staying active

How I Kicked Fibromyalgia

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Back in high school, during grade 11, I developed fibromyalgia. It took a while before it was diagnosed — primarily by process of eliminating other illnesses — and by the summer before grade 12, I was diagnosed and in a fair bit of pain. In university, I managed to get an appointment with a specialist who had studied it extensively, which was rare; at that time, family doctors barely knew what it was and there weren’t very many doctors who even really understood fibromyalgia. The specialist told me it was chronic. I’d have it for the rest of my life. The best thing I could do was exercise. Exercise! I could barely move some days! Did he have any idea how much my muscles hurt?!? He replied saying “Be as active as you can. The only person I know who was cured of fibromyalgia became an exercise fanatic.”

Exercise fanatic? I thought he was nuts. There was no way I could exercise, I was in so much pain from my tight muscles.

But, stay active I did, mostly out of necessity. I was a starving student, and couldn’t afford a bus pass, so I walked about 40 blocks per day to university and back. One term, I was able to fit the free skate into my schedule 3 times a week, so I did that. I liked getting my blood pumping, and it really helped me burn stress. Yup, I was sore afterwards, but the stress-burning was worth it.

I took extra courses in my second year of university, which didn’t help matters. With classes and labs and the extra course — a choir I was in for credit — I was a very busy gal. The fibromyalgia got worse, and by the end of that year, I was quite a wreck. Third year, I made a change of pace. I took on the job of Production Editor of The Gateway, which meant only 2 classes but a lot of other work and very late nights. I enjoyed it immensely and didn’t feel quite a bad physically. The specialist had warned me that the first 5 years would be the worst. I was only into year 4. I also got a work term in Ottawa for 6 months, so that gave me a needed break from classes.

The last two years of university are a bit of a blur. Then one day, while walking home from my job in Sudbury, I realized: I don’t hurt anymore. I feel great! I made it past those 5 years and I’m not living in constant pain anymore! Looking back, I realize there were a few things I did that helped reduce my pain, and if you’ve been diagnosed with this muscle-fibre disorder, there’s hope! In addition to treatments your doctor may recommend, try these tips and see if they help:

1. Remove extra electrical influences. The first 2 years or so in University, I had a waterbed. I loved it — it was always warm, and with the fibromyalgia, the heat felt wonderful. I kept it cranked pretty much year-round, max heat. I don’t think the electrical field from the heating unit was good for me. Later, I moved on to an electric blanket, which I would sleep on top of, or under. I loved it too, but it wasn’t until I ditched it — I think I was afraid of a bed-fire — that I started to feel much better. I don’t know if the heat helped or hindered, but I think it was the electrical fields that were really harming me.

2. Eat less-processed foods. When I was a starving student, I thought about food differently. I ate whatever I had. I got eggs from my parents, and my typical breakfast was 2 eggs, scrambled, cooked in my microwave with a slice of processed cheese on top. Lunch was whatever I had, supper the same, or nothing, and rarely any produce. A few times, I got groceries from a food bank to get me through, for which I’m very grateful. But it was all canned or otherwise processed — SPAM is nasty! Only when I got a good job after graduating and was able to stop adding-as-I-went while grocery shopping did I start to really improve.

3. Stay active. Yes, there were times I hurt so hard I could barely get out of bed. Lots of times. But I still went to classes, walked a lot, went up and down stairs, and even did a little actual exercise. Since I was consistently active, when I felt better, I just naturally did more, until I realized one day that I was doing lots and not hurting. I even joined a dragonboat team in Sudbury (and later, in Edmonton), and if you want to feel the burn and work so hard you feel like throwing up, dragonboating is the way to go! Doesn’t that sound like a blast!?! Well, it really was! I am well beyond the tentative movements of a fibromyalgia sufferer. I am cured!

These days, I canoe and kayak a lot (over 800 km this summer!), walk a lot to do errands around town, cross-country ski and skate in winter (although I’m usually pretty sore after the first time of the season, but I consider that normal!), and even occasionally swim. I did a 10-km run a couple of years ago, but decided I don’t like running that much, so I don’t. 🙂 I do what I enjoy! I’ve done a bit of t’ai chi, yoga, and pilates. Find something you think is fun — belly dancing, curling, jumping on a trampoline,* even simply stretching — and do that! Get rid of extra stress in your life. Be very careful about how you talk to yourself. Be positive and treat yourself well!

One last point: Do not doubt the power of the mind. That doctor told me that someone had been cured. At the time, I didn’t think it was possible, but he planted the seed. That seed grew and I took his advice to stay active and I consciously decided I wouldn’t let it stop me from doing anything I wanted to. I did a 3-day hike around the back of Mount Robson. I could have said “oh, I’d better not, I can’t. I’ll hurt too much.” Nope, I did it anyway, and yes, it hurt a bit, but I don’t even remember the pain now. I just remember the feeling of accomplishment and fun with friends.

So try this to harness the power of your mind: Once a day for at least 5 minutes, think about the cells in your body as smiling. Just beaming from ear to ear! Each cell is completely happy and getting exactly what it needs. Bask in this feeling and try to remember it throughout your day.

I’d love to hear how you feel after trying the other 3 tips as well! Even if you just have ordinary aches and pains, give them a try and let me know in the comments! Removing extra electrical fields and changing the food you eat will give almost-instant results. Getting more active may take a couple of weeks to start showing the benefits.

*In my experience, if you decide to start rebounding, start slow! Adult bodies aren’t as flexible and resilient as children’s, so take it easy at first! Of course, corporations always say to “talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program,” but you can also just start slow and give yourself days off in between exercise and increase from there.