As featured in the August Edition of Fibromyalgia UK Magazine
For many, a Fibromyalgia diagnosis can come after a very long time of trying to work out what is happening to your body. There will likely have been numerous appointments, many tests, sometimes misidiagnosis, and before you have even embarked on becoming better, your brain is already full to bursting with information. So how can it be possible to know which way to turn? I’d like to share with you my way of working all of this out.
There’s the old saying “You can’t see the wood for the trees” and that can often be true when working out which treatment course to embark upon. There are many pieces or research, lots of data, even more articles, and there is alway someone who wants to tell you about their daughters, friends, cousins wife who has fibromyalgia and what works for her.
After diagnosis and my initial grief, I managed to dust myself down, and stand up against the fibromyalgia, but choosing which path to take was not always easy, and I had to do many u turns on my journey to becoming well enough to return to work and the life I love.
Which medication should I choose? Should I choose any medication at all? What about complimentary therapies? I’ve heard diet makes a difference, is this true? How do I even talk to specialists about treatment without a referral?
This first step for me was to think about what I truly wanted for my treatment. Now, I’m not somebody who takes even paracetamol particularly easy, so would I realistically be able to take the opiates and sleeping tablets I was being offered? Probably not, so while not striking this path off my list of options entirely, I did put them to one side. Which ultimately meant going down a less medicalised, more complimentary approach.
I started by looking at what was available to me either on the NHS or privately within my very small budget, and then looked at the research behind whether or not these treatments were effective. There was no point in looking up treatments for something I couldn’t afford as I would only have felt resentful that it may benefit me but I would simply never know. You also have to think outside of the box a little if you don’t want risk not being able to put food on the table in your quest to treat your fibromyalgia. Do you know someone who may be able to offer some therapy for mates rates? Is there a local college or university nearby that offers heavily discounted rates for essentially the same treatment overseen by a qualified practitioner? Are there any trials going on within your NHS trust that you can participate in?
Even with my limited budget and NHS offers there was still a wide range of things I could try, CBT, physiotherapy, mindfulness, acupuncture, looking at my nutrition, exercise, massage, but it was difficult to know where to start. In the end I started by looking at what I could get for free, for obvious reasons, before working out what I would need to fund myself. I asked my rheumatologist if there were any trials I could participate in and this is where I accessed my CBT, and I got it very quickly. I asked my occupational health department what they could offer and from this I managed to access Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy. I then asked around my friends and family via social media if they know anybody that offered complementary services and from this I managed to get acupuncture and nutrition very cheap. And finally I looked at what I could teach myself and from this I developed my own exercise programme in collaboration with my free physiotherapy and taught myself mindfulness with the aid of a cheap phone app. I’m currently exploring massage through a local college which offers an hour long full body massage for £18!
However, even with all of these wonderful services at my disposal I was careful not to jump in and try them all at once. I staggered my trials of each treatment by a few weeks and kept a symptom diary to monitor the impact on my symptoms. Had I started them all at once, I wouldn’t have known what was helping and what wasn’t. By staggering my approach I managed to ascertain what worked well and what didn’t and as a result I have almost completed a course of CBT, have a manageable exercise program, have made permanent changes to my diet, made permanent changes to my work environment, and most importantly I feel a whole load better.
So I guess the trick to finding a treatment that works for you is to think about what type of person you are and what type of treatment you can commit to. Can you commit to doing your own physiotherapy everyday? Will you be honest and open enough for CBT? Do you mind taking medication? Do you have a needle phobia? What is available? What can I afford? Once you have answered these questions you can then start looking at ways to access the treatment and use them to hopefully, one day, thrive with fibromyalgia.