“My own brain is to me the most unaccountable of machinery-always buzzing, humming, soaring roaring diving, and then buried in mud”, Virginia Woolf
To live a life in a state of high anxiety, boarding on panic, is common among those of us with fibromyalgia. We anticipate pain, fatigue, muddled thoughts, and a myriad of other symptoms almost every waking (and sleeping!) hour. It has become a habit that often seems unable to be broken and depression and fear set in. Often accompanying this is the brain fog, the confusion that often does not allow us to focus or to think clearly. Some describe the sensation as “fuzzy brain”, “spaced out”, “dreamy”, “brain farts” or just plain forgetfulness.Whatever the label those of us with the condition know it is often accelerated by over stimulation, lack of sleep, pain, stress and anxiety. The new medical term is now “dyscognition“. It would seem that the brain has difficulty in responding to stimuli because of a hyper-aroused central nervous system, a phrase I keep repeating over and over again in my many blogs. These habits of the brain are strong and require discipline that is challenging to break free from since they have accumulated over many years. Stress and all that it encompasses is, in my view, a main culprit.
“Doctors are men who prescribe medicine of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, in human beings of whom they know nothing”,Voltaire
Those of us with chronic conditions are constantly seeking relief from the myriad of symptoms that make our lives very challenging. Pain, fatigue, lack of physical abilities, sleep disturbances, depression, rashes, to name but a few of the minor to serious struggles with which we are faced lead us to desperately wanting relief in the form of medications. Living with any one of the daily distressing symptoms affects our quality of life and it is little wonder that we seek help in the form of chemicals to help us get through the day. Many, in fact, are essential to our conditions without which we could not survive. Others are prescribed from the sheer frustration of physicians who want to help but medical answers to many perplexing conditions are not yet available to them. Such is the case with fibromyalgia. What to do with a patient who has chronic pain but to prescribe a pain medication, that may or may not help? If the patient cannot sleep there is a solution: sleep medication. Depression and anxiety? Medications for altering moods.The list of medications for all sorts of conditions is limitless. Pharmaceutical companies are big booming businesses whose profits know no bounds.Physicians could not possibly remember the vast array of information that the drug reps tell them about their efficacy or that they learn about on line. More to the point ‘new’ diseases and conditions are constantly being ‘discovered’ for which new drugs must be invented. Read : The Medicalization of Everyday Life by Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist, whose work in mental illness was compulsory reading for me as a medical sociology student in graduate school, many years ago.
” The world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it”, Helen Keller
A condition called paresthesia results in numbness, tingling and pins and needles in the limbs, due to disturbances in the nerve pathways. Those of us with fibromyalgia have what is also known asperipheral neuropathy, most particularly in the legs. For me it is much worse at night and in my arms, rather than the legs. However, I also have many twitching new sensations in my legs as well, but the arms right now are worse. The result is that I wake up several times during the night when an arm is ‘asleep’, numb with cold and actually hurting. When I am up for awhile, moving about the feeling comes back in my arm and I fall back asleep on the other side only to wake up an hour or two later with it on the other side. My sleep is very disturbed by this relatively new symptom. But, then I have developed pains in the knees this summer, another new symptom. Just as I think I have had them all, something new crops up. How discouraging. Like other sufferers of pain I live in fear that this new symptom will not disappear. While I am a great fan of Harriet Lerner it is this particular book which helps me the most.
It seems that peripheral neuropathy , that is pain mostly in legs, tingling of the extremities, pins and needles, numbness, “falling asleep” of legs or arms is quite common among those of us with fibromyalgia. The central nervous system, being always in a state of hyper-arousal is on high alert. Unlike others who are diabetic and have the same symptoms, those of us with FM do not have this constantly as do diabetics, and is usually associated with a flare-up. It is time to stop, take stock of what is happening in our minds and work with our pain rather than struggle against it. Not an easy job!
Frustrated that there is not much hope for relief from the usual medical system and its approach to fibromyalgia, many turn for help to practitioners who provide either complementary or alternative medicine (C/AM). The differences between the latter two is an artifical separation since they both entail using concoctions, therapies, herbs, or homeopathic remedies that are one and the same. The more interesting issue is how they differ from the traditional scientific ‘western’ medical approach, or what has been known as ‘allopathic’ medicine, or now commonly referred to as ‘evidence based medicine’ (EBM) of health care. However, within this discussion I do not refer to EBM as within the domain of CAM as many ‘alternate’ practitioners are prone to do.
What makes something considered to be complementary or alternative as opposed to mainstream, or scientifically based medicine? Sometimes this distinction becomes blurred and confused with one another, for example, taking vitamins or supplements. Are they the domain of EBM or AM ? Is it because there are scientific experiments that provide evidence that specific vitamins are essential for healthy living, as in the recent data on Vitamin D? As usual, I have more questions than answers. Sometimes the issues are not clear cut with many shades of gray.