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Diary of a high-functioning fibromyalgia [part 1]

First of all, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Fibromyalgia, it is a condition which makes the sufferer simultaneously feel pain from the tip of their head all the way to their toes. The intense aches and pains are generally aggravated when the sufferer hasn’t had a successful night’s sleep, by which I mean less than 4-5 hours of continuous sleep. The result of a poor night’s sleep is persistent shooting aches and pains, mostly in the neck, shoulders, back and legs. Everyday you can feel as though you’ve been hit by a truck, but the hardest part of all to deal with is not knowing if this condition will ever go away, or will ever be cured. This is the medical description of Fibromyalgia by Mayo Clinic. What it actually is, nobody really knows. But for those who experience this condition, they know full well how real and debilitating it can be. To this day, there are very few studies done on this condition and most doctors seem to try to stay away from treating a patient with these types of symptoms. What we already know so far of this “idiopathic” disorder is mainly triggered by high-stress environments that result in patients having trouble sleeping. It is my wish, by telling my story, that there will be more study on the prevention and cure of this disorder. I do not wish this only for myself but also for hundreds of others who are struggling with the same condition today.

People suffering from this condition are likely to stay in bed all day without having a restful sleep regardless of the hours they spend in bed with their eyes closed. Medical professionals would advise the sufferers instead of “giving up” to the pains, they should get up and start exercising. The challenge to this is that your pain becomes worse after having “too much” exercise. So at one end of the spectrum, you have fibromyalgia sufferers who won’t do any exercises because they can’t bear the pain, while on the other they felt completely defeated by pain after workouts. So, how do we solve this problem? Well, you can’t unless you are a sufferer of Fibromyalgia yourself, then you’ll know when and how to balance exercise and rest.

Many of you must be thinking, “Well, surely you don’t have to do like a crazy CrossFit type of exercise when you have Fibromyalgia. Why don’t you try walking or Pilates or even yoga?”. My answer to that is “You’re right!”. In fact, I have moved to walking and yoga for 10-15 mins sessions on good days. The problem of living with the constant aches and pains remain, however my management of it has improved.

Rewind back to 2013, when I was inspired to join the New Zealand Army. I had put myself onto a strict workout regime before and after class (I was at University, studying Dental Technology then). I would wake up early in the morning to have half an hour run, then back at home I would do 20 push-ups and then go in the shower and ready for class. After class finished in the afternoon, I would go to a park nearby and do sprints and squat jumps. I did this everyday for 5-6 months in hopes of passing the 16 weeks of basic training in the army upon the completion of my Dental study. I was fit as a fiddle, I would climb Mt.Cargill with my boyfriend in the weekend. Three hours up and three hours back. We would do various other tracks around the Dunedin area just for fun. I even did a 60 km bike ride in the North Island of New Zealand on a NZ$100 K-mart mountain bike. (Yeah, crazy right? I did it in 4.5 hours).

Little did I know, what started off with just a nagging pain in my right jaw would turn into something that crippled me to this day. I had a suspicion that the pain might have originated from the last unimpacted wisdom tooth. So I underwent a surgery to get it removed a year later. However, the pain persists. In fact it got worse. My right ankle also started to ache. I can hear my ankle clicking when I walk. That’s when I thought things had gone really wrong with me. I went to the doctor, but they thought I was mentally unstable or a hypochondriac. So I had to move to at least 5 different doctors until I finally found one who would take me seriously. At this point, it was already too late, I was in a very bad shape. I found myself in bed for three days in a row without food or drink because it was too sore to even move my head. I was living on my own at that time, though I was very lucky to have friends and a boyfriend who would check up and looked after me when the worst hits.

A year later, I graduated from the Dental school and landed a job at the hospital. Though I was constantly surrounded by medical professionals, my illness remained unanswered. The Rheumatologist had finally diagnosed me with Fibromyalgia in 2016. At this stage, my health was like a yo-yo, I would have 4-5 good days with manageable aches and pains and then 2-3 weeks of severe aches and pains that would prevent me from going to work. My attendance doesn’t look good at all. Yet, before I suffered from Fibromyalgia, I had never taken a sick day ever! One day of stress leave, yes… but that was because people at work made me go home when I went through a horrible breakup. This whole ordeal was far more heartbreaking than that breakup! And the worse part of it all is that people don’t actually believe that there is such a thing as Fibromyalgia. To them, I looked fine and functional, but there are days when I came to work, sitting quietly in the office, making the whole place smell like tiger balm because of how much I would use.

 

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