The Many Triggers of Fibromyalgia
Most patients with Fibromyalgia can pinpoint the inciting incident they at least suspect was the catalyst that triggered their Fibromyalgia symptoms. But as is the case with all things Fibromyalgia, no two incidents are necessarily the same. For some it was post pregnancy or minor surgery when their symptoms began. For others it was after a viral infection or a bout of mono. Emotional stress is another common cause cited by patients. I have not come close to listing all the variables and possibilities that trigger Fibromyalgia, which clearly helps demonstrate the complexities doctors face in diagnosing and treating FM. There were two inciting factors in my history with Fibromyalgia. The first brought on the condition, the second gave it superpowers!
It has been nearly thirteen years now since the onset of my FM. At the time I was a healthy and active person. I worked full-time in management at a high-energy, high-stress job which I thrived on. I had one speed during this period of my life – fast and furious! In addition to working full-time, I took evening college courses. I had an active social life which kept me going the nights I was not in class. I was physically fit and active – rollerblading, hiking, backpacking. My days were full and my down time was pretty much non-existent.
And then early one morning as I was showering for work, everything changed. It was about 5AM. I had my back to the water and turned towards the wall to grab the shampoo. I felt my feet slip out from underneath me and understood immediately I was going to be hurt. There was nothing I could do. Slowly I started falling to my right, out of the tub and towards the toilet. There was only the thin, filmy shower curtain to slow my progress. With nothing to grab hold of, and no way to stop my momentum, all of my body weight was behind the impact as my head smacked into the porcelain toilet tank. The collision was strong, solid and in that moment painless. I fell to the floor stunned, awaiting the pain that I knew was lying just beneath the shock.
From there my memories are vague. I recall the nurse in the ER asking me “Can you point to your nose for me?” I recognized the word “nose,” but I could not contribute the familiar word to any part of my body. I hit my head just above my right temple. The impact was so hard I broke the lid to the toilet tank. Don’t think that hasn’t been a source of humor for my family over the years! It is one of the reasons my husband and I named our business Hard Head Media (the other being that he is the most stubborn person in the world!).
I was on disability for 6 months trying to recover from this accident. I never did. The trauma to my brain improved, but the symptoms of Fibromyalgia began to set in. The all over body pain was the worst of it. It was so bad I had to lay in bed naked because I could not stand to feel clothes against my skin. Even the weight of the sheet was sometimes too much. PAIN! Everything else was gone and pain became the dominant fixture in my life. Each time I complained to my doctor I was feeling worse, she said “You couldn’t possible be. Enough time has passed. You should be feeling better by now.” It would make me so angry and desperate to sit in her office and plead with her for help, only to be handed another prescription for drugs. I did not want to mask the symptoms, I wanted them to GO AWAY!
I was persistent. Finally she sent me to a Rheumatologist who then sent me to a Neurologist. The Neurologist was fun! I was his last patient of the day. My appointment was for 4PM. At 5:30PM I was still sitting in his waiting room. First he tried to send me away, but I refused. I wanted answers and he was going to give them to me. He took one look at me – not my chart, just me – and said “You want me to tell you you have a brain tumor. Well I am not going to tell you you have a brain tumor. But if it turns out you do have a brain tumor, you are the kind of person who will sue me.” He was a lovely man. We still exchange Christmas cards to this day! But he did finally do one thing right for me. I sat in his office determined and unintimidated and he finally consented that he thought I had Fibromyalgia. I had never heard the term Fibromyalgia before, but I was relieved to have finally been given a name for what he believed was causing all of my symptoms. He referred me to a pain specialist and she was the one who helped me get my symptoms under control.
Dr. DuQuett is her name. She was (probably still is) a no muss, no fuss kind of doctor. She was firm, direct, and not for a second did she encourage me to feel sorry for myself or let myself feel victimized. She is the one who refused to extend my disability. She forced me to redefine my life and discover how I could still be a productive person, even with a chronic pain condition. Tough love. First she put me through 16 weeks of therapy at a pain clinic though. There I learned how to reduce my symptoms with physical and aquatic therapy, meditation and relaxation, and biofeedback. I have said it before, I believe she gave me an incredible gift. I still suffered through many Fibromyalgia flare-ups after my treatment, and there were times that I did wish I was on permanent disability, but the majority of the time I managed, and sometimes I even thrived.
From when my treatment at the pain clinic ended in 1997 until the next inciting factor in 2006, I managed fairly well. My life was different. Fibromyalgia was a constant presence, but I learned to adjust to my new reality. I became a freelance sales rep and grew my territory into one of the top in the nation. I continued with my evening college courses, and in 2004 graduated with a degree in Literature and Writing. I got married to the amazing man who I had just started dating 6 weeks before the tub accident. We bought our first home together and traveled frequently. Life was good. But that all came to a screeching halt on the day my Fibromyalgia got superpowers! Dunt, dunt, duhn!!!
To be continued…
Continued here: How my Fibromyalgia Got Superpowers.