My Experience Taking Amitriptyline for Fibromyalgia
Editor’s note: The following is based on an individual’s experience and shouldn’t be taken as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before going on or off medication.
When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, the rheumatologist immediately suggested I try amitriptyline, gradually increasing my dose in line with my GP’s guidance. At the time of my diagnosis, I was probably at my worst. The pain and exhaustion were just, well, exhausting. I was dragging myself through each day, my life revolving around a cycle of sleep, work, sleep, work. I barely cooked, struggled to shower every day, and fell into bed at 8:00 p.m., too tired to even read a book (which, as a book blogger, is a tragedy!), only to wake up again at 6:30 a.m., still tired.
Amitriptyline is a tricyclic antidepressant, which works on your central nervous system, increasing the levels of certain chemicals in your brain. The box came with a host of warnings – may cause suicidal thoughts, do not mix with alcohol – and my GP warned it could make me very drowsy. He said his intention was for me to get up to 50 mg per day, but it would be a slow process.
Between June and September last year, I was practically a zombie. The medication knocked me sideways. I went to work on autopilot, not fully “waking up” until lunchtime. I had to monitor the time I took it in the evenings to make sure I had enough time to sleep off the side effects. It was a few months of real trial and error. And as soon as I got used to one dose, my GP increased it.
We had tickets for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the beginning of August, seeing both parts in one day, and I didn’t get home until almost midnight. I took my medication as soon as I got home, and felt awful the next day. The only way to describe it is a hangover. I felt like I’d been up all night, drinking heavily and partying. I often went to work with a headache, barely conversing with anyone. The side effects were tough to deal with at times.
You might think this is a negative experience with amitriptyline, but actually, despite all of the above, my experience has been largely positive. Amitriptyline has quite literally changed my life. Once I reached 50 mg and was used to it, I began to feel so much better. Around October, we started attempting short walks into town. We’d lived in Hertford for almost a year, and I’d never ventured into the town center. In January, I started attending a pilates class. In March, we spent a long weekend in Edinburgh, with a stopover in York. We took the train, and spent the days wandering, exploring. I could do so much more than I’d ever been able to do. I still fell into bed by 9:00 p.m., exhausted, but also exhilarated. In April, I started trying other classes, such as Zumba and aerobics. Now the weather was getting better, we tried to take a walk every weekend. In June, one year since my diagnosis, we spent a week in Cornwall, climbing up and down the cliffs surrounding Wheal Coates, exploring Fowey, wandering around Mevagissey.
Am I cured? Far from it, sadly. I still have chronic pain, and find myself in bed before 10:00 p.m. most nights. If I’m already tired, and I take my medication, it hits me like a ton of bricks, making me feel drunk and in desperate need of my bed. This happens at least once a week, and it’s not pleasant. This journey has been a long one. It’s been a road full of adjustments, attempts, failure and frustration, but it’s also been a rewarding one, and it’s not over yet. Fibromyalgia is a condition that needs constant management. Pilates helps, and I see a physiotherapist from time to time for extra help and relief. I feel lucky that the first medication I tried was one that worked for me. I’ve heard so many stories of people trying several medications over long periods of time before finding the one that works for them.
My point is, if your doctor suggests amitriptyline, don’t be scared of it. It might be a tricyclic antidepressant, but it can also help certain chronic illnesses. There may be a long list of possible side effects, and the adjustment period might be tough, but it might work for you. It does for me.
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Thinkstock photo via Jack Hollingsworth.