fibromyalgiaIn my experience, people are often surprised when they receive a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. The symptoms include chronic pain, sleep disturbances, morning stiffness, fatigue, difficulty thinking and concentrating, numbness or tingling in hands and feet, physical tenderness, and stomach problems. Most people dealing with fibromyalgia have struggled to make sense of the confusing mix of symptoms, wondering how it all fits together.

This combination of symptoms may not make sense in relation to how you see yourself, or you may not know others who have had similar issues. I’ve heard comments like “I didn’t think that was a real condition” or “I thought that only happened to people with poor coping skills.” Given that these comments came from real people with fibromyalgia, it’s not surprising that many people without these physical challenges do not understand the physical and emotional issues that come with it. Sadly, until very recently even many doctors did not consider this a real condition.

Fortunately, substantial research efforts are making headway in the understanding of fibromyalgia and how to effectively treat it. While there is no one causative factor, we do know that fibromyalgia often begins with physical injury, emotional distress, trauma, or even viral infections such as the Epstein-Barr virus. We also know that there are several differences in the minds and bodies of individuals with fibromyalgia, including fewer opioid receptors, increased rates of sleep cycling, lower levels of important neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine and cortisol, and up to three times the normal level of “substance P” (a neuropeptide involved in the communication of pain). Clearly, fibromyalgia is a real medical condition. Given these changes in the body, it also makes sense that anxiety, depression, and substance use may also accompany fibromyalgia.

Naturally, struggling with these issues and their effect on your life is challenging and takes its toll over time. Since the symptoms involved in fibromyalgia overlap with many other conditions, it can take a long time of living with discomfort and unpredictability before an accurate diagnosis is made. By this time, you may feel confused, misunderstood and frustrated.

Recovering your life is possible, although it does require arming yourself with knowledge, support, patience, and a change in strategies. I can work with you to understand your symptoms, learn how to engage effectively with your physician, and create a plan to support a healing sleep, diet, and exercise program. In addition, developing stress reduction techniques and learning cognitive behavioral strategies are proven ways of managing your symptoms. These all provide an important foundation to begin your healing. However, working with any anxiety, depression, or trauma that has become part of the picture is often the most reassuring step—and the one that really starts bringing the joy and freedom back into your life.

I look forward to getting to know you and helping you get your life back.