“After a traumatic experience, the human system of self-preservation seems to go onto permanent alert, as if the danger might return at any moment”, Judith Lewis Herman
In my book almost a decade ago, I wrote about Gulf War syndrome and the similarities between this condition and fibromyalgia. From the terms ‘shell shock’ and ‘Gulf War syndrome’ has emerged the contemporary ‘Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’ label. We have now landed firmly on the relationship between these three conditions and fibromyalgia. Years and years of studying and researching on the topic of fibromyalgia has convinced me that PTSD and fibromyalgia are the same thing. There I’ve said it! And, finally others are saying it too. What do all those terms share in common? How is it that PTSD and fibromyalgia are twined? Wars, abuse, crises, trauma of many sorts take their toll on us all, but it is the highly sensitive person whose psyche becomes over-burdened. Here are the ways in which the two conditions match:
“America is one of the few advanced nations that allow direct advertising of prescription drugs, Robert Reich
BigPharma makes huge profits from those of us suffering from chronic pain, fatigue, depression, anxiety, itching, digestive issues- to name a few of the common symptoms of fibromyalgia. Every day we are inundated with advertisements about prescription drugs that would alleviate these symptoms. Equally as rich is the vitamin industry which advocates specific supplements for the treatment of fibromyalgia, few of which are science based. Generally we take them willy nilly without any idea if they are helpful or not.
“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.
“Trauma is so arresting that traumatized people will focus on it compulsively”, Peter Levine
There are so many various kinds of sleep disturbances that it becomes somewhat of a check list to differentiate between them all. Some of us suffer from everyone of them. I began having night terrors when I first started school,age 5, and the nuns told us stories of being responsible for killing Christ because we were born with original sin on our souls. Of course this frightened us and made the entire class cry. We were warned about sin and hell from the first day. I would hyperventilate at night and lose my breath. I was afraid to go to sleep. This was a serious trauma in my childhood. I began sleep walking. It was the time of the polio scare and this was added to the fears. World War ll had not yet ended the year I began school in Montreal and we were afraid our fathers would be sent away and be killed. There was much to be anxious about. My parents were extremely fearful people; my father has recently been diagnosed as a ‘borderline personality disorder’ which added to my lifelong anxiety. And so began my lifetime of night terrors and nightmares. The trauma of my adult life is too lengthy to document here (nor is it necessary) but most of us have experienced traumas of one sort or another, whether major or minor. The women in my book tell stories about their own sleep disturbances based upon their life experiences, so I am not unique in this regard.
” 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!