In 2005 I sustained an awful back injury whilst I was away on business in Inverness. I’d herniated two discs, damaged my sacroiliac joint and one of the major ligaments running from the back of my pelvis and into my right hip.

At the very instant I twisted (pulling a really heavy suitcase down a staircase in a hotel that didn’t have a lift), my instant reaction was “that should’ve hurt” and I went to breakfast, thinking I’d had a near miss. Fast forward two hours later and I’m interviewing candidates for a job role and panicking as my back is going into spasm and I’m wondering how I am going to get out of the chair, let alone home to Cheshire.  The pain was unreal.  I could hardly get up the stairs to get on the plane – the hostess took one look at me, handed me a bottle of brandy and said “sit there” (1A).

For three days, I couldn’t really do much at all and was sofa-bound. Standing took about five minutes and sitting and walking were extremely difficult and painful.  When I did get to the physiotherapist (about a week later) when she touched my lower back, I – involuntary -punched her.

So, for another two years, I was in constant pain with my back and considering that sitting exacerbated my compressed discs; the fact my job involved a lot of driving, was not exactly helping.

And then the tiredness started.  Crippling, draining, constant fatigue. There were also other symptoms – lack of concentration, dizziness, heart palpitations, clumsiness and of course, pain.  Perhaps worse of all was the inability to get a deep, restorative sleep – adding insult to injury when you’re desperately tired anyway.

Whether it’s understandable – or not – people were generally not particularly sympathetic.  I would fall asleep on nights out.  I even fell asleep on my friends hen-do in Paris watching the show at the Moulin Rouge.  ” You’re working too hard” was a common response “you need a holiday”.  The other gem was “you’re depressed” (of course I’m fu*!ing depressed, I’m getting no actual sleep you cretin) in a seemingly long line of diagnosis made by sudden medical professionals.

One day, I put my hand over my shoulder to scratch my back.  My nails were short yet it felt like someone had dragged a red hot rake across my muscles.  Concerned, I went to the doctor who had just been studying a condition called Fibromyalgia and my symptoms seemed to match.  Getting a diagnosis on the NHS was a non starter at that point, so I paid privately and got a formal confirmation that yes, my symptoms were conducive with the condition.

Getting a formal diagnosis though was really the first part of a long road into understanding what I was dealing with.  The private consultant prescribed me medication to help me sleep (Amitriptyline – which I couldn’t ultimately take because I wasn’t safe to drive the next morning) and told me to do more exercise (crucial to managing Fibromyalgia) when I was already walking several miles per day……..

Pretty soon; I realised that my ability to deal with the condition, was solely down to me.  At the end of the day, no-one else can manage your symptoms and everyone’s experience is different anyway.

Fortunately, there is much more awareness of Fibromyalgia nowadays – in particular since Lady Gaga revealed she developed it, following a serious injury to her hip.  Whilst there is ongoing research and therefore lots of new theories around it’s development; medical professionals do concur that the condition often starts following an infection or major injury to the skeletal structure.

 

So, if you’ve been diagnosed with Fibro – or another chronic pain based condition – don’t panic, help is out there.  The Internet is awash with information and updates and critically, the medical profession is much more understanding.  Here’s what I’ve learned about managing Fibromyalgia for myself.

  1. Listen to your body – be aware of what your body is telling you.  Where is your pain?  Does anything seem to make it worse?  Do you feel better in the mornings or at night?  Being in tune with what’s going on, will ultimately help you manage it.  For example, I need to get big jobs done during the daytime – after 8pm my concentration levels are really poor, so I avoid major projects.
  2. Get plenty of rest – we live in an age where everyone purports to be an Entrepreneur and sleep three hours a night to go on and kill it each day.  Let me tell you that is total and utter crap.  It is very well medical researched that most humans need 7-8 hours per night of sleep. Sure, there are exceptions but that’s precisely what they are.  The rule is very well documented and researched.  Ariana Huffington has done some amazing research on sleep and her book The Sleep Revolution is worth a read. Given it’s written by an actual Entrepreneur, you can reliably take her word for it.
  3. Limit your alcohol intake – I love a glass of red wine or a cold gin and tonic but I rarely drink now.  And if I do, I know my limits.  Booze is known to exacerbate symptoms of chronic pain conditions (believe me it’s true, if I over-indulge I suffer with pain for two to three days afterwards), so try and avoid it if you can.
  4. Research your condition…..but avoid forums – I would encourage anyone to avidly read up on their condition.  Advice on diet, exercise and lifestyle are all really helpful in enabling you to manage your pain, however I personally avoid forums. Why?  Undeniably there are helpful threads on there but all too often I find them a bit of a breeding ground for people to just bitch and moan about how awful they feel.  Sorry but there it is.  When you feel like crap anyway, the last thing you need is negativity.
  5. Exercise – I have three dogs, so not getting any exercise is not an option.  I walk in excess of five miles each day, more on working from home days.  Sure, each morning when I put my feet on the floor for the first five minutes of walking, my feet and legs feel unbelievably stiff and painful – but if I don’t get out each day in the fresh air, I feel so much worse.

Your ability to deal with a chronic pain disorder will boil down to your awareness of your experience and willingness to try new approaches…. and that may take some time. It took me several years to get my Fibromyalgia under control and even now I still have flare ups and every day I have pain.  The difference is that I now feel I have the tools to deal with it.

So don’t lose heart and please, if you suffer from a pain condition, please leave your comments in the thread.

 

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