Fibromyalgia Syndrome has been called the “aching-all-over disease,” but that epithet falls short of conveying the true wretchedness of the debilitating illness. An often agonizing muscle disorder in which the thin film or tissue holding muscle together becomes thickened or tightened, Fibromyalgia (or FM or FMS) is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal aches, pains and stiffness, soft tissue tenderness, mild to incapacitating fatigue, and disturbed sleep.
The pain of Fibromyalgia is typically felt in the neck, back, shoulders and hands, but it is not exclusive to those areas. Based on criteria set in 1990 by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia requires a patient to have experienced widespread pain for a minimum of three months in 11 of 18 tender muscle sites. Among those 18 sites are the hips, knees and rib cage.
Other symptoms of, or conditions that are linked with, Fibromyalgia include (but are not limited to): allergies, anxiety, carpal tunnel syndrome, celiac disease (gluten intolerance), chronic fatigue, depression, dizziness, headaches, irritable bowel symptoms, numbness, and tender skin.
A major symptom of Fibromyalgia is sensory sensitivity. Not only touch, but sound, sight, smell, taste and emotions, at times, can all become extremely (overly) sensitive. This is a real symptom, but is often discounted.
For instance, when a friend says something inoffensive in a (perceived) short tone a Fibromyalgia sufferer may burst into tears, even though she knows (logically) that she shouldn’t be offended—it is simply whatever it is that Fibromyalgia does neurologically to exacerbate sensitivity. The same can be said of five people talking to or around a FM sufferer at once making her unable to listen to any conversation at all, or music she doesn’t like playing way “too loud,” or the lights in the room that are suddenly glaringly bright, or the “fact” that her clothes have suddenly turned into sandpaper making her skin feeling raw against their roughness, or how she finds it an immediate necessity to remove her bra that she is certain is cutting and burning into her flesh. Sensory overload!
You can see why the butterfly is embraced as a symbol of Fibromyalgia awareness. Soft as breath, nearly weightless, it is an excellent allegory to the impact even the lightest touch has on a Fibromyalgia patient.
The ACR estimates that Fibromyalgia affects as many as 6 million Americans. Most sufferers of FM are women (often who are first diagnosed when they are of childbearing age), but it has also been known to strike men, children, and the elderly.
There is no cure for this condition. Patients’ pain is treated mainly through pharmaceuticals, but also through acupuncture, acupressure, massage, infrared saunas, other homeopathic methods, sleep therapy (and often use of a CPAP machine at night), water and land yoga and any other way a patient can come up with to stay relatively pain-free and able to live a relatively normal life.
In case you were unaware: I suffer from Fibromyalgia. Some days are good, some are great, some are down-right awful! I am typically in some level of pain every day and every night. Sometimes I need help just to get out of bed in the morning.
But I do it, each and every day—because while I may have Fibromyalgia, it doesn’t have me!