What is Fibromyalgia you might ask? Well, for the uninformed or unfamiliar with the term, I can describe it shortly in one simple word: Pain.
If you want a more exhaustive answer, I can give that too, just grab a cup of coffee or a cold pint and sit down because here comes a wall of text!
According to “The Science of Fibromyalgia” for the FibroCollective, Fibromyalgia is classed as a disorder of pain processing due to abnormalities in how pain signals are processed in the central nervous system. In other words, our bodies have had a glitch and now send out pain signals telling us that we hurt all the time, and there is no way to debug it. Some days can be better than others, like a rollercoaster it has its ups and downs in intensity. Except that the rollercoaster is constantly on fire and about to derail and other minor inconveniences. Most often a period of particularly bad pain is often called a flare or a flare-up and can last from a few hours to days on end.
The American College of Rheumatology classifies fibromyalgia as being a functional somatic syndrome, while the expert committee of the European League Against Rheumatism classifies fibromyalgia as a neurobiological disorder. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) lists fibromyalgia as a diagnosable disease under “Diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue,” under the code M79-7, and states that fibromyalgia syndrome should be classified as a functional somatic syndrome rather than a mental disorder. However, in some countries such as Sweden, it is sometimes regarded as a psychosomatic syndrome instead. But it depends on which doctor looks at your journal since there are many different theories and methods to diagnose the disability both nationally and internationally. It was not all that long ago that many disregarded it as made up. Even my own father has had a hard time wrapping his head around the diagnose. When I called him up after years of trial and error by experts and being pinballed between hospitals, doctors, and examinations all he had to say was: “Oh, the bitch whining disease”. Thank you for the support dad!
But what does all of this mean? It means that the person affected, most often women (I am in the minority since I am a bloke) have chronic widespread pain, fatigue, and sleep disturbances. So I am in pain, tired, and drink copious amounts of coffee to just get through the day. And please do not try to cheer me up with physical contact, hugs hurt! It took my father-in-law years to stop clapping me on the shoulder every time we met and it always felt like he tried to chop my arm off. Of course, that was not his intention, then he would have hit me harder.
Other symptoms may include tingling of the skin, prolonged muscle spasms, weakness in the limbs, nerve pain, muscle twitching, palpitations, and functional bowel disturbances. So everything hurts, I am numb like if a body part just fell asleep, and sometimes I have to take a crap fast if I do not want to paint my pants brown since my stomach gets the signal to drop the bombs as quickly as possible. The list goes on and on, and sometimes it also differs between individuals. Some people can go to work even with chronic pain while others are so disabled that they barely can get out of bed. Another example is that some might need a wheelchair or mobility scooter to leave their homes to get some fresh air, buy groceries or visit friends and family. I on the other hand can walk relatively well or perhaps use a cane on bad days, mostly to keep my balance. The disability is invisible and relative to how we feel that day, but it is always there, lingering in the shadows ready to strike at any given moment.
Some days I can barely function as a human being. My head is just not in the game since I have what is so lovingly known as Fibrofog and can not think clearly, my joints are stiff and I hurt everywhere. Other days I feel almost fine, but I can never know how the day will develop. The morning could be awesome but the afternoon a living hell, with wee devils poking me everywhere with their tiny tridents. Most days I can only commit to one thing, like cooking dinner, walk the dog or just wake up and crawl out of bed. If we take the kids out to play, go shopping or just have dinner with friends and family, I am out of commission for about two to three days afterward.
But one can get “used” to it. I have been in both physical and mental therapy to learn how to live with my disabilities and how to handle day-to-day life. I am medicated but try to avoid becoming reliant on pain medication. Instead, I have muscle relaxers to help me sleep and avoid muscle spasms and cramp during the night. Sure, at times I have to take some of the stronger stuff, but then I am out for the day and it does not help against the pain, it just takes the edge off but shite still hurts.
I could go on and on about Fibromyalgia, but this is the gist of it. Everything hurts, but I am not dead yet, I just look that way. Or as I like to say; I am too old to be young anymore but still too young to get old just yet. And for everyone reading this, and who is affected by chronic illness, try to remember that YOU ARE NOT your disability. You are not your illness, your pain, or your exhaustion. You are an awesome individual with a disability. Chronic pain does not define you, it does not define me. I may not be able to work, but I am a father, a husband, and a bloody webcomic artist. I am creative, I can be funny as heck and I love those around me. We can make it through this, life does not end here. I am trying to become the best version of myself that I can be, and so can you!