The Link Between Fibromyalgia & Trauma
In March 2008, I was diagnosed with primary fibromyalgia. Not just once, but twice. Looking back, I believe that in most cases of autoimmune disorders some doctors gave this diagnosis without being trauma-informed. Without looking outside of the box at the root cause of the illness.
The first specialist, a rheumatologist, wasn’t very helpful. He handed me a prescription and claimed, “This will help you to sleep.”
The medication caused me a paradoxical effect. Instead of the drug helping me to get quality sleep, it gave me intense insomnia. This led me to seek a second opinion. It is the best option when in doubt or if you want to be certain that your diagnosis is accurate.
In December 2008, I was evaluated and tested by another medical specialist. Thankfully, he was more thorough in his process of ruling in or ruling out medical conditions. The only thing he truly missed was the dietary/food allergy factor, especially Celiac Disease and having a gluten intolerance. (I've been 100% gluten-free for close to 12 years.)
After 33 tubes of blood to test for countless potential disorders, the bloodwork came back negative. My doctor ruled out Lupus, Hashimoto’s Disease, Grave’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, and many other disorders.
At first, this seemed like good news. Right? However, we must keep in mind that there are no medical tests or procedures that truly can reveal an accurate diagnosis of fibromyalgia. Therefore, this diagnosis is hit or miss. It can easily be misdiagnosed, which is why I am creating this post.
According to The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, “Fibromyalgia (fi·bro·my·al·gi·a) is a condition that causes pain all over the body (also referred to as widespread pain), sleep problems, fatigue, and often emotional and mental distress. People with fibromyalgia may be more sensitive to pain than people without fibromyalgia. This is called abnormal pain perception processing. Fibromyalgia affects about 4 million US adults, about 2% of the adult population. The cause of fibromyalgia is not known.”
In 2021, when I was in school for Certified Trauma Recovery Coaching, I learned that trauma is oftentimes misdiagnosed. Here are the top three medical conditions people are given that are linked to a misdiagnosis:
1. Fibromyalgia & Autoimmune Disorders
3. Bipolar Disorder
Sadly, not each diagnosis is always correct. For many trauma survivors, they are misdiagnosed. It is a major concern that some doctors have missed the signs of early childhood abuse and neglect, trauma, sexual abuse, and other types of abuse, including narcissistic abuse.
The misdiagnosis can cause significant delays, additional stress, unnecessary treatments, medical injuries, and suffering far longer than they should.
Not everyone makes it out alive. On a brighter note, I am grateful that I have made it out alive. I am thankful that I have looked outside the box of Western medicine to gain the facts about fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and the common symptoms that are directly linked to trauma.
When I reflect on my past 14 years, I find it odd that my therapists and doctors never inquired about if I had suffered child neglect and abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, or any form of trauma. They were not trauma-informed or knowledgeable about abuse. This was a serious disservice to me (the traumatized patient) who was not accurately diagnosed.
Here is the million-dollar question: Why is the medical and mental health industry not trauma informed? Why do they only focus on the symptoms, but not the root cause? Why do they hand out prescriptions as if it were bubble gum?
The answer is because that is exactly what they are trained to do. Western, traditional medicine doesn’t concern themselves with the ROOT cause. They cover up negative symptoms with medicine.
Traditional doctors neglect to view their patients as a “whole person." They neglect to see you as more than a physical body. They disregard that you’re a soul who has a mind and a physical body. Some of us still have deep trauma wounds that are bleeding and destroying our lives.
Whether you may or may not have an autoimmune disorder or chronic pain, here are some facts:
· You are a whole human being.
· Your health, your life, and future matter.
· Your ability to recover from trauma is important.
· There is hope for healing.
My fibromyalgia journey has been filled by many bumps along the way. Ups and downs, which led me to consider holistic modalities and Eastern medicine.
They were desperate moments to rescue my own self. And I did just that. But before I could recover, I went through the “dark night of the soul.” It is grueling. It is painful. It took me so far outside my comfort zone. My dark night of the soul was my rock bottom moment. Here’s the main point about a rock bottom moment. Once you reach this lowest point, the only way to go is up. That is the good news.
As I ponder my dark night of the soul, I realize that it gave me an unexpected gift. Some gifts in life are a blessing in disguise. This happens to be one of them.
I received a valuable gift of insight, knowledge, discernment, education, and credible facts. In addition, I received the gift that helped me to reclaim my own personal power.
My Valuable lessons that I’ve Learned:
· Cymbalta (Duloxetine) didn’t help me. It hurt me.
· Benzodiazepines are extremely potent drugs.
· Both Cymbalta & Benzos have a Black Box Warning.
· Cymbalta & Benzo drug withdrawals are hellish.
· Medical trauma & medicine has injured millions of people.
· Oftentimes, prescriptions can cause secondary symptoms, which starts a vicious cycle.
Here is an example: You go to your doctor because you have fatigue, chronic pain, insomnia, and depression. After about ten minutes of talking to your doctor, he/she gives you a prescription. You start taking the medicine. Within hours, days, or months, you experience brand new symptoms. You are now dealing with memory loss, cognitive impairment, anxiety, high blood pressure, migraines, and worse symptoms. You return to your doctor’s office and end up with more medicine. Your health deteriorates. It spirals out of control. And you become desperate for real answers, not more pills. Sound familiar?
I am not a licensed doctor, nor therapist. However, I have learned a lot over these past 14 years. It doesn’t take a doctorate degree or rocket science to understand the grave consequences for a misdiagnosis and/or for taking a potent cocktail of prescriptions.
Some medicine, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, can cause a disconnection to your own self. It can numb and dull your thinking, memory, cognitive function, and ability to process and retain information. Prescriptions can cause some patients to not be able to feel their emotions, including grief and loss.
My top concern is that it can sabotage the patient’s ability to recover from abuse and trauma. If a person cannot feel their human emotions, they cannot heal. Instead, they may become detached, isolated, withdrawn, numbed out, and unaware of their past abuse.
Simply stated, trauma is stuck inside their body and brain. It is negative energy enmeshed within each of their cells; cellular memory and epigenetics.
While there is a time and place for medicine, it shouldn’t be the first or only option. It can be of some help temporarily. However, this is not meant to be a permanent solution. Long-term use of potent prescriptions can potentially harm your central nervous system, your amygdala, your neurotransmitters, your organs, your entire body, your digestion and your gut health (your gut is called the 2nd brain for a good reason). It could weaken your immune system, your ability to function daily, and your ability to recover from traumatic experiences. Add fragmented memories, dissociation, triggers, flashbacks, experiencing a trauma response, and having a brain impairment to this toxic mix, which only complicates the situation.
Most abuse survivors cannot always recall every single detail about their trauma. Our bodies and brain want to protect us. Therefore, it’s typical for trauma survivors to dissociate and not remember specifics pertaining to their past abuse.
According to VeryWellHealth.com, “Dissociation is a disconnection or detachment from one’s self (depersonalization) or one’s surroundings (derealization). Symptoms can interfere with every aspect of mental functioning, including memory, identity, emotion, perception, and behavior.”
As mentioned before, dissociation is common amongst trauma survivors. There are times when a therapist isn’t even aware that their client is dissociating during therapy.
During a traumatic event and abuse, a person can have an “out of body” experience. They may not be aware of it. Their body is doing what it knows to do to protect the victim.
Oftentimes, we are flooded by cortisol during abuse when our body is on high alert. You may struggle with being in fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. Your body may continue to have too much cortisol and other hormones flooding your system.
Even if you wanted to intentionally forget your abuse and trauma, your body and brain will never forget. For there is a trauma imprint upon your cells, brain, and entire body.
As Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk states, the body keeps the score. This is precisely why we must feel our human emotions in order to process trauma, address what happened, and learn how to release trapped trauma inside the body.
In retrospect, the root of my health conditions was compounded trauma and Complex PTSD. (Child abuse and neglect, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse, a dysfunctional family, intergenerational trauma, sibling abuse, narcissistic abuse, medical trauma, plus more.)
I never needed antidepressants, nor any medicine. I most certainly didn't need mind-warping drugs that would damage my body and mind. And have me disabled, suffering excruciating pain, and hellish withdrawals.
If you want the longer version of my true story, check out my memoir, Soul Cry: Releasing & Healing the Wounds of Trauma. It is available in print and an eBook on Amazon.
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B085X3Z79S/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vp The facts are that it took me over five decades to receive my accurate diagnosis. It’s ludicrous that it took this long for a doctor and therapist to correctly diagnosis me.
The statistics linking fibromyalgia to trauma are shocking. According to the Institute for Chronic Pain, “Upwards of 90% of women with fibromyalgia syndrome report trauma in either their childhood or adulthood. 60% of those with arthritis report such for a trauma history."
Furthermore, one study with over 385 people over the age of 60 years old were diagnosed with fibromyalgia. The results speak for themselves loud and clear:
· Over 70% of women & 67% of men had experienced trauma.
· Over 50% of women & 60% of men experienced abuse or neglect.
· Over 54% of people had suffered physical abuse.
· Nearly 50% of women had suffered sexual abuse.
Following abuse and trauma, the body can manifest physical and emotional pain. It can show up years later after the actual traumatic event occurred.
My own fibro symptoms didn’t show up until I was in my forties. Prior to that, I had chronic back pain, inflammation, thyroid issues, herniated discs, and other disabling health ailments.
Back in my younger years, I didn’t connect the dots to my health and trauma. It wasn’t until 2017 when I clearly understood the correlation between trauma and chronic pain. By far, the kindest gift that I have given to myself is to educate myself about trauma. Not only that, but to invest in my own health; physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
In all seriousness, going to school to become a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach has been one of the most incredible healing gifts for me. Wisdom brings insight. Insight brings new opportunities to explore gentle ways to release trauma and to heal. I am so grateful for this because it was one of the missing pieces in my healing journey.
I may not know you and you may not know me. There is a good chance that we haven’t met face to face. However, I do understand how grueling, exhausting, and stressful it is to be misdiagnosed. I understand how challenging it is to struggle with CPTSD, compounded trauma, and chronic pain that is debilitating.
Dear Survivor, I hear your soul cry. I know your pain. I see your tears. I understand firsthand the shame and pain of trauma. Trust that you are not alone.
Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, who’s an author, trauma-informed expert, and psychiatrist provides wisdom, understanding, and insight into how trauma impacts the body, mind, and brain. In his book, The Body Keeps the Score, he stated, “The trauma caused by childhood neglect, sexual or domestic abuse, and war wreaks havoc on our bodies. Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from themselves.”
My legitimate concern for the fibromyalgia community is that they rarely address the connection to trauma. They mainly focus on symptoms, medicine, and invasive procedures. This nonstop medical merry go round keeps trauma patients suffering unnecessarily. Isn’t it about time to jump off the medical merry go round? Unresolved trauma that is stored in the body and brain can hinder the healing path.
We shall not ignore, minimize, or refuse to face trauma. For that only causes people to remain unhealed, hurting, and stuck.
Doesn’t it make logical sense to get to the root of the problem? To unravel the mystery. To dig deeply into the depth of your soul to acknowledge, face, address, process, and work through your traumatic experiences.
Dr. Gabor Mate’, a bestselling trauma-informed author, speaker, and physician states, “The attempt to escape from pain is what creates more pain.”
Are you still hurting and in chronic pain? Please consider talking to at least one trustworthy person about your traumatic events. It could be a close friend, family member, spouse, or trauma-informed therapist. Or you may be open to working with a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach who specializes in the type of abuse and trauma that you’ve suffered.
Asking for help isn’t weakness. It is actually the bravest, wisest decision that you could make. It takes great courage to acknowledge, confront, and to do the trauma recovery work. To admit, “Yes, it did happen. Yes, it really was that bad.”
After all of these years of thinking I had fibromyalgia, I no longer get caught up with a label. The root cause of my health conditions is rooted to compounded trauma. That is my focus for my recovery goals.
I am excited to share that I have regained at least 80% of my health. Compared to a decade ago, this is a huge medical breakthrough for me. In addition, I have been free from pharmaceutical medications for close to 12 years. It has literally saved my life. Happy victory dance!
The reason why I share my true stories is because it awakens courage in others. It helps them to realize they are not alone. Most importantly, it gives them so much hope for their own trauma recovery.
Here’s a cool thing about going from barely surviving to thriving: After you’ve done the hard work of healing, you become an advocate for trauma and abuse survivors. You become a voice to the voiceless. You give hope to the hopeless.
You speak up for survivors, defend them, and you support them. I guarantee, it’s changing our world in such a positive way. One trauma survivor at a time.
"The final stage of healing is using what happens to you and help other people. That is healing in itself." ~ Gloria Steinem
10 Tips for the Trauma Recovery:
1. Become a Truth Seeker – Be honest with yourself about your past abuse, assaults, grief, loss, and negative experiences.
2. Don’t Bury Your Pain – Avoid ignoring, dismissing, minimizing, or burying your pain.
3. Seek Emotional Support – Reach out to a trauma-informed mental health professional. Interview them and ask good questions to make sure they’re an ideal fit for you and the type of abuse you have experienced.
4. Feel It to Heal It – Give yourself permission to feel authentic emotions, including sorrow, anger, grief, loss, and all of the emotions that are part of grief stages.
5. Do the Grief Work – The five stages of grief are denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. It is normal and common to feel outraged by how the perpetrators violated and hurt you. Seek productive ways to release your emotions. Vent. Scream. Cry. Cuss. Exercise for boosting the “feel good” endorphins. Punch a pillow. Journal your grief. Visit a local “rage room” where you can literally throw glasses and dishes to release your pent-up emotions.
6. Avoid Self-Medicating – Don’t use alcohol, drugs, or any chemicals to “numb out.” It is a maladaptive coping mechanism that is more harmful than helpful. Seek therapy or a rehab if you struggle with addictions.
7. Forgive Yourself – You didn’t know in your younger years what you know now. Extend yourself compassion, grace, love, and forgiveness for anything involving your past abuse. Forgive yourself for not ending the toxic relationship sooner. Forgive yourself for staying loyal to the perpetrator. First off, it wasn’t your fault. Secondly, the abusers should be held accountable.
8. Self-Care – Offer yourself kindness, nurturing, and tenderness. Take good care of yourself.
9. Educate Yourself about Trauma – Be open to learning about what trauma is, the trauma response, and how to heal trauma. My favorite book on trauma is by trauma-informed author, therapist, and survivor, Pete Walker, who wrote “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.” I highly recommend it.
10. Holistic Modalities – Check out natural ways to decrease your pain levels and to improve your overall health. There’re countless holistic modalities, including Somatic Embodiment, The Emotion & Body Code, Emotional Freedom Technique, energy healing, body work, professional massage therapy, acupuncture, pure essential oils, or Sensory Desensitization Floating Tank Therapy.
In statistics, there are 70% to 90% of our worldwide population who has suffered at least one traumatic event. Keeping that in mind, the odds are greater that you do have at least one experience in your lifetime that has been traumatic for you.
We each have a story to tell. We each deserve to heal. Today, may this inspire you to bravely raise your own voice. To gain facts about chronic pain, trauma, and how they are directly linked together. Learn to create healthy boundaries. Become proactive in your trauma recovery. Best wishes to you and your healing journey.
Medical Disclaimer: The information on my website is not intended to be a substitute for the medical advice of therapists, psychiatrists, physicians, nor other mental health professionals. It shall not take the place of a medical evaluation, diagnosis, and/or treatment. The information on my website is for educational purposes only. It is to help people to build awareness about practical, non-medical options for improving health and healing trauma. Furthermore, individuals are recommended to seek immediate professional medical care in the event they are suffering mental health and/or medical conditions, including suicidal thoughts, or engaging in destructive, self-harm behaviors. As a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach, I do not diagnose, treat, nor give medical advice about medications. If you have concerns or questions pertaining to your mental health, medical conditions, negative side effects of medicine, or if you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms, these issues must be addressed by a traditional therapist, psychiatrist, your family physician, or other medical professionals. This is not within my scope of trauma recovery coaching practice.