How Fibromyalgia Affects My Mental Health
For years, I was plagued with muscle cramps, widespread pain that I could only describe as being hit by a bus, debilitating chronic fatigue, brain fog, chronic migraines, dislocating joints and seemingly unconnected and unexplained symptoms. I explained my symptoms to numerous doctors, only to be dismissed because I am diagnosed with mental illness, until one day, I found myself sitting across from a rheumatologist who took me seriously. She validated my symptoms, pressed on the trigger points on my body and matter-of-factly told me, “You have fibromyalgia.” She told me I wasn’t making it up, and explained that the trauma that eating disorder behaviors had on my body and the resulting hormonal imbalance, as well as my severe anxiety and depression, opened the gate for fibromyalgia to set in.
As relieving as it was to finally have an answer, no doctor could have prepared me for the way that fibromyalgia, even post-diagnosis and with ongoing treatment, would affect my mental health.
Unfortunately, I think people with chronic illness are not always treated holistically. Being sick is exhausting, not just physically but psychologically too. Aside from my fibromyalgia, I am diagnosed with several mental health conditions.
Among those, I battle anorexia nervosa. Due to the nature of my illness, I am incredibly body conscious. A common symptom of fibromyalgia is nausea and irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. This can make restricting even more tempting. Sometimes, battling an eating disorder means feeling like my body is foreign. When I am dealing with pain day in and day out, I turn to eating disorder behaviors to feel more in control when my body’s pain level is out of my control.
Battling several anxiety disorders and major depressive disorder means that my fibromyalgia both impacts these illnesses, and is impacted by these illnesses. When I am depressed or anxious, pain seems to increase, and flares become more frequent. When I am in a flare, it increases my likelihood of inciting a depressive episode or an anxiety attack.
Even for those who don’t struggle with mental illness in addition to fibromyalgia or other chronic illness, the effects of fibromyalgia on mental health are far reaching.
The bottom line is that being in pain day in and day out is emotionally draining and exhausting. Your emotions surrounding your disease are valid. I hope people are able to recognize that chronic illness is all-encompassing. It can present differently in every person, and for some, can exacerbate existing mental health concerns.
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