Why I Decided to Try Alternative Therapies for My Chronic Illnesses


Editor's Note

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

I feel as though I should be “chronicling my journey” somewhere. Isn’t that what people do who fancy themselves going through some type of life-altering change?

Yeah, well.

I don’t know so much about life-altering, and I certainly harbor no delusions that my own personal stuff is of any interest to anyone else. But nonetheless, here I am.

My journey with fibromyalgia officially started almost 15 years ago. After years and years of unexplained symptoms and being told it was “all in my head,” I finally made my way to a rheumatologist – self-referred – and got a confirmed diagnosis of fibro and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). I was relieved to have someone with fancy letters (i.e., “MD”) after their name validate what I was experiencing rather than dismiss it. Prior to that time, I had been subjected to string of interactions with various doctors that were at best disappointing and at worst traumatic.

One doctor asked me if I was pregnant. Clearly this person hadn’t even perused my file – I was on oral birth control and not sexually active. When my response to him was a clipped, “No,” he followed up with, “Are you sure?” Yes, I said, I was sure. The last time I checked, I told him, there were some pretty basic criteria that have to be met for pregnancy to be an option – and I was 100 percent sure that I met none of them. Another equally infuriating individual almost literally patted me on the head and told me to “get more fresh air.”

Needless to say, these condescending professionals did nothing for my faith in Western medicine. So when I finally got a doctor to concur that something was wrong and give it a name, I was overcome with relief. And overwhelmed with a sense of sadness and helplessness. I was the rheumatologist’s youngest patient by over a decade. He shook his head and said, “What must be going on in your body for it to do this to you?” He was kind and attentive, and I appreciated his willingness to spend more than 10 minutes conducting a visit or exam. I did not have the heart to tell him that I could remember symptoms as young as 8 or 10 years old, so whatever was “going on” in my body had been going on for ages.

Living with this stuff has been one helluva ride. Sometimes it has been bumpy as all hell. I’ve been too weak to get out of bed and too foggy to think straight, but I’ve also been exercising five to six times a week and am sharp as a tack. Fortunately, I’ve been less on the low-functioning end of the spectrum for a while, although there are always flares that remind me not to get too cocky about “managing my fibro.” I look back at where and who I was all those years ago, 20-something and scared, and I realize that what has enabled me to function better is a complex web of factors. I’ve changed my diet, my meds, and my expectations. I’ve learned to defer to the limitations of my physical body, even when my brain is full-speed ahead. And I’ve made peace with knowing that the deference isn’t a weakness or admission of defeat, just the manifestation of the healthy respect I’ve gained for my body, what it does for me, and what it cannot do for me.

I’ve always felt that alternative therapies have their place in treatment of fibro and related conditions, especially given that traditional medicine is yet to actually pinpoint a cause, so utilizing chiropractic and massage therapy are givens for me. But up until recently, I didn’t really fool too much with nutritional supplements and herbal remedies.

Why?

1. Some of that stuff is smoke and mirrors.

2. The energy it takes to wade through all the information, make sense of it, and actually implement anything. I just…couldn’t.

And I couldn’t bring myself to view taking even more pills (naturopathic or not) as a reality that I could embrace long-term. Here’s what changed my thinking: Although I have what most would consider very well-managed fibro and CFS, I find that as I get older, the inevitable flares and drastic dips in energy hit me harder and take me longer to recover from. And since I have zero interest in being laid out in bed for weeks on end, I thought it time to revisit supplements, etc.

And I have to say, it has helped. It is not convenient and it does put some strain on my monthly budget, but it has helped. I will not even pretend that I am in the position of giving advice to anyone else. Everyone’s experience with these issues differs, and each person really has to find what works for them. But speaking as someone who has been on just about every medication you can imagine used to treat fibro, I will encourage anyone dealing with it to explore other things that, in conjunction with your pharmaceutical meds, might help you. It could be yoga, massage, ashwagandha, veganism, water aerobics, getting a cat, getting blackout curtains or any number of other things. Know that it is worth the effort and expenditure of energy to find something – anything – that legitimately improves your quality of life in whatever way matters to you.

My point is this: Do not give up hope. Do not give up the fight to feel better. You deserve a good life. It may never be perfect, but it can be better.

Follow this journey here.


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