One year ago today I was diagnosed (albeit tentatively) with fibromyalgia.


Prepare for a long post.


Many people don't know about fibromyalgia beyond hearing it mentioned on some medication commercials. I know I sure had no idea what it meant. Did you know, for instance, that 5 million American adults alone are affected by this chronic disease, or that 80-90% of those people are women? (https://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/Fibromyalgia/fibromyalgia_ff.asp)


For me, fibromyalgia looks like: dizziness, chronic pain (especially in trigger/tender points like hips, back of neck, etc.), burning sensations, tingling, "fibro fog" (which affects memory/ability to concentrate), need for mobility assistance when walking any more than just around the apartment or when standing for a while (i.e. my cane), chronic fatigue, exhaustion, trouble staying asleep, nausea, light sensitivity, anxiety, and depression. (To name a few symptoms.)


Those with anxiety and/or depression are more likely to have fibromyalgia, as well as those who were abused as a child or adolescent. The first two questions the neurologist asked me confirmed that I had all of the above, which set him on the track to test for trigger/tender points. (http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20345635,00.html) They're not sure what the exact cause of the disease is, though recent theories have included the way the brain is wired during childhood and adolescence due to abuse, or chronic sleep deprivation, or a genetic predisposition. Hell, maybe it's a combination of all three. There is currently no cure, but certain medications and home remedies can be combined to help ease the symptoms. I'm lucky enough to be on Gabapentin, which alleviates much of the trouble associated with my condition. My disability is a fact of my life, but management is such a relief. I'm lucky, too, in that my pregnancy has gone so well even with a reduction in my medication to keep my baby as unexposed to medication as possible. Many women's symptoms worsen during pregnancy, and it was definitely a concern of mine.


I first showed symptoms on October 24th, 2015--the day I woke up to take the GRE Lit exam to apply to PhD programs. Many go undiagnosed for months or years because fibromyalgia can seem like other diseases, or because doctors don't believe that the symptoms warrant further investigation. (Often, a disbelief in female pain/the severity of female pain has been cited as one reason doctors don't investigate further.) In my experience, I had doctors insist I was pregnant (a full year before that would be a reality), insist that it was "just" my anxiety/depression, and insist that I just needed to go out for coffee and not be so stressed. Clearly, though, there was something real and physical at work beyond my usual difficulties with stress and mental illness. (Also, can I just say--having been pregnant now, the symptoms I experienced early on in fibromyalgia, like dizziness and memory issues, were nothing like my early pregnancy symptoms. Just as a point of clarification.)


All of this to say: I'm so happy, one year on, that the medication has mostly kept fibro flare-ups at bay, that I'm able to manage (granted, with the help of a cane and medication), and that I'm able to be pregnant without sacrificing my health. If you don't know about fibromyalgia, I hope that this has illuminated one person's experience with the condition. Please feel encouraged to do further research and learn more. May 12th, for instance, is Fibromyalgia Awareness Day.


And how can you support someone you know with fibromyalgia? Believe them. Listen to them. Acknowledge that some days, or most days, or all days will have limits for them, and that those limits will fluctuate depending on the demands of their body. And help others understand that this condition is real and chronic and that there's no "fix" for it in the foreseeable future.


My original post about my diagnosis: http://roosterteeth.com/post/51202503


ETA: Also relevant: One of the ways I dealt with not having a diagnosis, and then the diagnosis itself, was writing poetry: http://www.lunalunamagazine.com/blog/poetry-by-audrey-t-carroll