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I Finally Know Why I Have Difficulty Speaking With Fibromyalgia

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I’m often astounded over the myriad inexplicable symptoms that come along with fibromyalgia and, usually, I never find out what causes them. We typically just throw them into “the fibro bucket,” which is pretty much bottomless, and dismiss them without ever knowing. So, it’s really great when you actually get an answer!

One such “symptom,” as many people with fibromyalgia know, is difficulty speaking. I used to speak publicly. I gave speeches at colleges and gave work-related presentations and business pitches to executives. For years, speaking with and to people was the crux of my career, and then I “got sick.” Pain is just one of a multitude of reasons I gave up working, but another driving force was an inability to speak. Nowadays, I sometimes have difficulty forming sentences, articulating my thoughts into words, and worst of all, I can never guarantee what will actually fall out of my mouth, regardless of what I intended.

When the opportunity arose, I brought it up to my neurologist, who is the head of neurology at Saint Vincent’s Hospital and the answer was pretty simple: pain is the first thing processed by the brain. So, for people who are constantly in pain, everything else comes secondary to that, including speech. So when the brain is constantly being flooded with pain signals, it’s too busy processing those to focus on other signals.

Pretty unbelievable how simple that is, right? It doesn’t help to improve things, but it certainly helps to know and understand why it happens.

Meeting new people for the first time or being in a social setting now creates anxiety and embarrassment, as I’m sure it does for anyone affected in this way. It can feel like a direct reflection on my level of intelligence or competence. So, I handle it in a few ways.

1. Hope.

I hope it doesn’t come up!

2. Pain management.

Ahead of any situations with new people, I try to keep my pain levels well-controlled.

3. Be open beforehand.

If it’s someone important, like when meeting my son’s girlfriend recently, he actually headed it all off and explained it to her ahead of time. Which was great, because it actually did come up while we were out to eat. Having given an explanation ahead of time, I never felt the need to explain or feel embarrassed. Instead, we laughed about it. Which, brings me to my last recommendation:

4. Laugh.

It isn’t always easy to have a sense of humor or to brush off the challenges that come in even the simplest of things, like talking. But trying to not take everything so seriously does help. My kids never hesitate to pounce when gibberish falls out of my mouth.

Above all, be kind to yourself and have sympathy. There is a scientific explanation. Speech challenges are real and they in no way reflect incompetency or lack of intelligence. Everyone has their challenges and no one is perfect. So, if and when it does come up, I simply explain. Now you can too.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.


Fibromyalgia, a chronic illness with three main symptoms — widespread pain, chronic fatigue and cognitive trouble. Fibromyalgia is a complicated illness that’s not well understood. In the past, it was mischaracterized as a mental health disorder. Even today, some doctors wave off fibro symptoms as being “all in your head.” This isn’t the case. Read The Mighty’s comprehensive guide to fibromyalgia here. Click here to join our fibro community and connect with people who get it.

Getty Images photo via Tharakorn

Originally published: February 18, 2019
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