S M R T

When my fibromyalgia first appeared in a noticeable way about five years ago, I thought I was losing my mind. Weird words started showing up in my documents, words completely unrelated to what I was writing and I had no idea how they got there. I had typed tiger and what showed up was filing cabinet. It was terrifying. Aside from the pain, which was unlike pain I'd ever experienced before, the mental aspects of fibromyalgia changed who I was.

I used to be pretty smart - is it okay to say that or does it make me sound like a conceited arse? - and now my concentration isn't that great. I used to have a memory like a steel trap and now it's like a steel sieve. My mind used to be nimble and now it feels more like molasses in January. I once asked my doctor how we'd know if I ever got Alzheimer's and was only half-joking. She claimed she’d notice. I choose to believe her.

Someone told me that fibromyalgia makes your pain receptors overreact for everything and that's why pressure can feel like you're being cut with a knife. I’ve learned that it’s not just my pain receptors that are wide open all the time, it's everything else. My hearing is more sensitive, as is my sight and I react stronger to medications than other people. Essentially, my body's having pervasive hysterics and the goal is to keep the internal noise level down, preventing it from reaching full blaring level. It wasn't until I got fibro that I started referring to pain as being something that could be loud. The din makes it hard to focus on more than one thing at a time and it’s why weird words came into what I was writing - I'd be writing about tigers, but have a quick thought about needing to clean up my filing cabinet et voilà, it muscled other words out of the way. By now, I know it's one of the warning signs that I'm flaring, but as long as things are relatively under control, these days, most of the creative verbiage is Dragon's fault.

It's not something I talk about. It's not something anyone really talks about. Talking about pain is one thing, but admitting that your brain isn't as nimble as it used to be? That's sort of shameful, isn't it? If there’s a stigma surrounding physical impairment, there's an even bigger one when it comes to your cognitive function. Just writing that, putting cognitive function out there as something that isn't as quick as it used to be makes me a bit nauseous and think about posting something fluffy instead.

They call it fibro fog for a reason. The knowledge is still in there (at least, I hope it is), but finding it is like trying to find your way in a thick fog. All known landmarks are gone, you can't see the path in front of you or where it turns and despite being somewhere you know, the fog has made it all alien and strange, so strange that it takes you forever to find what used to be right there. This weekend, it took me almost a full day to remember the name of the Italian dictator during World War II - I thought it started with a B, but it didn't feel right (I was looking for the last name) and it wasn't until I passed my video store and remembered that movie that it came to me. And then I realized my brain had dug up the first initial, but left the last name behind in the fog.

Pain - all pain, not just fibro pain - messes with how your brain works, because when your mind is busy dealing with pain, there's only so much focus left over for the rest of the world. Add the fibro fog, plus the fuzziness that comes from the codeine and muscle relaxants necessary to keep things down to a dull roar and there are days where I'm just happy I can remember my name. I hear menopause brings forgetfulness, too. I can't wait. It'll be just a riot.

There are people out there who are questioning the "validity" of fibromyalgia yet again and that's why I'm coming out about the fog - it feels important to write about how very real this condition is. Because sometime last year, when I saw the commercial for Lyrica specifically identified as being for fibro, I almost cried because it was something I could point to as proof of the reality of this disease (it doesn't get more real than the pharmaceutical companies trying to make money from it). Because after years of spending every day in a disease many in the medical profession don't believe in - it's not a religion, people! It’s not something you can “believe in” - the fact that there are now several medications approved for use in fibromyalgia is a welcome piece of evidence on our side.

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