living on my girlfriend’s couch and back to being in pain full-time. I prayed for guidance often, meditating on my decision and chose to move forward. Would someone hire a 49-year old disabled woman? I wanted to find out.

Upon employment with small, locally-owned company, I discovered a point of view from employers that I had not considered: they were happy to work with me and my disability! The more they learned, the more intrigued they became of my efforts. I was part of a team of health-conscious individuals who not only cared about my ongoing well-being journey, but was looking for my specific circumstance to both our benefits. I required a part-time job that was challenging, yet easy and they needed someone who could do the job in a short period of time in a day, yet educated enough to be challenged. It is a perfect fit and I am blessed to bring them into my life. It is also a learning curve as I had to learn to balance my physical and mental health while maintaining employment, and do so with common sense, not fear. At first, I was afraid and ashamed to admit my medical conditions because I was worried that I would be turned away. I had to let that go and remember to hold my head high, confident that I was driving my own energy forward, not holding it back. A year later, I still hold a part-time position but I am unable to work full-time, … yet.

The Future

What have I learned on my journey for health and happiness? Where do I stand on the issues I spoke of today? Is this just a chronicle of events that led to a movement of well-being or is this an advocate for something more? It is both and I most definitely have a stand on these issues. Before I make any type of statement, I want to add that my opinion is that of my own and it could change tomorrow. We live based on experience and we choose our experience each moment. 

We live in a time of instant gratification that not only applies to our daily needs, but to our medical care. Writing a prescription before finding the root cause is common, if only to alleviate the current suffering of the patient. When you combine this with a multi-faceted condition, such as fibromyalgia, you get physicians who use the “prescribe first, see how it works” treatment plans. However, this simply prolongs the suffering — first because pills most often address the pain, not what is causing the pain. Second, the common prescriptions for pain, such as opioids, have been proven to have no effect on the neurotransmitters of the central nervous system related to centralized pain. 

An integrated treatment approach that looks at all factors, such as diet, sleep and lifestyle, has been the most successful at finding the root cause of what could or could not be centralized pain. Too often, there are other factors that mimic fibromyalgia symptoms and are never properly diagnosed and treated. Peripheral pain, those that are directly related to tissue trauma, is often also treated with pain medications. Much of peripheral pain can be treated by a change of diet, lifestyle and alternative methods of treatment as well and more effectively than with pain meds that mask the underlying problem. 

In essence, our current standard of medical care seems to be to prescribe first and see how it works. This is a dangerous way to treat fibromyalgia and many chronic pain conditions, considering research is supporting that fibromyalgia is a centralized pain condition with peripheral pain contributors and auto-immune factors that are still being studied. 

I am an advocate for chronic pain sufferers and their support systems, such as family, support groups and their medical team. My goal is to educate patients on their choices and remind them that they are ultimately in charge of their health care. Patients must take responsibility for their choices and realize that is the only way to properly care for your mind, body and soul. Education is the key to well-being! 

In the age of never-ending information on the internet, it is easy to see the confusion and misunderstandings of healthcare. However, as time goes on, there are more movements to push the vetted data to the appropriate channels where we can learn what is real and what is the daily hype. 

My experience is proof that patients and their medical teams can work together without judgment from either side. A patient should be able to walk into their doctor appointment with information to present to their physician and have a discussion on available options. My hope is that chronic pain patients understand their body enough that they can make informed choices that propel them to a healthier state of mind, body and soul. Even if it takes forty years.