When you live with Fibromyalgia or any chronic illness that “flares” up at various times, life is unpredictable. It’s often hard to know when you might wake up having a bad day or when it may be a good day. Flares can show up at any time, without any warning. Sometimes you wake up fine but get hid mid-day. Over the last 10 years of dealing with chronic illness (8 with diagnosed Fibromyalgia), I’ve learned what causes my Fibro flares. And, while I can’t predict them with 100% accuracy I’ve learned that I can often avoid them.
Flares are increased pain or fatigue, and often both. Sometimes it’s just a fatigue flare, or just a pain flare. When it’s one or the other I can often handle it better, when it’s both, I’m good for nothing. For some a flare might mean that they can’t move to get out of bed, while others may be able to get out of bed but then may struggle to do even the most basic tasks. When I have an increase in pain or fatigue I can often still write and work online, but I don’t feel much like moving. However, when the two combine together I can’t really do anything remotely productive. During those times I have to remind myself that resting is productive, because it leads to feeling better, which means that I can do other things later.
Diet doesn’t cause flares for me as much as it used to, mainly because I typically keep a tight reign on what I eat. However, I learned through trial and error that eating gluten and/or eating a lot of sugar/starchy or processed foods will leaving me feeling worse than I should. Gluten containing foods will leave me in pain during the days following ingestion and eating lots of processed sugar-laden foods will leave me just feeling heavy and fatigued. If you haven’t already I really suggest using a food diary to document what you eat and how you feel at all times. Usually food symptoms don’t show up immediately but rather appear 1-3 days after consumption.
Despite studies that seem to show that weather is not a factor in Fibromyalgia, I can say without a doubt that weather greatly influences how I feel and is a strong predictor of flares. Generally, I feel storm fronts and high-pressure fronts as they move in. Once they are here I usually feel better. However, during seasons when the weather is changing often I tend to feel a lot worse. This Spring has been one of those seasons for me. Unfortunately, weather is a factor that I have no control over; but I can still be prepared. Pay attention to the weather and see if you can identify which patterns may be influencing your flares. From there you can do your best to be ready when they come in, and plan to rest through them rather than fight them.
Stress is a part of our everyday lives and often difficult to avoid. Studies show that stress increases chronic pain and fatigue. Each new responsibility adds more stress. I’ve had to really work to learn to say no to things, and also to avoid things that generally stress me out. There are certain people, certain websites, certain programs that I know will make me feel more stressed, so I avoid them. Sometimes I still struggle though taking on tasks I think I can handle without thinking, only to realize I’m in over my head after my body alerts me. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction has really helped me with being more aware of both my body and my feelings. I’m bad about trying to think through things logically rather than listening to my gut. When something makes you feel anxious or uncomfortable that’s your body trying to tell you something. Listen to the early warning signs and react appropriately before your full body is enlisted in the fight.
While I can do a lot more these days and often feel like I have no limits, my body sometimes reminds me that that’s still no true. While I can manage late nights for a night or two, too many in a row will have me spending at least a day in recovery mode. It’s not just late nights, but any sort of recurrent over-exertion will eventually catch up to me. It’s hard when you’ve been ill to not want to do everything you can on a good day. But, again it’s important to listen to those early warning signs that your body is tired. When you start feeling it’s time to slow down and rest, it’s time to slow down and rest. Don’t continually push through only to pay for it later. Pacing yourself allows you to do at least a little every day and avoid so much downtime. I find it most helpful to break up the tasks I need to do throughout the week, limiting myself so that I’m not trying to do everything at once. I also have to remind myself on days when I get nothing done that it’s OK, it can be done later.
- Illness / Injury/ Surgery
The worst flares I’ve had in the last few years have been following surgery, illness, or injury. Illness, injury, and surgery can cause pain and fatigue on their own, but they can also increase the pain and fatigue you may already be experiencing. While I can’t avoid every illness or injury, I can do your best to minimize them. Eating a good diet and taking daily supplements to boost my immune system helps reduce illness. I take precautions to avoid injury by paying attention to how my body is reacting at various times and minimizing movement when I feel dizzy or unsteady. If you must have surgery try to prepare for it in advance by being fully informed about the procedure and the recovery time. Plan ahead to take a little extra time to recover. Ensure that you have enough pain medication and on hand, as well as healthy food that is easy to prepare. If you can, have someone else around to help you while you recover as this will minimize your desire to get up and try to do too much too early.
Travel Is not as flare-inducing for me now as it used to be, largely because I’ve learned to make certain choices and concessions in travel, so that I can maximize my enjoyment while minimizing the stress. The changes in routine, along with being an uncomfortable, unfamiliar bed and location, carrying heavy bags through airports, jet lag, and even changes in altitude can all increase pain and fatigue. I’ve learned to minimize flight times, choose airplane seats that allow me to easily get up and stretch, avoid early flight times so that I don’t feel rushed, and plan for downtime both at the beginning of my trip and after returning home to help reduce the likelihood of a travel-related flare. Remember to take along your own pillow if you can, as well as healthy snacks, and a travel bag that includes pain meds, heat patches, and any other items that help you feel more comfortable.