Fibromyalgia and the roller coaster of emotions

” You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face”, Eleanor Roosevelt

In my view fibromyalgia is precipitated by the emotions of anxiety/fear which began perhaps in utero, but more likely early in life in which a child develops a hyper-aroused nervous system. Traumatic episodes experienced in a highly sensitive person is a fertile place for fibromyalgia roots to take hold. Generally  this dis-ease (not disease) begins to show its ugly face early in midlife. As a youngster this child is often said to be ‘highly strung’ or ‘too sensitive’ or ‘too fearful’. One woman I interviewed said she was likened to a ‘hot house orchid’, fragile and overly empathetic. I have yet to hear any of the hundreds of people I have either spoken with or read about who did not say somewhat the same about themselves. Tuned in to the world in a hyper-vigilant, overly caring way, the parts of the brain which can distinguish between that which is safe, or conversely fearful in our environment, is in a state of disarray. Anxiety predominates the personality of the fibromyalgia person.

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Fibromyalgia and Nurses

“Women never have a half-hour in all their lives (excepting before or after anybody is up in the house) that they can call their own, without fear of offending or of hurting someone”, Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale is famous as the woman who developed modern nursing. From May 6-12th we celebrate ‘National Nurses Week’ in honour of her birthday which was on May 12th (1820). However, her birthday is now also celebrated as ‘International Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia Awareness Day’. It is thought by many to have been fibromyalgia that Ms.Nightingale suffered from most of her adult life.

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Fibromyalgia and Panic Attacks: Cognitive and Somatic Sensitization

“If you are experiencing strange symptoms that no one seems to be able to explain, they could be arising from a traumatic reaction to a past event that you may not even remember”, Peter A. Levine

Two words that are now often coined in conjunction with fibromyalgia are   cognitive sensitization and somatic sensitization. I have been exploring the research in this direction for the past couple of years and have recently had another ‘aha’ moment. I am not sure which comes first but with regard to ‘cognitive sensitization’,  because of the excessive degree of empathy for others and fear/anxiety for ourselves there is vivid brain activity in the amygdala.  People with fibromyalgia worry excessively  and our attention to health related information is extremely high.  The meaning that pain has for ourselves, the sufferer, or for others whom we perceive to suffer, poses increased threats which affects ‘somatic sensitization’, that is, increased reactivity of the nervous system. In turn this lowers the pain threshold and affects pain tolerance; the consequence is that  the fibromyalgia syndrome  develops.  The two are interrelated but what does that mean in simple language? One hears, in fact seeks out, health related information, subsequently anxiety and fear develop (the amygdala is over reacting to perceived threat) increasing the overstimulation. Then a low tolerance for pain develops. Accompanying this pain is a myriad of other symptoms. But is this too simply stated? What can this cognitive sensitization actually produce within ourselves? This is a process within the brain as it receives cues that bring about arousal from a past traumatic event, that becomes an actual sensitization of the neuro system.  In what ways then does this anxiety/fear invade our brains?

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