Fibromyalgia: How I Faced My Fears and Took Control

International journalist Hellen Berger shares how she works every day to step out of her comfort zone and overcome her widespread pain.

I have been a journalist for more than 20 years, covering complex scientific and technical subjects and writing about global markets across multiple continents, but putting together this personal story has put me out of my comfort zone like never before. I am facing here my worst fears, of exposing myself, of showing off my weaknesses, of being judged.

If you suffer from fibromyalgia, as I have for the past 12 years, perhaps you will understand, or maybe not. You may have landed on your own explanation for your pain. You may think it is all in your head or you may recognize that it is not. You may be convinced that you have a serious illness with symptoms that only you can see and feel. Perhaps you are tired of testing endless “promising” treatments or exhausted from just trying to hide your pain. Your loved ones may be tired of your complaints. Their disbelief may make you question your own senses.

No matter what we go through, life is never easy and painless. Problems rarely have a quick or happy ending. With fibromyalgia, and many other pain syndromes like it, the chronic nature of the condition can be both physically and psychologically exhausting. But also like many taxing conditions, it can make us think, rethink, change, and triumph.

Getting education on your chronic illness is the best way to tackle the challenges head on. (Image: iStockPhoto)

Upturning the Downward Spiral of Chronic Pain

In the beginning, I felt crushed, overwhelmed, like I was barely surviving with unknown overall pain. Whether you call it giving up or giving in, I decided soon after my diagnosis to silence my inner thoughts in the hopes that my physical pain would silence as well. I quieted my doubts, welcomed the numbness, ignored the so-called “imaginary” pain that kept me  from accomplishing a simple task.

But, like a medication that is taken to reduce the feeling of pain or discomfort, this approach didn’t work long-term. The pain, the issues, and the fears kept coming back. This is when I learned that it is important to speak out. At first, I tried speaking about these issues, but it just made me feel  uncomfortable, so I started writing poems and stories for myself. Writing is what I love to do and it helps me express my emotions and to get to know myself better. With time, I learned to speak my truth, which made me feel lighter and less overwhelmed. I am still working on speaking openly about this condition and I admit that I prefer to help others express their own feelings.  

Living with a syndrome that is equally painful and difficult to describe, whether it is fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, migraine, and/or depression can be challenging. Because these conditions are “invisible,” it is important to study and learn what’s behind them—their causes and their common treatments—and how chronic pain impacts the mind. It’s also helpful to find an expert physician to support you along the way and offer advice, as well as information, on your condition.   

Understanding Your Condition and Your Limitations Matters

In fact, it was not until I learned that fibromyalgia was not going to “kill” me and that there was nothing “physically” wrong with my body that I was able to relax and feel more positive. While I still think there must be something driving my pain, the only way I have managed to live with this condition day in and day out is to focus on the things I can do to change myself and try to stay positive.    

When managing my fibromyalgia with silence failed, I decided to rethink my life. I took a hard look at my daily activities, habits, thoughts, actions, roles. I decided to be a partner in my own path to recovery and to focus on improving my quality of life. Now, instead of ignoring my pain, I use it to drive my energy and passions. Rather than constantly longing to get back my old self, I try to steer myself toward being the person I am prepared to be now, and to control my situation as much as possible.

One way of doing this is to put myself first. As a mom and a wife, this is a constant struggle, but I am getting better at it every day. Fibromyalgia has taught me to pay attention to my own needs and to make  small decisions that make me feel as though I am succeeding every day as a person. I let all my loved ones take care of their own responsibilities, which makes them succeed as well. Also, I have learned to say NO when I need to and to enjoy doing so. 

I made simple lifestyle changes such as trying acupuncture (I didn't believe it could help until I tried); taking time to be closer to nature; learning to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day (this gave me back a sense of physical balance and energy, and I still feel proud of tackling this one); and I started to be more open about my condition with others. There is still more I want to accomplish, such as improving my nutrition and exercising more often—without overdoing it.

Even Small Wins Can Lead to Bigger Wins

If you suffer from fibromyalgia or another chronic pain condition, know that you are not alone. Talk about your concerns, let others know that you need help, and never give up on trying. Trying will give you a healing sense of peace and comfort. After all, isn't it all about the senses?

Most of all, I have learned that every time I overcome a barrier (such as writing about myself, for example), I feel stronger and my fears disappear. I enjoy and take pride in tackling and overcoming every challenge because it takes my attention away from pain and, in my case, it makes my issues vanish.

Finally, when you feel overwhelmed, confused, or just can’t get past the pain, seek out an expert to help. The right doctor or team of doctors can help you take control of your condition and your life. I honestly believe that by feeling happier and more positive, there will be less space for pain in our lives.

Updated on: 10/28/20
Continue Reading:
Living with Fibromyalgia