How to Cope After Being Diagnosed With Fibromyalgia
Counselor Eric Patterson shares a few helpful insights about coping techniques while Dina and Hilory share their personal experiences about being diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
Much of life is not about what happens to you, it is about how you respond. When a negative life event happens, will you crumble and fold under the pressure, or will you refocus your determination and press on? What happens to you is largely outside of your control. How you deal with it is always a choice, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
Being diagnosed with fibromyalgia is an example of this philosophy. When the condition hits, it is easier to become focused on the symptoms, the side effects of the medication, and how your life is forever changed for the worse. It is easier to permit the repercussions of the condition to grow and transform from a medical condition into something that begins to consume many aspects of your physical, mental, and social health. It is easier to resign yourself to a painful life of fibro.
But it is not for the best. This attitude will only end with sadness, despair, and pessimism. Remember, you have a choice in your response. You can choose positive coping strategies over the negative ones. You can choose hope instead of hopelessness. Yes, it will be more challenging, more arduous, and may not end the way you expected, but it is the only way to avoid certain disaster.
Avoid the Negatives
The first way to practice positive coping strategies is to eliminate the negative ones. Negative coping skills are going to be very tempting prospects, especially early in your diagnosis and treatment, because they will appear to be the path of least resistance. They will seem possible. They will produce immediate results.
The problem with negative coping skills is that they are focused only on immediate gratification. Negative coping skills don’t consider what happens next month or next week, usually resulting in more negative future outcomes.
For example, someone newly diagnosed with fibromyalgia may drink alcohol to manage the physical and emotional pain of the condition. The drinking may grow in frequency and intensity over the weeks. An addiction forms that impacts the individual’s relationships, work, and financial status. The action that made symptoms better in the short-term (drinking), ends up making things much worse later.
Other examples of negative coping skills include:
- Drastic relationship changes like ending contact with close friends and supports
- Isolating yourself from the people and experiences that were previously pleasurable
- Initiating or increasing use of alcohol and other drugs
- Making major life decisions impulsively
- Denial of your diagnosis and the impact of fibromyalgia
After being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, it is crucial to be aware of your negative coping skills. They can block, delay, and distort your progress. Their use should be limited significantly.
Seek the Positives
If you feel reasonably comfortable that your negative coping skills are under control, you can shift your focus towards the positives. Positive coping skills will always seem more difficult. They will feel uncomfortable and unproductive because they are built on a deferred gratification system. You have to work hard for a long time for the payoff.
Exercise is a great example of this. If someone with fibro is interested in losing weight or improving their physical health to limit symptoms, exercise is a great solution. They change their diet and hop on the treadmill. After they are done, they feel terrible. They are sore, hungry, and frustrated, but they know if they can maintain this program, it will be worth it.
Your positive coping skills should reflect these principles: 1) They should be mentally and physically challenging and 2) They should push you outside of your comfort zone because fibro and its partner, depression, are more interested in you staying stuck and sick.
Examples of positive coping skills include:
- Connecting with trusted supports to discuss your frustrations and fears regarding your diagnosis, treatment, and future
- Acknowledging that a fibro diagnosis will spark a sense of grief in you as the loss of your physical health status is profound and choosing to focus on moving through the loss to arrive at a sense of acceptance
- Expressing your emotions in healthy outlets through art and exercise
- Using tools like avoidance and escape in limited amounts to prevent them from developing into negative coping skills (a day in front of the TV once a month is okay, but not everyday)
- Building a team of physical health care providers that you feel comfortable communicating with and following their treatment recommendations
- Accepting the need for mental health care to gain additional coping skills as fibro shares an intimate relationship with depression and anxiety
The way you view your situation can maximize or minimize the impact it has on your quest for positive coping skills. Spend time searching for new and different ways to treat your symptoms by changing your perceptions. If someone is offering their love, support, and well-meaning feedback, do not push them away. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that people don’t understand you and could never comprehend your situation. Realize that the mental stress that accompanies fibro has a way of pushing away your supports.
To combat this, accept the feedback and suggestions of others. Understand that when you are lost in the fibro forest, it is hard to see the way out. Sometimes, it takes the willingness to accept the recommendations of others to get the results you are looking for.
The pain is terrible. The fatigue is high. The mental health symptoms add another level of frustration, but there is always a way out.
It is unfortunate that fibro is now a part of your life. Being diagnosed with fibromyalgia is not easy, but with the right attitude, it is manageable. Choose to find the best coping strategies by avoiding the negatives and racing towards the positives. If you can do this while changing your perceptions and building a willingness for change, you can make the best of a bad situation.
Next Page: Read one woman’s personal journey after receiving a fibro diagnosis.