Fibromyalgia and Aging

“Life has got to be lived-that’s all there is to it. At seventy, I would say that advantage is that you take life more calmly. You know that “this,too, shall pass!”, Eleanor Roosevelt

In my book I write about the confusion in the research regarding whether or not fibromyalgia improves (or not) with aging. I now know that there is no easy answer to that question and that it may improve for some but for many the opposite is true. Aging brings about its own aches, pains and fatigue that often cannot be differentiated from those of fibromyalgia. In fact, both may  be exacerbated as one ages.

I can only speak to my own experience, which I document and ponder about regularly, therefore this blog is not intended to give the answers to questions one may be seeking. I have not often heard directly from readers, who like myself, have known they have fibromyalgia for several decades. Yet, as I am able to know on a daily basis the kinds of searches that have led others to my site, I find that aging crops up often enough to be a concern of many. I have a dear friend, A, my age, who has had fibromyalgia for a long time along with multiple other serious health issues. Recently she had painful surgery on her foot and will be in a cast for many weeks. Her love of life, in spite of great obstacles, crises and painful episodes has not diminished. She is upbeat and enthusiastic, while remaining a highly sensitive person. By contrast, I recently had cataract surgery on both eyes and have become despondent and fearful, even more so than usual. It is easy for me to sink into despair and panic. Every small, new eye experience causes me great anxiety. I am difficult to be around. My point is that while I contend that all of us with fibromyalgia are highly sensitive persons, not all of us are of the exact same personality types. Therefore, it stands to reason that we will not all face old age in the same way.

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I have written at length about the books, scientists, and other media presentations regarding neuroplasticity, that is, that the brain is not hard wired. Unlike previously thought, it is not so that the brain cannot change in adulthood. In fact, rigid and inflexible behaviours and thoughts can be changed at any stage of life. I am frequently heard saying, with tongue in cheek, that I want a personality change. If only it was possible to ask for a new way of looking at the world and it was that easy. Changing the brain: our ways of looking at our pain, our responses to small and major crises takes discipline, particularly when our upbringing, like mine, was fraught with fear and apprehension. The phenomenal new brain scan research which shows how our brains light up dramatically in areas that deal with emotions cannot fail to inspire even the most negative personalities.

So, now where do I go, do, now that I am a senior citizen? While I am not certain these days what the term ‘old’ implies, I do know that I am there. I read recently that 40 is the old age of young and that 50 is the young age of old. So this blog may be of interest to the 50s and upward readers, particularly women since  menopause definitely signals that she is now an older woman. For men the process is not quite as dramatic. At menopause women usually have some symptoms that are unusual and can mimic fibromyalgia (for example, brain fog, aches and pains, more fatigue than previously noted, etc). It becomes more difficult to sort through what can be attributed to menopause, aging and/or fibromyalgia.  Someone said to me this week that aging does not come without a heavy price. Combine that with fibromyalgia and the price is heavy indeed! The challenges of changing the brain are enormous as we age. I think they are less so for my friend A who is optimistic to begin with and that those of us with a higher degree of pessimism have many more struggles. But then, what are the alternatives? As Eleanor Roosevelt said: “life has got to be lived-that’s all there is to it”. I wish I had known that sensible, astounding woman. Get on with it and as we Canadians embrace this Thanksgiving holiday week-end, be thankful we can change our ways of being in the world, in spite of our day to day creaking joints, daunting muscle pains and need for naps to ease the fatigue.

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Not to leave the reader with too much negativity I want to point out that strides have been made in understanding more about fibromyalgia. When I wrote my book I knew then (although not many were acknowledging it yet) that FM was caused by a hyper-aroused nervous system. Now it is a firmly established fact  and few dispute it. The search for a virus, endocrine disorder or multiple other kinds of an actual disease entity is slowly ending. So, it behooves us to find ways of changing our brains with the phenomenal advances that have been made in that direction, that is, brain research. We cannot rely on any others to cure us of this dis-ease. We are in charge of our own overly stimulated nervous systems, but years of over extending ourselves with our hypersensitivities has taken its toll. We cannot cure ourselves but we can take steps to help us live with this condition more effectively, then our attitudes towards life will be reflected in our brain pathways. It is our brains that we want to not only change from pain to more joy, but to help with our memory. Once again therefore, we must turn to the practice of minfulness meditation which can decrease the level of negativity, relieve anxiety and help maintain a more stable mind that we all aspire towards.

Happy Thanksgiving, Canadians! For those of us with fibromyalgia we are to remember that organizing the feasts of the holiday should not be more than we can handle. Take a nap and if possible let others cook that turkey:-)! For those older ones among us let the younger ones take over. We have earned our rest! There are SOME benefits that come with old age.

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