Only crazy women have “fibromyalgia”. That was my thinking for years, so I refused the diagnosis that doctors gave me. I’m not a crazy, needy, hypochondriacal woman.
I still have that feeling, even though I’ve finally accepted the diagnosis from a doctor I know well and trust completely who explained the increasing medical evidence for the syndrome.
I’m having a serious fibromyalgia flare-up this week, with sleep problems, overwhelming fatigue, brainlessness, clumsiness (more than usual—my mother called me “Calamity Jane” when I was kid), and depression.
Which leads me to the second confession: I’ve had chronic severe depression from the age of 12. It went undiagnosed for another 12 years, and then I tried everything but medication to deal with it for the next decade. Since then, I’ve wrestled my way towards meds that work pretty well. It took about 15 years to find the right combination of antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and mood stabilizers. And vitamins B & D supplements, plus fish oil.
But during those undiagnosed years, I was at best confusing to live with; at worst, super crazy-making. During the unmedicated decade, it got worse. I remember doing and saying things that fill me with shame now. And knowing that that’s the only way many people knew me is awful. They still think of me as a sick nutcase. That’s a really hard image to live with.
Every time I fill my weekly pill minder, I feel the same shame about having to take so many drugs to be sane. For a long time, I called them my “crazy pills”. Now I remind myself to call them “happy pills” instead, but underneath I still hear the whisper of “crazy”.
Now add to that a diagnosis of the illness that “only crazy women” get. It’s hard to feel “normal with all that Crazy in my head. I can just hear my sisters say, “Oh sure, now she has fibromyalgia” and shake their heads. I have the reputation in my family of being a hypochondriac, something that’s common for people with undiagnosed chronic illnesses. It’s a completely understandable response, so I don’t blame them for it. But not saying out loud that I have fibromyalgia because I’m afraid to see dismissive looks from my sisters and others (they’re not the only ones I fear getting them from), has become an emotional burden that just makes the condition worse. And the emotional isolation it causes exacerbates the depression. I have to let go of it to improve my physical and mental health.
So there you have it—I confess that I have fibromyalgia. My pain receptors are screwy so everything hurts a little or a lot all the time. I put multiple meds in my pill minder to maintain a steadily positive mood and manage the pain. It’s what I have to do. I’m not crazy.