Hi Alice!

I am a 22 yr old female grad student with fibromyalgia. I was officially diagnosed about 2 years ago, but have had it my whole life. I cannot find any record of children having it. I have seen lots of ads online for things to "cure" it but they are probably scams. I am struggling with how to deal with my illness. I am always tired, very depressed and anxious, ache, migraines, am very tense, restless legs, always cold, and feel faint often. I have been on Zoloft for about six months, but do not feel much better.

What can I do to feel better!? I am poor and spend my money on massages when I can, but my grad health insurance doesn't cover massages, or acupuncture — things I see suggested. I take a bath every day because that is supposed to help. Any ideas for me? I am a mess! I need help, but am poor! What do I do?

Dear Reader,

It sounds as though you are well aware that fibromyalgia truly can be a tough and frustrating condition to live with. Not only is the cause of it still unknown, but its common symptoms of pain, fatigue, tenderness all over the body as well as mood swings can make it difficult to know where to even begin in asking for help! As you said, antidepressants like Zoloft, as well as other medications like muscle relaxants or even over-the-counter pain medicines are often prescribed to help with the pain in the muscles and ligaments. However, because pain is only one of the many symptoms you're experiencing, there are many other things you could try that might help you feel better. Some of these things might include:

  • Working it …out, that is. Many experts on fibromyalgia claim that exercising regularly is one of the best ways to help deal with the condition. Be careful not to overdo it though; in this case, no pain definitely means greater gain. Start each session with light stretching, and then move on to something low-impact, such as walking for 5 or 10 minutes in a row. From there, you can gradually lengthen the duration of your walk and improve endurance. You can also try this method with slow jogging, bicycling, or even swimming. It's normal to feel small amounts of pain when you start on an exercise regimen, but over time it should disappear. If exercising is new to you, consider consulting with a personal trainer to provide some guidance. If you are a Columbia student, you can schedule an appointment with a personal trainer at Dodge Fitness Center.
  • Stress less. Knowing how to deal with stress healthily and effectively can also help with your symptoms. Make sure you build time in your daily schedule to relax, no matter how hectic your day or life may be. Learning or participating in coping and stress-reduction techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing, may keep some of your symptoms at bay. Also, being aware of what you can and cannot control, and how to control it, can help reduce stress.
  • Stocking up on sleep. Fibromyalgia or not, getting enough sleep is good for anyone who wants to stay healthy. Make sure you are sleeping enough at night so that you are not tired the next day. Good sleep behaviors like getting up and going to bed around the same time every day and limiting naps during the day may help you catch more Zzz's.
  • Desertion of overexertion. On days when you are feeling well and have lots of energy, it may be tempting to try to do more than you usually do, whether it's work, running errands, or even participating in social activities with your friends. However, overexertion may lead you to become even more tired or your symptoms to become even worse later. Keeping your activity level consistent from day to day is a good way to keep fibromyalgia flare-ups at bay.
  • Pain complain. Many people with fibromyalgia unknowingly engage in "pain behaviors," which are actions that remind themselves or others that they are in pain. This might include actions such as limping, crying, moaning, staying in bed, or withdrawing from others. Although it's good to express emotions and let others know how you're feeling, these behaviors can unwittingly isolate you from friends and family, and may not do much to relieve your symptoms. Try to be aware of if and when you are participating in these behaviors and keep it at a minimum when possible.
Other ways of treating fibromyalgia may include interdisciplinary treatment programs that combine several different kinds of treatments that address your specific symptoms. This might include relaxation classes paired with sessions on dealing with chronic pains. You may want to consult with your health care provider for recommendations on what plans might work for you. If you are a student at Columbia, you can schedule an appointment at Primary Care Medical Services through Open Communicator or by calling x4-2284. Although you mentioned that acupuncture and massages are not covered by your insurance, it's possible other services that have been reported to help other fibromyalgia patients like chiropractors and doctors of osteopathic medicine, might be. For more information on fibromyalgia check out Fibromyalgia and its related links in the Alice Q&A archives. Alice!

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