“Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps”: struggling with fibromyalgia

” Early in life, I was visited by the bluebird of anxiety”, Woody Allen

Anxiety is the root cause of fibromyalgia, particularly at an early age, or even in the womb. So, how is one to overcome the early stages of this deep seated emotional characteristic which those of us with fibromyalgia struggle with on a day to day basis? Even more significant: how do we explain to others that the challenges of life-long anxiety cannot be overcome with those who lack empathy or compassion who suggest we just get on with life and stop complaining? It would seem as though I begin each new blog with a series of questions that aren’t easily answered.

It is fear that triggers the amygdala to release neurotransmitters. In turn the hypothalamus dumps adrenaline which causes the elevated heart rate, flushing, shallow breathing and other physiological symptoms. Fear and anxiety are two sides of the same coin. I can trace my early anxieties/ fear to anxious parenting, Catholic nuns who terrified me with thoughts of hell, a crisis of moving from a large city to a small town as an adolescent, a 17 year old who like others of the day, was used as a source of free labour in a diploma based nursing school, nursing in general, an early bad marriage, three C sections, a divorce, completing a PhD as a single parent, being stalked, remarriage with a blended family of five teenagers, caring for elderly parents, and finally a heart attack, followed by a hip replacement. Now, of course, aging has reared its challenging head. Each new crisis, no matter the seriousness, triggers the amygdala. One might look at this list and believe it is not as horrific as the life of those who suffer greater atrocities. Nonetheless, there are two kinds of people- those who thrive in acute stress situations and those who don’t. I am of the latter kind of persons, born as a highly sensitive person.

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Redefining Fibromyalgia: Links to Anxiety and the Highly Sensitive Person

“My anxiety remains an unhealed wound that, at times, holds me back and fills me with shame-but it may also be, at the same time, a source of strength and a bestower of certain blessings”, Scott Stossel

I have begun to think of fibromyalgia as an extreme case of prolonged anxiety that began in early life, perhaps in utero, or even as an inherited gene. In addition to this epiphany of mine, the concept of a ‘highly sensitive person’ (HSP)  has changed for me to mean the ‘highly anxious person’. Having just read both Smith’s (Monkey Mind)and Stossel’s  (My Age of Anxiety) memoirs (and Stossels’ science and historical account of anxiety) I have become convinced that fibromyalgia is another word for heightened anxiety. Since I am not a therapist, I can only speculate about the definition/cause of fibromyalgia, but to this date my proposed theory is that anxiety, hypersensitivity and fibromyalgia are identical triplets. I have just within the past year ‘come out’ (as Stossel has)  as a highly anxious person, rather than one who has the fuzzy label of  fibromyalgia.

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Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and the anxiety-prone brain

” The tenuousness of modern life can make anyone feel overwrought”, Robin Marantz Henig

An article in the NewYork Times Magazine, October 4, 2009 by Robin Marantz Henig, entitled Understanding the Anxious Mind has led me to speculate about the anxious, highly reactive, overly sensitive temperaments of those of us with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndromes. While I am not the first to equate a hyperaroused nervous system with these two conditions, I believe that the new scientific information regarding the brain, remapping and neuroplasticity must also be taken into account if we are ever to reach some kind of understanding of both syndromes. 

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On Being Parented and Parenting: Overcoming Past Experiences Through Understanding Pain of Fibromyalgia

“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people”, Thich Nhat Hanhbookcover-1

Since I am convinced that fibromyalgia is the result of a hyper-aroused nervous system, I wish I knew for certain if it is caused by early inadequate parenting by our parents and/or difficult childhood experiences in highly sensitive persons, or if we are born with highly sensitive nervous systems. I have my hunches, built upon numerous interviews and talks with many people (mostly women) over many years. In particular, my view is built upon my own experiences. Therefore, I will go out on a limb and suggest that we are not born with an easily aroused nervous system, but rather it slowly develops over many years as a result of our early socialization . Yet, even saying such a thing brings up the issue of children with fibromyalgia. Maybe, just maybe, they were born with the pre-disposition to this condition. What a dilemma! More questions than answers once again. Maybe it can be both nature and nurture. Parent blaming has become something of a modern day occupation. That is certainly not my intent. Who among us had perfect parents or are ourselves perfect parents?

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