I woke up this morning feeling normal. My brain was working properly, my body didn’t ache, and I did not feel one bit tired. But why am I fricking telling you this? Isn’t it normal? As in everyone should be feeling like this, right? I would be very happy to tell you that it’s truly routine, but I unfortunately don’t have this pleasure. What usually happens goes a bit more like the following: I wake up tired, most likely caused by my insomnia, my brain is foggy, and I start feeling some painful impulses in my body. All of this is triggered by a chronic muscular pain syndrome (CMPS) which could one day become fibromyalgia. The explanation behind the uncertainty resides in how I fulfill the diagnosis, or more accurately how I do not.
Two years ago, I decided to schedule an appointment with my family physician to discuss some issues that concerned me. The main one was the almost sudden emergence of pain in parts of my body. It was always very localized, never widespread like a headache or a cramp. It felt like a burst of sharp electrical firing in places such as the side of my foot, my hip, the palm of my hand, the inside of my elbow, etc. I would describe the feeling to never spread more than one centimetre wide. The absence of reasonable explanation for the pain was making me worry.
After examination, my family physician concluded that it didn’t meet all the criteria necessary for a fibromyalgia diagnosis. Although she explained that the situation could develop further and worsen. If that is the case, there would be a strong chance that my condition would fulfill the last required criteria for fibromyalgia. She encouraged me to include physical stretching in my daily routine and to do some research (knowing that I am a trained physiologist) on CMPS and fibromyalgia. From her suggestion, I did some research. It was not only to familiarize myself with those disorders, but also to find more ways to help reduce the pain caused by CMPS. As for stretching, I am not proud to say that I didn’t follow her recommendation very strictly. I do stretch, but I am sadly not doing it every day. Most often it’s because I forget, or I don’t feel like it. However, the main reason is that it annoys me. I find it so boring that I feel it’s such an effortful job. I know, I know! I need it, but let’s just say that at this point I became really good at finding excuses for myself in order to avoid it.
Turns out that the idea of stretching is not that far-fetched. All the research papers examined were praising its benefit in treating fibromyalgia cases. So, I am probably really doing myself some important disfavour by not enforcing the practice. The reasoning behind its efficiency is however unclear. We actually have no clue what might cause the symptoms seen in fibromyalgia. There are only theories. Some people support that it’s triggered by an overexcitation of the glutamatergic neuronal pathways, others support that it’s caused by communication issues between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. Even if we don’t know what is at the root of the disorder, researchers are all agreeing on one thing. Fibromyalgia is a centralized disorder, which means that the central nervous system is at fault. By central nervous system I mean everything ranging from the spinal cord to the brain. This central nervous system is being oversensitive, and we yet do not understand why.
I know! You get it! Both fibromyalgia and CMPS are causing pain (read Bring Up Pain, for more information). Here’s a twist, though, it’s doing way more than messing up with your body, it’s also messing up with your head. The constant sleep disturbances and memory dysfunctions are probably my biggest troubles. As I mentioned at the very beginning, I do experience insomnia which has become more and more regular in the last few years. Usually, as soon as I would feel insomnia settling in, I would grab some melatonin which would consistently improve my sleeping capabilities. However, starting two months ago, I began experiencing insomnia every night and this lasted for a bit more than three consecutive weeks. From that moment on, melatonin would not seem to be working anymore. In the best course of action, I could fall asleep by midnight (I usually go to sleep around 9:30 p.m.-10 p.m.) and at worst, by 4 a.m. That means I got on average a good 6–7 hours of sleep every night, which doesn’t sound that bad. That’s if we’re not considering that a good night’s sleep, in my case, usually lasts 9–10 hours. This means that, by the third week, I was in a clear sleep deficit state.
Being sleep deprived does nothing good on the brain. It also seemed to worsen the memory dysfunction and the fatigue aspects of CMPS. Useless to say that trying to finish up my Master of Science in Physiology was challenging. For example, it took me two attempts to pass the mandatory course exams. The memory deficits were affecting me worse probably because I had learnt to strongly rely on it through many years spent in school. This has led me to develop severe performance anxiety that was best displayed in public speaking scenes. This was gut-wrenching since I loved public speaking, and still do actually despite the trouble. I would have taken twice, or even thrice, as much pain if it had meant retrieving my memory function and avoiding performance anxiety altogether. Now, I can’t even talk without stumbling on my words. It makes it seem as if I have no mastery of what I am introducing, and this genuinely pains me.
Oh well! I didn’t mean to be a drag. As far as I know, there is so much more you can learn about chronic pain syndromes and fibromyalgia. It is gaining awareness, but still, many ignore its impacts. This was my story and is by no means a complete overview of the chronic pain disorders. This was, however, a fair representation about my own experience with the disorder. I realize that my case is very mild, but some of you might not be as fortunate and thus my compassion goes to you. It is not easy for anyone to have to deal with such an awful situation, but luckily, we can find solace in knowing that we are not going through this alone.
Let’s also be conscious that there are quite a handful of promising treatments right now. There is much to be happy about. Additionally, if you really take care of yourself, you can seriously have some control over how worse it can get. That be yoga, meditation, stretching, antidepressants, marijuana (yes, that is correct!), acupuncture, diet change or others, it’s all yours to explore. I personally prefer yoga, meditation and diet change, or more specifically intermittent fasting (See Bring Up Intermittent Fasting). Despite not having had the pleasure to try acupuncture yet, I would definitely like to give it a shot someday.
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