Since the end of March I've been having some near-debilitating health issues, and in late May I was formally diagnosed with a chronic pain/chronic fatigue condition.
I want to be real with you: it's been confusing and emotional. To be just barely into my third decade of life and diagnosed with a chronic illness is mind-boggling. It feels like so many of my symptoms are unpredictable, and what may be disruptive for my system one day won't be on another day. I've slowly started making some connections, e.g., poor sleep = major pain and brain fog the next day; humidity = pain in my bones and an increase in irritability.
I want to also be clear with you: I'm not sharing this for sympathy, for empathy, or for people to treat me differently. I certainly appreciate the well wishes that have come my way, but this post is a way of me beginning to make meaning out of my suffering; to hold myself accountable for changes I need to make; to dive deeper into my understanding of myself through keeping a record. As a therapist and a blogger, I hope that my words resonate with someone and in some way help them on their own personal wellness journey; however, my sharing is for me, and is genuinely not ego-driven.
So, here's how the journey has been so far...
On May 22nd I met with the rheumatologist who poked and prodded me, felt for those 18 tender points, and formally bestowed upon me the diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. I was offered antidepressants and Cymbalta for the pain, however I declined for numerous personal reasons (Note: medication can certainly be helpful for people, so please do not take my declination as an anti-medication stance). I was offered referrals to the Benson-Henry Institute of Mind Body Medicine for a nutrition consult, Spaulding for acupuncture, yoga, and physical therapy. I was told that I should keep doing what I'm doing, to continue to maintain my health lifestyle of working out regularly, practicing yoga, and eating healthily.
My next appointment was with a physical therapist who politely told me to keep doing what I'm doing, but work on strengthening my hip abductors. She stated that there wasn't much to offer me since I was already practicing yoga regularly, despite my complaints about specific parts of my body experiencing pain even during a gentle yoga practice. Although the physical therapist was truly kind and sweet, she was transparent in informing me that there was nothing she could offer me in terms of pain relief (my wallet is grateful!).
I started feeling really frustrated and hopeless, wondering why it was that I kept 'doing what I'm doing' and yet still experienced pain and fatigue randomly. I wouldn't call it acceptance - I started feeling defeated. I had moments where I felt shame and embarrassment. I felt ashamed sharing my diagnosis with my supervisors at work, even though they are the most understanding, supportive, and caring people. I felt embarrassed that I didn't know how to describe what was going on within my body, that I couldn't explain logical reasoning behind what caused the symptoms. I was embarrassed to say that I had been diagnosed with a chronic illness.
Things started to change after a good friend recommended an incredible acupuncturist. I had my first appointment in the end of June and left feeling "acu-stoned," as my friend calls it, and also feeling hopeful and motivated to figure things out. Since then, I've had four sessions focusing on reducing the pesky musculoskeletal pain and improving sleep, and it has already helped me have more mental clarity and make healthier changes in my life. My awareness of my body and sensations within it has increased, and I am even starting to decipher between feeling bored, feeling bored-hungry, feeling thirsty, and actually feeling hungry. I'm recognizing that I want to eat to nourish my body (most of the time - let's be honest, I have cheat meals), rather than inhale food mindlessly. Through my acupuncturists' magic healing, I'm slowly becoming more aware of my body's needs. Yoga certainly helps too.
Almost two weeks ago, I met with a new functional medicine practitioner: a medical nutrition therapist/chiropractor. Yes, he has advanced degrees in both fields! The first session I went in wanting to tell him he was my last hope; I wanted to say how tired I was of hearing "just keep doing what you're doing." I wanted to be given an action plan and goals to achieve, rather than be validated for my [mostly] healthy lifestyle. I was pleasantly surprised that this doctor was totally on my same wavelength. He listened to me, really heard me, and validated my concerns and gut feeling that something else must be going on, Fibro or no Fibro. He had me engage in some physical strength and balance tests, asked me a bunch of questions, and had me step on a machine that calculated my weight, BMI, and body fat percentage. At the end of our initial session, he offered me some amazing new suggestions: he believed that, as research shows, my symptoms (those of Fibro) could be caused by gut imbalances, a leaky gut, and/or food intolerances/allergies. Our game plan was that I would begin an elimination diet ASAP and also mail a lab a stool sample. (Yup, I would have to mail my own poo - and I actually did, ugh, I hope I never have to be that intimate with myself ever again.) The doctor also asked me to return the following week so that he could continue his assessment of me. I left that appointment feeling so motivated, so ready to implement change and find the root cause of my symptoms. I had started keeping a food log on July 25th specifically for this appointment, and he recommended I continue using it. I started tracking my sleep and pain levels, and he also advised including a bathroom log (I'll let you figure out what that is...).
I returned for my appointment with him last week and he had me do some more movement tests, a heart rate variability test, and he even busted out some chiropractic moves on me - snap crackle pop is right! I've never been to a chiropractor, so suffice it to say I was totally terrified and could barely relax my body. Fortunately none of it hurt. He had some more goals for me: begin doing diaphragmatic breathing, and to begin strength training for at least 30min twice a week. This would include weightlifting and also squats and lunges - deep ones, the kind I avoid since it historically causes significant joint pain in my knees.
Thursday morning, the day after my second appointment with that functional medicine doctor, I headed to the gym earlier than usual that allotted 30min of time so I could mess around with weights. I'm going to be honest, I haven't used any gym machine in years, and many of those machines are so confusing! I basically puttered around until I found some machines that were logical and user-friendly, and also did some arm workouts, squats with weighted barbells, even a bit of rowing...all before my 45min cycling class (which formally kicked my ass, per usual, and it was amazing). I made a plan with a gym buddy to do weights Friday morning as well before our yoga class. I felt even more committed to my lifestyle changes.
Speaking of changes, I have also been actively improving my dietary habits. I'm a fairly healthy eater to begin with, since you know I spiralize practically everything I eat. I decided to reduce/practically eliminate my alcohol use, reserving it for special occasions or to compliment a meal, and avoiding drinking in excess all together. As soon as I cut out alcohol, my skin brightened, I stopped having breakouts, and felt so much more present and conscious. Attending concerts without even having one beer is so liberating and made me feel so confident in myself!
I also reduced dairy significantly, which also helped my skin and digestion a lot. However, I had a few days last week where I caved and ATE ALL THE DAIRY. Without fail, just one day after consumption, my frustrating chin breakout was back in full inflamed force. Gross.
Holy crap this is a long post.
I'll end here. If you made it this far, I'm grateful to you for reading. I'd also like to give you a piece of homework: review your daily habits and find one area where you can make one small change. Maybe it's ordering a small coffee versus a medium; skipping the cheese on your lunch salad; preparing two meals at home versus just one; having one of said home-prepped meals be fully plant-based, bonus points if it's local or organic; wake up and stretch for a few minutes before you do anything else; start a daily gratitude list; take 3 deep belly breaths at least once a day...
You'll be pleasantly surprised at how these tiny changes will begin to have a massive impact on your life.