Fibromyalgia Awareness Day is May 12

Fibromyalgia Affects Everyone

Are you familiar with Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia (pronounced fy-bro-my-AL-ja) is a common and complex chronic pain disorder that affects people physically, mentally and socially. Fibromyalgia is a syndrome rather than a disease. Unlike a disease, which is a medical condition with a specific cause or causes and recognizable signs and symptoms, a syndrome is a collection of signs, symptoms, and medical problems that tend to occur together but are not related to a specific, identifiable cause. –the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA)

Although the cause is unknown, possible triggers may include severe physical or emotional trauma. It has certainly been my anecdotal experience that childhood trauma is often a precursor for the development of fibromyalgia (as well as many other physical problems). As I have written about previously, migraines, chronic pain, arthritis, chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome are also prevalent among those who have experienced childhood abuse. Another possible trigger is not getting enough sleep. This is certainly a common issue for those who were abused as children! Sleep disruption is one of the issues clients present with most consistently at the beginning of treatment.

I am in no way the same as saying that fibromyalgia does not exist in its own right or is “all in your head”. Too many women have had their physical complaints minimized when seeking treatment. That is why raising awareness is so important.

Do you suffer with fibromyalgia? What was your experience like getting diagnosed and treated for it? Do others understand it?

Do you see it linked to prior trauma?

Do you have any other chronic medical conditions or symptoms that you see as connected to childhood trauma? Have you addressed these? What has helped? What has not?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and input!

More information on Coping with Fibromyalgia

Kathleen Young, Psy.D.

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20 Responses to Fibromyalgia Awareness Day is May 12

  1. Sabra says:

    I’ve noticed that when I’m faced with huge amounts of stress or emotional trauma my body reacts violently, muscle pain, joint pain, migraines, nausea, exhaustion. It’s possible that childhood abuse plays a role, thinking back about the most stressful times of my childhood included my father’s heavy drinking (which was followed by being tortured by him) and my mother’s extreme hatred of me, esp after my brother was born (followed by being tortured by her). I don’t use the word “abuse” because what they did to me was along the lines of things that POWs have encountered. Being denied food, being over-fed, denied proper footwear, clothing, medical care. Beatings with whatever was handy, being made to kneel on a broomstick with me holding my arms held up at shoulder height for hours. Psychological torture.

    I’ve never been diagnosed with Fibro, but I’m pretty sure that’s what I’ve got…lack of medical insurance prevents me from seeking treatment. I try to keep myself as stress free as possible these days. It’s a work in progress.

    • kyoungpsyd says:

      Thanks for posting, Sabra!

      It really get why you use the term torture, that sounds very apt. Heartbreakingly so. When I think about what you’ve shared, and what I’ve heard from others, I so understand why there are all sorts of physical ramifications. Of course such ongoing and repeated trauma impacts the mind and body! How could it not? In some ways it is like the body remembers what went before in times of high stress…

      You also make a really good point about current stress and how it activates symptoms. What do you find helps with managing stress?

      Lastly, the insurance situation is a national travesty! That should be the last thing anyone has to worry about when dealing with these issues.

  2. Bette McVey says:

    Definitely, I have noticed that Fibromyalgia is linked to childhood abuse. I was severely abused as a child and have developed a multitude of chronic pain symptoms including Fibro.

    I was also involved in a domestic violence relationship in my first marriage. Interestingly, when I have had to battle with my abusive ex-husband my Fibro always gets triggered.

    Also, I worked as a counselor at a domestic violence agency, and while I was there, I found that not only did many of the women have histories of childhood abuse, but they suffered with Fibro as well.

    To my knowledge there is no known cure for Fibro, and when I tried to find treatments to limit the pain I had no real luck. What I did realize,however, was that the amount of crippling pain I experienced was in direct correlation to the amount of stress (particularly linked to triggers of childhood abuse) I was experiencing at the time.

    One theory is that some chronic pain is yet another way for our minds to distract us from dealing with some of the emotions we may not be ready to deal with yet. Perhaps it is a warning sign that we are getting overloaded or flooded, and that we need to find a way to ground ourselves.

    lisam719

    • kyoungpsyd says:

      Hi Bette! Thanks for your input!

      Thanks for the reminder that often survivors may have had more than one sort of traumatic experience! It makes sense that all sorts of things got triggered in your DV relationship.

      Check out the pain management suggestions on the blog I link to at the end of my post, some great ideas there if you haven’t already tried them.

      Your last point is one I will continue to ponder: does the physical pain serve to distract/protect the mind from emotional pain? Interesting question!

  3. MeMyself&Who says:

    I’ve had Fibro and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since I was a baby so it’s hard to say if it’s strictly trauma. I know there is a lot of research out there about trauma/stress effects on pregnancy so slowly more an more I’m realizing that my being given up for adoption might have played a role (I can’t entirely imagine how hard that would have been! Major stress and trauma). So all that was there before any of the other trauma happened. Who knows?
    I was 23 when I finally got diagnosed. I knew around age 15 or 16 exactly what was wrong with me but all the doctors I went to told me that was an “old lady” disease and they could prevent that from happening. Around age 12 was when it started getting really bad but my pediatrician told me I was just depressed, which really made me mad. I didn’t feel listened to at all.
    Some people around me understand it and are willing to learn, I’ve learned not to waste my time with those who don’t.
    Treatment has taken a long time because so many doctors told me I wasn’t exercising enough (ok, I was in team gymnastics until I finally had to quite at 15 because I hurt so much what else did they want me to do? ), they told me I slept to0 much (because I didn’t get up until late afternoon 1) I was a teen 2) I couldn’t fall asleep til the early am, if I slept at all 3) I wake up multiple times in the night (will be getting a sleep study soon I hope but pretty sure I rarely if ever get into the deeper restorative states of sleep, classic Fibro!). Luckily, I live in the same area with one of the leading researchers so when I finally got diagnosed I got to go to one of his conferences. I learned about graded exercise and that has made a HUGE difference. I’ve been free of daily medication for several years now.
    I’m still on the look out for a better doctor because even though my current one believes me she doesn’t do that great a job listening to what I need and trusting that I know myself (she doesn’t trust me I guess is what I mean. She’s afraid to prescribe certain things because she’s afraid I’ll get addicted or abuse them, even though I have no history of that and I’m cautious about taking them myself.)

    • kyoungpsyd says:

      Hi MM&W, thanks for joining in the conversation!

      It is really frustrating when MDs aren’t able to recognize that you are the expert on yourself!

      It sounds like you have made some real progress in managing the Fibro symptoms. Good luck with the sleep study!

      Interesting what you describe about the early onset. And yes I certainly can see adoption as traumatic, even though if it was early enough you cannot access that through verbal memory. Maybe that is what gets stored in the body?

      • MeMyself&Who says:

        One of my therapists tried to explain how much impact it could have had on me but it wasn’t quite getting through. Then a few months ago PBS had this great program on called “Stress: Portrait of a Killer” and they talked about the impact of stress on the developing fetus. It made a little more sense after that. (that program was really awesome in general and I made a lot of connections to trauma, PTSD, etc.)

  4. Dying to live says:

    I’ve never thought about Fibromyalgia and childhood abuse, although my father is and always has been an emotional abuser, and it has caused me no end of stress throughout my life. I no longer talk to my father, I haven’t in years now, with the exception of the occasional hello at a family wedding or funeral.
    I suspect now that my fathers emotional abuse and the divorce of my parents was the beginning of something very ugly for me.

    My experience with the physical aspects of Fibromyalgia has been long in the making, I would guess nearly 20 years now. I started with one nagging spot in my back that I could never get rid of, this was in the late 80’s. Over time other spots popped up, and ever so slowly I found myself with great difficulty doing things I liked to do, such as yard work, and many fun things. I got to the point where I sometimes couldn’t go to work because I couldn’t make the walk from my home to the BART station which was one block away. I had such tremendous pain in my lower back I could barely walk. It took me around 15 years to reach this point. It became such a problem that it finally occurred to me that something was wrong. It’s amazing how something can creep up on you over the years and you don’t really realize that it’s not “normal” to feel this way. I finally discussed it with my primary doctor and was diagnosed within 4 months. I was very fortunate that he had done a residency or internship with a Fibromyalgia specialist. I was stunned by the diagnoses to say the least.

    Along with and before the physical pain I had recurring depression, with two suicide attempts 20 years apart. The depression was finally connected to Dysthymia and life events that double whammied me. The last one took me 4 years to come out of, not without being one tiny step away from shock treatment. None of the antidepressants were working for me, it was 4 long, agonizing years of nothing but trying to survive.

    I have always felt that my Fibromyalgia is connected to stress and depression, which of course come from somewhere else. I’ve found that as I age my ability to manage my stress has decreased and my reaction to stress has increased. What I do now is quickly move away from events that make me feel upset or irritable, as this is a first clue that something’s not right for me. If it’s something that I have to deal with I try to deal with it head on quickly and let it go as soon as possible. I try not to fret about the small stuff so much, and ask myself this “will this really matter in a few years?” The answer is usually no, so why stress about it then.

    What bothers me about public awareness and Fibromyalgia is that a Fibromyalgia patient can appear perfectly fine, even when we’re feeling like crap. It not only affects us physically, but it affects our ability to focus, concentrate, sleep, be happy, and on and on. For myself one tiny change in barometric pressure will start a chain reaction in my body that can take days to months to recover from. Aside from all the medications, I’ve found that the only truly helpful thing I can do to assist in recovering from a flare-up is to sleep. Sleep has become my best friend now, and yet something so hard to come by.

    I Hope I haven’t carried on too much here, but Fibromyalgia Syndrome is an absolutely insidious illness that I wouldn’t even wish on my worse enemy!

    • kyoungpsyd says:

      DtL-

      Thanks so much for sharing your experiences! How great that your doctor had that expertise! Also sadly true that one can get used to all sorts of pain as if it is “normal”.

      I am nodding about the depression-Fibro link…sort of a chicken and egg conundrum there! Some people do get depressed just from trying to cope with chronic pain.

  5. msusangaye says:

    So much more needs to be publicized about the possible psychological and emotional links with fibromyalgia- so glad to see this here. Only recently have I been researching this linkage for myself. I was diagnosed with it along with rheumatoid and severe polyosteoarthritis 8 years ago. However, the fibromyalgia symptoms started long before this and were misdiagnosed since I was in my late 20’s(I am now 58). I certainly know that stress; lack of regenerative sleep, diet, as well as a lack of non-weight bearing exercise exacerbates my symptoms with all three.

    In looking at this, I wonder about an early life trauma I suffered and the onset of Fibromyalgia. At age 5, I was less than 3 feet from my best little friend when he was crushed to death by a large truck. In fact, I was trying to grab him away from the vehicle as it ran over him and nearly crushed, myself. I developed several aniety related problems including panic attacks thereafter. I became agoraphobic and would not attend school. I actually did not remember this event for many years until I reached my mid-twenties. During a visit home to see my folks at that time, my mother and I got into a conversation about the panic attacks as I had begun to have them again. She mentioned my friend’s death during this conversation and the whole event flooded back to me. I had no recollection of it prior to this conversation even though I was in therapy as a child after this happened.

    Over the next few years, the Fibromyalgia commenced. I also had developed degenerative disk disease and had two back surgeries. I think this link is a very real possibility for me. Luckily, I finally found a fantastic rhumatologist that utilizes both western and eastern medical models as well as nutrition in her practice and am doing quite well with not only the Fibromyalgia, but the two forms of arthritis I have. Accupuncture, self-hypnosis, meditation, appropriate exercise programs and dietary restrictions along with some medications have been very effective. I did have a rough time during menopause but have bounced back to a good level of pain management and mobility at its completion. Luckily, I have remained active even with many years of chronic pain.

    • kyoungpsyd says:

      I love what you are saying, msusangaye, about combining eastern and western medicine. I have wondered about the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating Fibro! Good point too that new life phases (like menopause) can bring renewed challenges!

      What a horrible traumatic event! And that certainly can be how it works, that such things get blocked out for a time. I hope having access to it again now can be a help in your healing!

  6. Dying to live says:

    Msusangaye, you bring up very good points regarding exercise and diet. I can definitely tell the difference from both. It took me a long time to figure out that certain foods make me feel worse, in fact I’m still working on that one. Too much red meat is for sure one, as is too many carbs.

    It’s also interesting that when I think back I recall several traumatizing events in my childhood. Nothing as dramatic as yours, but it seems like there was a steady stream of them, mostly surrounding my father. I was depressed and anxious even as a child.

    Just my opinion of course, but I think there’s so much more involved with Fibromyalgia than is published that it’s almost misleading in many ways.

    • MeMyself&Who says:

      Same here, red meat, carbs, and sugar. I can only have red meat in very small and infrequent amounts or my stomach literally will not digest it, just sits there like a brick suffocating my stomach. (the only thing that helps is a small amount of cayenne pepper or making sure I have loads of fruits or veggies before)
      Oddly I discovered cherries, like loads of them, sometimes help my pain. I’m so looking forward to cherry season.

  7. Tears says:

    Thank you again, Kathe, for posting on such a vital issue.

    I was diagnoses in 1993 when the pain in my legs was so great I could barely walk much less sleep. I have had disc problems since I was 12 and the doctors thought the pain in my legs was related to the discs but nothing helped until one wise specialist started asking questions and decided to treat the two pain issues separately. I no longer take the sleep medication I was given at the time because as a recovering addict I need to be mindful of what medications I take and why.

    My relationship with my boss is most affected by my bad Fibro days; he thinks I should be happy and smiley and energetic each morning and that ain’t happening! He knows of my conditions but he just doesn’t get it. I think the pain is not visible enough for him.

    I also have chronic pain as it relates to my herniated discs, arthritis in my back, SI joint dislocations, migraines, Restless Body Syndrome and ‘stuck trauma’. I use chiropractic (Network Spinal Analysis) to deal with the spine pain and Cranial Sacral Therapy and Reiki to deal with the stuck trauma pain. These last two therapies help me to connect back with my body; they provide opportunities to release the memories of my traumatic past and to let the body finally heal.

    What does not help is the self medicating/drug abuse I have done all my life. I thought if one pill helped surely three would be wonderful! But what I forgot was the regular withdrawals just made the pain that much worse. I now know I have to face the pain, thank the pain even for letting me know something is wrong and ask the pain to let me know what needs to be fixed. It sound hokey I know but for me it works. For example, I have learned I hold my abandonment issues in my left shoulder blade. Whenever I feel that pain, that sharp, knife in the back pain to where I can not lift my arm up high enough to get dressed I simply ask myself, “are you feeling abandoned?” The guttural response that follows is usually an indication of a problem or memory that needs to be addressed.

    • kyoungpsyd says:

      Thank you for posting Tears!

      This really jumped out at me:

      “I now know I have to face the pain, thank the pain even for letting me know something is wrong and ask the pain to let me know what needs to be fixed. It sound hokey I know but for me it works.”

      I think that is fascinating and something I know others have experienced as well: that listening to the pain can tell them about unresolved issues.

      So no, not “hokey” at all in my book! Thank you for sharing things that are working for you!

  8. msusangaye says:

    Tears: no, your “thanking” the pain and listening to it isn’t hoaky at all to me. I say that I have an “intimate relationship” with my fibro and the other chronic pain diseases I have. I learned long ago that I wasn’t going to deal with them effectively at all without partnering with them. I looked at this in terms of how critical it is to “get to know” someone’s moods, cycles, wounds, ways of coping, etc. so that we can communicate about how to deal with difficulty. Your thoughts here are so right on!

  9. timethief says:

    I appreciate you choosing to find enough value in my post to link back to it. I hope that the contents will be useful to other fibromyalgia sufferers and send them all my best wishes for their improved health and mastery of coping techniques.
    Namaste

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  12. Jane says:

    Hi
    Just diagnosed with fibromyalgia today. I am reeling after reading this as I suffered a hugely traumatic event 4 years ago which resulted in the end of my career and I thought this was the key and maybe it is. However now I look back and see how my mother made me her little confidante and told me everything happening in her life from pre school onwards. How she disliked my father. Informing me of his abuse of her and his affairs. I remeber thinking that I had to be good, smart and funny especially funny to make her smile and keep her happy. My Dad was angry, anxiety prone and philandering. Not good. Funny I never saw this as abuse.
    I have never felt enough even though I excelled at most things and the road to this diagnosis over the last 4 years has been very rocky.
    Thank you for this article it is giving me much to think over.

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