Monday, December 17, 2012

Antidepressants Are NOT Happy Pills!

Being that the title of this blog is "Fibromyalgia???", it may seem off-topic to have a post about depression and antidepressant medication here, but the two subjects are actually very closely related.  I take antidepressant medication to treat both Depression and Fibromyalgia/ME/CFS and I know there are many ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)/Fibromyalgia sufferers who take antidepressants to treat symptoms of those diseases and have never had depression.

Happy pills?  Really?  A few days ago, I actually heard someone utter these insulting words while referring to antidepressant medication, which seems to imply that a person who takes them is weak and unable to cope with the natural ups and downs of life. 

About fifteen years ago when I was finally diagnosed with Clinical Depression and prescribed antidepressants, I experienced this ignorant thinking almost immediately from the people I shared my story with.  Later, I learned that it wasn't worth the unintentional insults and inevitable hurt, so I stopped telling people about my depression all together.  A friend who was going through a similar trial encouraged me to read the book "Listening to Prozac".  I don't remember many details from the book but I do remember that far from answering any questions, it only added to the insecurity I was feeling.  Was it acceptable to fundamentally change my personality with prescription drugs in order to alleviate profound emotional pain?  The question remained unanswered at that time, but through the years that followed, the answer was revealed after experiencing destructive pain and life-wasting apathy.  I wasn't fundamentally changing who I was by taking antidepressants.  I still experienced pain, sadness, grief and depression but somehow I could handle it without "falling down the black hole" (a phrase I use to convey the unexplainable darkness of depression).

Countless artists, composers and writers have used their mental disease as a muse.  As an artist, I admit that depression and malaise have fueled many works that may not have been born otherwise.  But would I sacrifice all other aspects of my life, or my life itself for the ability to create amazingly deep, dark art?  If anyone reading this has experienced true, profound depression, you're shaking your heads right along with me.  I would absolutely never choose the torture of depression over feeling even a little peace and anyone who says different simply hasn't been there. 

On the other side of the coin, many have used alcohol or illegal drugs, both consciously and unconsciously, to cope with their mental illness.  This is of course known as "self-medicating" and has been done since the beginning of humanity.  In many ways this method seems more socially acceptable, at least that's been my experience.  Having given up those fuel sources myself some time ago, I'm currently using only prescription medications to manage my illness.  So, do I cease to be a legitimate artist without my booze and dark moods? 

Many of the artists who marinated in the black hole of depression or preferred an alcoholically altered mind-state rather than facing reality did produce some great works, but at what expense?  Seeking help for a mental illness is absolutely not a sign of weakness.  Those who are able, through an unimaginably heavy veil of blackness, to summon the courage to call a doctor or tell a family member that they need help, should be applauded for their bravery, not insulted with flippant remarks from those who cannot possibly understand their suffering.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Terrifying Nightmares of ME/CFS & Fibromyalgia

photo by Kristy Throndson, Nightmares and Fibromyalgia, ME/CFS
photo by Kristy Throndson, Nightmares of Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS

Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, I took out my pills as I do every night.  After cutting them into their correct doses, I put them down on the counter and went to fetch some water.  I thought I'd swallowed them, but apparently, I never did.  I found them still sitting on the counter at 2:30 am after what seemed like hours of tortured sleep.  I was so frozen with fear that it took a couple of minutes before I could convince myself that it was safe to put my feet on the floor and walk to the kitchen for a glass of water.  I was very confused as to why this was happening when I discovered my pills sitting on the counter.  The 1.5 mg of lorazepam I take daily before bed seems to push me through the perpetual disturbed REM or dream, sleep and into deep, restful sleep.  I've been taking it for about two years so, thankfully, I haven't experienced these nightmares on a regular basis for some time. 

I call these episodes nightmares because I don't really know another way to describe them.  However, they're nothing like anything I experienced before I became ill.  Maybe the term "night terrors" would be more accurate but I don't really understand the difference between the two.  I may need to do more research on this subject. 

My night starts with about thirty minutes of tossing and turning before I finally nod off, then, it gets scary.  I fall into a disturbing world that seems so frighteningly real.  The twisted nature of these dreams is a topic for another day, that is, if I ever feel comfortable writing about it. I won't go into too many details but in one example I can remember running, in darkness, across an endless field covered with the sculls and bones of babies that crunched under my feet as I desperately searched for solid ground.  I awake for a moment or two sweating and scared.  I fall back to sleep and into the same frightening scenario. The cycle of restless "sleep" and awaking repeats itself for what seems like hours but may only be an hour or so.  I have no idea how much time elapses while I'm asleep and a specialist I saw last year wanted me to have a sleep study done.  I would have liked nothing more but the two to three thousand dollar cost and my lack of health insurance made it impossible.  This specialist told me that sleep disturbances and nightmares were often a symptom of Fibromyalgia, ME/CFS and I have read this from other sources as well.

I've tried to describe these experiences to doctors but the true nature of these nightmares cannot be communicated somehow.  The sick feeling I get in the pit of my stomach is truly nothing I ever experienced in the past.  The closest thing I can compare them to are the nightmares I, and so many others I'm sure, had as children.  I remember being terrified to go to bed. 

It was very disturbing for me to realize how close I still am to that world of Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS.  Although I consider myself in remission, it is obviously a very thin layer of ice I'm existing on.  If I were ever unable to get my medication, I'd fall right through to where I was six months ago.  This thought is almost more terrifying than the nightmares themselves.

Monday, November 5, 2012

What NOT To Say To Someone With ME/CFS and/or Fibromyalgia

photo by:
photo by

Recently, I was helping a friend explain the debilitating nature of Clinical Depression to her family.  She's been suffering severely for over a year and none of the medications or other therapies have helped her.  Since her family members had never experienced the profound effects of depression, they were unable or unwilling to put themselves in her shoes. It reminded me of how similar Depression, ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia are, in that, all three are virtually invisible both physically and physiologically.  Since there are no medical tests that can really validate their presence, or visible rashes, skin discoloration, etc, the existence of these illnesses are experienced only through the perspective of the sufferer.  If the individual doesn't have a compassionate, well-educated family, their experience can be ever so much worse.  A strong support system is vital to anyone with Depression, ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), Fibromyalgia and many other maladies.

Following is a a short list (to be amended in the future) of seemingly harmless comments that should never be made to someone who is suffering from Depression, ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) or Fibromyalgia (and probably many other diseases as well).

1) "Well, you look great" 

These can seem as though they would be words of encouragement to someone who is ill.  After all, who doesn't like being told they look good?  In this case, though, it's one of the most hurtful things that can be said as it seems to reinforce the feelings of loneliness and lack of empathy.  Looking great does NOT mean feeling great.  Saying that someone looks great is often interpreted as a brush-off and a conversation stopper.  I can't count the number of times I've heard this.

2) "It's probably just the change of seasons.  You'll feel better when Winter is over." 

Minimizing a person's pain implies that you are not taking their suffering seriously.  This comment is also a conversation stopper.  At this point, the sufferer, after attempting to reach out for help, feels frustrated and hurt.  They being wondering, "Did she even hear what I just said?".

3)  "You'll feel better once those baby hormones are out of your body." 

Of course, this is a comment only a specific subset of sufferers will hear.  In my case I heard it many times since I first became ill while I was pregnant.  Again, it implies that the sufferer is over-reacting to common ailments everyone experiences.

4)  "I know someone who had Fibromyalgia and they got better by pushing themselves to exercise". 

I heard this several times and it was among the most painful comments.  Since there is a very wide range of symptoms and severity of symptoms, one case of Fibromyalgia (or Depression, ME/CFS, etc) simply cannot be compared to another.  In my case, exercise would only hinder my recovery.  I tried to exercise on those rare "good days" and it always backfired on me in a BIG way.  See my post "Graded Exercise:  How NOT To Do It".  Saying something like this to someone implies that they are lazy or just not trying hard enough.  For a very self-motivated person like myself, this really hurts.

With all this being said, I realize that these comments are usually uttered with the best of intentions.  In fact, I may have been guilty in the past of making some of them myself.  However, after experiencing the full wrath of ME/CFS, Fibromyalgia and Depression, I will certainly never make that mistake again.

What comments have you heard that really hurt or upset you?  I know I've missed many.  Please comment below, I'd love to hear your opinions.  I'll certainly be amending my list.

Wishing health and peace to all, especially those who were effected by Hurricane Sandy.  New Jersey is where I was born and was my home state for many years.  My heart is right there with you all.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fibromyalgia & ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) Information Site

I recently updated my Fibromyalgia & ME/CFS Awareness website.  I spent a long time researching these subjects while I suffered with pain and profound fatigue and weakness.  I'm currently in remission thanks to 75mg of Amitripylene and .75mg of Lorazepam per day.  I only hope it lasts.

Please visit my website for information about Fibromyalgia & ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) causes, research, clinical studies, symptomology and more. 

Wishing all who are suffering, a reprieve from these horrible diseases.  If there are any suggestions about other things I should include on my page, please feel free to comment here.

ME/CFS & Fibromyalgia Awareness

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Statute of Limitations on Medical Bills

A couple weeks ago I received three envelopes in my mailbox from a collection agency. This fact itself was not shocking as invoices of mine have been sent to medical collections several times since I became ill. The shock came when I realized they were for Dr. appointments I'd had before I even became ill and while pregnant with my daughter.  Due to my low income at the time, I'd qualified for Medi-Cal which is medical coverage that's subsidised by the state of California. Many low income women in California qualify for this program (which incidentally, ends one month after your child is born). It's a great program but, like so many others, has it's definite flaws.  The invoices totaled over three thousand dollars for services that took place in 2009, almost exactly three years ago.

At first I thought, "how can they be demanding money for something that occurred so long ago"? I did some research and found that there is a statute of limitations on the collection of medical bills. It varies from state to state but typically falls into the three to four year range. California has a four year statute of limitations on the collection of medical bills. When I discovered this, I felt beaten for sure. I dusted off my pre- Fibromyalgia/ME/CFS medical files which are in with the rest of my life's paperwork. When I became ill I had to start storing all of my medical records that delt with these new illnesses in their own box since they took up about as much space as all of the other paperwork combined. Though I'm normally pretty good about filing important documents, I'd apparently cleaned out my files from my pregnancy because I couldn't find the invoices in question.  So silly of me to think that since the invoices had been paid three years ago, it was a done deal.  Lesson learned...don't throw away invoices even if they've been paid in full and the accounts have supposedly been closed.

My story does have a happy ending through, I think.  I collected all of the information I had and made appointments with the advocate I'd worked with during my pregnancy and a representative from the billing department.  I also contacted my bank, Medi-Cal and the billing service my doctor's office uses and asked for copies of records to be sent.  I finally convinced the billing department to drop the case - I think.  The last time I spoke with someone there, I was told they had recommended the invoices be "written off".  I haven't heard anything but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if next month I get the same invoices from the collection agency.  It seems nothing ever gets done correctly the first time.  That's been my experience anyway.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Yoga for ME/CFS & Fibromyalgia, Inc

While I was enduring the worst of my ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and Fibromyalgia, I could barely lift my arms to get something off a shelf, never-mind, even contemplate exercise.  I listened to many people attempt to enlighten me with tales of a friend, sister or cousin who had cured themselves of Fibromyalgia through exercise, by pushing through the pain. 

The emotional torment comments like this caused can hardly be described and I'm sure if you suffer from these diseases as well, you've experience this phenomenon countless times.  I did, on occasion, lash out after hearing this well-meaning advice by trying to explain that I was practically unable to walk up a flight of stairs, and that pain had absolutely nothing to do with it.  Desperately, I tried to convey the debilitating shortness of breath, shaky muscles and all-over weakness that consumed me, but I quickly realized that if the person I was taking my frustration out on hadn't experienced this sickness, they simply wouldn't understand.  I learned to put up an emotional wall, attempt to let the comments bounce off it and dredge the depths of my sickened soul for a reply. 

"Wow, that's really great that your [friend, sister, cousin, etc] was able to get better." I found myself saying through clenched teeth. 

I've always had, what I admit at times, has been a stubborn need to feel and appear "strong".  Self-sufficiency was something I had prided myself on until the unwelcomed arrival of these mysterious diseases in my life.  I'd recently become sober, exercised regularly and ate fairly well.  I didn't smoke, eat meat or even drink caffeinated beverages.  I couldn't understand how my body, that I took pretty good care of, was turning on me.

My diagnosis of Fibromyalgia was augmented with ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) in December of 2011.  I began to realize that it was probably the ME/CFS piece of my illness that caused the sometimes paralyzing exhaustion and prevented me from being able to exercise.  Any attempts I made at exercise were rewarded by even more profound weakness that lasted days after my foolhardy attempts to be normal. 

I'd read several blogs and articles about Yoga and how it had helped many through the pain of Fibromyalgia.  I'd practiced Yoga sporadically throughout my adult life so I was familiar with the basics.  On one of my grueling trips to the mainland, I somehow managed to shuffle my way to the exercise equipment department at Target and picked up a DVD, Yoga for Beginners, by Rodney Yee.  I looked at the image on the cover and laughed at the thought of myself practicing even the simplest of poses.  A few days later, I popped the DVD in the player, tried the first pose and fell to the floor exhausted.  The DVD went back into the box where it stayed for another year and a half. 

Floor Yoga Stretches for Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Floor Yoga Stretches I do that Help My  Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms

For a time after this experience, I gave up any attempts at exercise and stayed in my bed or on my couch where, if I rested and took my naps every day, I could muster enough strength to do some of the things I needed to do.  Any diversion from this routine left me bed-bound for days or even weeks. 

I did, later, discover a way that Yoga could be of help to me.  During the holidays last year, I began experiencing unusually strong back pain.  The only thing that seemed to help was to lay on the floor and stretch it out.  It was then that I remembered the Yoga stretches that are typically done at the end of a Yoga workout.  Every morning I sat on the floor and gently stretched my muscles, holding the poses for as long as it felt comfortable.  I actually began to notice a considerable reduction of back pain.  Of course, it should go without saying that you should always check with your doctor (of which I am not one) before starting any new exercise regimen, especially if you have Fibromyalgia and/or ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome).

A few of the stretches I do are pictured above but any book with yoga poses or a Yoga DVD should have instructions on how to properly and safely perform the poses.  My philosophy was to do the stretches I felt comfortable with and skip all the rest.  The most important factor when it comes to exercising with ME/CFS and/ or Fibromyalgia is to NOT push yourself.  The moment you begin pushing yourself beyond what is comfortable will be the moment you set yourself back in your recovery.  I don't care what ANYONE says about other people having "pushed through the pain".  If you have any issues with chronic fatigue and exhaustion, this strategy simply WON'T work.

Insidentally, the following post in Psychology Today on April 24, 2012, had the same effect on me (and countless others) as the stories well-meaning aquantences tell of others "being cured" of Fibromyalgia.  I'm only passing this insulting article on so you can add your own comments.  I already wrote mine as have many other sufferers.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Autoimmune Syndrome and Pesticides in our Food Supply

Pesticides Being Sprayed on Food Crops
Pesticides Being Sprayed on Food Crops (image source:

I recently read an article in "Natural Awakenings" the Central New Jersey version, June 2012 issue, that I wanted to share.  I've written about this subject before but felt it was time for a re-visit.

The title of the article is "Is Your Body Allergic to Itself? - The Plight of Autoimmune Syndrome" and is written by Dr. Nikki Conte (unfortunately the article is available only in print or PDF format which is where the above link will take you).

Dr. Conte's article focuses on, what I agree is, the real cause (or one of the main causes) of autoimmune diseases such as ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and Fibromyalgia.  I don't understand how the presence of staggering amounts of chemicals, including pesticides and synthetic bovine growth hormone, injested by the average American every day in their food can be all but disregarded by our government, medical establishment and the general public.  Our food supply has become inexcusably poisoned and the presence of these chemicals is routine and completely legal. 

WARNING: Pesticides are Dangerouse to Your Health
image source:

Pesticides are created to kill insects, fungus or any other living thing that may endanger the particular crop they are applied to.  Although I realize human beings are quite a bit larger, therefore less vulnerable to the fatal effects of these chemicals, this daily ingestion must have some cumulative effect.  I think it's naive to think that chemicals who's sole purpose is to kill, will have no negative impact on human beings as a whole.  I've often thought (and I know I'm not alone) that these chemicals must have some part in the increase of autism cases and many other diseases, such as obesity, that the medical and scientific communities seem baffled by. (For more information about obesity and pesticides click on the source link under the above image) 

Our immune systems simply don't know how to react to the onslaught of these relatively new agents and in some people, have become so confused that they wage a full autoimmune attack on benign substances in our food or environment that have been in existence for many generations, or in the case of wheat, since human beings began an agrarian existence around ten thousand years ago.

As the mother of a two-and-a-half year old, this whole notion scares the heck out of me.  I buy as many organic foods as I can reasonably afford and my daughter has yet to taste beef, chicken, pork or any other land animal, though she has had fish on occasion.  I feel desperate to protect her from pesticides, synthetic bovine growth hormone and chemical preservatives but these substances are so prevalent in our food supply that I wonder if this is even remotely possible.