Fibromyalgia and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

“After a traumatic experience, the human system of self-preservation seems to go into permanent alert, as if the danger might return at any moment” , Judith Lewis Herman

There has been a great deal of public awareness of late regarding the concept of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It seems as though the syndrome has become somewhat commonplace and many are quick to self diagnose. But, even more are recognizing that the condition is one caused by great stress and chronic anxiety and there are commonalities among us in our responses to traumatic experiences. What was once associated with abuse, now is believed to be the result of many occurrences that bring about dramatic memories, which in turn trigger danger to an overly stimulated nervous system. With the relatively recent wars in the Middle East whereby PTSD among veterans became all too common, public awareness has been heightened. In my book I discussed fibromyalgia in relation to what was then becoming known as Gulf War Syndrome, now it is more specifically known as PTSD that is capturing the attention of the experts. In the first world war it was known as shell shock. In the second world war it became known as battle fatigue, finally it is now more appropriately labelled as PTSD. Many of these veterans with PTSD have fibromyalgia, in fact I speculated then (and do so now) that they are one and the same thing. I will acknowledge there is the possibility that they are somewhat separate but akin to identical twins. The symptoms are identical.

It is chronic stress and subsequent chronic anxiety that precipitates PTSD (and fibromyalgia) since many  (maybe all) people with PTSD develop fibromyalgia. What actually happens in the body is related to: the interaction between the hypothalamus , which is a portion of the brain responsible for activities of the central nervous system, to the pituitary gland ( the master gland at the base of the brain) which causes other glands to produce hormones, and the adrenal glands (situated on top of the kidneys) which secrete hormones that act as “chemical messengers”. These three (HPA) regulate our response to stress. The hypothalamus gives off hormones that cause the pituitary to give off another hormone and causes the adrenal to produce cortisol. This all equals BALANCE. When out of balance then fibromyalgia and PTSD and chronic fatigue occur.

But, what of the veterans who do not have PTSD or the people who have experienced a traumatic event like an accident who do not have fibromyalgia or PTSD? What is it about those of us whose psycho-social make-up affects our predisposition to these conditions? As I have repeatedly written I believe that these “psychosomatic” ( I hesitate to use this word as it conjures up bad images) syndromes are related to highly sensitive personalities. It can be due to nature or nurture, or both, and it cannot be proven which as it is all rather obscure at this point. It is not necessary to speculate about whether or not a person has the predisposition to be a highly sensitive person (HSP) because of their genetically inherited qualities or because of life experiences. Nonetheless, a HSP is more likely to develop PTSD and FM because of their personality type (HSP). Psycho-social factors contribute to the predisposition for fibromyalgia and a person becomes more susceptible when emotional, sexual or physical abuse occurs. This is my analysis and again while it cannot be proven it seems to me this is the most logical explanation to date.

In short, PTSDs are triggers from bad experiences which brings on: pain-fibromyalgia-clenching- sleep disorders- hyper-vigilance-anxiety-  feelings of lack of safety- hyper-ventilating- nightmares and night terrors- catastrophizing- startled easily-flashbacks-depression, and a host of other symptoms.

So, while we can relate to these symptoms what can be done? This is the big question that arises repeatedly. Among the many suggestions are : talk and body therapy that does not include repeatedly inciting the brain to relive the trauma, relaxation techniques such as Mindfulness Meditation, undertaking a creative, repetitive, new-to- you hobby to change the neural pathways of the brain, movement strategies such as Qi Gong or Tai Chi, and strategies for better sleep, are among the most important. It is a long and tedious process, one which requires an understanding of the ability of the brain to change itself (neuroplasticity). In short, it must be a mind-body approach that is undertaken.

Do we ever change our personalities? It isn’t easy, but what choice do we have but to understand that we are not crippled or doomed forever by stressful events in our lives?  We are like the psychologist  Elaine Aron who is the world wide expert on highly sensitive persons  (HSPs) who suggests we are like canaries in a coal mine. We are  extremely sensitive to the increasingly stressful world in which we live and our experiences of it are worthy of admiration, rather than scorn. In the meantime we are floundering as we face the daily challenges in a world which does not understand our struggles. What is necessary at this point is self compassion, not self blame.

58 thoughts on “Fibromyalgia and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

  1. Adriel

    Very interesting article! I experienced several traumatic events during my childhood. I’ve recently been hearing more and more about the connection between childhood trauma and fibromyalgia. Can’t help but draw a connection to my own experience.

  2. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Adriel:
    I too believe there is a great connection between the ways in which our brains flash back to those times of fear and don’t allow new neural pathways to develop.
    Happy you have some beginning answers to these issues that seem to plague us for a lifetime. Hopefully as more and more brain research evolves we will be able to make the needed connections to this syndrome which isn’t a disease but a dis-ease!
    Best wishes,

  3. Charolette

    I have clinical depression and the symptoms are close to what is described in this article. Issues with family members usually trigger anxiety and depression. I get pain in my neck and shoulders, headaches, nausea and crave sweets. I don’t go out or call anyone when I’m suffering. It’s so sad that it comes from the ones I love and who are supposed to love and care for me. They don’t know what they’re doing or don’t think about it.

  4. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Charlotte:
    Thank you for your comments. It continues to amaze me the ways in which triggers can be almost subtle but have such a profound effect on our bodies. But, since pain is in the brain these sorrowful emotions are quick to manifest themselves throughout the nervous system. Families can be caring yet not realizing the extent of their impact upon those of us with an invisible dis-ease. Then too families can be snake pits and uncaring while others are supportive and have a calming effect on us. I wish you all the best and hope that some of the family issues can be resolved.
    Kind regards,

  5. BethKay

    An Israeli study on male combat veterans shows a high correlation between PTSD and fibromyalgia, but not between major depression and fibromyalgia. (They did the study on males only in order to remove the complicating factor of gender in the study, and because most of their veterans are male.) While results may differ for women, as a woman with both, the suggestion that fibromyalgia may be secondary to PTSD in many cases feels true for me, and I thought it might be interesting to others to know that the direct correlation for depression is not as high. While symptoms overlap significantly, the possibility of causation isn’t attested to, at least not by the study I saw.

  6. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Thanks so much BethKay: The issue of causation is one that is not scientifically shown to be well researched in all areas of fibromyalgia with accompanying depression and caused by anxiety, flashbacks, memory of trauma etc. yet, so many continue to try to find a bio-medical model of disease! it is indeed very frustrating as they are all interconnected and shown over and over again to be so common in the highly sensitive person. I really appreciate your comments and hope to hear more from others with information regarding the development of fibro among veterans.
    Best wishes,

  7. Felicity Cook


    I am so thankful to have found this post. I find many FMS sufferers on Facebook groups do not understand the notion that FMS could be an aspect of trauma. I have FMS myself and am a non practising Body Psychotherapist in the UK. My training and many many years in therapy have helped to begin shifting the trauma and, as a result, the FMS is easing off gradually. I have posted the link through to this post and thank you again for it.

  8. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Felicity:
    Like you I do believe that FM is caused by anxiety that developed as a result of past trauma. I am becoming even more aware of it as I read about veterans suffering from FM.I have found that addressing past trauma is helpful to a certain extent, that is, by eventually finding ways of letting go. Sometimes talk therapy alone just exacerbates the symptoms of FM and the brain neural pathways regarding those memories bring the trauma experiences back full force. There is still so little known about the brain but slowly we are understanding more and more about how past trauma can leave a person with such mammoth scars that we do not grasp the full extent of the damages to our bodies as well as our emotional health.
    I appreciate your comments so much; thank you!

  9. Bette

    I like your site very much but it’s very hard to read. The pale colors make it pretty but the pale gray text keeps me from coming back to keep up on posts, etc. (I used to do web design and this is something to be avoided.) I’m sorry to miss the content but thought you’d like to know that you might reach more people if the site were friendlier to more pairs of eyes.

  10. Barbara Keddy Post author

    I am so sorry Bette that your text is a pale gray as it isn’t on mine nor has anyone else said this??? I will look into it!
    Thanks for the heads up!

  11. Sandy

    Would’ve loved to read this web page. I was researching the link between PTSD and fibromyalgia to share with a friend but I can’t read it so I’ll never share it. The almost-invisible color of the type makes the message pretty much nonexistent. Much too difficult to endure for someone in such pain she can hardly see straight. Bummer. Surely you can do better?

  12. Bhakti Manning

    Thank you for this article. I definitely feel my physical symptoms which fit with fibromyalgia are part and parcel of PTSD. I have a recent diagnosis of Complex PTSD and have had times earlier in life, where I now recognise that unexplained states and conditions were in fact early emotional and physical flashbacks – and a period of chronic fatigue in my early thirties was probably also associated. And that depressive tendencies may also have had their roots in past trauma. But the more recent onset of enduring symptoms that match those of fibromyalgia was marked, and the circumstances in which it happened leave me in no doubt it definitely linked back to past trauma. I wish more was written about the way in which physical symptoms can manifest in PTSD. I was also very heartened to read the comment above by Felicity Cook that suggests that FMS symptoms can reduce in intensity if trauma can be shifted.

  13. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dar Bhakti: I am often hesitant to use the term PTSD since it has become somewhat commonplace. But it seems to fit so well with the fibromyalgia syndrome that I can’t seem to ignore it. Early emotional flashbacks seem to be one of the ways in which those of us who are highly sensitive and have similar tendencies can describe our beginning symptoms that have shaped our adult lives. Even children have fibromyalgia and certainly men do as well (note for example the high level of military men). I believe we are a ‘type’ and have had bad emotional experiences that have made us susceptible to this syndrome. I also believe that trauma CAN be shifted but we have to work at it. Fibromyalgia cannot be cured but it can be something we can ourselves work with. Lovely to hear from you.

  14. BethKay

    Barbara Keddy, I hope you will not eschew the term PTSD. It’s important for those of us who have been formally diagnosed to have it out there, even if it does get overused. Thank you for being sensitive to this need…. There is an increasing amount of clinical research showing a link between fibromyalgia and PTSD. This research indicates that although most people will experience some type of trauma in their lives, only a percentage will develop PTSD. So far, the evidence indicates that those who do develop it are both genetically susceptible (more so than the general population) *and* are those who have encountered environmental difficulties that keep them from processing the trauma with greater resilience. It is this population that is most vulnerable to developing symptoms of fibromyalgia along with those symptoms that are considered primary to PTSD. The research is pretty consistent on this. I can provide some citations of studies if you would like to see them.

  15. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear BethKay: Your comments are very much appreciated. My position has always been that we are susceptible either genetically (nature) or because of our environmental experiences (nurture). At this point I don’t think it is relevant to figure out which. We are predisposed to fibro and the symptoms are the same as those who suffer from PTSD. I agree with all you say. Right on! Sure, you can help this blog by providing citation of studies as all this information is very helpful to the readers. THANK YOU SO MUCH,
    Kind regards,

  16. Lisa

    As a female military veteran with a diagnosis of PTSD and fibromyalgia I would appreciate any and all articles highlighting the comorbidity of both disorders. In addition, I acknowledge that my personal diagnoses are in part related to my experience of military sexual trauma. While I have found no studies supporting the causation more and more literature is gradually becoming available. I suppose knowledge is slowly coming to fruition due to recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and others. I appreciate all responses. Thank you.

  17. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Lisa:
    While there is an excellent post on women, trauma and PTSD from the U.S. Department of Affairs, dated August, 2015, there isn’t any mention of fibromyalgia. In my view PTSD and fibro are siblings—they co-exist. The article mentions such things as hyper-arousal, for example, which is what I call hyper-vigilance and an over-stimulated nervous system. All of the symptoms of PTSD can be attributed to fibro as well.
    In general more than half of the female population will experience trauma of some sort in their lifetimes. Sexual assault, which is common to women, some reports say one in three, will generally result in PTSD. Sexual assault comes in many forms , for me it was being stalked for many months until the perpetrator was finally caught. For others it is rape, constant harassment, domestic violence and so on. We relive these events over and over and it isn’t until recently that the label PTSD has become commonplace. For veterans it was once called Shell Shock, then Gulf War Syndrome and now finally PTSD.
    However, as for fibromyalgia, it is found in those of us with a history of anxiety- who is a highly sensitive person- who experiences a lifetime of trauma or is brought on suddenly by a traumatic experience, like surgery, or an accident, or witnessing the many devastating sights of conflict, such as in a war. You apparently have suffered a double whammy and my thoughts go out to you. Knowing you are not alone should help somewhat.
    The secret is to tame our hyper-aroused central nervous system. Only we can do this. Yoga, meditation, light exercise, training our brains to find peace and calm in our lives. In my view fibromyalgia is not curable, but it is treatable. We have to become the experts of our own lives. It isn’t easy and I wish you very good luck!

  18. BethKay

    Hi Lisa and Barbara,

    Here is a list of some research studies focusing on the comorbidity of PTSD and fibromyalgia. Several specifically focus on rape and other forms of sexual abuse; one, in particular, also focuses on women veterans. Most have an extensive list of references that may also be helpful to you. All are available online if you can get access to the journals via a research library.

    W. Hauser, et al. “Posttraumatic stress disorder in fibromyalgia syndrome: Prevalence, temporal relationship between posttraumatic stress and fibromyalgia symptoms, and impact on clinical outcome.” Pain 154 (2013) 1216-1223

    D. S. Ciccone, et al. “Sexual and Physical Abuse in Women with Fibromyalgia Syndrome: A Test of the Trauma Hypothesis.” The Clinical Journal of Pain 21(5), September/October 2005, pp. 378-386.

    R. Campbell, et al. “The Co-Occurrence of Childhood Sexual Abuse, Adult Sexual Assault, Intimate Partner Violence, and Sexual Harassment: A Mediational Model of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Physical Health Outcomes.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 2008, Vol. 76, No. 2, 194-207.

    Zosia Chustecka. “Fibromyalgia linked to PTSD but not major depression.” Medscape. June 16, 2004.

    Daniella Amital, et al. “Posttraumatic stress disorder, tenderness, and fibromyalgia syndrome: are they different entities?” Journal of Psychosomatic Research 61 (2006) 663-669.

    Julio F. P. Peres, et al. “Psychological Trauma in Chronic Pain: Implications of PTSD for Fibromyalgia and Headache Disorders.” Current Pain & Headache Reports 2009, Vol. 13.

    I hope this is helpful to you and to any who need this type of information.

    Very best regards,

  19. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Thank you so much, BethKay:
    The issues of significance are several:
    1) It must be acknowledged by the ‘experts’ that PTSD and fibromyalgia are identical twins.
    2) While sexual abuse is broadly defined and is indeed a cause of PTSD, it is not the only predisposing factor in PTSD and fibromyalgia.
    3) Many men have PTSD and fibromyalgia and have not been abused directly but psychologically abused by the experiences of war.
    4) Predisposing factors for both syndromes depends on the psychological make up of the person…that is, a hyper-sensitive, anxious personality type.
    5) Women, more than men, are more prone to PTSD in a sexist society such as ours.(Sexism is also broadly defined).
    6) The ways in which women are socialized to be fearful, hyper-vigilant, over-caring etc is the premise of my book.
    Until these and a few other conditions are acknowledged we are still struggling in a world of pain both psychic and physical!
    I appreciate your comments and references so much.
    Best wishes,

  20. BethKay

    Hi Barbara,

    I absolutely agree with you that much more work needs to be done in getting “the powers that be” to recognize both the genetic predisposing factors and environmental factors that contribute to PTSD/FM.

    Certainly, there’s no suggestion in the studies listed (or from me) that sexual abuse is the only predisposing factor for PTSD, but since Lisa specifically mentioned her history of sexual abuse, I thought it’d be helpful to post these. I included the Chustecka study because it was done on male combat veterans, and still made the association of PTSD (but not major depression) with FM. The Hauser study lists many types of trauma as being associated with FM, not just sexual abuse.

    A number of researchers are investigating the physiology of FM pain. The term Central Sensitization Syndrome is being used to describe what’s happening neurologically in FM that causes pain signals to be amplified. This research points to issues with pain signals in the central nervous system, rather than the peripheral nervous system. These findings seem very promising to me, as they encompass the notion that some people may indeed be *physically* (and thus, psychologically) more sensitive than others; that is, some people are predisposed to develop PTSD/FM, and this predisposition shows up in the nervous system itself. According to this theory.

    I agree with all that you say about the way women are socialized. There are also major problems with the way doctors are educated/socialized regarding women and pain.

    Personally, I’d be glad if I could go to the dentist without having to have a whole discussion with the dentist and hygienist about the effects FM has on me as a result of the pressures and positions involved in getting dental work done. It’s a dream I have.

    Thanks very much for providing this forum for discussion.

  21. Nicole

    Very Interesting article. I would love a lot more info and will look more into this blog to find it.
    8 Yrs ago I was in a very traumatic accident that left me with a very uncomfortable life long situation.
    I literally in the past two days found someone who was recently in the exact same accident I had been in earlier. We began a quick correspondence. I don’t feel abnormally stressed about the conversations although some issues that I don’t discuss often were revisited.
    I have been diagnosed, both with PTSD and fibromyalgia. I truly thought thru long amounts of therapy that my PTSD was manageable… I have boys and allow them with anxiety to do some slightly extreme sports and while at first struggled, felt I was managing well.
    I went to bed the night I first began speaking with this woman and was up all night with pain. Then next morning after researching some material to pass on to her I literally could barely walk and was in a lot more severe pain. Today is the same. I checked weather which can trigger me, and everything is beautiful and sunny. The only conclusion I can come to for going into an extreme flare is the opening up of some of these old wounds. I don’t know why I still am surprised by this, but it really throws me when my mind seems fine but my body is a mess.

  22. Nicole

    sorry, but in quick follow up… I don’t believe I am a highly sensitive person… Overall I handle pain extremely well and have been told so by many doctors. I’m not an overly emotional person but do have some traits of high sensitivity. I do believe I am more akin to an empath… with that said, since my accident I can no longer associate or take on other peoples emotions so I have to disassociate when I have friends going through hard things. Its actually heartbreaking for me and devastating on friendships. In my younger life I was able to understand and help and be there for people suffering. I can’t do it anymore, and still mother my children to the best of my ability… which isn’t honestly done as well as it should be. I don’t know. This is my life… I would love some feedback, or some further insight.

  23. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Nicole: You have described yourself perfectly as a HSP, that is, very empathetic, intuitive and definitely a caregiver type. your comments have only increased my conviction that we are of a unique personality type. I highly recommend you read Elaine Aron’s books on HSP! There are ways we can work with our personality types and her workbook is very helpful. It is the theory which lead me to the book I wrote all those years ago. Please do keep in touch and in particular I am interested in the fact that you have PTSD and fibro as I believe they are identical twins.
    Kind regards,

  24. Cathy Maxwell

    Barbara, I discovered your article purely by accident tonight and am fascinated by what I am reading. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia & ME 20 years ago, am medically retired because of it the last 10 years. My husband died very suddenly 27 years ago, in front of me, when I was 13 weeks pregnant with our first child. I truly believe this life-changing trauma was what led to me developing FM/ME a few years later. Reading this article makes everything make perfect sense. Finally I can see it.. I was always a very empathetic person. Thank you so much. I feel I can finally understand the reason for my condition and stop the inner turmoil as to it all being my fault that I can’t turn things around and be well! Thank you from the bottom of my heart.. Cathy x

  25. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Oh, my dear Cathy! Your story is indeed a tragic one. Your empathy, and the crisis 27 years ago would leave an indelible scar on your sensitive nature. I am so convinced that such a tragedy, or any kind of crisis such as war, an accident, a death can leave a specific type of person with this tendency for hyper-arousal of the central nervous system. When I wrote my book all those years ago people were still imagining that fibromyalgia was caused by a virus or bacteria. Now it is becoming increasingly clear that it is what occurs in a highly sensitive person after trauma. I am happy that I recognized this early on in my own thinking. Sometimes it is not a huge crisis but the accumulation of a lifetime of small events. Nonetheless, we all share a specific type of personality that is highly sensitive. That was what I based my theory upon and it is becoming more and more evident of late. Please know you are not alone and this trait we share is a good one! As Elaine Aron has said we are canaries in a cola mine, we have a gift.
    Very best wishes,

  26. Lisa

    In response to BethKay, the research you provided will prove invaluable and I thank you sincerely for posting it.

    As Dr. Keddy indicated there hasn’t been a study to date that she’s aware of on women but there has been a male study, however it may prove invalid across genders. I would agree that those “afflicted” must learn to tame our hyper-aroused central nervous systems in whatever way creates positive effects whether it is light exercise, meditation, the arts, etc…I can only speak for myself and in doing so have learned that the traditional talk therapy only dredges up past negativity that I’d rather leave buried. I can relate to Nicole who posted 5/23/16 “I can no longer associate or take on other peoples emotions so I have to disassociate when I have friends going through hard things.”

    I can also empathize but cannot let myself go to a place of deep seated emotion or I feel myself become frail. This vulnerability brings about emotional and physical pain but long after the tears have stopped flowing, it can take days to rebound from the aftermath of resounding physical affects so it’s easier to separate from the connection altogether. I care deeply for my friends and it upsets me that I can’t connect with them on a deeper level but again the flight-or-flight kicks in and suddenly it becomes about self-preservation.

  27. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Oh, Lisa: You are right on track as usual- taking on the emotions of others is so hard on us but the weird thing is that so many sense our empathy and easily confide on us! Strangers will tell us their life stories! Self-reservation is indeed paramount. Thanks once again for your comments.

  28. rich doherty

    I am so pleased to have found this discussion. I have been working in pain, including FM, for over 10 years and the more I talk to people about their past experiences the more I see their FM as a disabling physiological response to past trauma (specifically a trauma where there was an ongoing threat coupled with unpredictability, such as domestic abuse, as this promotes hypervigilence). Interestingly like you I see PTSD as the same thing, a physiological response to past trauma. I would 100% support the notion that they are essentially the same, and it is services that are creating a distinction, which complicates treatment. i would love to discuss this further.



  29. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Thank you Rich. Do you also believe that PTSD and fibro occur in highly sensitive persons? I am intrigued with your comments and hope to hear more from you.

  30. BethKay

    I’ve been working with EFT tapping, along with EMDR, on the understanding that PTSD and FM (along with ADHD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder) are all part of the same underlying issue, with the trauma being at the root of the complex of issues. It’s fascinating — and frustrating — that although all of my current support providers agree with this perspective, the insurance companies refuse to do so. They insist on isolating PTSD, GAD and ADHD as mental health issues, vs. the FM (which they refuse to admit exists anyway). I’m fortunate in that currently, this doesn’t complicate my treatment because I’ve found good providers; however, as my insurance coverage changes it may complicate coverage and reimbursement for the treatment. An issue which, on its own, may exacerbate symptoms if it threatens my ability to afford services.

  31. Bett Willett

    I have been treated for FM for years, recently have become aware from my therapist that I was an emotionally neglected child who most likely developed PTSD which lead to FM. The talk therapy seems to be triggering a constant reliving of my past and questioning of my self now and in the future. Will this stop from more realization of what I am dealing with?

  32. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Bett: I agree with you that constant reliving of the past triggers painful physical and emotional issues that seem to keep us stuck n the same place. That is why I so often suggest to people to meditate, do yoga or ChiGong along with other forms of mild exercise to change the brain from a place where it seems stuck. Creating new neural pathways is key to those of us with trauma of such a nature in our past. Sometimes talk therapy needs a respite and time to begin to help ourselves with movement and activities other than reliving the past. What does your therapist think of that?
    Keep in touch.
    Very best wishes,

  33. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear BethKay:
    Kudos on saying what I firmly believe to be the relationships between PTSD, FM, Anxiety. I would add one more…all that in the highly sensitive person. When insurance coverages, health care professionals and the general public finally come around to our way of thinking, which is based on personal experiences and watching others who relate the same stories, then our lives will improve tremendously. It is very frustrating to know intuitively what the issues are and yet face the disbelievers who have control over our lives. it then boils down to monetary issues which then exaggerate the problems.
    Take good care,

  34. fjdslkfs

    Thanks for the article. always trying to find answers for the little prison I live in. I have a few experiences that I am sure have an effect on me. I don’t know how they couldn’t. Just hard telling because I don’t process them. Flash backs are occasional but intense. For years I never discussed what happened because it feels like it’s not the truth. too crazy to have happened. I have got to the point where I have actually discussed it but I am so detached to where I feel little emotion feels like I am telling story line in a movie. I struggle with panic attacks and anxiety. I also was diagnosed with Fibro and deal with so much pain. I was such a go getter now just to normal things feels like I am always behind playing catch up because the obstacles it creates are unreal. So tired and there’s no help or answers. Gabapentin keeps my pain to where I can survive it. I have taken depression/anxiety meds like prozac zoloft made it go from bad to worse. have yet to find one that helps. I usually just get ugly side effects and it does not help with the anxiety/panic. Would love to have relief from them. The only thing I have found that can help with it is a couple hits of pot. Yeah, I know but you gotta do what you can do when you feel out of options.

  35. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear reader: Sometimes we all feel like you do to a greater or lesser degree. I understand completely that weed helps dull the pain. Hopefully, wherever you are from, it will or has become legalized. Because I have heart disease I cannot use marihuana as it raises blood pressure, but if legalized as other than just for medical use, I too would probably try it. Like you Gabapentin does help me somewhat.
    However, pain is in the brain and there is help outside of products that just dull the symptoms. It is within ourselves and takes a great deal of discipline. Talk therapy which you have now engaged in is a beginning. Now to actually change the neural pathways in the brain to an understanding of the issues that precipitated this condition. Meditation, light exercise, touching and being touched in a soothing, non aggressive way are all part of the regime required. Easier said than done. Meditation is the easiest and at the same time most difficult of the strategies. BREATHE!

  36. Gwendolyn

    Hello and wow, I just happened to stumble upon this article and it was a good read for me. All the comments have been very informative and encouraging. I have the signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia, but have not been diagnosed, however, I have been diagnosed with PTSD. Some days are better than others concerning the pain. I found that holding and hugging my grandbaby does wonders for my pain sometimes. I have been taking Duloxetin(Cymbalta) for anxiety and pain and it seems to work for now. I initially was on Gabapentin, its effectiveness did not last long. It was such a relief reading everyone’s comments and to know that I am not in this alone.

  37. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Hello Gwendolyn: welcome to the site. It is my belief that PTSD and fibromyalgia are identical twins, that is they are CENTRAL SENITIZATION issues. Breathing, touching are two strategies that are integral to bringing down the alert, hyper- vigilant nervous system. Hugging is very important. Love those grand babies!
    Keep in touch,
    Kind regards,

  38. Joyce

    My husband and I were involved in two very severe road traffic accidents within 3 months! ( Neither RTA was caused by us)
    This lead to seven and a half years of litigation because after seven years of intense litigation a judge said the cases should be linked.
    On both occasions I spent a night in hospital being monitored!
    ! Was pressured into returning to work after RTA 1 when I’d just to say became mobile!
    The first RTA was so traumatic as we were hit from behind by a young lad in his Mitsubishi eco 6 at speeds
    Of over 100 miles per hour!!
    We were fortunate that we were in a large people carrier, but all the seats collapsed back flat and we were thrown around like rag dolls!
    More by luck than good management the vehicle stopped after travelling down embankments bushes, trees etc otherwise we would have landed on the A12 into London!!

    The second RTA was in Scotland and we were hit head on by a van coming in the opposite direction!!

    The injuries I received as passenger were far worse than my husband’s.

    I started reliving the first RTA immediately and after the
    2nd RTA both rta’s played out in a continuous loop!!
    I was diagnosed with stage 2 PTSD which is difficult to treat!
    I’ve had to courses of CBT had a full breakdown which has left me unable to leave the house on my own, put me off driving completely, can’t travel on major roads!
    I am suffering from severe depression, anxiety and panic attacks.
    I had carpal tunnel surgery and the consultant asked if I’d been referred to the pain team, which I hadn’t. The consultant referred me and that’s when my fibromyalgia was diagnosed!
    Some of the symptoms I had e.g hypersensitivity to noise, scents and clothes fitting one day and not the next had me thinking i was going loopy.
    But the questions and examinations by the pain consultant meant that these were common fibromyalgia symptoms.
    I also have chronic fatigue and am registered disabled and after 7 years of my husband and daughters nagging have got a blue disabled badge and have applied and received personal independent payments –
    My symptoms are so interlinked with various diagnoses!
    To go to work I put on my uniform and put on an act – it’s not me at work it’s the ward clerk.
    This is extremely to do and exhausting!!
    I have e now started with numbness in my right arm and leg which happens at the same time!!
    So more investigations are necessary .
    Your article was very interesting – but if I could turn back time!
    We take for granted what we can do until something happens to change you and your abilities completely.


  39. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Oh, my dear Joyce: Your stories are extremely familiar even if the types of your traumas are different than many and very individual to you. Following an accident, surgery (my fibro exhibited itself after my first of three C sections in five years), abuse, being stalked (which I experienced 30 years ago), lifelong stresses of many since childhood (Catholic nuns in my case), wars, being bullied, the list is endless. What makes those of us who have had these experiences prone to an overstimulated central nervous system that remains in a state of hyper-vigilance for a lifetime? We are a personality type. Others can have these traumas and remain unscathed emotionally while those of us with highly sensitive nervous systems bear the burden for the rest of our lives.
    All of the readers can relate to your trauma and challenges you face on a daily basis. Our thoughts are with you.
    Kind regards,

  40. Leckey Harrison

    I believe this connection, as I think the vast majority of an over active nervous system is in the body. My own experience was obviously different from all yours, but my experience with childhood trauma and then that of being a firefighter/EMT led to to studying, and then getting certified to reach people how to release stress, and heal trauma. Trauma, in my self-educated opinion (IMSO) is at the root of a lot of what we face physically.

    I also think this effects us all differently, but far more people are effected by chronic stress than we acknowledge, and trauma is far more pervasive than we acknowledge.

    Truly, the body remembers, and as van der Kolk says, “keeps the score.” It is through the body we can even the score, in our favor.

  41. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Lecky: Somehow I don’t think that your experience is all that different from those of the readers! Many, if not all of us, suffered from childhood trauma, followed by jobs that brought about even more stress, such as nursing, or even as care givers to family. I am so happy to have heard from you. Both firefighters and EMT professions are stressful occupations that can only bring about even more anxiety. We have more in common than being unlike. Thank you so much for your comments.
    Take good care,

  42. Sheila

    Just reading this made me cry by eyes out. I’ve been in treatment for ptsd for 3 years and I believe I have undiagnosed fibromyalgia. My doctors are giving me the run around. I had no idea there is such a correlation between ptsd and fm and abuse.
    I’m saving this article and showing to my therapist and my spinal specialist

  43. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Sheila:
    I have put forth so many suggestions about how we have to become our own physicians and find ways to manage our pain, both physical and emotional.these are difficult times socially and culturally. It is little wonder we have so little help for our myriad of symptoms. Please read my other blogs about light exercise, mindfulness meditation and/ or other meditative practices such as yoga. Please read my latest blog on medical marijuana as an alternative to heavier and heavier psychotropic drugs. Walking, being mindful of our thoughts, talk therapy, avoiding as much stress as possible are among the strategies we have to embrace.
    Keep in touch. There are millions of us out there who are highly sensitive. You aren’t alone.
    Kind regards,

  44. Zara

    I felt supported reading your words and the words and comments of all the people effected by FM and PTSD.
    It’s hard to go through days and nights dealing with pain, fatigue, depression, memory fog, flashbacks and many many more that come with these horrifying dis-eases.

    I have lived with depression all my life , putting on a mask everyday and pushing through days has been all I’ve done. Nobody could tell what I’m dealing with,… I act well… but I have become almost disabled by what I’m sure is FM now, after an extremely traumatic loss of a loved one.

    Acting is becoming harder so I have become almost 100% isolated and haven’t been able to work for 8 months now. I don’t even have enough energy to ask for any help with my disability financially, so I’m barely surviving with the help of family members…

    Yoga has helped me tremendously, although I can’t stop it even for one day or the pain comes back ten folds. All I can do is to live one day at a time.

    Hearing that I am not alone was heartwarming.

    I wish everyone who’s dealing with PTSD and FM , strength and discipline to move forward.

    Thank you for your words and this informative page.

  45. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Zara:
    Thank you for your informative comments. Yoga, Chi Gong, Tai Chi are all excellent ways of meditative exercises that are so beneficial for fibro people (or for anyone for that matter).
    I suspect that most PTSD people have fibromyalgia. I wonder if that’s true?
    Acting as though all is ok is a common behaviour of those of us who really become weary of telling people the truth about our state of being. Recounting our ailments becomes boring to the story teller and the listener alike! We tend to just tell people we are doing ok or avoiding them when possible. I have found support groups to often become a forum for all of us saying the same things, besotting the brain with the same messages over and over. This can be less than helpful.
    A lifetime of anxiety or depression or both certainly fits the image of the personality of the person suffering from fibro. Keep on with the yoga. You have mastered a technique that is so beneficial and you are a survival, among the millions of us who are hyper-sensitive types.
    Best wishes

  46. Jo

    So interesting. Diagnosed PTSD about 16 yrs ago and fibro about 4 yrs ago but have suffered a lot longer. They seem to just fight each other and I sometimes don’t know who I am, who to speak to, what to do and feel people don’t believe me and hint I’m lazy. Even think my family would be better off without me when I fall back into ne of my ‘blips’. Thank you for help.

  47. Barbara Keddy Post author

    My dear Jo: There are many who would believe and help you if you are able to tap into available and competent therapists.I know about the suffering you are experiencing and other readers to this site do as well. There are many strategies to help with improving your quality of life but most of them depend upon becoming the expert of our own lives. Talk therapy, meditation, light exercise, avoiding stress as much as possible are among the ways in which you can practice living a calm life. It isn’t easy and requires discipline.I wish you all the best in this journey to peace and quiet within your psyche.

  48. Jessica Litjens

    Hello. This artice is wonderful. I am in great suffering after a rectal fissure, and then fibroid tumor for which I had a vaginal hysterectomy. Now have rectal nerve pain and since another nervous breakdown from antibiotic allergic reaction I have pain and numbness everywhere. My hands cannot touch things. I feel with the stress plus old trauma I have broken down. Three years in deep trauma. Now doctors want me on medication. I am afraid since I have reacted badly to these. I feel I can heal but at this point have not been able to be in public. I can only rest and try to heal. I was just so healthy. I am phobic of medication and seem to get every side effect. I so appreciate what you are saying. I feel I am feeling the pain of all women. I am almost passing out from trauma yet doctors are finding me healthy.
    Thank you for any insight. I feel eventually western medicine can make you sick.

  49. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Jessica: Thank you so much for sharing your story which isn’t a very pleasant one. Saying you feel the pain of all women is exactly the personality type of those of us with fibromyalgia and who are hyper/overly sensitive.First off, can you afford talk therapy? Having a therapist who can help you understand the issues of your childhood and present state of affairs is crucial.
    Please keep in touch and let me know how you are doing as both your body and emotional health are in such pain right now. If you can bear the pain do take a small walk and gradually increase it so that you can feel as though you are accomplishing even a small sense of victory.But, again, first it is necessary to find a therapist who can help you through this most desperate time.
    My best regards,

  50. Mary Whitman

    Dear Barbara; I hope you are well! So nice to read your thoughts about fibro and PTSD. I have always tried to cover my pain and have learned to hide my feelings. “What doesn’t kill me will make me stronger!” kind of gal. I don’t say that anymore. I have always reasoned that other people have worse things happen to them and I need to suck it up! I thought I was doing that but maybe my body had enough of me fooling myself.! I grew up in a strict household. I was hit by a car when I was 5 years old and spent 3 months in the hospital. I have been raped on 2 separate occasions. Blamed myself for putting myself in that situation. Had a bad marriage with a verbally abusive husband. I left.with my children and began the struggle of being a single parent. I come from a family of 7 children. I could write a book. I am the person that others like to talk to. I take on their pain as if it is mine. I want to hug them to make them feel better. I joke to make others laugh. I smile to cover my pain. I feel selfish when I put my defenses down. I don’t cry anymore, I don’t feel joy at all. I am grateful for all the good in my life . I’m scared to feel emotions. I had to leave my job because of my fibromyelgia and osteoarthritis in my knees and arthritis in my back and all the good stuff we get from fibro.(sarcasm)! My Doctor tells me I am severely depressed. My question is how can you not be when your in pain 24/7. If I can trick my brain into making me feel better, I’m all for it. I did it for years. Its so overwhelming now. I joke about it but I am angry. Life has been nothing but a struggle due to my bad decisions and this is what I have left. I worried about everybody else and wanted them to be alright and I didn’t realize my mind and body were falling to pieces. So sorry for this rant. I am going to read your book. to help me get a better outlook. Thank you!

  51. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Mary: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. It wasn’t a rant at all. As I have often said fibromyalgia begins in early life and the trauma lasts a lifetime, particularly in highly sensitive persons such as yourself. Overly empathetic, caring and taking on the burdens of others. This story exemplifies the rest of us. But, there is hope for a better quality of life. Now that you recognize the causes, you can undertake even minor exercises. Pool walking is THE best for arthritis in knees and hips! Other movement exercise that I find helpful is Chi Gong. Mindfulness and meditation are practices that help quiet that central nervous system of ours that is always on high alert. Life can be better! You are so brave and the heroine of your own life. There is a quote the poet Nikita Gill wrote that I love: “The ghosts of all the women you used to be are all so proud of who you have become”. Isn’t that lovely?
    Happy Valentine’s Day!

  52. Writer

    Dear Barbara, there is a reason I came across your page. I have been subjected to chronic stress causing events the past 6 years. I will not go into details but ongoing stress. One of those events was the international abduction of one of my children, which I didn’t see for 2 years. A marriage breakdown, discovery of infidelity while i was fighting for my child, i developed a breast tumour and lost half my body weight. Emotional abuse, economic abuse…and ongoing judical abuse (corruption) which is ongoing. While having sole charge of a child in a foreign country with no support network. I finally accumulated so many symptoms I feared there was something seriously wrong. The worse being as a writer/investigative I could no longer “write”. My memory is shot, my focus is non existent. I was doubling up on writing chapters already written and was surprised to discover i had written something only two days before and I read it as if I had never seen it before! Terrifying for me. I had a hoarde of very real physical symptoms. Pain, vision, balance, moments of confusion, twitching while sleeping and on. My work is based on WWII. And i had been watching some material these past weeks where I cam across some vintage footage of post WWI soldiers with “shell shock”. I have to say it hit me like a train…….I have a form of “shell shock” . This last week has been very active judicially and for about ten days now I have also developed tinnitus and sudden violent lone jerking movements which have awoken me from sleep. This morning I thought again about the similarity of symptoms with “shell shock” (although more physically extreme in many of the men in the film. And I started to google ” is there a link between shell shock and fibromyalgia?” And here I am!!!!!! I’m SO relieved I know they are one and the same. And this gives me hope. Please continue with this research. Now I found you I do not need to attempt to write ‘ the book lol. Forgive mess writing with one finger on cell phone.

  53. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear writer:
    Thank you immensely for sharing these sad stories with us. Shell Shock, (Gulf War Syndrome, PTSD) along with all the other trauma you have experienced is overwhelming. You have survived so much. I believe that those of us with these invisible conditions are strong, in spite of our central nervous system being in a state of hyper arousal. It is important for us to begin as you have by citing all those challenges but not to re-live them day after day. The brain gets used to going down that same pathway, reactivating the trauma. This certainly happened to you as you watched the footage of the WW1 soldiers. I hope you will read other blogs I have written about fibro, PTSD, Chronic Fatigue and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. There are strategies for helping us with a better quality of life. Do read some of the other blogs and thank you so much for telling your story.
    Best wishes,

  54. Writer

    P.s. i was diagnosed with FM in 2016…but am I imaging when almost all those with genuine Fm have not only had trauma but are/ were type A personalities and all extremely energetic in their l8ves and careers? Its almost as if the body and mind are saying STOP! And because we can not the internal system has some kind of freakout. I do know that if I really rest and have less stress for a couple of days ( hard for type A’s) symptoms recede, yet it i open my mailbox and see an email from court or a bill i feel im going to pass out,. Its as if one lose the minimum tolerance to stresses. On bad days even my son saying ” mum can you…….” makes me have that same rush off dizziness and panic. Is this insanity? However I do feel that given the peace of mind rest and solution/elimination to ongoing triggers, we can get better. (Elimination for some could include bringing ongoing high stress events to a positive end – like court cases etc, and even eliminating triggers such as toxic people for example) Thank you so much for replying to us all in such a supportive manner. I feel I have found a safe place with fellow sufferers of this nasty and rather scary syndrome . Love to all. Sorry typos

  55. Bhakti

    Writer – I believe you are right. I am in my late 50’s and recognise now that I had some PTSD symptoms in the past that I could not explain, but which subsided when the trigger factors were no longer around. More recently I have experienced more prolonged difficulties which set off symptoms that have not subsided but kept increasing. I realise I have pushed myself too hard for too long and some part of my brain is now objecting. Any form of demand from outside of myself, and even my own attempts to get myself to do things that need doing trigger symptoms. Even my own thoughts can trigger symptoms. I have found there is no way of avoiding them. I do not believe solely avoiding triggers is the answer. For me, triggers are now everywhere in the environment. Slight resemblances in faces, looking into people’s eyes, someone’s physique – all these can trigger flashbacks to disturbing emotional states. Sometimes I can work out what memory it is related too. Sometimes it remains a mystery. Sometimes after many months, I realise what the trauma memory connection between the symptom and the trigger was. The same applies for things that soothe me. Sometimes I have an idea of why a particular soothing technique works. Other times, I just know it works. And sometimes I eventually get an understanding of why – what memory or experience that particular soothing technique is connected to. I have struggled to accept I am now like this, but now try to view it as a different life experience that is slowly teaching me how the mind works. The other thing to know, is that what works for you one week, may not work the next. Constant exploration and observation of your thinking and mind and reactions can help you recognise when you are in a state where some activity may be possible. I work on the premise that I only push myself to do things if it is absolutely essential, and in all other situations, if I feel uncomfortable, or triggered, I return home. I have found that sometimes watching news will trigger me. Sometimes it won’t. But I have found that for me, watching quiz shows is generally safe as they are generally light hearted. I also found David Attenborough documentaries were good when I had a lot of physical (somatic) PTSD symptoms as they engaged my mind a bit, and took the edge off the pain I was experiencing. I also learnt that doing tasks that engage the mind is a way to have a break, and do challenging logical puzzles and play computer games that require logic, and often play those games while having a David Attenborough DVD playing in the background. This has become quite long so I will leave it here. Look after yourself. I believe it is especially hard to come to terms with these symptoms when you have been a high functioning person. And I agree – it is as if your mind and body are saying STOP.

  56. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Bhakti:
    You letter and that of Writer have both got it right! I experience the same as you with regard to triggers, what is or is not soothing, oftentimes not even knowing if I can stand one more thing I have to do when asked of me or I know should be done. It all feels too overwhelming at times.
    Some days I can stand watching the news, other days it is too overwhelming.Pushing myself too hard is something I do almost daily. Afterwards I am exhausted and wonder why it is I’ll never learn. I have trouble practicing what I preach even though I understand what I am doing to myself, I am always over reaching, Definitely Type A behaviour as Writer maintains.I am impatient and want things done yesterday. My brain flits from one real or imagined demand.
    I really need to STOP…

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