Last week, I mentioned that I was flaring and I thought it might be helpful to explain what a flare is, for the readers who don’t know. A fibromyalgia flare is described as an increase in pain, fatigue and other symptoms, brought on by stress, illness or some other trigger.
Pain scales are designed to help patient and doctor get on the same page and can also be useful when trying to explain things to your family and friends. This is the scale given to me by my Rheumatologist. It is important to note that each fibromyalgia patient presents differently. My normal and flare pain levels may not be the same as someone else’s.
On a normal, non-flaring day, I am usually somewhere around a 3. Certain parts of my body hurt, but is not enough pain to stop me from doing things, as long as I have some time in the afternoon to relax, I manage. I consider myself in a flare when I endure a level 6 or above, with increased fatigue, for more than 48 hours. Flares can last a few days, weeks and unfortunately, months.
In addition to stress and illness, flares can be brought on by triggers. Triggers are specific to each individual, but can include allergies, hormonal changes, over exertion, food sensitivities, sunlight exposure, travel, and changes in the weather. The journey is full of land mines, some avoidable, and some, not so much.
Not Just Pain
Flares are mainly about pain and fatigue, but they also include an increase in other fibromyalgia symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, sensory issues, headaches, skin problems, etc. It also aggravates co-existing conditions, like my asthma, IBS, dry eyes, and meniere’s disease. Of course, when you live with this kind of discomfort for extended periods without regenerative sleep, the depression eventually kicks in. This is usually when the flare becomes a monster that cycles around itself and leaves you feeling unrecognizable to even yourself.
In 2015, I began flaring in May and didn’t pull out of it until October. It was the most defeated I have ever felt in my life. Just thinking back on it, I can’t believe I made it through and the gratitude I have for my husband’s support and patience is enormous.
I learned so much during that time, I was constantly seeking answers and understanding. I now own a box full of tools that I have found helpful, but I will always be at the mercy of this illness. Managing my fibromyalgia has become a huge set of lessons that I had neglected to absorb my whole life. Accepting and honoring my body, putting myself first, acknowledging my limitations, practicing stress reduction, finding balance, these are things I would touch on here and there, but I never fully embraced the need for them as a constant in my life. Now I have to.
It is hard to say how or why that flare ended. I was trying all kinds of things all at once in desperation. Sleep was a major factor for me, once I got the insomnia under control, I could begin to feel things shifting. It is important to say here that not all flares can be avoided and despite our best efforts, we can not pull ourselves out of them. Please do not be one of those people that thinks if we only tried harder, we would be okay. That is not how this disease works and it is so hurtful. And please, if you are suffering in a flare right now, remember that eventually it will pass. Hang on tight and keep pushing!