Dancing with chronic pain…

I posted this as a reply to a post here but decided I should make this a full blog entry in its own right.

The reason why I started seeking help from my bipolar disorder in the first place was because my fibromyalgia symptoms became so severe and the resulting depression was crippling.

I was diagnosed with fibro in 2008, but I’m pretty sure issues starting popping up in 2002 when I got a severe and prolonged case of mononucleosis (a.k.a. glandular fever).

According to fibromodem: “The common denominator with all chronic conditions (not just FM): those who are diagnosed with them tend to feel isolated: mentally and physically. It’s a huge blow to learn you will forever have an incurable syndrome that may affect mobility, lifestyle and independence.”

As I’ve mentioned before, dealing with these types of issues can be very difficult, and when I was replying to NZ Cate with some suggestions for surviving her first fibro winter, I realized I have assorted a very long list of tips and tricks that I use that I wanted to share here:

I live on the east coast of the US in Maryland. We have warmer winters now than when I was a kid, but temperatures can dip down to the teens in Fahrenheit. I do find that cold (and damp cold especially) make my pain worse. But it is not really the temperature. I can actually be in more pain on a 50 degree rainy day than a 32 day that is crisp. I actually think it has more to do with changes in temperature (so the lead up to winter hurts me more) and especially barometric pressure (like the lead up to a storm). [...]

As far as helpful hints, of course everyone is different, but here are some things I’ve been doing (and tweaking) for years. [...] I use a heated blanket with various settings. I find that is it much better than a simple heating pad since it is all over and easier to use. I imagine a hot water bottle would also work (or a warm dog or cat!), but I find weight to aggravate my pain. Even layers of blankets will kill me, or the weight of my ankles touching. I use multiple pillows to wedge under pressure points–ankles, knees, hips, shoulders (I sleep on my side), and head. I also use three different foam pads stacked on my bed to make it softer and to get me farther away from the springs.

While I need to get enough sleep, too much laying around also gets me stiff, so some gentle yoga stretches can help. I also drink ginger tea to warm me up, and bi-weekly massage therapy to improve circulation (when I can afford it). Arnica gel is another natural pain reliever that I use, and peppermint essential oil. I also occasionally use a fabric compression brace on my hand and wrist.

But even with all of that, eventually my pain got too severe (related to stress, I think, beginning last November), and after thinking about it for a long time, I finally decided to try a medication. Starting on March 1st, I take 30mg of Cymbalta once a day. Most of my pain has vanished, but on damp days, cold snaps, or other temperature or weather changes, I still have pain. Cymbalta has a list of side-effects as long as my arm (which is why I waited so long to start it), and for the first two weeks, I was pretty sick with nausea,]extreme sleepiness,] dizziness, and still have dry-mouth (which can mess up your teeth). I’m doing well now.

Pretty well. I’m not sure if my cycles just started getting more frequent on their own or if the Cymbalta had something to do with that, but in any case, I have “episodes” about twice a month now.

I have decided to keep a sleep journal, charting when I sleep and how much as that is usually an indicator of where I am on the mood scale. And after reading this post by Sarah in Seattle along with the comments, I have started adding some descriptors of my moods.

I’m hoping the combination of educating myself and charting my symptoms will better assist me and my doctor in treatment.

If you have fibro, or really any type of chronic illness, I would highly suggest keeping up with blogs (and maybe even starting one or journaling) for two reasons:

1) Seeing what others are doing, not doing, dealing with, coping with, etc. was an incredible help to me. I feel much more connected now, and I’ve only been at this about a week.

2) You will potentially see a much bigger picture and patterns may emerge when you are charting and tracking things that may have escaped your notice otherwise.

In any case, I wish you more good days than bad!

Tiffany Santos - Find me on Bloggers.com

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