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Learning how to cope with a chronic affliction

I have fibromyalgia, a syndrome most people know little about. Recently it has gotten attention due to pharmaceutical advertising.

It can be difficult to diagnose. I suffered with pain, stiffness and overpowering exhaustion for years. I complained to my then primary doctor several times and twice he told me to lose weight and another time he said I needed physical therapy.

Life became a daily struggle. A dwelling pain, deep tightness in my muscles and overall weariness became the norm for me. It came in waves. It worsened with stress. My symptoms were unpredictable and I didn't know what made it worse or better. Since I worked in the health field I suspected I had fibromyalgia, but I didn't realize at the time how little I actually knew about it. I decided to see a highly recommended rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in autoimmune disorders, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. After reviewing X-rays and bloodwork and having several long conversations with me, he diagnosed me with fibromyalgia.

It wasn't until I did research and talked with a chiropractor that I learned what fibromyalgia is comprised of. I learned that TMJ, irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, inability to concentrate, low energy, menstrual problems, depression and brain fog were all part of the syndrome that stole my vitality. I was astonished to find out so many of my health issues were actually a part of having fibromyalgia; I thought I just had a lot of problems. The continual physical and mental tiredness and everyday deep pain within my back and neck were the most debilitating ailments. I felt my health spiraling downhill.

This illness cannot be cured. Traditional medicine recommends antidepressants, pain killers, muscle relaxants and synthetic sleep aids. No one particular medication treats all the symptoms. I have heard too much and seen too much about the negative effects prescription drugs can leave on a person.

I have researched numerous reliable sources and replaced the primary doctor with one doctor who listens and actively participates in my health. I see the rheumatologist regularly and he respects my decision not to take drugs. He referred me to a spinal rehab specialist who uses gentle manipulation to release muscle knots and realign my spine. I am learning to manage the syndrome without drugs.

I have found relief with acupuncture, vitamins and minerals, nutrition, private Pilates instruction, chiropractic, massage therapy and natural topical pain relievers. Chinese herbs, recommended by a certified herbologist, have immensely helped to restore my life. They reduce muscle stiffness, help me sleep soundly, control menstrual problems, revive energy and improve my disposition. Journaling and taking steps to heal from past trauma have been an important part of the process.

My symptoms have greatly lessened in severity to the point that I've regained my focus on most days and can get more things done. While the stiffness persists in my neck and back, the intensity of pain is less, my concentration is better, and I'm feeling almost normal again. It's all a learning process.

Anyone with chronic health issues knows it can be life disrupting. I encourage you to take responsibility for your own health, to learn all you can about your illness and discover how holistic health care, nutrition, and knowledge can help you be well again. What have you got to lose?

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Joanie Patchett of Amherst admires alternative options for getting and staying well.

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