The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines fibromyalgia as a common syndrome in which a person has long-term, body-wide pain and tenderness in the joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues. It goes further to state that fibromyalgia has also been linked to fatigue, sleep problems, headaches, depression, and anxiety.
Women between the ages of 20 and 50 are the most frequent sufferers of fibromyalgia, and like the humiliation and denial, we endured from the medical community when we first expressed the nature of our menstrual pains, we have had to put up with doctors telling us that the pains that come with fibromyalgia are emotional responses that are all in our minds. The causes of fibromyalgia are yet unknown and many doctors still don’t know enough about the syndrome to accurately diagnose it. Therefore, we have many patients suffering from FMS without knowing that there are remedies to alleviate the symptoms.
My symptoms of FMS began in my twenties when I was in college and became severe in my thirties. I am an anxious person by nature and as such I am given to worry, which leads to sleeplessness. I attribute the change from mild to severe fibromyalgia to my decision to change cities. In 1990 I relocated to Roanoke, Virginia to further my career, oblivious to the fact that racism was still overtly practiced in that part of America. For the first time in my life I was treated as a second class citizen. On the job, I was subject to crude sexual jokes about African-American women, not given an equal voice, and was strongly disliked for my upright and dignified existence. I was openly laughed at on the street for what I could only suspect was wearing all black, or it may have been as a result of my intolerance of the cold, for I had on all the trappings of cold weather. At a Pancake House, I was served pancakes dappled with roaches. And, at the Tanglewood Mall, I was refused service at a JC Penny’s perfume counter, ignored at a shoe store, and was made to wait in line, although I was next, while the white customers behind me were served first. Needless to state that living in Roanoke brought a remarkable amount of stress to my life; depression had set in and my anxiety grew without bounds.
It was during this time that abnormal body-wide pain and intense fatigue began to plague me, and I began the quest of finding the cause of my symptoms. To the doctors, I reported: migraines, skin rashes, sinus troubles, nausea, stomach pains, diarrhea, irregular periods, back pain, joint pain, numbness in my hands and feet, dizziness, insomnia, nervousness, difficulty with memory, and depression. I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a scoliosis, and depression. My distress was severe. I could not handle life in Roanoke, and suffered my first emotional breakdown. I quit my job, at the suggestion of my psychologist, and left Virginia for good. I have never been the same since.
After two years of recuperation, I found a part-time job in my home city which became a full-time position. Once again, on-the-job stress, depression, anxiety and body-wide pain became commonplace. Tardiness and absences and leaving work early, along with memory loss and moodiness, created conflicts on the job. My physical and emotional health took a turn for the worst and I began to see more and more doctors without successfully getting answers. The closest I came to a true diagnosis was, in the mid-nineties, when a wise doctor told me that all my health problems may be related.
Fibromyalgia is a syndrome not a disease. A syndrome, according to the Disease Center on the Arthritis Foundation’s website, is “a set of signs and symptoms that occur together with no known cause or identifiable reason.”
One of my doctors recommended physical therapy and during the course of a treatment, the therapist asked me to lie on my side. She then searched my hip area and pressed. I have never experienced such a sensation of pain! Pressing that spot had set my brain on fire, and I screamed as if I were poked with a hot spear . She had recognized my symptoms and tested her theory which was later proven. She recommended that I see a rheumatologist .
We know that rheumatologists specialize in arthritis, but many are unaware that they are the doctors you seek for FMS cases. Where fibromyalgia is not truly arthritis, rheumatologists are skilled in the treatment of joint and soft-tissue ailments and chronic body-wide pain, putting FMS under the auspices of their care.
Finding a doctor skilled in the knowledge of fibromyalgia today is not as hard as when I began my search, but if you suspect that you may have FMS, consult your physician and request a referral to a rheumatologist.
What the physical therapist knew and what I was unaware of is that one symptom of fibromyalgia is the presence of painful tender points on different parts of the body. 18 points have been identified, and to be diagnosed with FMS, the patient must have pain in at least 11 of those 18 points. As luck would have it, I was 18 for 18. I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2002 after suffering its debilitating effects for over 10 years.