My Fibromyalgia Healing Journey - The First Steps

by Karen Lee Richards Patient Advocate

I have recently set out on a new journey, which I hope will ultimately lead to significant improvement in my fibromyalgia symptoms and better overall health. I'd like to invite you to come along for the ride. Each month I'll share my progress and/or setbacks with you as well as any lessons I've learned along the way.

I have no idea how this will go. I feel a bit like Christopher Columbus sailing into unknown seas and praying I don't fall off the edge. Hopefully, like Columbus, I'll discover a new world a world of health and vitality. I do have one advantage Columbus didn't have; others have made this journey and are helping guide me into what (for me) is uncharted territory.

How My Journey Began

In almost 25 years of living with fibromyalgia, I've only personally met two women who have recovered. By recovered I mean their FM symptoms have been reduced by at least 95% and they are once again living full, energetic lives. What really captured my attention about these two women is that they both did it the same way with nutrition and fitness.

I met the first lady, Yvonne Keeny, six years ago when I interviewed her for an article I was writing. Yvonne is the founder of the nonprofit Fibromyalgia Coalition International. As she told me her story, I was fascinated. I had never talked with someone who had recovered from FM.

I should clarify I had read a number of testimonials from people who said they had been "cured" but those stories were always tied to a product someone was trying to sell and there was no way to know if the stories were true or if the people were even real.

But Yvonne was very real and I was talking to her. Now you might think I would surely try doing what she had done since it worked so well. But frankly, when she told me about all the changes she had made to her diet, I knew I couldn't (or more accurately didn't want to) do it. So I told myself that even though it had worked for Yvonne, there was no guarantee it would work for me. And why should I give up everything I liked when it might not even work? (I'm very good at rationalizing.)

Although I didn't make any significant dietary or fitness changes over the next six years, I did begin to experiment with taking various supplements. Several, like CoQ10, NADH, Krill Oil, B-12 and B-1/thiamine, did help quite a bit particularly with my energy levels. But I still wasn't anywhere close to what I would call recovered.

Then I was introduced to Sue Ingebretson. Sue is a certified holistic health care practitioner and coach and the author of the book FibroWHYalgia, which chronicles her own personal journey of recovery from fibromyalgia. Like Yvonne, Sue came to a point in her illness when she was sick of being sick. She determined that she was going to figure out the root causes of what was making her so ill and do whatever it took to correct it. Bit by bit she unravelled the mystery. Along the way, she gradually made changes in how she ate, how she moved her body and her overall mindset. As a result, she has progressed from chronic illness to (as she calls it) chronic wellness.

My Turning Point

As I read Sue's book and talked with her, I also thought about Yvonne's story. It struck me that I had never heard of anyone who recovered from FM by taking medication even when they added a variety of alternative therapies. At best they experienced some mild to moderate improvement in their symptoms. Yet here were two women women I knew who had actually recovered through nutrition and fitness. That realization had a profound impact on me.

My Love-Hate Relationship with Nutrition

Making the decision to even try to make changes in how I eat was not easy for me. I've had an on-again, off-again relationship with nutrition for my entire adult life (mostly off-again). Most of my closest friends have been big proponents of health and nutrition. I used to call them my "health-nut friends." I learned a lot from them and genuinely believed they were right about eating healthy foods and taking certain supplements, but I just couldn't seem to do it myself with any kind of consistency.

I did make many sincere attempts to stick to various diets. Forty-some years ago, Adelle Davis was the most popular health guru of the day and my friends considered her books to be their nutritional bibles. One of her recommendations was to eat liver every day. In order to understand how sincere I was about trying to eat right, you have to know how passionately I hate liver! People kept giving me recipes that they claimed "hid" the flavor of the liver and I tried them all. But liver is so strong that nothing disguised its taste. After several valiant attempts, I finally gave up.

Over the next 20+ years, I would try various diets the candida diet, low-fat diet, low-carb diet, etc. Sometimes my efforts lasted only a few days; other times I managed to hang in there for a few months. But eventually I would always go back to my old, not-so-healthy, ways. Ultimately, I gave up even trying.

Once again calling upon my excellent rationalization skills, I reasoned that I had already lost so much in my life because of FM, I shouldn't have to give up eating foods I liked as well. That was my excuse for more than a decade.

Making the Commitment

Given my history, I knew I didn't want this to be just another failed attempt to change my eating habits, so I thought long and hard before deciding to make the commitment. I asked myself how badly I really wanted to feel better. Was I truly willing to make permanent changes to my lifestyle and break life-long eating habits? It wasn't an easy decision. But I couldn't stop thinking about the possibility of feeling better. I knew I had to at least give it my best effort.

At this point, there were two things I knew for sure:

  • I would need to make changes gradually. Past experience taught me if I tried to change too much too soon, I would become overwhelmed and give up.

  • I would need a lot of help, guidance and encouragement on this journey.

As I was coming to this decision, I was also working with Sue on a special project. When I told her what I was thinking about, she offered to work with me personally. I was thrilled! Not only had she already made this journey herself, she had also made it her career to help others with fibromyalgia rebuild their health as well. I knew I would be in good hands.

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, I have to say one of the things I'm most thankful for this year is having Sue in my life as both a friend and my health coach. She understands exactly where I am now and works with me at the pace I need. And she's never judgmental a trait that is rare to find in people in general and in health coaches in particular.

Beginning the Journey

Two of the first steps in my new health journey sound very simple, but they are significant in that they are laying a foundation I will hopefully be able to build upon for the rest of my life.

Step 1: Rather than making drastic dietary changes, Sue just asked me to start being aware of what I was eating and try to begin gradually adding healthier foods to my diet. I like that her emphasis is not on giving up foods I love but rather is more about learning to choose healthier options. As a result, I'm buying organic foods whenever possible and making a list of healthy snacks I can have on hand.

Step 2: Sue encouraged me to begin envisioning what my life would be like without the pain, fatigue and limitations imposed by FM something I hadn't allowed myself to do for many, many years. This may not sound like much, but it actually provides powerful inspiration and motivation to continue on this health journey.

Check back next month to see how my journey is progressing.

If you'd like to know more about the two women who inspired my journey, see:

Yvonne's story: Yvonne Keeny - Turning 'Cope' to Hope for Thousands of FM/ME/CFS Patients

Sue's website: Rebuilding Wellness


Image courtesy of: Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

Karen Lee Richards
Meet Our Writer
Karen Lee Richards

Karen is the co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association. She writes for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Pain Management.