My Recovery From Fibromyalgia

To tell you my story about my Recovery From Fibromyalgia I need to start in the middle in 2012.

The journey begins with ever worsening chronic fatigue.Sussex-Osteopath-abd-owner-Pippa-Cossens In 2013 it was absolutely crushing and by the middle of 2014 had been joined by chronic, persistent pain. However, with what I now know this was not actually the start of the story. I had been probably collecting the perfect set of circumstances since before birth to be very likely to end up with a chronic pain condition. Hindsight is such a wonderful thing. 

About The Pain

Let me tell you a little about the pain. The pain was predominantly in my low back to start with. The pain would vary in intensity from just an ache to a severity that felt like the muscle was being ripped from the bones. I assumed I had ‘done’ something.  Having previously slipped a disc in this area I was fairly sure it was a lasting effect from that. However, the pain then spread. Over the following 3 years I had, amongst other things,  plantar fasciitis (pain in my feet), hip tendonitis, costochondritis (rib pain), widespread spinal pain, headaches, jaw/TMJ pain and hospitalising abdominal pain. 

I had blood tests, x-rays and MRI scans and there was nothing to be found on any of them. I was still tired, had gastric symptoms, anxiety and was gradually withdrawing from all activities and social contact. Eventually I ended up with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. At the time was useful because it helped to have a name when it came to explaining my situation to others. It made it more believable! 

The Turning Point

As I left my first rheumatology appointment I said to my consultant that I planned to get better. His response was ‘then you probably will’. At this point I had no idea how I was going to start my recovery from fibromyalgia. That all changed in 2017 when I attended a SIRPA conference in London entitled ‘ Chronic Pain – The Role of Emotions. I had attended conferences and workshops on chronic pain previously. Each time I had always come away at best disappointed and at worst really angry. However this one was different and I suddenly found myself in a room full of medical professionals who ‘got it’. 

It was here I was introduced to the concepts that have aided my recovery; TMS (tension myoneural syndrome), ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and the neurobiology of chronic pain. Most importantly I learned how the overwhelm of stress and trauma in life can contribute to chronic pain and many other medically unexplained symptoms (MUS). However, it was more than that, there was the validation that not only was my pain real but that I was not going to be damaged by it. There was finally hope for recovery.

This day in London led me onto a whole new path, not only personally but now professionally too. What it led me to understand is that my biography was key to my biology. Everything that had happened to me since being conceived that had caused any sort of overwhelm may need to be considered. As part of my recovery I wrote out a timeline of the significant events in my life, especially in relation to episodes of pain, and this led me to realise that my pain story began much further back.  

Where It All Began

I am an adopted child. 

I have had an amazing life. I was adopted young into a wonderful family who have provided for me and supported me, and still do, in an amazing way. However, that doesn’t take away the trauma of being grown for 9 months in the stressed body of a young woman rejected and thrown out by her family due to the shame of a pregnancy outside of marriage. 

I am not sure how long I spent with her but by 2 months of age I had had various sets of foster parents and then been adopted. Don’t get me wrong I was lucky. But that doesn’t change the overwhelming experience of a young being with no way of regulating the traumatic effect of separation on her nervous system. So basically I started my life stressed and I think that pattern probably continued, at varying levels, until 2017. 

There are other significant events that I now know contributed to me developing a chronic pain condition including the loss of a child and a failed marriage. Alongside that I also had to consider who I am as a person. I now realise that my people pleasing, perfectionism personality is not only probably as a result of the early trauma but also became part of the continuing stress that I perpetuated myself.  There was a familiar discomfort in the stress-chemical soup that I was creating through a lack of awareness and the almost constant negative self-talk. 

But this is where the story changes. Starting from those lectures in 2017 I began a quest into mindbody medicine and self development. Over the last few years I am delighted to be 98% pain free. The fatigue still comes and goes but that is usually because I am pushing myself too much. 

Recovery Form Fibromyalgia

To recover I had to look backwards over the events of my life and the influence they had had. Rather than continually re-running them I needed to truly allow myself to acknowledge that they were important and had shaped my story so far. Once I started to validate my emotional response to them I was able to let them go. A lot of this work was done through journaling which I cannot recommend highly enough. 

When we process in our heads the thoughts often go round and round and we cannot resolve them. When you put those same thoughts on paper they become linear. You tend not to write the same thought twice so this leads you forward to the underlying thoughts. More often than not this reveals the true emotion that got bound up in the event. 

Sometimes it isn’t pretty either the written words or the emotions that are released.  Once they are out and they are not being held in the body anymore, the body can relax and let go of the tension that is contributing to the pain. The ‘aha’ moment of recognising the true reason why something had triggered you is truly enlightening. 

I have used this approach to identify and process the triggers from the past. Now with the added awareness I am usually able to deal with the events, or people, that trigger me much more quickly. This prevents the reaction from spiraling and causing emotional or physical symptoms. 

Looking Forwards

There also comes a point in the journey when you no longer want to look backwards and this is the point I am reaching now. I have processed much of my past and I am now aware that I am starting to be able to control my thoughts and feelings. It takes effort but I now know I can challenge my beliefs. Through writing and meditation and inspiration from many in the mindbody medicine field I have learned that I can make a decision whether to spiral into an old pattern of thoughts and behaviours or whether to stop, imagine and create a different outcome. 

I believed for many years that I was not good enough and not worthy and it limited many areas of my life and so this is what played out. The brain doesn’t know the difference between the imagination or reality and so it believed what I kept telling it and I was living in lack. Now I know that the opposite effect is true. If you truly allow yourself to be immersed in a perfect scenario, to feel all the feelings and emotions with every fibre of your body you can start to change your story and your symptoms.

I am lucky enough to be on the other side of my pain. This doesn’t mean it won’t come back but it does mean that I now understand it and am no longer afraid of it. What it also means is even though I may not have my life completely sorted – who does – and events will happen that are outside my control. However, at least I now know I have influence on how I respond. I have the tools and techniques to calm my nervous system and reduce the effect it is having on my body. I have learnt from my past and I have hope for the future and I know that how the remaining chapters of my story play out is up to me. 

There is hope for recovery from fibromyalgia.

‘Avoiding your triggers isn’t healing. Healing happens when you’re triggered and you’re able to move through the pain, the pattern, and the story, and walk your way to a different ending.’   Vienna Pharaon.