Ashley Nestler MSW

@ashleynestlermsw | contributor
Super Contributor
My name is Ashley Nestler, MSW and I am a survivor of Schizoaffective Disorder, Quiet Borderline Personality Disorder, Fibromyalgia, multiple eating disorders, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Following multiple traumas, including sexual and emotional abuse, bullying, and harassment, I found myself in the midst of a severe mental health crisis. Having nowhere to go but up, I am rebuilding my life by facing my trauma, accepting multiple mental illness diagnoses, and discovering who I really am. Through this ongoing process, I am rediscovering my personal power and drawing on my inner light to create a life that I love; a life where I can educate others on mental illness and continue breaking the stigma.

What Medical School Students Need to Know About Fibromyalgia

My experience with having fibromyalgia is that I am often not taken very seriously. It took me a long time to be diagnosed, and my pain and negative symptoms were often brushed off as not being serious when other diagnoses didn’t fit. Being invalidated has caused me to suffer through my symptoms longer than I should have. It is because of this that I am now very vocal about my experience with fibromyalgia and experiences testing out the different treatments that are available to help my symptoms. With that being said, if I were invited to speak at a medical school about fibromyalgia, I would mainly like to discuss the seriousness of the illness. So many times, fibromyalgia is downplayed, even though it impacts every aspect of an individual’s life. I would urge medical students to look more into the illness and how it affects an individual’s ability to function on a daily basis. So many of us struggle with little understanding from professionals and it can often be difficult to find adequate medical care. I would highlight the importance of treating fibromyalgia as the serious illness that it is to increase the quality of life of those who live with it. I would want to tell medical students my personal story of living with fibromyalgia and how it has limited my life and my ability to pursue many things. I would want students to realize how much the weather and temperatures greatly impact how I am able to function on a daily basis, and how I end up spending most of my time trying to figure out how to manage my symptoms. Telling medical students about the severity of my symptoms would make me feel as though I was being heard. I find that telling my story helps others to understand the condition better than any medical book ever could. I would want medical students to know that when it is summer, I spend most of my time inside in the AC because heat causes my symptoms to flare up. I can’t go outside and enjoy the sunshine because the heat often ends up making me feel like I have the flu. I would also want medical students to know that when it is winter, the cold causes my body to ache as though it is being torn apart muscle by muscle. No matter the temperature, I am easily impacted by hot and cold temperatures, and this limits a lot that I can do with my life. I often feel like I am chasing my symptoms and anticipating circumstances that may make my symptoms worse. But most of all I would want medical students to understand how fickle fibromyalgia is, and how small environmental changes can deeply impact how my symptoms react on a daily basis. I would want medical students to understand that there aren’t a lot of medical treatments available for those with fibromyalgia, and as someone with multiple mental illnesses, and as someone who is on various mental health medications, I am unable to take certain medications approved for fibromyalgia because of the interactions that would occur with the other medications that I am on. Most of the time I must manage my symptoms on my own using techniques such as using cooling towels in the summer, and heating pads in the winter, while also trying to use gentle movement and dietary changes along with herbal supplements to manage pain. I would also want to highlight how fatigue and brain fog are big parts of my illness and require me to pursue a lot of rest. Living with fibromyalgia is not easy, and if I could talk to medical students, I would want to highlight the various aspects of the illness that severely limit what I am able to do with my life on a daily basis. I would want to highlight how severe this illness is, and how it impacts every aspect of my life. It is about time we take fibromyalgia seriously, and I hope that medical students can hear real-life stories from those living with the illness to create more empathy for those of us struggling on a daily basis.

10 Questions You Should Ask Your Doctor If You Have Fibromyalgia

Being diagnosed with fibromyalgia can feel daunting. There is so much to learn about this illness and how it can affect you. Doctors can be extremely helpful in this case, because they can often answer a lot of your questions with ease and knowledge. Research on your own can also be helpful, but sometimes taking what you learn to your doctors to help debunk some of the myths you come across may be necessary. The following are 10 great questions to ask your doctor if you need some guidance about what to ask. 1) What medications are available for fibromyalgia? Medication tends to be the top choice for managing fibromyalgia. Your doctor might refer you to a rheumatologist to discuss further treatments and create a treatment plan. When meeting with this doctor, you can ask to discuss all medication options and possible side effects to make an informed decision about your health. 2) Will exercise or physical activity help with my fibromyalgia symptoms? There are a lot of different opinions about the role of movement and exercise in the treatment of fibromyalgia. This tends to vary from person to person based on each person’s symptoms and what they can best handle. Your doctor can discuss the role of movement in your treatment and help you come to a decision on what is best for your body. 3) Are there any special diets that can be helpful for fibromyalgia? While doctors can be helpful when asking about any special diets, their breadth of knowledge on nutrition is generally not very vast. With that being said, I would suggest that speaking to a dietician, nutritionist, or even naturopath can help you learn about any research that has been done on the diet’s connection with fibromyalgia, while helping you guide possible lifestyle changes that may help you to manage your fibromyalgia better. 4) Are there alternative treatments for fibromyalgia? Like the above question, sometimes more natural treatment options can be discussed with a naturopath or lifestyle coach specializing in fibromyalgia. You can ask your doctor for recommendations in this area, and they can help guide you to professionals who may be able to help you. 5) Can I manage fibromyalgia without medication? Asking your doctor about how to manage fibromyalgia without medication can help guide you to all treatment options while also giving you an idea of what life without medication may be like considering the severity of your symptoms. Your doctor will be best able to help you understand the role of medication in your treatment, and what going without medication may mean for your health. 6) How physically active can I be with fibromyalgia? The level of physical activity that an individual is able to manage deeply depends on each individual’s severity of symptoms and how movement affects their symptoms. However, by bringing up the subject with your doctor you both can follow you as you try out different forms of movement and document how they make you feel. This process of trial and error can help you to better understand what type of movement is most beneficial for you and your illness. 7) Is fibromyalgia a chronic illness? By asking your doctor about fibromyalgia and how it may evolve throughout time, you can learn more about how fibromyalgia is generally not a progressive disorder, but how often the symptoms do become worse over time. Your doctor can help you to navigate this possibility and prepare for it. 8) Should I stop taking my medication if I feel like my fibromyalgia symptoms have improved? You should always talk to your doctor before deciding to stop taking a medication. Bringing up this option with your doctor will help you to learn more about the role of the medication and how the medication is helping you. 9) What other conditions can occur alongside fibromyalgia? Fibromyalgia commonly occurs with many mental illnesses and conditions such as lupus. Learning more about these conditions may help you to understand how your fibromyalgia may have developed, while helping you to learn how to manage any other conditions that you do have that may be connected to your fibromyalgia. 10) Is fibromyalgia a mental illness? This is a common misunderstanding, and your doctor can help you better understand how your fibromyalgia can affect you physically and mentally. Understanding both sides of the illness can help you to better understand how to manage your fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia may seem like a complicated illness that is often difficult to understand, but with the help of your doctor, you can learn more about the illness and how it may affect you now, and in the future. I hope that the above questions provide you with insight to bring to your next doctor’s appointment!

Let's Bust These 5 Myths About Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is an illness that seems to be surrounded by many myths. While this illness has been around for quite a while, there is still a lot that is unknown about it; however, as we learn more about fibromyalgia, the better we are able to debunk many of the myths surrounding it. The following are five common myths I have found that surround fibromyalgia, along with the truths behind them. I hope that learning the truth behind these myths will help you to understand more about your illness, or the illness that affects your loved one. 1) Myth: Fibromyalgia is a purely psychological illness. Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread pain, tender points, poor quality of sleep, and fatigue. Fibromyalgia can lead to depression, and depression can lead to fibromyalgia, but it is not a purely psychological illness. Both depression and fibromyalgia are medical conditions, and each condition has its own set of symptoms. Unfortunately, fibromyalgia was once considered a purely psychological condition that only affected women, and it was even once considered “Women’s Hysteria.” This negatively affected how fibromyalgia has been viewed, which makes it easy for those who don’t know much about the illness to stereotype it. It is important to understand that while fibromyalgia does have psychological aspects, it is a complicated medical illness that needs to be viewed as such. 2) Myth: Fibromyalgia is fatal. While having certain conditions, such as lupus, can lead to acquiring fibromyalgia, it has not been found that fibromyalgia affects a person’s life expectancy. Having certain conditions in conjunction with fibromyalgia may lead to a lower life expectancy, but a lower life expectancy has not been linked solely to fibromyalgia. 3) Myth: Fibromyalgia mainly affects older individuals. Fibromyalgia is initially diagnosed primarily in individuals ages 35 to 45, but it can also affect children. Fibromyalgia is seen in individuals of all ages. 4) Myth: Fibromyalgia only affects women. While women are 10 times more likely than men to acquire fibromyalgia, the illness can affect men as well. It is not yet understood why women are more likely than men to develop fibromyalgia, but we cannot discount the fact that men also live with the illness and need a high level of medical care to manage their symptoms. 5) Myth: Fibromyalgia causes severe damage to the body. It has not been found that fibromyalgia causes deterioration in the body. However, it is true that fibromyalgia symptoms can worsen over time and cause a lower quality of life and a lower ability to function regarding daily tasks. The severity of symptoms can lead to a negative impact on an individual’s psychological and physical well-being, but no physical deterioration of the body has been observed. Fibromyalgia is a serious illness that affects an individual’s physical and psychological well-being. It affects women more than men, but men do still develop the illness. Certain illnesses are more likely to lead to fibromyalgia, such as depression and lupus, which can impact the severity of fibromyalgia symptoms and the gravity of the illness. Fibromyalgia can seriously impact an individual’s ability to thrive, and medical care and attention must be paid regularly to ensure that an individual’s symptoms are well-managed. There are so many myths and misunderstandings that exist about fibromyalgia, but the more we tell our stories and spread awareness of what the illness is like, the more we will be able to raise awareness for fibromyalgia and support those who live with it. I hope that debunking the above myths has helped to spread more awareness about the reality of fibromyalgia while helping those understand more about their illness, or the illness of their loved one.

5 Fibromyalgia Pain Remedies -- Rated and Reviewed

Fibromyalgia can be a complicated illness to live with, and I find that fibromyalgia pain can be particularly difficult. There are so many supposed fibromyalgia pain remedies out there, and I have tried quite a few of them. The following are five of the main fibromyalgia pain remedies I have tried and how I rate them. Heating Pads – 4/5 Stars Heating pads are the first fibromyalgia pain-fighting tactic I learned to use, and when I am having isolated nerve pain, they tend to work pretty well. I am also sensitive to cold, so the heat from the heating pads helps this symptom as well. However, it doesn’t completely take the pain away, and I still experience the same amount of pain when I stop using the heating pad. I have also found that heating pads aren’t adequate to use when I am out and about and have fibromyalgia pain, so they aren’t very convenient. I am also sensitive to high heat so I am unable to use heating pads during the hot summer months, which makes the heating pads unusable for me for a large part of the year. Over the Counter Pain Medication – 3/5 Stars Sometimes when I am experiencing all-over body pain due to fibromyalgia, I try to use ibuprofen. Sometimes this works more than other times, but I find that it doesn’t adequately target all of my fibromyalgia pain. It is also unreliable because sometimes it will work, and sometimes it won’t. It really is just a case of trial and error concerning whether it will work or not. Prescribed Medication – 4/5 I have been unable to try Lyrica due to interactions with other medications I take, but my doctor prescribed me gabapentin for the nerve pain and anxiety. I have found that this medication has lowered my pain tremendously, and it does help a lot with my anxiety and panic attacks. I am grateful to have found a prescribed medication that helps my pain level to such a high degree, while also being low when it comes to side effects. Stretching and Yoga – 3/5 I have heard so many times that yoga and stretching can help fibromyalgia symptoms, and I have tried it over and over again. While stretching and yoga do sometimes help me to relax my body and my mind, I have found that they can also cause flare-ups of my fibromyalgia symptoms. It is because of this that I didn’t give this pain relief method a very high score because I never know how it will affect me from day to day. Swimming and Floating in a Pool – 4/5 Like yoga, I have found that floating or swimming in water is a way to relieve fibromyalgia pain. Because I experience a lot of body aches and nerve pain, I have found that going in a pool helps me to feel weightless and relieves a lot of the bodily pain I experience. However, it does depend on the temperature of the water. I have found that colder water can cause my pain to flare up, while warmer water is more soothing. There are so many “remedies” that individuals and medical professionals recommend for fibromyalgia pain and other symptoms, but ultimately it depends on a lot of trial and error to determine which methods will work the best for you. It has taken me a lot of time to work through different routes of pain and symptom relief to bring you my highest-rated fibromyalgia pain remedies as seen above. I hope that you can work with your medical team to navigate medical treatments, while also trying out more holistic methods to determine what is right for you. Feel free to share with me any symptom-relieving methods you have tried that have worked for you! I am always looking to add more tools to my fibromyalgia toolbox.

10 Ways Living With Fibromyalgia Can Affect Your Mental Health

Fibromyalgia is largely a disorder that is marked by widespread nerve pain. However, my experience with fibromyalgia has been that the pain I experience deeply affects my mental health. I have found that managing my fibromyalgia frequently requires caring for my mental health while addressing fibromyalgia symptoms. The following are 10 ways that living with fibromyalgia can affect your mental health: 1) Depression is a common symptom of fibromyalgia. 2) Fibromyalgia is linked to other mental illnesses, such as borderline personality disorder, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. 3) Trauma may be a cause of fibromyalgia and is often linked to the development of the illness. 4) Fibromyalgia pain can impact your mood by lowering your quality of life. 5) Having a sensitivity to cold and heat can impact an individual’s comfort level. 6) While pain can impact one’s moods, this can also occur vice versa. If one is experiencing depression, their pain levels and discomfort may increase. 7) Fibromyalgia can affect one’s sleep, and sleeping poorly can increase experiences of depression and anxiety. 8) Fibro fog (having issues with concentration) can increase depression and possible instances of ADHD. 9) Fatigue can cause severe sleepiness, and while a person may sleep longer, they often wake up in pain, which can negatively affect their mood. 10) Mourning an inability to do as much as one used to before acquiring fibromyalgia is linked to higher levels of depression. Throughout my journey with fibromyalgia, I have found that depression is more linked to my disorder than anything else. I experience symptoms of major depressive disorder, and my pain and fibro fog deeply impact my depression levels. I am on medication for this, but I still experience an increase in symptoms when my pain levels and temperature intolerances are high. I also struggle with being able to fall and stay asleep, which I am also on medication for, but when I am unable to get enough sleep. I notice that I am more sensitive to cold and heat and I experience widespread body pain. Fibromyalgia is often a very difficult illness to live with, and it is even harder when our mental health is impacted. If you haven’t, I would suggest seeing a psychiatrist as part of your fibromyalgia treatment team because they may be able to prescribe you medication that can target any depression you are experiencing, as well as help you to manage your sleep. My psychiatrist plays a big part in helping me manage my fibromyalgia in conjunction with my mental illnesses, and I have found a lot of relief with her. It is also worth seeing a psychiatrist to try and find any mental health diagnoses that you may be experiencing with your fibromyalgia. Having additional diagnoses can help to guide your treatment and help you find more relief from a mental health standpoint. I have noticed that while pain is one of the biggest symptoms I experience with my fibromyalgia, targeting my mental health symptoms works to also target the pain and provide me with relief. If you have fibromyalgia, I would advise you to keep a journal and track how your moods are impacted by your pain and associated symptoms. Doing so will help you to get a handle on your mental health and improve your symptoms with the help of a healthcare provider, should you decide to see one. I have found a lot of support in the form of my psychiatrist, and I am so thankful to have someone who can help me manage my mental health as it is impacted by my fibromyalgia symptoms. I hope you can find someone who can help you on both fronts as well.

Read This If You're Struggling to Accept Your Schizophrenia Diagnosis

When we talk about how “ mental health matters,” I feel like most people generally are referring to anxiety and depression . But I have found that people are less accepting when it comes to illnesses that have a higher chance of stigma following them, such as schizophrenia . Receiving a schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder diagnosis can be incredibly daunting because of this, and it can be difficult to learn how to embrace the diagnosis or at least feel neutral about it. When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t know what schizoaffective disorder was. I had to do my own research to learn about the diagnosis, and when I found out it was connected to schizophrenia, I felt an overwhelming sense of dread. All I knew about schizophrenia was how I had seen it portrayed in the media, and I didn’t know how to connect myself to my diagnosis. I still experience feelings of shame when I tell people that I have schizoaffective disorder, and this is something that I wish I could change my feelings around. If you have just been diagnosed, or have been diagnosed for a while and are feeling the same way, please know that you are not alone. These illnesses are so difficult to live with, and it is even harder when there is so much stigma that follows them in our culture. The key to learning how to sit with a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis for me was to realize that this illness presents itself differently in every person, and my experience is my own. A second thing that helped me learn to sit with it was to disregard how this disorder, and schizophrenia, are portrayed in the media. Doing so taught me to disregard the negative way that some people treated me when learning about my diagnosis. However, this isn’t to say that receiving my diagnosis was easy. It took me a long time, and a significant amount of depression, before I came to the point where I felt neutral about my diagnosis. I still have a hard time with it some days, especially when I am really struggling with my symptoms, but it has gotten easier over time. If you have just been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, I want to welcome you and to let you know that there is a significant community here waiting to love and accept you. Having this diagnosis is difficult but having support has significantly helped me to learn more about my illness while also learning how to manage flare-ups. One thing to remember is that there might always be stigma surrounding schizophrenia and its subtypes, but there are others who have experienced this stigma as well who are there to love and support you. If you don’t find a support group in your area, there are groups on Facebook and The Mighty where I have found a lot of people who have become close to me and who have helped me learn to manage my illness while feeling more accepted myself. No matter how you feel about your diagnosis, I want you to know that your feelings are valid. If you are struggling, I want to bring hope to you that it won’t always be this way. Having schizoaffective disorder – a severe mental illness – has most likely deeply affected your life and learning to manage it can be tricky. But if you take time now to give yourself grace, you can ease a lot of stress and tension that you may be experiencing. Your journey is your own, and however you experience your journey is valid. My hope for you is that you find others who you can share your experiences with and that you find your support group where you feel safe.

Why Fibromyalgia Awareness Month Is So Important

In May we recognize fibromyalgia and all who experience this illness. I happen to be one of those people, and fibromyalgia impacts a big part of my life. One thing that I often hear from people when I express my symptoms or that I have fibromyalgia is that I am “too young to be sick.” This is incredibly harmful to hear, because it invalidates what I am experiencing and makes me feel that something must be seriously wrong with me to experience this illness personally. For years I have struggled with pain, fatigue, and what is called “fibro fog.” I have difficulties concentrating and often find that I sleep for extended periods of time; however, I also experience insomnia and have issues with cold and hot temperatures. Being undiagnosed for so long was frustrating because I felt like maybe I was making up my symptoms or exaggerating because I didn’t have an answer for them. It may sound strange, but receiving my fibromyalgia diagnosis was a blessing because it gave me an explanation for my symptoms and opened up a variety of treatments that I could try to help me find relief. However, I have found that while there are treatments available, they generally have only helped to ease some of my symptoms. They have not helped them to completely go away. A lot of the treatment options are also lifestyle modifications, such as eating well, eating specific things, and practicing exercises. I find that it is hard for me to exercise many times because I am in pain, but walking does tend to help me feel more comfortable in my body. Other than that, I experience that rest and heating pads help with a lot of the pain issues. I also believe that some of my anxiety and depression issues are connected to my fibromyalgia, and besides using medications for these conditions, I have found that spirituality and meditation help to some extent. Meditation helps me to be more aware of my inner experience and allows me to connect to my core and my symptoms as they arise. What I wish people knew about fibromyalgia is that it does not discriminate. Anyone of any age or background can be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and we all deserve equal care. So many of us suffer in silence because we are invalidated or made to feel that we are making up our symptoms. Having this diagnosis is difficult, but I am happier now being able to have an explanation for my symptoms than I was when I was made to feel like I was making them up. During the month of May and our recognition of fibromyalgia, my hope is that we can shed light on how painful and difficult this illness can be to live with and manage. Some days I feel like giving up because the pain is so severe, and I struggle a lot with not being able to handle very cold or very warm temperatures. While there are mental aspects to this illness, it is deeply physical, and we all need to be understood for what we are experiencing without being made to feel as though we are making our symptoms up, or without having our symptoms downplayed. I hope that sharing my story will resonate with you should you also experience fibromyalgia, while also educating others on what this illness is really like. We all need to be heard, and the first step to being heard is sharing our stories. Fibromyalgia is a serious and debilitating illness, and we all deserve care and understanding for the symptoms we live with.

Missing the Voices In My Head When My Medication Treats My Psychosis

To those who don’t experience psychosis , hallucinating can seem like a very scary thing. Sometimes, I find that experiencing psychosis can be daunting, but more times than not I find that I miss my voices when my medication is working. This is something that is hard for me to admit because of fear of being misunderstood or being accused of “not wanting to get well;” however, it is important for me to be truthful about my experience. I have experienced hearing voices, seeing figures, and feeling and seeing bugs crawling all over me for many years. These hallucinations have caused me a lot of stress, but when I have experienced relief from them while on medication, I find that I almost always miss the voices. It feels weird for me to have a quiet mind and feeling alone is a trigger for me. Despite what my voices might have said to me in the past, good or bad, I always felt like I wasn’t alone because they were always there. Having that noisy distraction removed due to medication forces me to spend more time with myself, and sometimes I find that this increases my depression . When my medication is working correctly and I am not hearing voices, or I am not hearing them as often, I find that I always must be listening to something, such as having the television on, listening to the radio, or even just listening to calming sound videos on YouTube. Having that extra noise fills the space that I feel the voices have left behind. Sometimes, however, it does get to the point where I want to stop taking my medication to bring the voices back. This has happened on a few occasions which have caused my mental health to deteriorate greatly. It is just so difficult when the voices feel like an important part of my being, but they are toxic and can be very dangerous. If you experience hearing voices and miss them when your medication is working, please know that you are not alone. Experiencing hearing voices is something that only those of us who have firsthand experience can understand, and however you experience your voices, positive or negative, is personal to you. No one has a right to tell you whether your voices are good or bad, but I do hope that you can find some peace without the voices, if at all possible. When I am doing well, I try to remind myself how much better my life is without the voices. I try to remind myself about how much better I am able to function, and how, even though the voices are a part of me, they often become toxic. Even when I am not hearing the voices, however, I do hold my experiences with them close because they are a part of who I was and who I still am. It is OK to miss this part of yourself that may have become a big part of your life. Hearing voices is so personal, and no one has the right to tell you whether what you are experiencing is right or wrong. My hope for you and me is just that we can find peace without the voices, if possible, so that we can lead a life that is meaningful to us. We deserve to be healthy, but we also deserve to feel validated in our experiences with psychosis . If you are at a point where you are missing your voices, I want you to know that that is OK, and that you are not alone. Try sharing your story to give your voices a place where you can honor them. For me, even just writing this article has helped.

The Pandemic Has Raised Mental Health Conversation in Parents and Kids

In so many ways, the pandemic has been harmful to our collective mental health; however, in some ways, it has also been a gift. Many parents find that they are now better able to spot mental health concerns with their children after their children have been in remote learning. I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Anisha Patel-Dunn, the Chief Medical Officer of LifeStance Health, about this phenomenon and I am excited to share my interview with her with you. The pandemic has been harmful in so many ways, but I am excited to see how much more we now know about mental health and how much more we care. Ashley: What impacts are you seeing from the extended period of time that parents and kids spent at home together during the pandemic? What have the positive outcomes been? Negative? Dr. Patel-Dunn: The ongoing pandemic had a major impact on mental health at all ages, particularly for youth and adolescents who experienced isolation at a time of pivotal developmental importance. For children who are participating in remote school vs. in-person learning, that lack of social interaction and validation from peers can be a contributing factor to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and stress. Ashley: We also know that children’s stress affects the whole family. Recent data points to 77% of parents saying they feel stressed in response to their children’s mental health challenges, not to mention the mental health challenges that parents themselves are also facing. The leading challenges included work (45%), school (41%), and making new friends (36%). Dr. Patel-Dunn: While the pandemic has contributed to a true mental health crisis, I think one of the silver linings is that it has forced a national conversation about the destigmatization of mental health and encouraged parents, caretakers, and family members to have open and honest conversations with youth. Ashley: What effect has missing life milestones/events had on kids/teens? In just three short years, lifetime memories such as birthday parties, graduation ceremonies, proms, and family gatherings (especially with grandparents) that should have been made and cherished were put on pause or canceled altogether. Developmentally, dealing with the fallout of missed life milestones can be anxiety-provoking for some children. For example, if they entered the pandemic in eighth grade, they may not be returning to a full-time in-person learning environment until they are sophomores in high school. Reentering the world at a different stage of life after adjusting to remote learning has exacerbated children’s stress and anxiety levels. Ashley: Have you seen an uptick in parents that are patients wanting to discuss their children’s mental health in sessions in the past two years? Has this prompted many of them to find a therapist for their child instead of trying to “therapize” them as a parent? Dr. Patel-Dunn: About 84% of parents who sought help said their family now openly talks about their therapy sessions, and 37% believe that therapy has helped them feel closer to their family than ever before. Ashley: How can parents who have sought therapy for their kids best support them through this journey, especially if they aren’t in therapy themselves? What can they do to respect their privacy and boundaries? Dr. Patel-Dunn: It’s important to encourage the destigmatization of mental health and remind our kids that they don’t need to be shy or embarrassed and that everyone needs support in different ways. Making mental health a topic of conversation from a young age can help to encourage them to prioritize it throughout their life. Ashley: How can parents ensure they are keeping tabs on their kids’ mental health? Are there daily check-ins or questions they can be asking? Dr. Patel-Dunn: Parents should encourage open conversation about mental health, and model that behavior whenever possible. Eight in 10 parents who have sought help said their family talks openly about their therapy sessions, and 37% believe that therapy has helped them feel closer to their family than ever before. Half of parents talk to their child about mental health at least a few times a week, if not daily. Ashley: How would you recommend approaching the conversation around mental health struggles with adolescents who might be more closed off or shy in their reaction? Dr. Patel-Dunn: Mental health is no less important than physical healthcare, and just like when your child is feeling sick or experiences an injury, their primary care doctor would help them to heal and feel better. Mental health is no different, and it’s important to address it with the same importance you would a physical symptom. Ashley: Are there specific tips or advice you have for parents who are unsure if their kid needs therapy? What would you tell parents who are more hesitant? Dr. Patel-Dun: If it’s crossing your mind that speaking with a mental health professional may help your child, I’d recommend scheduling an appointment. More specifically, if you notice your child is not enjoying the activities they used to, or showing changes in sleep schedule, social anxiety, increased irritability, changes in appetite, or any behavior that seems out of character, it’s a sign to get help. Ashley: What would you like to see from healthcare providers, parents and teachers coming out of the pandemic? How can they best support kids as they navigate this new reality? Dr. Patel-Dunn: The mental health crisis was present long before the pandemic, though the global sense of isolation put a spotlight on it like never before. While the pandemic is still ongoing, as normal experiences continue to resume it’s important that the attention to mental health care doesn’t ebb. Mental health is a critical part of any wellness routine and should be treated as such by any adult in a child’s life.

Why Fibromyalgia Awareness Month Is So Important

In May we recognize fibromyalgia and all who experience this illness. I happen to be one of those people, and fibromyalgia impacts a big part of my life. One thing that I often hear from people when I express my symptoms or that I have fibromyalgia is that I am “too young to be sick.” This is incredibly harmful to hear, because it invalidates what I am experiencing and makes me feel that something must be seriously wrong with me to experience this illness personally. For years I have struggled with pain, fatigue, and what is called “fibro fog.” I have difficulties concentrating and often find that I sleep for extended periods of time; however, I also experience insomnia and have issues with cold and hot temperatures. Being undiagnosed for so long was frustrating because I felt like maybe I was making up my symptoms or exaggerating because I didn’t have an answer for them. It may sound strange, but receiving my fibromyalgia diagnosis was a blessing because it gave me an explanation for my symptoms and opened up a variety of treatments that I could try to help me find relief. However, I have found that while there are treatments available, they generally have only helped to ease some of my symptoms. They have not helped them to completely go away. A lot of the treatment options are also lifestyle modifications, such as eating well, eating specific things, and practicing exercises. I find that it is hard for me to exercise many times because I am in pain, but walking does tend to help me feel more comfortable in my body. Other than that, I experience that rest and heating pads help with a lot of the pain issues. I also believe that some of my anxiety and depression issues are connected to my fibromyalgia, and besides using medications for these conditions, I have found that spirituality and meditation help to some extent. Meditation helps me to be more aware of my inner experience and allows me to connect to my core and my symptoms as they arise. What I wish people knew about fibromyalgia is that it does not discriminate. Anyone of any age or background can be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and we all deserve equal care. So many of us suffer in silence because we are invalidated or made to feel that we are making up our symptoms. Having this diagnosis is difficult, but I am happier now being able to have an explanation for my symptoms than I was when I was made to feel like I was making them up. During the month of May and our recognition of fibromyalgia, my hope is that we can shed light on how painful and difficult this illness can be to live with and manage. Some days I feel like giving up because the pain is so severe, and I struggle a lot with not being able to handle very cold or very warm temperatures. While there are mental aspects to this illness, it is deeply physical, and we all need to be understood for what we are experiencing without being made to feel as though we are making our symptoms up, or without having our symptoms downplayed. I hope that sharing my story will resonate with you should you also experience fibromyalgia, while also educating others on what this illness is really like. We all need to be heard, and the first step to being heard is sharing our stories. Fibromyalgia is a serious and debilitating illness, and we all deserve care and understanding for the symptoms we live with.