I’ll never forget the first time my fibromyalgia got seriously brought up. It was, of all people, my psychiatrist. He was treating me for depression and anxiety, and from day one I had brought up how tired I was and how much difficulty I had sleeping. Even after a full night’s rest I was unbelievably tired. I later found out that he had suspicions of fibromyalgia from the beginning, but it was another year before he said it out loud.
I was put on a medication for my anxiety which happened to also be used for fibromyalgia. I was looking for it to make me less anxious, but that wasn’t exactly what happened. When I returned for my follow-up, I tried to explain what had been happening. I told him how I didn’t feel so beaten up after an eight-hour shift on my feet, how I didn’t cringe at the thought of pushing the vacuum around, how I actually had more energy, and I just felt well. He kind of smiled and said, “I think you have fibromyalgia, and you finally got some relief from the pain.” It was an almost casual statement — but it changed everything.
No less than four doctors told me I have fibromyalgia before I accepted it. For years I pushed myself too hard, too fast, too far — and my body paid the price. I looked so healthy; there was nothing wrong with me. Sure, I found every chair miserably uncomfortable and couldn’t pick up a cup without hurting, but so what? Sure, I was extremely fatigued for absolutely no reason, but everyone is tired, right? I had excuses for everything. But eventually, I had to relent, because I realized I was scared to accept the truth:
I had a medical condition that limited my life, and no one would ever be able to see it.
When I was diagnosed, it was a bit surreal. I found out both my mother and grandmother had it, which in part helped me realize I wasn’t just “making things up” like I sometimes felt I was. It was the first real physical condition I had ever been diagnosed with, and I didn’t like the idea that there was something “broken” about me that couldn’t be fixed. You see, I knew there was no cure for fibromyalgia, so I tried to live in denial. Denial is a waste of energy, but it’s part of the human condition. Being diagnosed seemed so permanent, so I denied it for as long as I could.
Once it became a fact in my head, I started researching every conceivable treatment. I was convinced that with the right diet, or supplement, or whatever, I could just be “normal.” I tried it all, and when it didn’t work I just kept researching. I burned through more medical journals than the average physician. Surely there was something… right? While there is no cure, there are many things that can help people manage their fibromyalgia. But it will always be management — nothing makes it magically go away. I wish I hadn’t spent so much time making myself miserable trying to “fix it.” I wish I had been kinder to myself, and cut myself some slack.
Any new medical diagnosis can leave your head spinning. It can be a relief, it can be scary, it can be anything and everything. But the most important thing is not to be hard on yourself and not to let your brain convince you that you have done something wrong. It’s not your fault that you have a medical condition — you didn’t do anything wrong. It’s OK to feel anything and everything, because there is no wrong way to react. Being diagnosed with fibromyalgia meant accepting certain limitations, but also embracing the things I could do. It meant having a guide to understanding myself. And understanding yourself is the first step to living the fullest life possible.