What I've Learned About Fibromyalgia... and Life

by Karen Lee Richards Patient Advocate

It's been an honor to write for and work with HealthCentral for almost eight years. This, however, will be my last post here. Although I still have a little ways to go, my health has significantly improved and so I have been able to accept another position that is closer to full time work.

I've given a great deal of thought to what I wanted to say in my last post. What do you say after eight years? I finally decided that the best thing I could do would be to share the most important thing I've learned about fibromyalgia, myself and life in general over those eight years.

What is my great revelation? Be open to learning about and trying new things. It sounds simple maybe overly simple but it's a lot harder than it sounds. We all tend to get set in our ways and comfortable with things as they are even when those ways are not working all that well.

Fibromyalgia is certainly not an easy illness to treat. Everybody responds differently to various treatments. At best, any given medication will only help about 30% of FM patients and they will only experience about 30% improvement. It's what I call the 30/30 rule.

If you've had fibromyalgia for very long, you probably feel like you've tried everything and nothing works. That's how I felt at one time. But as I continued to try new (and sometimes unusual) therapies, I gradually began to find things that helped. No single treatment or therapy eliminated all of my FM symptoms but several things I tried resulted in improvement of one symptom or another.

Over the years, I've chronicled my progress in articles right here on HealthCentral's chronic pain site. The first article covers the different treatments and therapies I had found helpful up to the end of 2011. In the other articles, I share additional things I've learned since then.

The Rest of the Story...

Those of you who have followed my work for quite awhile may have noticed that I didn't post as many articles as usual in 2014; nor did I finish the story of "My Fibromyalgia Healing Journey." The main reason for that is because early in the year, my son had a recurrence of melanoma. He had originally been diagnosed with stage 3B melanoma nine years earlier. At the time, the doctors gave him less than two years to live. Thankfully, the treatment was effective and there was no sign of the cancer for nine years.

Although the doctors had told us there was a good chance it would return at some point in the future, after all those years, we were hopeful maybe that wouldn't happen. But it did happen this year and I have to admit that it hit me very hard even harder than I expected. He underwent two extensive surgeries and a long, painful recovery. There is currently no sign of any active cancer cells for which we are grateful. However, his doctors told him that it can, and probably would, show up again sometime, somewhere. So for now, we continue to pray and remain hopeful.

I'm sure most of you know what stress does to someone with fibromyalgia. I try to avoid stress as much as possible, but sometimes emotional stress like this is unavoidable. Needless to say, I went through a flare and my progress slowed for several months. But I'm back on track now and continuing to make progress in my healing journey.

In the last installment of "My Fibromyalgia Healing Journey," I had just begun to eliminate gluten from my diet. I'm pleased to say that even through everything, I stuck to my plan and I have now been completely gluten-free for a full year. That change alone has had amazing results no more stomach pains, no more gas and bloating, no more constipation alternating with periods of diarrhea, no more IBS Although eating gluten-free didn't eliminate my fibromyalgia completely, it did eliminate several very disturbing symptoms.

I am continuing to work on improving my diet and gradually increasing my exercise. With the positive results I've experienced so far, I'm convinced I'm on the right track.

My own personal experience is why I am encouraging you to be open to learning about and trying new things. Of course, you should use good judgement, research any potential therapy carefully and talk it over with your doctor. But in the end you may find out, as I did, that the things you least expect and are most resistant to trying are the very things that work best.

Till We Meet Again...

I have really enjoyed connecting and getting to know so many of you. Rest assured I won't be disappearing completely. I'm happy to say that I'll still be working with the fibromyalgia community and I'll still be active on social media. I'll also remain a community member here on Health Central so you can send me a private message here if you need to contact me.

I wish you all pain-free days, sleep-filled nights, health and happiness in 2015!

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.