Today is National Fibromyalgia Awareness Day. Why do I care? I have fibromyalgia. I’ve lived with it for over 20 years. It took away my career as a litigation attorney, my zest for life, my direction, my passions, and so much more. It brought me, among other things, constant fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety, foggy thinking, decreased cognitive function, impaired memory and concentration, and debilitating pain. Mind you, the symptoms vary from one person to another, but the bottom-line is that they change the person you were and as a result, your life.
When I created this blog, I choose not to make it about my fight with fibromyalgia, but one about my journey as a seeker determined to excavate my inner self as a means of unearthing my true self. I am determined to reclaim my life, tranquility and sense of self. Although I have discussed it in this blog, it is rare that I discuss my battle with the disorder. I prefer not to welcome the pity that often results. Nevertheless, the disorder is greater than me, and it is more important to educate people.
What is fibromyalgia? This post will not go into every excruciating detail about the condition. If you are interested in that, I urge you to go here. In brief, the website for the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFMaware), sums the condition up as follows:
“Fibromyalgia (pronounced fy-bro-my-AL-ja) is a complex chronic pain disorder that affects an estimated 10 million Americans. While it occurs most often in women, it can occur in men and children, and all ethnic backgrounds. For those with severe symptoms, fibromyalgia (FM) can be extremely debilitating and interfere with basic daily activities.
The symptoms range from, among other things, insomnia, memory and other cognitive impairments, lack of concentration, digestive disorders, to debilitating pain, overwhelming fatigue, isolation, depression and anxiety. As it affects so many people, it is more likely than not, that you know someone with the disorder.
Although there are medications to treat it, treatment is largely haphazard and by trial and error. Because no two people display the same symptoms, it is difficult to formulate a one pill treats all formula. I’ve tried countless treatments, both conventional and non-conventional, but the beneficial effects are fleeting.
Personally, the pain is my most formidable foe. It is my constant companion, and what ultimately led me to stop practicing law. I was a good trial attorney and I loved my job. I was an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Texas and, like everyone else, my caseload was heavy and stress was the norm. As a trial attorney with an active practice, I was in constant contact with clients, opposing counsel, the courts and witnesses. As a litigation attorney for the state, I travelled constantly, tried cases throughout the state, appeared in court, interviewed clients and witnesses, researched, read endless documents and case law, and wrote one document after another — all with no problem. I moved from one case to another, remembering case specific facts and issues with the greatest of ease.
About two years before my resignation, pain became one of my primary symptoms. In order to perform my job to my own high standards, I had to increase the pain medication that held the pain in abeyance. Still, over time, the pain increased such that I was unable to concentrate. In meetings, I would zone out. During client and witness interviews, I would lose my train of thought, ask witnesses to repeat themselves and forget where I was in the course of the interview. During depositions, I would confuse cases and as a result, the facts and issues, and most troubling for a trial attorney, the same thing happened in court, during hearings and in trial.
Reading case law and documents, and writing, is inherent to a litigation practice, and doing so became interminable. Documents that previously took me a few hours to write, took days. I would find myself reading the same paragraph over and over, still not fully comprehending what I was reading. Preparing for trial became an arduous task. Travel was painful — literally. As soon as it was possible, I’d rush to my hotel room, collapsing in bed, in too much pain to eat. During trial recesses, I’d rush to the benches in the back of the courtroom, to lie down, if only for five minutes.
Mentally, I went from taking things five minutes at a time to one minute at a time. I thought that if I could get through the next minute, all would be well. Although I tried to deny it, the day came when I had to admit that I was no longer able to do my job, not in a way that was acceptable to me, and after a six week leave of absence, I never returned. Without going into detail about the aftermath, suffice it to say that my life spiraled out of control. I was a mess, physically, mentally and emotionally. Though it was the second hardest decision that I’ve ever had to make, I applied for disability.
These days, I can’t work. Even though I take obscene amounts of pain medications, I still experience pain daily. On the subjective pain scale of 1-10, the typical day finds my pain level hovering around 5. Unfortunately, there are too many days in between, when it reaches a 9 or 10. Those days are the worst, because all that I can do is suffer through them. As I write this post, my pain is about a 7 and climbing.
Isolation is also a problem. When I first stopped practicing law, I withdrew from friends and family. I thought that it was to protect them from my condition, but I’ve come to see that it was to protect myself from their pity, discomfort and inability to understand what I was going through. In reality, I built a prison, from which I still struggle to free myself. Yet, the future looks brighter.
This is my story, and although it is but one, it’s a start. My goal in writing this post, was to educate. If I reach only one person, I am satisfied. I ask that, if you feel compelled, do share it with others.
If you know anyone with the disorder, I urge you to reach out to them. One need not have the disorder, to empathize. The most important thing is to make a connection, not out of pity, but from a place of love and compassion. It will help ease even the worse symptom.
I know that this is not the most sexy topic, but if you have made it to the end of this post, I sincerely appreciate and thank you.