“Trying to describe how to live with fibromyalgia to someone who doesn’t live with it is possibly akin to trying to describe snow to an octopus” - a patient with fibromyalgia Patients often describe their condition as their muscles and joints “burning” constantly and that a simple movement such as walking around their houses, cleaning their room, or gardening felt like “wading through treacle”. Aside from the unbearable body pains, fatigue would also often take over. This leads them to exert immense efforts just to move their bodies even their facial muscles. On top of these tiring symptoms come the cognitive symptoms, which cause extreme difficulties concentrating, memory loss, and lack of sleep or an insufficient amount of sleep. The condition is also not visible in x-rays or lab tests, which makes the process of diagnosis more difficult and prolonged. This causes patients to suffer for long periods of time until they’re diagnosed. As a result of the draining circumstances, patients with fibromyalgia feel miserable, unable to function properly and may then experience depression or anxiety symptoms. If you want to read more about the experiences of fibromyalgia, you can head to this article. Fibromyalgia is a physical condition that causes patients to be in constant pain all over their bodies, have sleep difficulties, frequently experience fatigue, and could also cause emotional and mental distress. Those who are affected by fibromyalgia are likely to be more sensitive to pain than others. Fibromyalgia often starts after a physical trauma, surgery, infection, or severe psychological stress, however, some cases develop over time without a specific triggering event. While the disorder is incurable, there are a variety of interventions that help to lessen the intensity of the symptoms and help patients to cope with them. Some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Intense pain in the entire body
- Mental and emotional distress
- Sleep difficulties
- Thinking, concentration, and memory problems
What causes fibromyalgia?
The exact causes of fibromyalgia are still unknown but researchers have managed to gather several possible sources of the disorder. The symptoms of fibromyalgia are often the result of certain changes in the brain. Researchers have found that patients experienced repeated nerve stimulation that caused brain chemical imbalances (including serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine), which then caused their brain and spinal cord to change. Another factor that is believed to trigger the symptoms is the pain receptors in the brain developing memory for the experienced body pain, which leads them to become extremely sensitive to several pain signals. Other researchers have attributed the symptoms to changes in the body’s cortisol levels. Aside from brain injuries or infections, one’s genetics may also play a role in developing fibromyalgia as it has been found to run in families.
What are the options for treatment?
There are several choices for treatments that help alleviate the symptoms of fibromyalgia, involving both medications and self-care methods. There is no single treatment that helps for all symptoms, but a combination of those treatments may be the most effective.
Several medications could be prescribed when a diagnosis of fibromyalgia has been established.
- Over-the-counter pain killers.
- Antidepressants can also reduce the pain experienced by patients, as well as improve their quality of sleep.
- Anticonvulsants can help lessen the pain caused by fibromyalgia.
- Specific medications can also be used to assist patients to overcome sleep problems.
- Muscle relaxants can be prescribed if the patient is struggling with muscle stiffness or spasms.
A variety of therapeutic practices can be used for patients with fibromyalgia.
- Physical therapy can help improve the patient’s strength, flexibility, and stamina.
- Occupational therapy can help patients adjust to their workplace in order for them to become more integrated. It can also teach them how to effectively perform their tasks in ways that would lessen the burden on their bodies.
- Counselling/psychotherapy can ease the stress and negative thoughts that are caused by the challenges of the disorder.
- Art therapy can help patients with fibromyalgia express their painful feelings and tackle other psychological aspects of the condition.
Those who are diagnosed with fibromyalgia can also practice self-care strategies to help them cope with the disorder.
- Practising aerobics and muscle strengthening exercises.
- Attending educational classes to increase their knowledge and awareness.
- Practising stress management strategies such as meditation and yoga.
- Maintain a healthy sleep schedule.
- Keeping a healthy diet.
How can art therapy help?
Art therapy is a psychotherapy approach that focuses on using one’s creative processes and art-making strategies to enhance their mental health. It aims to reveal clients’ deepest thoughts and feelings using their artwork. Art therapy can be applied with individual therapy sessions as well as group sessions. Art therapy doesn’t require clients or patients to be skilled in the process of art-making and it isn’t restricted to one type of artistic activity. A variety of exercises can be incorporated and these include but are not limited to painting, drawing, and sculpting. Given the chronic nature of fibromyalgia, not only does it cause physical pain but it also causes mental and emotional suffering for those who are diagnosed with it. Art therapy can help patients with fibromyalgia to freely express their feelings of agony who otherwise may feel physically limited and trapped. It can also help them to better understand and be more aware of their thought processes. Fibromyalgia can affect the patient’s self-esteem, social interactions, and overall mental wellness, which is why it’s also important to tackle the psychological impacts of the disorder alongside the physical ones. Art therapy can also help patients cope with fibromyalgia by providing them with an outlet to let go of their stressful feelings and, instead, by participating in activities that foster relaxation and meditation. “Art therapy can bypass the need for verbal expression and instead connect with the individual’s ability to explain pain through symbolism and visual metaphors”. This means that through art therapy, patients can gain control over how they express themselves using alternative methods than talking. Art therapy can provide relief and comfort from being able to express all the intense thoughts and emotions that we’re not able to let verbally. It provides clients with the space and tools to enhance their general well-being and decrease their stress levels. Living with fibromyalgia can really take a toll on those suffering from it and can drastically alter the way they live their everyday life. This is why it’s not only important to tackle the physical aspects and symptoms of the condition, but it’s also important to address the patients’ mental health as well, which is where art therapy can help. If you or someone you know might is experiencing symptoms of fibromyalgia, we encourage you to seek help as soon as possible.