Have you ever looked at a list of Fibromyalgia symptoms? Looking at these two websites you will see both anxiety and depression listed as symptoms. Here are two reputable websites as proof: WebMD and NFMCPA
In fact, it seems that fibromyalgia symptoms and mental health are very much linked together. One could say that fibromyalgia is like a spider web, so many facets (co-morbid conditions) moving out from the center.
Our Mission: Connection Between Fibromyalgia Symptoms & Mental Health
Part of Our mission is to ask questions about fibromyalgia symptoms and mental health. This series is to showcase the connection between fibromyalgia symptoms and mental health. Is mental illness, in part, a cause of fibromyalgia? I wonder.
In part 1 of Fibromyalgia & Mental Health I told you my story read that here. Now, I would like to introduce you to Cathy. She is 20 years old and is a fibromyalgia and mental health warrior. I think you will be able to relate to her story and find comfort in her advice.
Tell us about getting diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.
I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in June 2018.
I had been back and forth to my doctors practice with various different symptoms for many years prior to my diagnosis. As a young teenager, I never knew why I was struggling so much and why I had so many different health issues. High school education, college education and my social life has been affected due to my health since I was 13 years old.
It was when my mum, who has Fibromyalgia, had mentioned to me that the problems I was having were similar to her symptoms. Then I started to think that the illness had been passed onto me.
Fibromyalgia Symptoms & Mental Health ~ General Physician
The first time I spoke about FM at a doctors appointment, I was told ‘Oh no, you don’t want that’. There was not much more was said about it. I had a blood test and the results came back ok. I was told that it would show up there if I had FM. (later on in life, I found out this was not true).
It took me around 5 years give or take, to be diagnosed. At this point I was telling people I already had FM because I knew as my health worsened, that is what I have.
So at the start of 2018, I made a doctors appointment again with my GP, solely to ask him to refer me to a rheumatologist. (As a friend with FM said that is who had diagnosed her). At the appointment, I had to keep reminding the doctor that I was there to be referred to see a rheumatologist and I felt I had to pretty much beg to him agreeing to refer me to see one. He wanted me to’ just go back on anti-depressants and go back to counselling’.
I kept telling him that I am struggling with the pain and had to be off sick from work and after so many years struggling, I want to know if I do have FM, so I would like to see a rheumatologist.
He kept coming back to the ‘it’s all in your head’ comments and ‘why would you want to be diagnosed with something like that’ and I ended up being prescribed for Fluoxetine in return for being able to see a Rheumatologist.
Not the right doctor
I never went back to see the same doctor as I didn’t feel comfortable talking to him again. After telling my mum she told me that she saw the same doctor about 30 years before and he was pretty much the same with her.
Fibromyalgia Symptoms & Mental Health~Rheumatologist
I got a letter in the post with my rheumatology appointment which was 5 months away.
The rheumatologist asked me questions about my symptoms and my history. He said that since my mum also has been diagnosed, it had been passed on to me.
After about 15 minutes, he did some physical examinations and turned to me and said ‘Well, you definitely have Fibromyalgia’.
He spoke to me about treatment and he told me that most medication will only reduce pain by about 50 percent, if it does at all. I told him I understand that there is not a lot that can be done and he also told me that I do not need to take Fluoxetine anymore as I said it had only negatively impacted my mental health and not eased any other symptom. He assured me that if I don’t feel comfortable taking medication, that I don’t have to.
The rheumatologist was very informative and understanding, even though I had come out of the hospital with a diagnosis of a horrible illness, I felt I finally understood why I was different and why I had been so ill for so long.
How old were you when diagnosed with a mental illness?
Most of my time at the doctors through age 14 until about 18 were due to my mental health. I wasn’t going into high school or barely leaving the house and saw multiple counsellers who told me I had depression and social anxiety.
I was give antidepressants at a young age. They only ever gave me Fluoxetine tablets which made me feel numb and did not help with my symptoms. I didn’t feel I had any emotion, each time I took them and didn’t feel that specific medication benefitted me. For some reason, I was never offered anything different other than that same medication and to see a counseller. Even at times when I had said I want to try something different. It made me feel like I was just going down the same path, over and over.
The doctor who had referred me to the rheumatologist had also told me I could only be given SSRI anti depressants which I later also found out wasn’t true as I was given tricyclic ones.
Fibromyalgia Symptoms & Mental Health ~ Therapy
At the age of 18, I had seen a counseller again but as I was now an adult, I could only have 6 sessions and that would be it for the time being. I spent most of my time explaining childhood trauma to her, how I had been abused and constantly talking to her about how I am not being taken seriously about FM. We spoke about my mental health and my emotions. I told her that every time I tried to talk to somebody about suspecting I have Fibromyalgia, wether with a health professional or not, I was dismissed.
Mental Illness Diagnosis
After the 6 sessions, she mentioned that my symptoms with my mental health sound like Borderline Personality Disorder and that she thinks I should push on being diagnosed for FM as she thinks it would help me feel better knowing.
I didn’t know much about BPD at this point, but when I researched the disorder, it felt like everything I had been battling mentally.
How has Fibromyalgia changed your daily life?
Fibromyalgia has changed my daily life drastically.
Most hobby’s I had are now a rarity for me to partake in and feel more of a task than something fun.
I have lost many friends who were either completely rude about my situation or just unsupportive.
My Old Life
In addition, I was never able to have a career in the line of work I had studied for or wanted because it would hurt me and make me ill and flare up. I have worked in many different types of jobs trying to find something to suit me and recently had to leave an office job due to not feeling well enough to continue.
Keeping active has always been important to me, even if it is just a little bit of exercise but when I flare up, it becomes a vicious cycle of struggling to move and even just leave the house and having to wait until I feel I am capable of trying again.
Many aspects of my life have had to be changed. Trying new options is definitely something to consider though.
- I felt better mentally after cutting the ties with people who didn’t support me
- A real friend would not question if my illness existed.
- Quality is better than quantity and if friends cannot support you no matter what then they aren’t really your friends.
I have personally come to the conclusion that this is just who I am and I try my best and do as much as I can and that is all that matters. Little positive thoughts like that can make a huge change.
Is there anything you do that helps you from going into a flare? Are you able to know what will bring a flare on? If so, please explain.
Trying not to push myself into doing too much is definitely something helpful when it comes to flare ups. In the past I have forced myself to go out and do things that fit people could do, because I felt pressured or I wanted to feel ‘normal’. That is definitely something that made me unwell and gave me flares. I have worked in jobs before where I have pushed my body and mental health to dangerous lengths instead of just giving myself the rest I needed.
It won’t get better instantly but pacing yourself and knowing when to stop or chill makes a massive difference.
I have struggled with my weight being up and down for years but I do notice that when I am at a healthy weight, I feel I can do more and it takes away a bit of that struggle.
Reducing stress and just taking the time to have a deep breath and release the tension can make me feel a little more positive even if just for a short time.
How has your exercise or diet changed since being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, if at all? Have you noticed certain foods having an affect on your symptoms? If so, which ones?
I try to exercise as much as I can and keep active when I am feeling comfortable and well enough to do so. Eating well can definitely change the way you feel mentally or physically but I understand that it can be a challenge and when I get stuck in a cycle of not exercising or eating well it is very hard for me to get out of it.
Most of the time if I am not eating well it is when I have a flare up and can’t manage to feed myself a proper meal.
How has your mental illness changed your daily life?
My mental illness affects me daily also.
Struggling with anxiety and depression affects me just as much as FM.
Constantly feeling exhausted mentally and not having any motivation can make even simple tasks seem so daunting.
Symptoms of BPD affect me also, like not reacting to most things in a manner that would seem ‘normal’ and feeling emotions so intense really messes me up sometimes.
Is there anything that you do when your mental illness flares up to help yourself? Do you feel exercise and diet helps with your mental illness, if so how and in what way?
There isn’t much I specifically do to help when I am feeling mentally unwell. I tend to take lots of rest though as if I am feeling mentally unwell, my FM symptoms tend to be heightened. I do notice that talking to somebody who has felt similar or somebody who will listen even if they don’t understand really helps me feel less isolated.
Do you feel that your Fibromyalgia symptoms and mental health are connected? (example: do you feel your depression increases with your pain or vise versa?)
I do believe that if I am battling physical symptoms, that my mental symptoms worsen and vise versa. If I have a meltdown and get stressed then the physical pain can get pretty bad. And causes a FM flare up.
A lot of the time I feel as though I can be feeling low or anxious because of my fibromyalgia. Living everyday with an illness can definitely affect you mentally. I have found that many people with FM may also be diagnosed with a form of mental illness also.
Are you on medication for Fibromyalgia? If so what and how long? Has it helped? What other medicines have you tried and with what result, including supplements?
I am currently on Gabapentin and I take Oxybutynin for hyperhidrosis.
I have tried Amitryptline also for fibromyalgia. The tablets I have for sweating work very well but if they aren’t taken at the same time every day can upset my stomach. Other than that, they have worked amazingly and made me feel so much better in myself. I sometimes do worry about side affects of medication though.
The meds I have had for fibromyalgia have only been started in the past 6 months and have been low doses. I am waiting for another appointment with my doctor to discuss other treatment as I don’t feel they have made much difference to me.
I have tried CBD oils and vaping CBD which had helped me a lot but unfortunately can be too expensive in the UK to rely on. Also, THC is currently illegal in the UK. So even though consuming cannabis has helped me more than I thought, It isn’t available as medication.
Are you on medication for your mental illness specifically or in combination with Fibro? If so what medication and for how long? Do you feel this has helped? Any past medicines you have tried and what was the result?
Currently only on medication for Fibromyalgia.
The tablets I take are ‘old school’ anti depressants and aren’t actually prescribed for depression or anxiety anymore.
Previously mentioned I have taken Fluoxetine but it wasn’t right for me.
Have you ever been hospitalized for Fibromyalgia symptoms or mental health or both together? Please explain your experience in as much detail as you desire.
I have not been hospitalized due to Fibromyalgia.
I was in hospital a few times when I was younger. This was due to mental health and trying to take my own life. As it was years ago, I struggle to remember full details.
Have you or are you being treated by a psychiatrist or psychologist? Please specify the credentials of the person providing the therapy. Does your therapy include CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) if so please tell us the benefits you experience.
I am currently waiting for an appointment to start CBT.
If you are not in therapy, do you wish you were or are thinking of finding therapy? Why do you think it will help you?
I think maybe speaking to a counseller again would benefit me as I like to talk about my issues to somebody but I am not sure how CBT is going to be for me.
I don’t feel as though I will find a method of coping with my health. At the moment, I feel I am just waiting for something to come along that will help me and in the meantime I am just floating through life.
Some days are better than others.
Do you feel your Fibromyalgia symptoms and mental health are separate from each other or connected? Why or why not?
I believe they are connected.
Mainly due to the fact that the majority of people I have spoke to with FM also struggle with their mental health. Anxiety and depression are a symptom of the illness.
Though I do also believe that my mental health would be better if I didn’t have FM and my physical health would be better if I didn’t have mental health problems.
They both affect my life but I feel coping with one illness would be easier if I didn’t have the other.
Have you ever had an MRI done that shows a difference in your brain makeup due to your diagnoses?
I have not had an MRI scan on my brain before but that would be interesting to see.
Is there anything else you would like to add that was not already asked about fibromyalgia symptoms and mental health or that you feel would help others?
Your health comes first, remember to not push yourself beyond your limits and look after your body.
If somebody is not understanding then educate them. If they don’t want to listen then they aren’t worth your time.
Where to find support
I think spreading awareness is a great tool also and social media gives you a platform to do that. You will meet some great people who you can talk to who are going through the same. They can give you tips and suggest things that helped them. Keep yourself open to new idea’s.
Remind yourself that it is ok to rest!
Feel free to reach out to Cathy and leave a comment below to show your support.
Fibro Women Blogs
Chronic Woman Blogs
Chronic Illness Blogs
Official Fibromyalgia Blogs