Fibromyalgia and Other Pains: Living with Anxiety and Apprehension

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it” , Lena Horne

HAPPY THANKSGIVING WEEK-END!

We Canadians are always so happy our Thanksgiving falls in mid October when it’s harvest time; the leaves are gorgeous and in full colour and if we cook a turkey it is still a long way till Christmas and we can enjoy another one before the year ends without being tired of it! What we also love is that it is close to Halloween and those sweet children with their little outfits! Autumn is so wonderful where I live!

But enough about lovely food and celebrations and more about less happy thoughts which are often self imposed and can defeat us so rapidly.

It is easy for someone suffering with the chronic pain of fibro to catastrophize about pains that seem more unusual than the ones we live with every day. In November 2007 I began to have  sore hips and after awhile the pain settled in my left hip only. It was and remains extremely painful. The saga of that hip is told here as the journey to date has been a long one. The resulting anxiety and apprehension is a struggle I have to contend with, in spite of serious attempts to be mindful of how counterproductive they are to my well being. But, I have let my ‘sore left hip’ overcome me until I finally had an MRI last week and found out what has been going on. Although I had seen an ortho specialist in Arizona in February and had an x-ray, in spite of persistent pain I did not have any further imaging, much to my chagrin now. I was told then that it was a bursitis. Months of physiotherapy did not help the pain over the spring and summer, in fact most movement made the pain worse.

I will tell you the end of the story now then go back to the middle of it, because these days I don’t think in a linear fashion anyway. These words may not mean anything to many of you and they certainly did not to me. Findings: Extensive tearing of the gluteus minimus tendinous insertion on the greater trochanter. There is associated severe minimus muscle atrophy. Tendon tearing likely extends into the gluteus medius insertion on the greater trochanter.

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So there you have it. Clear as mud? In short, I have a broken left butt and the pain is where the muscles insert around the hip! The pain is extensive and I am having a difficult time walking and sleeping. My family and friends are very sympathetic but they have many butt jokes to share with me. So, in spite of the pain I do think they are clever and it is better to laugh than to cry. They aren’t being unkind. I don’t know how I injured myself and the process of recovery is going to be very slow and I am worried it will never completely recede. It is likely I did too much physical exertion moving my 90 year old parents to an assisted living facility and tore (actually shredded) those buttocks muscles.

The point of sharing all this with you is not to delve into the actual physiology of those muscles but to share what it is like living with anxiety when something else goes awry in an already overly sensitive body. Stress, anxiety, worry, sometimes panic, apprehensiveness can all lead to catastrophic thinking when a person is chronically fatigued. When a body that is challenged by something unusual, that is very painful, the mind/brain activates the autonomic nervous system and stimulates the output of cortisol and adrenalin (see other blogs on this site about that). The result is that the nerve cells become ‘over excited’. While I realize that I have simplified what happens when there is a chronic stress response I do so not to dumb down the physiology of an over-stimulated nervous system, but rather to point out the vulnerability of the person with fibromyalgia when unusual stress occurs. John Sarno writes: “Pain, anxiety, and depression are not symptomatic of illness or disease.They are all part of the normal reaction to frightening unconscious phenomena”, (p.66)

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Those of us with this hyper-aroused nervous system of fibromyalgia realize how little it takes to activate the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and disrupt the body’s internal balance and become stuck in an over aroused state. Needless to say the result is unclear thinking and catastrophic thinking. So, this is what this year has been like for me. Now that I know what the ‘new’ pain is about the level of anxiety has subsided considerably. But, I fear it is, as usual, a temporary state until the next jolt to the ANS! That remains my challenge: learning to work within a world that is filled with change, often unpleasant (called ‘life’), while trying to maintain balance and avoiding apprehension. So far, the only thing that has helped me in this regard has been “mindfulness meditation”, which I have discussed in another blog. Remembering to take deep breaths would help considerably but in times of anxiety I usually forget to do so. This all takes discipline and that isn’t easy when days are disrupted with chronic pain and fatigue, particularly when new stress circumstances arise . Still, like all of us with fibromyalgia we keep on trying in spite of those who challenge us with their beliefs that we are ‘hysterics’ (mostly many health care professionals and insurance companies). We have sensitive bodies, not by choice but by circumstances, maybe genetic, maybe early socialization, nonethess we are braver than the doubters think we are. We just have to learn more about our brains and how they affect our nervous systems with those stored memories of pain! Sandra and Matthew Blakeslee write: “And being at war with yourself, even when it is all happening beneath the level of your consciousness awareness, is a miserable experience” (The Body Has a Mind of Its Own, p. 43.)

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References:

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