How To Manage Your Next Fibro-Flare

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HUH?  I sincerely hope that the title of this piece really makes you wonder.  We all have enough problems taking good care of ourselves without chronic pains, foggy brains and sleepless nights to trip us up.

Some days when I get out of bed, I feel like I haven’t slept a wink, but I can’t get back to sleep. One morning a few weeks back I kept yawning and I couldn’t focus my thoughts. My back hurt. I had the mother of all headaches and my body hurt all over as if I had the flu. I had no energy, no motivation and I felt depressed and overwhelmed.  I was trying to put a few drops of Vitamin D3 into my anti-inflammatory smoothie. I am clumsy during a flare.  I dropped the bottle and now I had a mess to clean up. I was so stiff and sore I couldn’t reach the back of the bottom shelf of the refrigerator for the carrot juice.  I dissolved into tears of frustration and overwhelm…and went to lie down, felt much better later after following my Flare Plan (below).

The thing is, I had gotten seven hours of sleep and I don’t have the flu. What was wrong with me?  I was having a “Fibro-flare” after swimming too vigorously the day before when I had felt great.  People with Fibromyalgia need to exercise very carefully so as not to bring on symptoms.

Say what?

Tell me about Fibromyalgia Three different doctors diagnosed me with Fibromyalgia 14 years ago. I had spent several prior years of dragging my exhausted self around with daily debilitating pain, stomach aches, blurred vision and blurred thinking too. Fibromyalgia is a major life problem for 3-5% of the population, according to the Fibromyalgia Network and the AFSA. Most of us are women past our 40s, but men and even children can have it. The links above bring you to pages describing these most basic symptoms in more detail:

  • Pain all over, sometimes like a bad flu, sometimes more of a burning sensation, in all or most of the muscles, ligaments, and tendons of the body. Even though the muscles hurt they don’t cause the pain, the neural pathways in the body seem to send faulty messages.  But it doesn’t mean they won’t knot up once they feel the pain.
  • Extreme fatigue and sleep difficulties. We have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep. We do not get the kind of deep restful sleep we need many nights even if we get “enough” rest.
  • Brain fog. I hate this the most – memory problems, trouble concentrating, trouble with higher order thinking.
  • Morning stiffness, especially in the back, neck and shoulders.
  • Muscle knots, cramping, weakness
  • Digestive disorders including food sensitivities, gastritis, acid reflux, inflammatory bowel disease. It is huge to learn what foods help us (lots of fresh fruits and veggies) and which to avoid (packaged foods, meat, gluten)
  • Headaches/migraines
  • Balance problems
  • Itchy/burning or numbed out skin
  • They do not mention depression which is another frequent symptom or co-existing condition, nor chemical and food sensitivities which are very annoying and very common to us, nor the dry mouth that causes expensive dental cavities.

So tell me about the flares.

One confusing thing about fibromyalgia is that the symptoms actually ebb and flow, and some days you can feel mostly strong and fine and some days not so much.

About 25% of people with fibromyalgia can’t work and many have to go on disability. Very few employers have workloads that fit your crazy unpredictable fibro-clock, and it’s crazy-making for you and your family too.

There is no cure for Fibromyalgia, so you have to just learn to manage it.  I have found that my symptoms are mostly manageable on a low-glycemic index, gluten and soy free vegetarian diet, with a heavy emphasis on fresh vegetables and fruits and very little packaged food.  It helped me lose a lot of weight too.  Fifty pounds!

Even when we have successfully brought our symptoms into remission, the fibromyalgia symptoms can “flare” for a day or two, making you suddenly very honest about following your plan.  The Mayo Clinic and other specialists recommend having a plan ready because when the flare hits and your brain “fogs” up  is exactly the wrong time to have the to figure out what to do about it.

Here’s my flare plan.

  • First, I take whatever has been prescribed to calm the pain (Flexeril now) with a full glass of water or juice. People with fibromyalgia tend to have many medication and chemical sensitivities so I for instance, can’t take the NSAIDS without my feet swelling to twice their normal size.  Each of us are different.
  • I let my sweetie know I am having a flare.  This adjusts his expectations of me and alerts him that I may need some help with lifting and such and will be resting during the day.
  • I make an appointment with my chiropractor and with the marvelous massage therapist who does deep trigger point therapy.
  • Next, I lie down for a few minutes in a dark room with a wet rag on my forehead and cover my eyes to reduce all incoming stimulation. If I fall asleep, so much the better.
  • While I am lying on my back, I do some deep abdominal breathing both to consciously relax and because often I have been breathing shallowly when I am in pain.
  • I simplify my day, actually my next few days, and postpone whatever I can.  Even if it’s usually fun, like going out to listen to some music, it’s off the menu on a flare day as too stressful.  I need to conserve all my energy for healing.
  • I review my last few days to see what triggered the symptoms.
  • Laughter really is the best medicine, so we play something funny on TV or a video.  That evening we were laughing at Murphy Brown re-runs.  OK I’m 72, I’m allowed.

In summary, Fibromyalgia is a painful syndrome affecting many body systems, not just pain sensations. It’s incurable but not life-threatening, and symptoms often come and go and change from day to day.

People tell me I am ten years younger than I was five years ago.  You can greatly reduce your symptoms with proper diet and other lifestyle changes.  You can live a healthy and fairly active life if you do – still it’s good to have a plan ready to cope with any bad “flare” days.  If you have similar symptoms, I suggest you see your doctor.

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