When Fibromyalgia and Panic Attacks Meet


No one told me that my panic attacks and fibromyalgia could stop my body from functioning. I had not been told that the pain from one would overlap with the other and, seemingly, short circuit my brain. I hadn’t realized anyone could be in that much pain – until it happened.

A little background. At the time of writing, I’m 23 years old, fairly young. However, I was in third grade when I was told I was depressed and needed to seek therapy. I had a habit of saying a lot of self destructive things, even at that age. That depression slowly grew over the years of bullying and public schooling until around 2007-2008. I was around 14-15 in that time period and my grandmother was dying of leukemia.

I like to think myself as a self proclaimed “mama’s girl.” But, at that time, my mother couldn’t really be around often. She would go back and forth often to visit my grandmother at the hospital, three to four days a week. I completely respected that about her. She needed to be able to do that and I know I would do the same for her. However, that was when my anxiety and panic disorder started.

My panic attacks were centered on my chest. The best way to describe it would be like someone knocking the wind out of you, or like having a heart attack. That may seem like a bit of a leap, but there is a spectrum for the pain. It was debilitating and there were a lot of other factors to it, but that isn’t needed for this story. The fact was and is, for me, anxiety has a physical pain.

The next pain did not start until a few year later. This was a completely different pain than my panic and anxiety. We still used the pain scale system – one being “alright” and 10 being, “Help, I’m in so much pain I can barely think!” Though, that was just it. I was able to think at a level 10 and still able to function – even to the slightest degree. However, when I was 17, this new pain came up, centered on my legs. I would not know then, but the pain would spread to my whole body.

It didn’t help that I have hypermobile joints, basically meaning I can pop my joints out of place very easily. All I have to do is go to sleep, and in the night with all my tossing and turning, I can come out with my arm really messed up. I have popped my first and second ribs out of place more times than I care to remember. Because of this, I have to see a chiropractor weekly to adjust almost every joint in my body, or I can’t function well.

Either way, we did the basics, as many people have done. We saw at least five doctors (still ticking up) and it wouldn’t be until I was 19 when they confidently said I had fibromyalgia. As anyone with fibro will tell you, it hurts. A lot. It’s debilitating, you are tired, and you can’t move well.

That’s the basics of what I was and still am dealing with – chest and leg pain.

A few years ago, I got into a fight with one of my family members. I can’t remember what it was about but I had gone to my room to cool off. I was tired and I crawled in bed. I pulled my phone out to text a friend about how angry I was and how much pain I was in. I could feel my anxiety starting. At that point, my fibro had been flaring up for the past few days, or maybe it was even weeks at that point – I can’t remember. But, I started to get a panic attack.

It was slow at first but then it hit me like a truck. Suddenly, I went from a level five panic attack on the pain scale to a level 10. I had already been crying, so that simply got harder. My breathing got harder and my vision narrowed. I couldn’t breathe from my nose because it was running. My arms started to lock up and contort. It was that kind of contortion and lock up that told you there was no acting, this is real pain. I started to choke and cough a little, trying to call out in pain, but all that I could let out was a whimper. My legs had stopped moving and all I could feel from them was a heavy pain. Like an elephant had sat on my legs and the rest of my body. But what was worse… I was alone. No one knew this was happening because I was in my bedroom, in bed.

I had tried to call out for help. My parents were only upstairs. I knew they would help as they had helped with so many panic attacks before. However, when I tried to speak, I couldn’t form words. If anything it was hushed whispers that, to this day, I am not sure were even words.

I had somehow worked my phone up to my shoulder and started to twitch toward it. I couldn’t move my arms away from my chest but, the way my hand was locked up allowed my pointer to be of use to me. I had sent a few messages, begging for help.

Sadly, no one saw the message for another hour or so. I wound up being trapped in my own body, unable to move, and in a massive amount of pain for enough time that I wound up hyperventilating and passing out. Passing out was the best thing that happened to me that day. It stopped me from overthinking things and stopped the pain. I woke up to my mother coming to check on me and to help me. I told my doctors about it in the following weeks and there was no damage to my body.

However, no one told me this was a thing that could happen. No one told me that I could lose control like that. No one told me I could be trapped in my body, in so much pain that I couldn’t function. This is my nightmare and it has happened to me twice. Sadly, I expect it to happen to me again in moments of high emotional distress.

I do not share this to scare people. In fact, I share this for many reasons. Partly, because I want others to know that they are not alone. I felt as though I was alone in experiencing this and don’t want others to feel that way. Another reason I share this is because it helps me feel better to get it off my chest. I learned over the years that sharing what is going on in my head is a helpful way to feel better.

Most importantly, I wanted to tell those who have experienced this that it can get better. That therapy can help both physically and mentally. That it’s always important to get the help you need. To please reach out. There are people that can help. All you have to do is advocate for yourself and get that help you need. It’s a slow process and not easy, but it can help in the long run. Once you can figure out how your brain ticks it can help you avoid this kind of thing. And even if you can’t avoid it, breathe through it and the next day will come. Even in the next few hours you will not be trapped. That trapped feeling will only last a short period of time and then you are free.

Sadly, no one told me that this was a possibility. No one told me that that I could get out of that trap. I know that I can now and it helps to comfort me.

Getty Image by golubovy


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Fibromyalgia

hand drawn illustration of a heart surrounded by leaves and flowers

Why 'Fake It Till You Make It' Doesn't Work With Chronic Illness

Anyone with chronic illness can tell you… Finding that balance between what you need to do, what you can do and what you should do is like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’s the ever out of reach, constantly shifting idea that we can never quite seem to reach. [...]

What It Means to Love a Woman With Chronic Illness

First, I’d like to clarify that I’m not an expert in relationships. Let me also say that being in a relationship with someone who is chronically ill and/or in pain isn’t easy. There are good times and bad times, most of which, if you’re really lucky, will come from the ups and downs of their [...]
mother smiling with her two sons

What I Learned After Going From 'Supermom' to 'Super Sick Mom'

Shortly after I became a mama for the first time in September 1999, it quickly became obvious that I was going to be “that mom.” That mom who kept a spotless house, cooked a big meal every night and still spent quality time with her family. When my sons were 3 and 5, I worked [...]
woman sitting at a desk in an office holding her head in her hands

When the Limitations of Chronic Illness Clash With My 'Inner Worker'

I’ve always been a hard worker. As a child, I did my homework without being told first, and I studied myself into a fretful, anxious frenzy. I was always concerned with doing my best, knowing it all and getting good grades. I wanted to prove myself. That hasn’t changed much as an adult, and I [...]