Getting diagnosed with fibromyalgia will produce one of two reactions. You’ll either be relieved – or upset.
Most of the people I interviewed during research for my forthcoming book told me they were relieved. They said it was the end of a series of appointments and tests where doctors continually told them there was nothing wrong.
A few were like me. Upset. Because there is no cure. There’s nothing doctors can do other than prescribe drugs whose side effects often make matters worse.
Regardless of your initial reaction, you will move through that emotion. In a spiral, not a straight line. And if you’re like I was, you’ll be wondering: now what? Based on my experience, there is a way out of the pain and fatigue that feels like you’ve been hit by a truck. Here are the first three big things you can focus on to start feeling better.
Find a Physiotherapist
The rheumatologist who told me I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia referred me to a physiotherapist who specialized in fibromyalgia. I wouldn’t have known to even look for such a person. I walked into my first physio appointment dazed, confused and a little embarrassed. I felt like a wimp, a loser and a weakling. But the owner of the clinic spent a full hour with me, not going over my symptoms but educating me. She told me a few key things that have made a huge difference for me over the years, such as:
- For every 20 minutes of physical activity those of us with fibromyalgia need an additional hour of sleep
- For every 20 minutes of activity you need at least a five minute rest. Twenty minutes is better.
- Stretching is the single most important physical activity for someone with fibromyalgia.
She started me on a gentle daily stretching routine, and a couple of weeks later on a very slow strength-building plan. I felt significantly better within a few weeks.
Focus on Nutrition
It is very common for those of us with fibromyalgia to have difficulty absorbing nutrients. This is due to something called ‘leaky-gut syndrome’, where the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract have gaps between them that allow some nutrients and toxins to pass directly into the bloodstream without the normal processing that the gut is designed to do.
This has two consequences:
- Substances that are supposed to be filtered out via our kidneys, liver and bowel get absorbed directly into the bloodstream where they are free to cause havoc, and
- Nutrients that the gut usually takes care of sending to the right areas of the body get flushed out instead of being put to good use.
To start to combat this, pay really close attention to what you put in your body. Highly processed foods, those containing preservatives and sugar substitutes should be the first you ditch from your kitchen and your dish. Focus on eating whole, plant-based foods that have a minimal amount of processing. You don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian but any animal products you choose are best when they’re organic, free-range and non-processed.
If you aren’t already taking daily vitamins and supplements, it’s time to start. I would recommend vitamin C at the top of your list. Aim for between 1000 and 5000mcg. A good multi-strain probiotic, with at least 30-billion live culture units, is essential. Then consider adding a vitamin B tablet that includes thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and B-6, as well as a sublingual (dissolves underneath the tongue) vitamin B12 with at least 1000mcg. And just before bed, take a magnesium supplement which will help tremendously with your sleep.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
I thought it was a joke when I first heard the phrase ‘sleep hygiene’. It is not about taking a shower before bed, though if that helps to relax you then by all means. Sleep hygiene is about mindfully laying the groundwork for a good sleep. It’s more important for those of us with fibromyalgia because the wiring in our brain keeps us from reaching the deep, restorative sleep that promotes healing. A few of the key elements of a good sleep hygiene routine include:
- Avoid coffee. If you can’t cut it out altogether restrict your intake to 1 cup before noon.
- Restrict the activities in your bed to the S words: sleep and sex. Don’t watch TV, eat or even read in bed. (I still read in bed but far less than I used to.)
- Keep your room cool and dark. At bedtime eliminate all light sources: device charge lights, clock radio, etcetera. Even the smallest points of light interrupt the body’s melatonin secretion.
- Stay off electronic devices: phones, iPad, computer and television for 30 – 60 minutes prior to bedtime. The blue light stimulates the brain and is not conducive to letting to you easily get to sleep and stay asleep all night.
- Establish a bedtime routine: go to bed and wake up at the same times – every day of the week. Yes, even on the weekends. This helps retrain your body and your brain and reinforces your natural circadian rhythm.
There’s a lot of habit-changing work here, so be gentle with yourself and take one day at a time. Now that you’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and you’ve accepted your emotional reaction, it will help you tremendously to focus on doing things that can really reduce your pain, fatigue and other fibro-related symptoms.