• jess

Stress-based sickness, psychosomatic disorders, and the F word. Fibromyalgia.

Waking up, like I didn’t sleep for weeks. Falling asleep after five minutes on my feet. A pounding head. That sense of dread. Sticky sharp pains through in my shoulders and neck. Brain short on energy, missing a few cards from the deck. Waves of nausea and stomach cramps. Chills and sweats, depending on the body amps. Swollen lymph nodes. Muscle weakness poorly bodes. Insatiable hunger but nothing sounds edible - shit, now desire to throw up is incredible. Eyes shriveling, dry, back into my skull. The aches in my legs, pulsing and dull. Foggy thoughts. Racing heart. When will this end, why did this start?


Did I finally catch the ‘rona? Or am I just past my limit for being stressed out again? Well, I just moved, so this time I know that the answer is very likely… stressed.


So who wants to talk about getting sick? Yeah, among this group, the answer might be surprising. A lot of us do.


Why? Not because we love bitching and complaining when we feel less than ideal - spoilers, that’s every day, there’s really nothing left to say about the raging shit storms inside of us after a few years of it. We’re tired of hearing about it, too… just like we’re tired of living it, feeling it, and fearing it.


No, for us, it’s because it feels like there’s always a surprising ailment right around the corner when we least expect it. One that seemingly has no logical basis or reasonable solution. One that no one else understands. One that feels like it’s born of mental illness, somehow, while being very physically present. One that we don’t even bother bringing to doctors anymore, because no one needs to be shamed and shoved out the door again by their flippant disinterest in anything we say after the words, “Yes, I have anxiety.”


Yep. If you haven’t tried to mingle mental health with western medicine before, let me give you a quick disclaimer: unless you’re missing an arm, don’t bother. In my experience, the only thing you’ll get is an eye roll, possibly a prescription bandaid that somehow makes you feel worse, and a bored recommendation to see a psychiatrist - even if you already do.


All of this, of course, has the effect of only making you feel more upset. First, mentally, as you ruminate over the disrespect of essentially being called a liar just because the doctor doesn’t have enough training. Then, physically, as your increased stress and systemic arousal pushes your body into a new level of overdrive.


Oh, was it a mindfuck just to make the doctor appointment, get yourself there, and deal with the social anxiety of a waiting room for 30-120 minutes? I bet it felt great for someone to then invalidate your health concerns, recommend you calm down, and send you out the door without even looking you in the eye. Feeling more upset, now on a highly emotional basis? Enjoy the shame, hypertension, and lost sleep, as if you needed any more of that.


Today, I want to talk about the stress-central area of my health that hasn’t been completely figured out… and the label that I - embarrassingly - just recently learned is highly applicable to my physical condition.


But also, the outrage that I feel over said label, because, well, it explains nothing. In fact, if anything, it probably does all of us a huge disservice after we’re granted this diagnosis by pushing us into the express lane for being written off. It also separates two issues that are poorly explained, rather than combining them into one full picture that might actually yield answers. Oh, and should I mention that I think this is a larger problem of gender bias in the healthcare system? Yeah, why the fuck not. Might as well air all my grievances as a nice lead-in to another upcoming episode; is mental illness diagnosis skewed by gender?


I don’t want to let my pounding head and aching shoulders deter me too much, so let’s just get started.






History of ailments


I’ve talked about this before, but to briefly cover how fucked up this body is… let’s take a trip back to 2013 when my system failed me out of the blue. And by “out of the blue,” I mean that I had chronically overworked myself running on anxiety, obligation, and starvation for 2 years, leading to physiological revolt.


So, looking back, “duh.”


But at the time? This was all-new. It was crisis-inducing and beyond comprehension that I went from a perfectly healthy, physically resilient, surprisingly strong and low maintenance specimen to a chronically pained, systemically ill, digestively impaired, and constantly exhausted sack of wallowing self-hated.


After a lifetime of zero health concerns, I found myself bedridden and obsessed with every weird thing my body was doing to me. Which, as you’ve probably guessed, came hand in hand with the new weird things my brain was doing to me.


After a lifetime of zero health concerns, I found myself bedridden and obsessed with every weird thing my body was doing to me. Which, as you’ve probably guessed, came hand in hand with the new weird things my brain was doing to me.

You’ve probably heard the “What IS CPTSD?” episode by now, so I’m guessing you’re not a stranger to the details about the common emergence of complex trauma symptoms. Yes, that’s based on a lot of research, but it’s also a throwback to my own experience. I was a long time depression and anxiety lurker, first time complex trauma contributor around age 23, when my brain was suddenly uprooted by a series of new social and therapy-based traumas.


My depression became debilitating negative self-regard and stronger suicidal ideation. Suddenly, my social anxiety became agoraphobia. My new health issues became topics of obsessive and intrusive thoughts… you know, when I wasn’t ruminating about my role in every trauma, my worthlessness as a human, and my recently-unsettled childhood memories. My early twenties were a great time.


And with all the mental strain, came the unresolvable insomnia. Which fed right into the health problems. Which circled back to spark more mental duress. Health anxiety is not a fun way to live.


So, to call my illnesses psychosomatic is completely appropriate. But, also, completely insulting when a western medicine practitioner utters the phrase as if it was a turd slowly coming out the wrong end. And that’s exactly what happened every time I tried to seek help.


So, to call my illnesses psychosomatic is completely appropriate. But, also, completely insulting when a western medicine practitioner utters the phrase as if it was a turd slowly coming out the wrong end. And that’s exactly what happened every time I tried to seek help.

To be clear - back in the day I had some very easily detectable physical problems. I understand that doctors have a difficult job when it comes to interpreting the immeasurable inner experiences that their patients detail, but that wasn’t entirely the case here. When your body stops digesting food, well, there’s some evidence to prove that it’s a fact. When a 96oz medical grade laxative used for colonoscopy prep results in zero percent colon cleanse… uh… somebody isn’t doing their duty (pun intended). And boy, did my digestive system just decide that it was DONE doing its only job.


Everything I ate seemed to spark unpleasant physical responses, but moving materials through my guts and extracting nutrients wasn’t one of them. After months of garbage disposal failure, I was basically a walking sewer mixed with a compost pile. I found myself chronically starving, exhausted, puffy, distended, intestinally inflamed, and generally sickly. Your body doesn’t fare so well when it has no sustenance, it turns out.


At the same time, or maybe slightly predating my digestive protests, I started getting ill in weird ways. Things I had never experienced before started popping up, like chronic respiratory tract infections, sinus infections, and gum infections. I was having what seemed like allergic responses to something in my inner or outer environment. I was often covered in hives or my face and stomach were inflating like balloons for no apparent reason. I had near-constant pain in my continually-locked shoulders and neck. My actual skin, itself, hurt, as if I was being stretched to the brink of bursting. My lifelong migraines transformed into something new - disorienting tension migraines that came with horrifying loss-of-vision auras and feverish shakes.


Generally speaking, I was so tired all the time that I could barely get out of bed for more than a few moments before retreating back to my safe place to feel like garbage. My limbs felt like someone had tied weights to them and extracted several major muscle groups. I struggled even showering or washing my face, because both required holding my arms up higher than I was capable of enacting. I was so deliriously tired that I couldn’t see straight, think, or complete basic tasks.


Generally speaking, I was so tired all the time that I could barely get out of bed for more than a few moments before retreating back to my safe place to feel like garbage. My limbs felt like someone had tied weights to them and extracted several major muscle groups. I struggled even showering or washing my face, because both required holding my arms up higher than I was capable of enacting. I was so deliriously tired that I couldn’t see straight, think, or complete basic tasks.

On top of giving up my impressive life trajectory in the aftermath of the physical breakdown - because I was too fucking exhausted to consider the next steps I needed to take for grad school - this is also where I’ve previously mentioned my drive-aphobia coming into play. When you can’t count on your own faculties, you definitely don’t want to be behind the wheel. And suddenly, life gets very restricted.


I gave up my… anything life trajectory at that point. I went from a wildly social and focused student with a fantastic sense of humor about life and stronghold of self-determination to… Hiding indoors. Keeping isolated. Obsessing over my health. Googling the most embarrassing things late at night. Having no answers. Feeling like a crazy person. Hating myself. Fearing that this was the end. Assuming that my future was over. Guilting myself for fucking up my past. Replaying my tragic story of a rapid flight and a crash, after everything I had fought so hard to accomplish. Giving up.


This is riiiiight about where I pull most of my inspiration for talking about living in perpetual “trauma states” from. Being consistently triggered, out of control, and terrified. Having no answers and no one to even ask. Watching mental illness take over my world without the slightest clue of what was happening. And, oh, the perpetual torment of unpredictable physical breakdowns.


Everyday a new surprise. Every moment the opportunity for a shocking change in vitality. Every night a battle of my brain versus my chronic pains versus sleep.


And so it persisted, throughout 2013 and into several later years… despite the fact that I actually came up with an answer for myself that vastly improved a good part of the sickness struggle... but definitely didn’t fix it all.







Finding AN answer


I’m sure I’ve already mentioned this, too… but eventually I found some respite in my health struggles through no help from modern medicine. In fact, I helped myself thanks to familial clues when I decided to exclusion-diet my way into an answer. My grandpa had celiac’s disease long before it was trendy and I decided gluten was a logical place to start. And what do you know? That helped about 60% of my ailments.


So began years of obsessing over figuring out the gluten free life. Which, contrary to popular opinion, fucking sucks. I get that it became a trendy idea at exactly the wrong point in my life, but goddamnit, I hate the question, "Are you ACTUALLY gluten free, or is it by choice?" It is not a dietary walk in the park when essentially every item is contaminated with some form or another of secret sauce and your body is going to flip out at the slightest dusting.


I remember being so distraught over having these drastic dietary considerations to figure out on my own that I would spontaneously break down into tears in all sorts of places - the fridge, the grocery store, restaurants, social contexts when people kindly asked, “how about you choose where to eat this time.” I can’t choose! I can’t eat anything! I would privately bawl to myself. What a fun time that was.


But that was not nearly the end of it.


It turned out, yes, entirely cutting the glutens helped immensely. I also realized that sugar was not my friend. In fact, processed anything was not going to have a great outcome. But then… there was this other weird pattern that I started noticing in my life… sometimes I was pretty healthy and (relatively speaking) happy with the way things were going off-wheat. But sometimes I was just as sickly and digestively screwed when I definitely hadn’t consumed anything questionable. As if other tried and true components of my diet randomly became gluten analogs that upset me just as much.


Plus, there were some ailments that just never seemed to go away. The insomnia was a persistent problem that stretched back to being about 5 years old, but got more severe with time. The aches and pains in my neck and shoulders only worsened, no matter how many tennis balls I rolled on, yoga classes I attended, or muscle relaxers I popped. The exhaustion came and went with connections to my mental health and diet, but not directly related to bready food items. The brain fog didn’t clear up when I had a strictly regimented diet. The tension migraines never fully returned from where they came.


Plus, there were some ailments that just never seemed to go away. The insomnia was a persistent problem that stretched back to being about 5 years old, but got more severe with time. The aches and pains in my neck and shoulders only worsened, no matter how many tennis balls I rolled on, yoga classes I attended, or muscle relaxers I popped. The exhaustion came and went with connections to my mental health and diet, but not directly related to bready food items. The brain fog didn’t clear up when I had a strictly regimented diet. The tension migraines never fully returned from where they came.

I was still finding myself bedridden and ready to give up on the whole idea of living on a semi-regular basis. Sometimes it was every two weeks, sometimes once a month, sometimes a few months apart. But I never knew why, how long it would last, or how to control the system-wide failures.


And if you want to know how western medicine helped me with any of these continued challenges… it didn’t. I tried to get answers for years before I finally gave up. Every doctor turned me away. Every specialist was critically uninterested. Even the Mayo Clinic neglected to listen to what I said or utilize applicable resources, after I was so sure they could solve the medical mystery of my life.


So. I stopped trying at a certain point. I resolved myself to being health anxious and perpetually confused by myself. I realized that I would never know what any day was going to bring, because my discomforts and continued sicknesses seemed to come and go with the tides.


Eventually, after years of this bullshit, it got a bit better. I buckled down with - you guessed it - strict routines designed to circumvent some of the challenges.


Eventually, after years of this bullshit, it got a bit better. I buckled down with - you guessed it - strict routines designed to circumvent some of the challenges.

I realized that my diet needed to be incredibly tight, and by that, I mean “boring.” Beyond gluten, I cut out basically everything sugary, carby, and processed. I noticed that without a certain variety of physical exercise on a regimented basis, everything started slipping. I prioritized finding ways to get to sleep at night, even if it meant being rigid and assessed as “dramatic” by less slumber-impaired humans. I gave up any activities that caused neck and shoulder strain, and tried to be better about things like stretching. I also noticed that dealing with my emotions was a gateway to pain and discomfort relief, which was an uphill battle all it’s own. And, you know, eventually I learned about this Complex Trauma thing that explained a HUGE part of early to mid twenties, including a majority of the physical ailments.


But, although I began to live like an above-averagely healthy human again… I’ve still always had a few mysteries about my health.


Sure, over the course of many years I’ve figured out how to live with a semi-predictable body after long periods of never knowing what tomorrow would bring. But, unfortunately, there are still times when my system throws me a curveball. During those unanticipated spans of health failure, I’m left ruminating on a question or three that haven’t ever been answered consistently.


One of the most common inquiries is coming at you next.







Stress or sick?


So, even after all my life changes and careful modifications. All my sacrifices and seemingly over-the-top regimes. I’ve still had an ongoing health obsession that pops up from time to time when my shit starts to go downhill.


The incrementally-observed question that runs through my head on repeat… “Wait, am I communicably sick, or am I just fucking stressed out again?”


The incrementally-observed question that runs through my head on repeat… “Wait, am I communicably sick, or am I just fucking stressed out again?”

I realized a while back - maybe in my mid-late twenties - that holy hell, I sure felt like I was coming down with the flu more often than it was logical. The thing was, my symptoms only ever progressed to the point of feeling like I was still actively fighting off the sickness as it took hold. I would get the temperature dysregulation, the headache, the muscle pain, the foggy feeling, and oh boy, the exhaustion - that generally serve as your first signs of contagious trouble.


I would be too deliriously tired to get up and do anything. If I made myself go to work, it felt like wading through a dream. Half present, half falling asleep at my desk. My body felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. Even my head was too heavy for my neck to manage the task.


Beyond the energy void, I would genuinely start to experience pre-illness complaints, like swollen lymph nodes, congestion, and the aforementioned shivers and shakes. I would find myself incredibly hungry, as though my immune system was ramping up for a fight. I would get weak, like all my electrolytes were purged from my body. I would characterize the experience as feeling “generally under the weather” in preparation for something much larger slamming into town.


Beyond the energy void, I would genuinely start to experience pre-illness complaints, like swollen lymph nodes, congestion, and the aforementioned shivers and shakes. I would find myself incredibly hungry, as though my immune system was ramping up for a fight. I would get incredibly weak, like all my electrolytes were purged from my body. I would characterize the experience as feeling “generally under the weather” in preparation for something much larger slamming into town.

And I would respond in kind. I would retreat to bed, Nyquil and vitamin C showering over me on frequent intervals, gearing up for the systemic war of a lifetime. I would drift in and out of sleep for a day or two, fending off the weird muscle aches and sweat sessions that come with an emerging fever. Interestingly, many of my old food reactivities would rear up during this period. I would get my neti pot and vomit-bags ready for action.


And then… nothing else would happen. Assuming I chilled out and retreated to a state of forfeit when I actually treated myself with kindness and care, everything would work out. After 1-5 days of being back in my bedridden state, determined that significant contagious sickness was headed my way, it would seem to just disappear overnight. Or, clear up by about 70% overnight, to be more realistic.


It took several rounds of this pattern - I couldn’t tell you how many - before I finally realized… heyyo, my body shuts the fuck down when I’m stressed out. Every time I experienced one of these sudden falls from health, it followed (or ran in tandem with) a period of significant stress, anxiety, and/or depression. And if I let myself relax for a week, it would all be okay. If I tried to push through it because ObLiGaTiOnS, I was signing myself up for a prolonged and far more serious health failure. It happened too many times; I knew it wasn’t a coincidence. Like I had postulated earlier in my adulthood - my health seemed to be drastically affected by my mental state. Particularly, my interpretations of stress, obligations, and fears.


And I can tell you, my health anxiety quieted down for a while in the aftermath of the acceptance. Call it immersion therapy. When you’ve experienced the same event over and over again, but A never leads to B, and C-alming your shit makes condition A disappear back into the ethers... well, eventually you take it for what it is and just stop panicking so much. I think I got tired of preoccupying myself with the whole dumpster fire at some point and preferred to extinguish the flames by letting them run their course.


This is where I’ve lived for the past many years now. Realizing that if I push myself too hard mentally or physically, or if I let too many stress signals infiltrate my brain… I’m about to get fucked up. My health will slip quickly. I will be reactive to essentially every food on this planet. My body will be puffy, inflamed, and painful. Not to mention, so goddamn tired all the time. But that’s it. It won’t last forever. I’m not going to die. Telling myself the opposite makes it all last a lot longer. Don’t pile stress about your stress-induced sickness onto your existing stress, and you'll be better soon.


This is where I’ve lived for the past many years now. Realizing that if I push myself too hard mentally or physically, or if I let too many stress signals infiltrate my brain… I’m about to get fucked up. My health will slip quickly. I will be reactive to essentially every food on this planet. My body will be puffy, inflamed, and painful. Not to mention, so goddamn tired all the time. But that’s it. It won’t last forever. I’m not going to die. Telling myself the opposite makes it all last a lot longer. Don’t pile stress about your stress-induced sickness onto your existing stress, and you'll be better soon.

And yet, when it’s happening, I also never know for a fact that my stress-based illness is definitely what’s going on. The result is getting trapped in a “will I or won’t I” obsessive spiral of anticipating the worst while reassuring myself that it might be nothing at all. There’s a lot of internal and external conversation about it, as people want to know if you’re sick and you want to be able to warn them that you feel like death… but also have to throw in the caveat, “Iunno, you have to realize that this happens to me all the time and it’s usually nothing, though.”


Of course, this creates the opportunity for my brain to 1) tell me I’m probably fine, quit complaining, pussy, and 2) compare myself to everyone else on the planet, who doesn’t crumble when their brain interprets times are hard. Because, of course, I have to make myself feel mentally ridiculous for feeling physically horrible. Other people are always happy to help in this regard, too. "You sure get sick a lot. I thought you had the flu last month. Wow, it always seems like something is wrong with you." Mhm, I feel the same on all accounts.


And, Fuckers, that’s why I stopped talking about it or looking for answers a long time ago. Instead, I've just relied on the most logical answer and quit worrying. I’ve done enough research on my own, not to mention all my Animal Science schooling, to know how stress responses work. They’re significant. They have the potential to disrupt your entire body through hormonal dysregulation. And they work differently - as far as we can tell - depending on the organism.


So that’s what I’ve leaned on. Acknowledgement that stress really screws with me. It zaps my energy. It fogs up my brain. It makes me overstimulated. It causes weird pains and immune system responses. It churns up my digestive problems. It also makes me feel like I’m starving but nauseous all at once. Over long periods of time, it can lead to infections. It, obviously, ruins my sleep, which reaaaaally doesn’t help with any of it.


So that’s what I’ve leaned on. Acknowledgement that stress really screws with me. It zaps my energy. It fogs up my brain. It makes me overstimulated. It causes weird pains and immune system responses. It churns up my digestive problems. It also makes me feel like I’m starving but nauseous all at once. Over long periods of time, it can lead to infections. It, obviously, ruins my sleep, which reaaaaally doesn’t help with any of it.

That’s that. Pretty complicated but simple. Try not to stress yourself out and god help you, if you do. Chill for a few days and you’ll be alright, probably. No one knows why it happens. Doctors don’t care. Just watch out for yourself, because no one else deals with this shit.


Unless… they totally do.







So, that’s fibromyalgia


I guess this is where I tell you something that a lot of folks have probably already figured out. Sorry if you’ve been yelling at me through your headphones this whole time - chill, I’m getting to it.


There definitely is a term for everything I’ve described. There are millions of other people who experience it. And, yeah, doctors often still don’t believe it’s real… but the numbers and anecdotal evidence don’t lie.


Ever heard of fibromyalgia?


Of course you have. But have you ever really looked into what it meant? Because… I hadn’t.


Annnnd then a listener and I were chatting on Instagram a few weeks ago. And she mentioned... everything I just mentioned. And her diagnosis had been? Fibromyalgia.


Annnnd then a listener and I were chatting on Instagram a few weeks ago. And she mentioned... everything I just mentioned. And her diagnosis had been? Fibromyalgia.

Via DM, your fellow Fucker started telling me about being tired all the time, mysterious aches and pains that worsen with stress, IBS symptoms, improper temperature regulation, and over-exertion that leads to required days of recovery. My jaw hit the floor.


You know I hopped online and started doing more research of my own. And all of the information was confirmed and expanded upon in a way that drove my mandible straight into the basement.


Hey, you know how fibromyalgia is synonymous with “widespread pain?” Oh shit, if you dig into it, there is a lot more to learn. Here’s a (maybe, complete?) list of the currently known associated symptoms. Keep in mind, I couldn’t find a single comprehensive resource for this information. This list is compiled of information from the the peer-reviewed article I'm going to read from later, the American College of Rheumatology, the CDC, Healthline, and Medical News Today. And if it sounds like a bit of a "catch all" pile, I think you're right.


  • Pain and stiffness all over the body

  • Fatigue and tiredness

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Sleep problems

  • Problems with thinking, memory, and concentration, known as “fibro-fog”

  • Headaches, including migraines

  • Tingling or numbness in hands and feet

  • Pain in the face or jaw

  • Digestive problems, such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome

  • Tenderness to touch or pressure affecting muscles, sometimes joints or even the skin

  • Irritable or overactive bladder

  • Pelvic pain

  • Trouble focusing or paying attention

  • Pain or a dull ache in the lower belly

  • Dry eyes

  • Sleeping for long periods of time without feeling rested (nonrestorative sleep)

  • Acid reflux

  • Restless leg syndrome

  • Sensitivity to cold or heat

  • Problems with vision

  • Nausea

  • Weight gain

  • Dizziness

  • Cold or flu-like symptoms

  • Skin problems

  • Chest symptoms

  • Breathing problems

  • Insulin resistance


Wait, wait, wait. THAT’S what fibro is? Because, I’m sorry, I have literally never heard any of that detail before… and although it gets so ambiguous that I suspect these ailments are all the conditions that just haven't been explained before by medical science... this list just described my life. All the way down to the tiniest detail of dry eyes, as I now recall chronically dumping drops into mine for those same years in my 20s. What. The. Shit.


Prior to this research, my symptomatic knowledge of fibro was essentially - pain, of the unexplained and incurable variety. No one ever once has mentioned anything else about the condition to me, or allll the ways that it correlated with my years of health trauma. Not my peers, not my doctors, and not even my amazing, well-informed therapist.


So, maybe I’m really late to the game here, but long story short, my mind was blown when I heard that there’s actually a term for this experience which I had forfeited to processing as a “unique way that my body individually destroys me” for all these years. I thought I was just uniquely uncomfortable all the time and stopped burdening others with my experiences.


So, maybe I’m really late to the game here, but long story short, my mind was blown when I heard that there’s actually a term for this experience which I had forfeited to processing as a “unique way that my body individually destroys me” for all these years. I thought I was just uniquely uncomfortable all the time and stopped burdening others with my experiences.

Maybe that’s why I never had anyone clue me in to the diagnosis - I honestly stopped talking about the cyclical sickness a while back, after recognizing that people didn’t respond favorably to the narrative, “I just get too stressed out to function.” Shutting my mouth and writing off my experiences may have halted my potential for hearing a realistic account of living with fibromyalgia. Oh, how the trauma shame shenanigans never stop royally fucking you.


Of course, based on my own recent education, now I’m wondering if fibromyalgia applies to far more of us in the trauma community. Because if I hadn’t found reliable information on it in all my trauma and inflammatory illness research over the years… how many other people are in the same boat?


And this brings me to my next point. I really hate the term fibromyalgia.







Why I hate the term


There’s actually another explanation for why I never heard about everything that fibromyalgia describes. Uh, you’re going to hate me for this, but I didn’t think it was a “real” diagnosis.


Yep. I’m telling you with moderate guilt that for the longest time, I appraised fibro in the same way that western medicine considers all psychosomatic illnesses - not valid. And I’m unhappy with myself, too. Believe me, I feel like my least favorite kind of person... a hypocrite. But this also points to the systemic issue that undermines so many of our attempts to get help, and that makes me far more unhappy.


Yep. I’m telling you with moderate guilt that for the longest time, I appraised fibro in the same way that western medicine considers all psychosomatic illnesses - not valid. And I’m unhappy with myself, too. Believe me, I feel like my least favorite kind of person... a hypocrite. But this also points to the systemic issue that undermines so many of our attempts to get help, and that makes me far more unhappy.

You see, a number of years ago, as a budding counselor with a few years of experience, my therapist friend mentioned something about fibro. Specifically, that it was a common label granted to more seriously mentally affected patients… and it wasn’t believed to be a real thing. I wish I could remember more detail on the context, but the basis of the story is, someone that I trusted - someone with many trauma patients - told me that in her experience, no one took fibromyalgia seriously. People with intense mental illnesses regularly presented with unfounded complaints of pain, and this is the term they were assigned as a result.


There was no proof of their physical discomfort. The patients tended to have myriad mental and physical health issues. They tended to be more difficult clients. Professionals had doubts about how serious the complaints were. No evidence, no respect. It was just about that simple.


To give more weight to the story, here’s one quick excerpt that is actually validating to read, from an article titled, The management of fibromyalgia from a psychosomatic perspective: an overview.


“People with FM often reported dismissive attitudes from others, such as disbelief, stigmatization, lack of acceptance by their relatives, friends, coworkers, and the healthcare system, that consider them as ‘lazy’ or ‘attention seeking’ people, with their symptoms ‘all in their head’. Such dismissiveness can have a substantial negative impact on patients, who are already distressed, and also on the degree of their pain.”


So… similar to the asshole social associates described above… for years after that, I paid no attention to fibromyalgia. When people brought it up, I nodded and moved on. I didn’t disbelieve that there would be a connection between mental illness and the onset of bodily pains after my own experiences, but the term had also been shuttled to a file in my head that sidled up next to, “seeking prescription pain meds.” This was an incorrect judgement based on incorrect, oversimplified information. But unfortunately, it left an impression.


So… similar to the assholes described above… for years after that, I paid no attention to fibromyalgia. When people brought it up, I nodded and moved on. I didn’t disbelieve that there would be a connection between mental illness and the onset of bodily pains after my own experiences, but the term had also been shuttled to a file in my head that sidled up next to, “seeking prescription pain meds.” This was an incorrect judgement based on incorrect, oversimplified information. But unfortunately, it left an impression.

It took the real life account of someone with the diagnosis to show me all the ways that my previous perception was completely incorrect. I suddenly realized how reductive and insulting the false information had been. Annnd all the ways that I could have really helped myself and a few others a lot sooner if I had just investigated the term on my own, rather than lazily falling back on someone else’s casually-expressed opinion.


So, I’m saying… fuck me. 100%. That makes me really upset with myself. But it makes me even more frustrated with the medical field.


And this is why I hate the term fibromyalgia.


It doesn’t actually explain a fucking thing… and it doesn’t seem like anyone is actually trying to.


At this point, there is no known cause for the development or persistence of the disorder. Fibromyalgia has essentially become more of a label for a grouping of symptoms that we “allow” people to assume when we don’t know what the hell might be wrong with them. I say “allow” very purposely, because it feels like our medical overlords have granted us this word as a way to pacify the uncomfortable masses - not treat them.


At this point, there is no known cause or organic mechanism for the development or persistence of the disorder. Fibromyalgia has essentially become more of a label for a grouping of symptoms that we “allow” people to assume when we don’t know what the hell might be wrong with them. I say “allow” very purposely, because it feels like our medical overlords have granted us this word as a way to pacify the uncomfortable masses - not treat them.

Millions of humans have detailed the same experiences, but science hasn’t yet come up with a way to explain them, so let’s go ahead and give them a new diagnosis that boils down to “Not sure what’s going on, but they say it’s unpleasant and it sounds a little something like widespread pain. Cool, let’s call it a day. Nah, we don’t need to educate the medical community or the public - we don’t need a single list of all the known comorbidities - because we don’t get it, ourselves. Let’s make sure we put that disclaimer right in the definition, so everyone knows it’s a controversial topic."


And implicit in saying that doctors and scientists don’t understand the term, comes a negative connotation of assumed delusion or attention-seeking complaints.


Essentially, what I’m bitching about is the tendency of researchers and practitioners to shuttle things they can’t directly measure to the back of the relevancy line. Despite all of the anecdotal evidence from fibro sufferers that corroborate the same causes, symptoms, and outcomes… we can’t see what they’re talking about and we don’t have an easy explanation, so we put this in the “fake news” stack of information - AKA psychosomatic illness.


Now, it’s also worth mentioning that fibromyalgia is deeply intertwined with trauma. Something like 2/3rds of fibro patients also have confirmed PTSD symptoms, if not higher. Exact numbers depend on which study you trust. Just know, it is a prevalent, accepted, correlation between trauma and the development of fibromyalgia. And of course, no one has determined the causative or affective relationship between the two at this point in time.


Hell, we all know that a lot of mental and physical health professionals don’t even want to acknowledge trauma at this point - or, do so with a smirk and an eyebrow raise, at best. So tethering the two poorly-comprehended disorders together? Oh boy, it’s a sure-fire way to ensure that no one listens to a word you say after honestly answering their background information questions. Might as well throw down your wallet and walk yourself right out of the office at that point.


Hell, we all know that a lot of mental and physical health professionals don’t even want to acknowledge trauma at this point - or, do so with a smirk and an eyebrow raise, at best. So tethering the two poorly-comprehended disorders together? Oh boy, it’s a sure-fire way to ensure that no one listens to a word you say after honestly answering their background information questions. Might as well throw down your wallet and walk yourself right out of the office at that point.

The medical field’s lack of trauma education is a big problem. Making “psychosomatic” a dirty word isn’t helping millions of folks out there. Being invalidated by the people who could possibly help you is another mental health crisis waiting to happen. And all of this is infuriating to me, following my own experiences and thinking about other people’s.


Should we take this one outrage step further? Sure.


You know that a vast majority of fibromyalgia sufferers are… women. Sorry, about to get a tad feminist. Is anyone here surprised that primarily female voices tend to be written off by medical professionals? Ha, ha, ha. No, probably not.


For all of human history, the ladies have been getting the shit end of the stick when it comes to medical care. We all know that women were given amazing explanations for their ailments, such as having “hysterics” or "the vapors" not so long ago.


Furthermore, there is research showing that doctors do not take women’s accounts of pain severity seriously, in particular. Even fellow female doctors and nurses are given different treatment by staff when they go to the ER, versus male counterparts. And if you’re a minority or socioeconomically challenged woman? The data says you might as well take two aspirin and see what happens the next morning, because the medical attention research is even worse for those demographics. Huge surprise.


So, pulling this all together: Considering that the majority of us who receive complex trauma diagnoses are women… considering that implicit in this label, comes the increased likelihood that we’re not economically well-to-do and belong to minority groups one way or another… how do you figure we’ve ever had a chance of receiving real help for our unmeasurable physical conditions?


So, pulling this all together: Considering that the majority of us who receive complex trauma diagnoses are women… considering that implicit in this label, comes the increased likelihood that we’re not economically well-to-do and belong to minority groups… how do you figure we’ve ever had a chance of receiving real help for our unmeasurable physical conditions?

Yeah, we haven’t.


We’ve been given a term - complete with a wink and a nudge - that no one wants to meaningfully research or prioritize understanding. We’ve received a new phrase that doctors will “generously grant us” when we’re drowning in unexplained symptoms and pain. We’re then labeled with a word that essentially amounts to “disregard and humor” for all our future appointments. On top of it all, we’re carrying the burden of traumatic histories, which immediately qualify us for misunderstood diagnoses that more or less equate “ghosts in their blood” - because, hell, we can’t quantify mental illness, either.


The whole ordeal makes me really upset. The fact that I was inadvertently pulled into this biased disbelief makes me more upset. It also serves as quite a demonstration of how powerful or deleterious knowledge can be after it worms its way into your head involuntarily and becomes your only “go-to” piece of data, true or false.


One seemingly-trustworthy person mentioning a negative opinion of fibromyalgia one time in my past somehow infiltrated my thoughts to the extent that I didn’t have a second thought for 5 years? And we're talking about a goddamn trauma researcher - with, what I consider - an otherwise open and connection-happy mind?


The power of assumed authority and truth in opinion is significant. If I can be swayed in this way, how could less mental health informed medical professionals stand a chance in responding differently? That’s frightening and clarifying… though immensely upsetting.


So, since biomedicine hasn’t bothered to find any great information for us, despite the rapidly increasing rate of fibromyalgia diagnoses in the past two decades - how can we make sense of the information to actually help ourselves?


Let’s talk about that next.








What we can conclude


So it kindof blows finding out that you probably qualify for a new medical term… only to find out that we don’t actually know anything about said term. I say this, because if you’re waiting for me to pop off with some sweet research on fibromyalgia… uh… I haven’t found it yet. But not for lack of trying. So far every article I’ve seen has been pretty basic and uninspired.


Does fibromyalgia correspond with trauma? It does. Does stress mediate and moderate fibromyalgia, PTSD symptoms, GI problems, and depression? It does. Does it take a long time and numerous appointments to receive medical help for fibromyalgia complaints? It does. Does the comorbidity of post-traumatic symptoms make fibro more uncomfortable and challenging to overcome? What do you know - it fucking does.


(Wow. So enlightening. Having two debilitating disorders is less fun than having one. Who’s funding these research studies, anyways?)


The first thing I can conclude is, there’s not that much to conclude. This is to say, no one - that I’ve seen, so far - has revealed anything super shocking or thought-provoking about fibromyalgia.


The first thing I can conclude is, there’s not that much to conclude. This is to say, no one - that I’ve seen, so far - has revealed anything super shocking or thought-provoking about fibromyalgia.

Really, the most interesting things I learned from my reading are that

1) insulin resistance is another associated disorder, which explains even more of my baffling life

2) sex hormones are leached from your system under stress, which, refer to point number one... explains another huge chunk of my existence, and

3) the recommendations for treating fibro long term are the same recommendations I’ve given for getting your trauma life re-ordered.


You know how I always push for people to find out what’s manageable on their own through trial and error, rather than approaching trauma recovery with preventable fires burning in every area? Hey - someone agrees.


Namely, it's recommended that in order to manage fibromyalgia you establish routines including strictly nutrition-based eating habits, non-threatening forms of consistent exercising, prioritizing tons of sleep, and controlling your environment as much as possible for stressful stimuli. Doctors can also supplement your rehab with antidepressants, because, again, fibromyalgia is related to the same underlying hormonal imbalances as depression - but the larger health issues are managed best by changing your behaviors. Just like I’ve said.


I suppose this is no surprise, since this entire time I’ve unknowingly been talking, in large part, about how I’ve controlled my own fibromyalgia symptoms. I just thought it was mandatory trauma pains I was dampening. But the word is out! There's a separate phrase for it. The doctors and I agree; stop treating yourself like a turd, and maybe you’ll stop feeling like one. Whatdoyouknow. Sometimes there are reasons for the things I notice experientially, even if they aren’t originally informed by medical lingo.


Secondly, looking at what we can conclude at this point about fibro… Well, it justifies my previous hypothesis that stress is the root of my body’s evil. There’s not much to definitively say about fibromyalgia at this point, but we know for a fact that it is agitated and potentially caused by stress.


Secondly, looking at what we can conclude at this point about fibro… Well, it justifies my previous hypothesis that stress is the root of my body’s evil. There’s not much to definitively say about fibromyalgia at this point, but we know for a fact that it is agitated and potentially caused by stress.

This perfectly aligns with my observations that a terrible work week mixed with a personally challenging month on top of a physically exhausting cleaning marathon will lead to a systemic breakdown every time. And, conversely, those times when life has actually been pretty chill correspond to periods of bodily health and limited upset - the times when I wonder “was I ever really sick at all?” and start to health gaslight my damn self.


Realizing the link between stress and sickness, of course, also begins to explain the correlation to trauma, and particularly, complex trauma.


Now, let me start by saying that there’s some debate over the downstream effects of PTSD - some researchers swear that it decreases system arousal in the face of later stress, others have collected data reflecting that a nervous system hyper-sensitization takes place. From my own trauma involvement, I’ve seen and heard more cases of the latter; we’re quick to upset and easily pushed into stressed territory. I don’t know many, if any, trauma folks who are non-responsive to disturbing life events... but that sounds more like a deep, dangerous, clinical depression symptom to me.


Personally, once I’ve been chronically stressed for a few weeks or months, then I notice the loss of stress response take over. My limbic system gives up, the HPA axis stops responding, and therefore nothing can rattle me. Perhaps you’ve also had the experience of laughing when your car breaks down, because it’s already been 3 months of disaster around every turn and there’s nothing else you can do for yourself. So, sure, people can reach a point where they legitimately don’t respond to the chaos anymore, but I’m not so sure that’s a consistent norm. I think it’s more likely that you turn off your stress reactions if you’ve been adequately prepped to dissociate for the sake of sanity or your chemical balance is so wack that your danger center has powered down.


I can tell you without a doubt that before the point when my stress threshold has been raised sky-high thanks to repeat exposures and wiring disconnections... I’m a rapid-responder when anxiety comes calling. Stimulus - rapid survival reaction - no space in between being startled and shaking from head to toe. And this is the case for basically every Motherfucker I know. I’m no expert, but I think we tend to fall more into the hypervigilant camp surrounding this podcast, rather than the laxadonical one. Always on the lookout, always ready, often bowled over by our own responses.


I’m a rapid-responder when anxiety comes calling. Stimulus - rapid survival reaction - no space in between being startled and shaking from head to toe. And this is the case for every Motherfucker I know. I’m no expert, but I think we tend to fall more into the hypervigilant camp surrounding this podcast, rather than the laxadonical one. Always on the lookout, always ready, often bowled over by our own responses

This nervous system sensitization, as they call it, explains a lot of trauma symptoms. I’ve regularly discussed the hypersensitivity problem it creates, when your brain doesn’t adequately filter out or assess neutral stimuli because it considers basically everything to be a threat. This can also contribute to the ADD and ADHD diagnoses that we receive, when our heads are too busy trying to sort all that data streaming in to direct our thoughts in a steady way. Or, the ways that we’re uniquely thrown immediately into panic mode when we sense a risk. Plus, we’ve probably all had the experience of tiny, secret triggers sneakily upsetting our bodies when the stimulation wasn’t even significant enough to pass through our cognitive recognition centers. These are all caused by the same systemic over-sensitization problem.


In general: yes, we trauma folk are sensitive to our environments - inner and outer. We are easily pushed down survival pathways to fight/flight/freeze/fawn responses. We rapidly catastrophize ambiguous information, which can convince our brains and bodies that the worst has already happened. We’re hyperaware and easily overstimulated, often agitated, and regularly on edge.


I maintain, in the face of controversial evidence, that we get stressed out easily. And our bodies react dramatically.


I feel like I should also state that this is especially true, as most of us have read, when we have unresolved emotional strain floating around in our meat jackets. We can be overstimulated and aroused (in a bad way) from the inside, out. Since the majority of us are not skilled in emotional recognition or resolution, we’re often walking around with a lifetime of hard feelings stored in our guts. And there’s been roughly zero doubt in my head about emotional and environmental stress contributing to dissociation, contributing to a vagal nerve shutdown as a big part of the digestive failure that characterizes fibromyalgia, IBS, Crohns, and so many autoimmune disorders.


On top of the unresolved emotional root of stress, this pings another episode that I've previously released. The one about being overly restrictive in your diet and exercise for the sake of appearance perfectionism. If you physically exert yourself too strongly through caloric deprivation or extreme work outs, you can easily stress your body into a survival response. It can't tell the difference between starvation for bikini season and starvation for lack of food. Running your ass off for your upcoming wedding or running your ass off for your upcoming bear attack. Your danger sensing center is sensitive and it overreacts, much like myself.


Now, considering that all these examples of central nervous system sensitization and physiological survival states that go hand in hand with Complex Trauma and Fibromyalgia, so many weird health mysteries are potentially resolved. But, not exactly the pain component. Or, is it.


Now, considering that all these examples of central nervous system sensitization and physiological survival states that go hand in hand with Complex Trauma and Fibromyalgia, so many weird health mysteries are potentially resolved. But, not exactly the pain component. Or, is it.

Again, the authors out of Italy and Brazil who penned, The management of fibromyalgia from a psychosomatic perspective: an overview, have a potential way to think about that. They state:


“Even if the causes and pathophysiology of FM are not completely known, widespread chronic pain could be explained by a vulnerability due to a perturbation in the central processing of sensory information, named ‘central sensitivity’ or ‘central sensitization’, that amplifies the response of the central nervous system to a peripheral input. Hence, people with FM and/or other central sensitivity syndromes have a lower threshold for interpreting sensory information as noxious. Several factors, such as genetic predisposition, deficiencies in neurotransmitter levels, biochemical changes in the body, endocrine dysfunction, mood states, anxiety, sociocultural environment, psychological trauma and past experiences in general, expectancy beliefs, and catastrophization have been proposed as explanatory mechanisms of patients’ subjective experience of central sensitivity. Current research indicates that abnormal sensory and pain processing is a key factor in the pathophysiology of FM. There is robust evidence that abnormalities in central pain processing, rather than damage or inflammation of peripheral structures, play an important role in the development and maintenance of chronic pain in patients with FM.”


Interesting, huh? I still think inflammatory responses are a big part of the 1000 piece stress puzzle, but I don’t disagree with the idea that our finely-tuned danger detection systems amplify pain and discomfort signals to deafening levels. Putting all the system data together, you can deduce a fairly complete picture of how strain, physical degradation, and pain are all related.


Finally, I have confirmation that being overly stimulated causes everything from my energy drain to my dietary responses, migraines, and autoimmune attacks... all the way down to my temperature sensitivity, random presentation of allergic reactions, and even that occasional sharp pain in my jaw… not to mention all my life-altering functional problems, like being unable to sleep at night, existing with debilitating pain, and living while feeling sedated?


Finally, I have confirmation that being overly stimulated causes everything from my energy drain to my dietary responses, migraines, and autoimmune attacks... all the way down to my temperature sensitivity, random presentation of allergic reactions, and even that occasional sharp pain in my jaw… not to mention all my life-altering functional problems, like being unable to sleep at night, existing with debilitating pain, and living while feeling sedated?

All of my strange health complaints from the past decade have aligned with this new label. And that label corresponds perfectly with my inkling that running on cortisol and overzealous guardsmen have been the major source of my health anxiety sauce. Welp, it’s been validating research for all of my educated guesses, to say the least.


Long story short, there’s not a ton of helpful information about the reasons for developing fibromyalgia or what makes it get worse. But there’s one thing we do know for a fact; stress is the enemy. At least I think it’s comforting to conclude that stress is the root of many of our C-PTSD complaints, as well as depression, anxiety, insomnia, obsessive thoughts, and now… a whole list of common maladies, labeled fibromyalgia.


Whether or not it’s really understood, at least there is a connection between everything. At least there’s something that ties ALL the random, disjointed pieces of torture together. I’m guessing that for many of us, fibromyalgia is similar to complex trauma, again, in that regard.


And, lastly, I can conclude that… I have more questions







More questions than answers


Here’s one last excerpt from the aforementioned article, which is the only one I found that’s worth hearing from.


They state: “FM is labelled, often with a negative connotation, as a ‘functional somatic syndrome’, part of a ‘somatization disorder’, ‘fashionable diagnosis’, ‘idiopathic pain disorder’, ‘non-disease’, ‘psychosomatic syndrome’, dismissing the true suffering of the patients. In the absence of a univocal identified biological cause, subjective reports of symptoms by the patients are often viewed derogatorily and discredited as ‘psychogenic.’”


Like I said, there isn’t a lot of helpful information out there if you’re looking to learn more about this controversial condition. Unfortunately, it has been categorized as a “functional somatic disorder” which essentially means that we don’t have an explanation for the organic basis of the disorder.


Like I said, there isn’t a lot of helpful information out there if you’re looking to learn more about this controversial condition. Unfortunately, it has been categorized as a “functional somatic disorder” which essentially means that we don’t have an explanation for the organic basis of the disorder.

Uh, I don’t know what could be more organic than the endogenous hormones in our own bodies creating downstream health effects, but hey, I’m not a biologist anymore, what do I know?


The fact remains - there’s a lot more to understand about the assorted mechanisms that lead from trauma into depression, generalized stress disorder, and physical manifestations of a biochemical system that’s running off-balance. And this is where I have the biggest questions.


First, I have to get this out of the way. I’m wondering about the known gender split in fibro. The numbers are horrendously skewed towards women as the primary sufferers, and that’s not helping the medical legitimacy case. So, what are the chances that men just don’t have fibromyalgia at the same rate as women? Either they don’t get stressed to the same magnitude or their bodies respond completely differently? It’s possible. OR. Is it something else?


It seems to me like this follows another similar mystery - what are the chances that men just don’t suffer from Complex Trauma at the same rate as women? Pretty poor? Probably more of a diagnostic or seeking-help issue? Yeah, I think so, too. Yet, if you look strictly at the numbers, it sure seems like there are more women hearing about C-PTSD than men.


This analogous labeling issue between the genders makes me think of a few explanations…

1) Men don’t seek help for their physical ailments the way that women do, either because they’re less in tune with their bodies or because they’re shamed for not being tough enough if they complain. Just like C-PTSD.

2) Men don’t hear about fibromyalgia, because it is an engendered diagnosis reserved for dramatic women at this point. Just like C-PTSD. They receive other partial diagnoses, like IBS, that are less controversial. This leads me into a whole spiraling rant about several genital-dependent psychological diagnoses that I feel similarly about, but one of them is…

3) Men don’t receive the same level of fibromyalgia labels as women because men don’t often receive Complex-PTSD labels, which would serve as a hint to their doctors, since trauma is a well-known predisposing factor…


This brings me to the next set of questions.


It’s unpopular opinion time, but, frankly, I don’t know that any of these trauma and fibro issues are really that separate.


It seems to me like we’re talking a lot about one particular problem that splinters off into a thousand different outcomes, depending on the circumstances, the biology, and the human in question. Not separate conditions.


It seems to me like we’re talking a lot about one particular problem that splinters off into a thousand different outcomes, depending on the circumstances, the biology, and the human in question. Not separate conditions.

First comes the trauma, then comes the presentation of downstream physical and mental symptoms. Presentation, magnitude, and personal recognition of these symptoms varies, just like severity of Complex Trauma does. But under both conditions, our experiences are often so similar - the hard part is that we struggle to describe them and often lean on abstract language which can be used in such diverse ways. We focus on different problems, depending on our own life impacts.


So, maybe we notice and report internal events differently, but it’s hard for me to believe that the two disorders aren’t more than corresponding diagnoses - and are, in fact, one and the same.


I could be very wrong, but I’d sure like to find out.


So, to the small percentage of fibromyalgia sufferers who don’t have trauma… you sure? To the depressed and anxious folks who can’t seem to get a grip on their physical health, but never saw their life as traumatic… want to take another look? To all the traumatized folks with Raynauds, food allergies, hypertension, ADD, aches, and migraines… have you really looked into the full definition of fibromyalgia?


ARE these conditions of trauma and fibromyalgia different? Or is this another complication in identifying unseeable symptoms in a population of folks who never learned to name their mental and physical experiences? Is this an artifact from a group who tends to underestimate and under-report their own experiences in light of unhealthy others’ core beliefs? How prevalent is fibromyalgia, really? Especially in the context of Trauma?


ARE these conditions of trauma and fibromyalgia different? Or is this another complication in identifying unseeable symptoms in a population of folks who never learned to name their mental and physical experiences? Is this an artifact from a group who tends to underestimate and under-report their own experiences in light of unhealthy others’ core beliefs? How prevalent is fibromyalgia, really? Especially in the context of Trauma?

Is it possible that everything boils down to one underlying event - trauma - that produces a whole host of other biological adaptations down the line? Did we create a separate term for it, simply based on a lack of standardization?


Or is this an exclusionary problem?


Have all the various ways we’ve learned to categorize and describe our experiences actually separated one full disorder into two half-disorders; one that encompasses the brain and another that covers the body? Is it our societal misunderstanding of the connection between our perceptions and our meaty husks, forcing us to separate the issues of mental and physical health that would be better understood together, as one?


I’m not sure! But I’m definitely thinking a lot about it.


Partially, from personal bias. I always considered my physical issues to be part of my trauma life, not separate from it - and that explanation made perfect sense to me. Where do these disorders really split? Maybe it’s possible to have Complex PTSD without the physical symptoms, but that's really not what I hear from people. The most of us have at least some periods of physical ailments, even if they're not persistent. To me, it seems like a distinction that should be made within the trauma diagnosis - with or without physical wellness degradation - rather than piling a separate, largely-ineffective diagnosis on the vast majority of us who have some variety of said bodily ailments.


I feel like the real issue isn’t “what is fibromyalgia?” The actual problem is a lack of biological understanding in the Psychology field. And a mirrored failure to understand Psychology in the medical field. Then, throw in a reluctance to study the conglomerate of bio-physiology and mental health issues in the scientific research literature because both experiences are difficult to measure or confirm and the studies would be less elegant.


I feel like the real issue isn’t “what is fibromyalgia?” The actual problem is a lack of biological understanding in the Psychology field. And a mirrored failure to understand Psychology in the medical field. Then, throw in a reluctance to study the conglomerate of bio-physiology and mental health issues in the scientific research literature because both experiences are difficult to measure or confirm and the studies would be less elegant.

If more psychologists actually learned system biology and more medical practitioners actually studied abnormal psychology, maybe we wouldn’t have disparate diagnoses that each come with a half-recognition. Maybe we could have one term that encompassed the full experience of trauma. Maybe these professionals could confirm all the details that we don’t understand by working with a more comprehensive approach to how humans work as a whole, rather than organ by organ. Just a fucking thought.


Because, I can tell you, if my therapist friend had the same biological education that I did at the time, I guarantee that she wouldn’t have told me fibromyalgia was a “pseudo diagnosis.” If she had knowledge of the connection between stress hormones and bodily breakdown, plus the trauma physiology that determines our sensitivity to stress - there’s no way she would have been so flippant or insensitive with her words. But under the influence of her counseling peers, the diagnosis became a fallacy.


I think this highlights the danger of the problem at hand. It only took one industry-determined void of knowledge to pass along an unfair opinion that skewed at least my perception for years down the line. And, think about it, how many times has one innocently-baseless comment in the psychology or medical fields probably created a lifetime of bias in an up-and-coming professional?


Maybe this is why we have the self-perpetuating negative connotation of psychosomatic illness in our society that seems to crawl its way towards improvement, while every other disorder makes significant strides. A lack of personal understanding of the biology-psychology connection is easily turned into a respected opinion, and readily transmitted to unknowing people who are eager to learn from their wise mentors. And so, the next generation inherits the same set of half-baked progress-stunting ideas. Over and over and over.


Maybe this is why we have the self-perpetuating negative connotation of psychosomatic illness in our society that seems to crawl its way towards improvement, while every other disorder makes significant strides. A lack of personal understanding of the biology-psychology connection is easily turned into a respected opinion, and readily transmitted to unknowing people who are eager to learn from their wise mentors. And so, the next generation inherits the same set of half-baked progress-stunting ideas. Over and over and over.

Depressing! And enlightening.


And that’s roughly where I stand today, after days of fibromyalgia research and very few satisfactory answers. Depressed and enlightened.


More or less, asking myself more questions about the legitimacy of our entire mental and physical healthcare system and all the lines we draw in the sand. Confident that trauma leads to increased stress leads to increased brain and body trauma. Somewhat happy to know that I’m actually not the only one who consistently apologizes for feeling like shit and questions if it’s “valid” or not because it seems connected to my brain. But also, pretty pissed off that we’ve been given a word that comes with no explanations and a hellofalot of medical field judgement, as if we needed more of that.


Oh, one more factoid to throw into the end of this conversation. There’s a link between low socioeconomic status and fibromyalgia.


Oh, one more factoid to throw into the end of this conversation. There’s a link between low socioeconomic status and fibromyalgia.

Hey, the same link exists between socioeconomic status and complex trauma. Hey, it’s another predisposing factor for post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms’ emergence. Hey, big surprise, if you have a stable and predictable physical and financial environment, you’re less likely to develop the terror-based conditions brought on by earlier trauma.


If you have financial resources, you’re also less likely to be chronically stressed by the demands of life. You’re probably also more likely to receive respectable medical care. Therefore, meaning that you’re both less likely to have enough perturbation to develop over-sensitive nervous system responses and less likely to be dismissed by doctors with a label they don’t believe exists. Plus, probably more likely to have access to mental health care that could prevent the onset of Complex Trauma presentation, and likely fibromyalgia, altogether.


Oh, look, logic explains so many things. Or, fuckit, let’s just choose to believe that poor people are lazy and always want to complain about something, whether it’s in their heads or their bodies. Whatever the rich white men say.


Big issues to think about.


Like I state way too often on this show, it’s the small things in this trauma life that bring you comfort. And monumental societal failures that make you scream. (Okay, I just added that last part today.)







Wrap it


Okay, let me get out of here before I question more beliefs that are way out of my paygrade. Sorry, medical and psychological practitioners. I know that I’m just a critical observer who, like that kid everyone hates in class, perpetually asks too many questions.


At the bottom of all my complaints, I just wish that we could come up with a way to characterize these disorders that actually helped people understand what was happening. If you know how your body is reacting to what stimuli and how the symptoms are all related, that's a lot more powerful than throwing assorted barely-defined titles at them.


If we can't definitively say that fibromyalgia and trauma symptoms are one and the same, fine. Let there be a distinction. But I think it would be preferable to call fibro something more telling and true to the accepted cause. Call it semantics, but something like Stress Affective Syndrome would be more useful than the made-up word of fibromyalgia. Please, anyone feel free to come up with a better phrase, because I just made "Stress Affective Syndrome" up so I could say "I've got SAS." It already fits the bill.


I guess I’m just up in arms that I’ve tried to find answers for my brain and body health all these years, and turned up completely empty handed until random connections have eventually given me the information I’ve needed after a decade of effort. Maybe if I had my complex trauma diagnosis before I had my health complaints, someone would have mentioned fibromyalgia. Maybe, they would have knowingly smirked and sent me to a psychiatrist. Hard to say.


I guess I’m just up in arms that I’ve tried to find answers for my brain and body health all these years, and turned up completely empty handed until random connections have eventually given me the information I’ve needed after a decade of effort. Maybe if I had my complex trauma diagnosis before I had my health complaints, someone would have mentioned fibromyalgia. Maybe, they would have knowingly smirked and sent me to a psychiatrist. Hard to say.

Even if I had gotten that information about fibro, would it have helped separate from the C-PTSD diagnosis? Honestly, probably not. I would have just been harder on myself for suddenly being too weak in the face of stress. And after reading that medical professionals doubt the validity of fibromyalgia, in the first place? Well that would have been a whole other source of disbelief, anger, and negative self-regard. Maybe a whole new crisis, once my inner critic got a chance to hammer away at my head.


I suppose that figuring out the patterns of my strange bodily conditions actually needed to happen organically for this Fucker, because any semi-questioned diagnosis would have just been more fuel for my trauma fire at that point when I so thoroughly despised myself. Confirming to myself, for a fact, that stress fucks me up may have been a prerequisite for accepting that I might be “one of those fibro people.” You know, the ones who lie about their symptoms. Ha.


And, again, this says a lot about the potential damage that poorly-described labels can do to people… just as much as it says about my own reluctance to be considered a weak-minded over-reactor by outsiders.


All of this being said, I’m so grateful for finally finding out exactly what all fibromyalgia actually entails. It took too long, but honestly, the information came at the perfect time. Two days after I got it, I was stress-sick. Ahhh, it's fibro time. How’s that for irony?


As always, I do think there is some empowerment in the basic root understanding that you aren’t the only one who’s dealt with any of this. The mysterious illnesses, the pain, or the lack of care from modern medicine aren’t individual experiences. Hey, you might even be relieved to know that someone else on this planet routinely asks herself, “Do I have cancer for real this time, or am I just overworked again?”


As always, I do think there is some empowerment in the basic root understanding that you aren’t the only one who’s dealt with any of this. The mysterious illnesses, the pain, or the lack of care from modern medicine aren’t individual experiences. Hey, you might even be relieved to know that someone else on this planet routinely asks herself, “Do I have cancer for real this time, or am I just overworked again?”

After years of nobody I spoke to having a tale that even mildly resembled my autoimmune breakdown, finding anybody who related to my issues was extremely relieving. Not only was it a common experience, but it meant that I hadn’t somehow brought the discomfort on myself - through mental illness, physical shenanigans, or plain old weakness - the ways that I feared.


Furthermore, it proved that I hadn’t imagined it all. Because believe it or not, you’re surprisingly willing to throw yourself under the bus after all the pain has passed. I’ve spent the past decade telling people, “I think I have the glutens, as I call it... but I don’t really know though, it’s never been explained, sometimes other things bother me, and sometimes it’s really not a big deal, I don't know what it is” as an almost-apology. A disclaimer that I, too, doubt my own memories and conclusions because they weren’t properly validated by who I considered authority figures.


Hearing that other people had digestive disorders and autoimmune disasters in the wake of Complex Trauma, via the book The Body Keeps The Score, shocked me into self-acceptance of my prior experiences. Hearing that all of it can be encapsulated by this term fibromyalgia a few days ago - well, shit. This is a more mainstream occurrence than I ever previously thought.


And you know what? It does matter to me that I’m not the only one who falls apart when my brain gets overwhelmed. Even if it doesn’t fix anything. Even if my own postulations for how fibromyalgia is born from trauma feel more applicable than the scientifically proven ones. Even if I don’t believe the term deserves to stand alone as a medical label without further delineation - especially of the connection to and overlap with trauma. Even if I think… it might be inseparable.


And you know what? It does matter to me that I’m not the only one who falls apart when my brain gets overwhelmed. Even if it doesn’t fix anything. Even if my own postulations for how fibromyalgia is born from trauma are more enlightening than the scientifically proven ones. Even if I don’t believe the term deserves to stand alone as a medical label without further delineation - especially of the connection to and overlap with trauma. Even if I think… it might be inseparable.

Now I know. When I feel a physical breakdown coming on, with the suspected cause being stress… I don’t have to apologize for it. I don’t need to tell people that I just can’t handle the pressure with unfettered shame for my own biochemistry. I can rest assured that what I’m going through is common - far more common than we know - and completely valid. Even if there are people ready to tell you that it's not.


But, to be honest, I still probably won’t tell anyone that it’s called fibromyalgia. I’m not proud to say, I wouldn’t want them to think I’m just being dramatic.


UGH.



Traumatized Motherfxckers

Not doomed. Not damaged.

Not dead yet.

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Spotify
  • Pinterest
  • Tumblr

Atlanta, GA, USA | Chicago, IL, USA

© 2023 by Woman PWR. Proudly created with Wix.comTerms of Use  |   Privacy Policy