Figuring Out Fibromyalgia

Stigma and disbelief are giving way to real answers about this debilitating condition.

Figuring Out Fibromyalgia
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You could accuse me of plenty of things (disorganization, obstinacy, being sports-obsessed), but hypochondria wouldn’t be one of them. Growing up with a mother who sent us kids to school unless she saw blood spared me that fate, and I’d always been healthy and active. So I was surprised when a strange string of ailments struck me after the birth of my first son in 2007. I fought a six-month sinus infection, a battle with C. difficile (a gut infection typically reserved for the elderly), an irritable bowel, constant lower-back pain and fitful sleep. I chalked it up to a mutiny in my new-mom immune system, thanks to the combination of no sleep and a germy infant.

But about 10 months ago, my regular Spinning class was full, so I popped into a body pump class. Even though I stuck to the lighter weights, for the next three days I felt sore in places I never knew existed. Nerves in my arms, neck and shoulders kept firing strange and painful signals—it felt like my body’s spark plugs had gone haywire.

An MRI I had during my protracted sinus infection had ruled out multiple sclerosis, so my doctor thought my symptoms might be stress- or anxiety-related and suggested I come back if they persisted or worsened. Next I consulted an orthopedic surgeon for my back pain. He suggested I stop “perseverating” on it because “you start to have more aches and pains as you age.” I’m 32. I tried another orthopedist, and she said it sounded kind of like fibromyalgia, a term I had rarely heard and certainly didn’t understand. A quick Google search showed a bunch of symptom matches—widespread pain and tender points in muscles, joints and tendons; chronic fatigue and sleep disruption; irritable bowel; numbness and tingling in the hands and feet; headaches and back pain; momentary memory problems (“fibro fog”) and depression.

Then, a few weeks later, I discovered I was pregnant again. Even if it was fibromyalgia, there wouldn’t be much in the way of medical interventions that I could safely try. Still, I had at least seven months to find out all I could about fibro, get a diagnosis and figure out an effective treatment. I set out to do just that.