“For the person with fibromyalgia, it is as though the ‘volume control’ is turned up too high
in the brain’s pain processing centers.” —American College of Rheumatology
It’s been a little over 48 hours since my diagnosis, and I’m still not on the Cymbalta (actually, generic duloxetine) yet. So I thought this might be a good time to get a baseline for my symptoms and try to explain what it’s like to be me right now. Then, hopefully, in a few months I can look back at this post and be all like, “I feel like a rockstar compared to that. Fuck yeah!”
Let’s get this one out of the way first.
For a while I have been getting randomly—and sometimes unexplainably—sad. There’s a sort of chicken-egg question for me when it comes to fibromyalgia and depression. If I didn’t have fibromyalgia, would I still be depressed? Or put another way, is the depression secondary to exhaustion from poor-quality sleep, which is secondary to being in perpetual pain? Or, am I both depressed and fibromyalgic?
It’d be interesting to know the answers to those questions, but in the end they’re not as important as the one question my rheumatologist asked me: Do you feel you get sad more easily?
Unequivocally, yes. In fact, a week earlier when the nurse practitioner first suspected fibromyalgia and mentioned another patient of hers being treated with Cymbalta (a drug name I remembered from my days working the front office of a psychiatric clinic) I got happy for a second. Maybe my mood will improve too, I thought. Because here’s the thing, if I could only get rid of one thing— the sadness or the pain—I’d get rid of the sadness.
My depression could certainly be more severe, and I’m thankful it isn’t. I can keep the tears in, especially in public. I’m not suicidal. And, like most people I am hesitant to be too forthcoming with details about how low I feel, even with those I’m close to, because I don’t want to be a total downer. But I absolutely know that I am not the person I was a year ago, and my doctor gets the unaltered truth about all of it for two reasons: 1.) I want to feel better, and 2.) listening to me complain about shit is in his job description.
My right hamstring is a total bitch. It cramps up without provocation and aches when I walk. My muscles constantly feel like the day after a really tough workout. You might be thinking, I love that feeling! I always feel like I’ve really accomplished something when my muscles ache after a workout.
Yeah, I remember those days. But try feeling that way all day, every day for five or six months straight while you get fatter and the energy drains from you exponentially. The novelty wears off, cross my heart. And then one day you realize you can’t hold your hands above your head long enough to dry your hair or lift your leg high enough to step into your underwear.
The muscle pain is distinct from the sensory (nerve) pain. Remember when I said that shaving my legs felt like rubbing them with 24-grit sandpaper? That’s not an exaggeration. In fact, I got a 6-week jump on No Shave November. When my rheumatologist asked me to lift my pant legs up as part of the physical exam on Wednesday, I was mortified.
Hugs hurt. The things that have consistently helped me get through bad days since the beginning of my existence…hurt.
I attend a lot of meetings at my job and I yawn through them all, whether they’re boring or not. When Dan and I go shopping, I’m sucking wind by the time we reach the register. (If it’s a big box store, I’m hanging on his arm for dear life by the time we reach the yogurt.) When I wake up in the morning, I’m already tired. Asking me to bother with things like eyeliner and mascara after a shower would likely get you a sarcasm-laced laugh and a close-up look at my middle finger. (Not that anyone’s asking that of me. I’m just sayin’.)
I also have statistical evidence of my rapid decline in energy. I got a Fitbit at the beginning of the year and had fun logging more than 10,000+ steps a day. Now, if I log 5,000 steps in a single day (that’s my adjusted goal) it’s bittersweet. My Fitbit shakes and says “You did it!” but in my mind I know I’m already paying for it for it. Lately, on a typical day I get between 1,500 and 3,000 steps.
“Do you excercise?” my rheumatologist asked me Wednesday.
“No. I used to walk every day, but not now.” When I see people jogging in the park or see an advertisement for the local recreation center, I just get depressed.
And I guess that brings me full circle, doesn’t it?