Fibromyalgia in the News - Woman's Day Magazine Article Angie Gravois, a member of the National Fibromyalgia Association’s Leaders Against Pain coalition, was featured in the April 18, 2006 issue of Woman’s Day magazine. In the article titled “It’s not all in my head,” Angie, a registered nurse and mother of two from Biloxi, MS, tells reporter Lisa Collier Cool about the five-year ordeal that finally culminated in a correct diagnosis of fibromyalgia. Angie has received an overwhelming number of calls and emails since the story came out, and she said she is happy to share her story so that others may be able to get the help and treatment they need. Angie received valuable media and advocacy training at the NFA’s First Annual Leaders Against Pain seminar in March 2005. She appeared on a live morning news show in Biloxi last year and was also featured in her local newspapers. Letters to the editors of Woman’s Day magazine may be emailed to: email@example.com or mailed to: Woman’s Day 1633 Broadway New York, NY 10019 212-767-6418 or fax: 212-767-6421 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ HERE IS THE ARTICLE AS IT APPEARED IN WOMAN'S DAY: By Angie Gravois, as told to Lisa Collier Cool It took five years and four doctors before I finally found out I had fibromyalgia When I tell people that I’m on disability, they can’t believe it. “You look perfectly fine,” they’ll say. I’m sure some of them think I’m a hypochondriac or just plain lazy. That’s one of the frustrations of having an invisible illness. Since I’m not in a wheelchair or walking around with a cast on my arm, people can’t see what’s broken. For years, doctors couldn’t explain why I was in so much pain. There were even times when I wondered if the problem was all in my head. I didn’t know I actually had a relatively common disease that can be diagnosed with a simple test. the first signs My symptoms began in 1995. Despite a healthy lifestyle (I didn’t smoke, wasn’t overweight and ate a good diet), my body started aching all the time, as if I had a chronic case of the flue. I’d wake up so stiff and sore that I’d hobble to the bathroom as if I were 80 instead of 28. After a long, hot shower, I’d usually feel much better. But when I was at work, as a registered nurse at a home health care agency in Picayune, Mississippi, the pain would gradually return. By noon, I was so drained that it was all I could do to get through the day, drag myself home and make dinner for my husband, Keith, and our 1-year-old son, Kyle. I spent most evenings lying on the sofa. Some days, a hot shower didn’t help. I started calling in sick more and more often, much to the annoyance of my boss. She’d make me feel so bad about taking a day off that I’d end up crying, feeling even sicker. MY ADVICE If you think you might have fibromyalgia, or have recently been diagnosed: Consult a rheumatologist, an internist who specializes in joint, bone and muscle disorders. To find one near you, visit rheumatology.org. Get a “tender point” exam. Because there’s no lab test for fibromyalgia, doctors diagnose it by asking about your symptoms and checking specific areas of your body for pain or tenderness. If one treatment doesn’t help, try another. It can take some trial and error to find what works for you. Talk to other people dealing with the same issues. To find a support group, visit the National Fibromyalgia Association’s website, fmaware.org. My family doctor didn’t consider my symptoms – trouble sleeping, widespread muscle pain and chronic fatigue – particularly mysterious. “It’s just stress,” he said. “A lot of young mothers feel that way. You need to cut back a little and spend more time relaxing.” I could understand why my doctor thought that. Not only was I working 45 hours a week, but I was often on call in the evening or over the weekend. But I knew plenty of other nurses who also were working moms and they weren’t having the problems I was. So why was I different? I thought my doctor might be missing something, and I decided to get a second opinion. By then, I’d developed burning pain in my hips and shoulders, along with the allover achiness. The second doctor blamed it on bursitis, an inflammation of the joints. But the pills he prescribed didn’t help. My symptoms waxed and waned. One week I’d feel terrific and the next I’d develop some crazy new problem. Numbness and tingling in my hands made it hard for me to carry groceries or fold laundry. I became extremely sensitive to sounds, lights and smells. I could no longer stand loud music, even though I used to love going to noisy nightclubs with Keith to hear our friend’s band. Activities as ordinary as filling my gas tank and frying food on the stove made me feel sick, even though these odors never bothered me before. I was also having memory problems: I’d forget people’s names, mix up words or lose my train of thought when I was talking. The most frightening symptom of all hit when I was shopping at Wal-Mart with my son. As I strolled through the aisles, I suddenly went blind in my left eye. I was scared to death, and I called my mom so she could get Kyle in case I needed to go the hospital. By the time she got there, my vision had returned, but my head was pounding. A neurologist diagnosed me with migraines and prescribed medication. That helped with my headaches, but no one could explain my other symptoms. I was tested for diabetes and thyroid disease and had numerous X-rays, all with normal results. All the doctors would do was shake their heads and talk about stress. I began to wonder if they were right: Maybe the problem was all in my head. a black cloud Although Keith was unfailingly supportive and came to all of my doctors’ appointments with me, I grew increasingly depressed. I worried about the toll my illness was taking on our relationship. When we got married in 1990, we spent the weekends going to parties, going out to dinner or dancing at clubs. Now I was too sick to do any of those things. At first, I told my husband everything, but then I felt like I was complaining too much. I began bottling up my feelings, which just made me even more miserable. I felt like I was walking around with a perpetual black cloud over my head. Since I never knew how I’d feel from one day to the next, I decided to quit my job. Although that would make finances tight for me and Keith, who is an electrical contractor, I was tired of fighting with my box over sick days. I opened my own health care agency, so I could stay at home with Kyle and our younger son, Logan, who was born in 1998. Ironically, while most women complain about fatigue and muscle aches when they’re expecting, I felt much better during both my pregnancies. During the last couple of months, I had some aches and pains, particularly in my back, but even those weren’t as bad as usual. After both deliveries, though, the symptoms came back. Although I wasn’t always well enough to play with my boys, I found ways to give them the attention they needed. If my pain flared up, I’d lie on the sofa with a heating pad, they’d climb into my lap and I’d tell them stories or look at picture books with them. On better days, I’d make it up to them by taking them to the park or on playdates. finally, an answer In 2000, I was visiting one of my home care patients when she asked a question that changed my life. “My daughter has just been diagnosed with fibromyalgia,” she said. “Can you get me some information to give her?” Since I’d never heard of the disease, which wasn’t covered when I was nursing school, I went online. My jaw dropped when I read a list of the symptoms: widespread muscle pain, fatigue, sleep disturbances, morning stiffness, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, problems with memory, migraine headaches, temperature sensitivity and painful periods. I had almost all of them. Through my research, I learned that fibromyalgia is a chronic pain syndrome that affects 8 to 10 million Americans, about 80 percent of them women. Although the cause is unknown, genes may play a role. Some doctors believe that sleep problems are also a factor. In some cases, the disease can be linked to physical trauma, such as being in a car accident; repetitive injuries, like those caused by factory work; or an illness. In others, it strikes for no apparent reason. While there’s no cure, several therapies can help. To find out more, I attended a lecture on fibromyalgia given by a family practitioner who worked in nearby Slidell, Louisiana. The next day, I went to the practitioner’s office. After taking a detailed history of my symptoms, she gave me a “tender point” exam, which is the standard method of diagnosing the syndrome. During the exam, she pressed on several areas of my body to check for muscle discomfort. The exam hurt, and I couldn’t wait for it to be over. She also did a blood test to rule out other disease. Afterward, she gave me the diagnosis: Since all 18 of my tender points were positive for pain, I did have fibromyalgia. She prescribed an antidepressant which, along with elevating mood, can also relieve pain and improve sleep. Most people would be upset to hear that they had an incurable, chronic disorder, but I was relieved. At last, I could tell people that I wasn’t just depressed, crazy or stressed out. I had a medical problem, and that’s why I was in pain all the time. But while it was great to have a name for my condition, getting treatment turned out to be harder than I’d expected. I couldn’t afford the physical therapy the doctor recommended. My home health care agency wasn’t doing well, and I’d let my health insurance lapse due to financial problems. My pain and depression got even worse, so at the end of 2000, I closed my agency and applied for Social Security disability benefits. Despite documentation from my doctor, I was turned down twice. Finally, after a three-year battle, I was approved for benefits in 2003, and I also qualified for health insurance through Medicare. feeling better I was thrilled that I could finally get physical therapy. I went three times a week for six months. Through trial and error, I discovered that a combination of yoga, stretching and water exercises, along with an antidepressant, gave me the most relief. I also bought a little herb-filled pillow that I heat in the microwave and apply to aching muscles. By October 2005 I was able to return to work part-time. I was ecstatic to be a nurse again. And since my boss is also my family doctor, he’s very understanding if I need a sick day. He has several patients with fibromyalgia, and when I tell them I have it too, I can see the relief on their faces just hear they’re not alone. Remembering how I’d wished there was someone to help me when I was newly diagnosed, I started a fibromyalgia support group, which now has eight members, all women. During our monthly meetings, I bring a new book or research to share, and then we talk about what’s on our minds. It’s not easy to live with chronic pain, but having a circle of caring people helps me deal with it. And that, more than anything else, is lifting the black cloud.