Erin is thirty-three years old. She is an acupuncture student and is in a happy long-term relationship. She lives in Seattle, Washington.
Fear is what finally got me in to see the doctor. I had symptoms I had never heard of before, and I had no idea what was going on. The symptoms started in October 1992, very suddenly. I experienced tremendous amounts of pain and bleeding with my menstrual period, and a lot of fatigue, sleep problems, and pain in my neck, shoulders, and legs. I also had a lot of digestive disturbance, memory problems, concentration problems, and skin problems. I had to be careful about how much energy I expended, because I didn’t have a lot in reserve. I visited three doctors before the fourth one finally diagnosed me with FM.
I have a history of urinary-tract infections, and I’ve taken a lot of antibiotics for them. In childhood, I had a lot of ear and upper-respiratory illnesses. I was born prematurely. I think I experienced food allergies, too, as a child. I also have had a lot of stress in my life, and a lot of grieving. My father had to leave when I was about fourteen to work in another state, and I lost him emotionally. Later on, in college, I had an intense relationship with a man, but we eventually broke up, and that was devastating for me.
Diet makes a dramatic difference for me. I went for a three- week detoxification program at a clinic in San Diego. They offer all kinds of treatments. I went mainly to do a cleanse, and I was just blown away by it. I was a little nervous when we first drove up. I thought, “Oh boy, what am I doing?” But it’s very nice, it’s simple, it’s clean. They have a hot tub. They have a big dining room and an all-purpose room. It’s sort of like going to camp; that’s the way I think about it. We met a lot of really nice, interesting people there.
The cornerstone of the program is an all-raw-foods vegan diet, which sounds kind of boring, but I’ve been doing it at home and it’s great. I have a lot of sprouts, and no animal products of any kind. Wheat-grass juice is a big part of it, too. Other parts of the program include colon cleansing, since the colon is phenomenally important in all bodily functions. If you have a lot of gunk built up in your intestines-which most of us do, due to our lifestyles-it permeates your whole body and clogs up everything. They taught us how to do a specific kind of daily lymphatic exercise-the lymphatic system is another waste disposal system in the body that can clog up. It’s very easy to do and consists of leg lifts, stretches, and walking. It’s very low impact, and it gets your lymphatic system moving. They also taught us ways to cultivate a positive mental attitude. The program cost $400 a week, which included room, board, classes, wheat grass, everything.
A lot of people go for one week, just to do a simple cleanse. By the time most people get through the first week, they feel a lot better. I felt terrible at first. I experienced all my FM symptoms about three times worse than usual during the first week. It wasn’t easy. But my body was going through the detoxification process. All that stuff was coming out of my core and bubbling to the surface, and I was re-experiencing it both mentally and physically while it was being eliminated from my body.
By the middle of the second week, I started feeling a lot better. I ran up the same stairs that I had had a hard time walking down just two days before. I slept a lot better. My face started to look different. My boyfriend and I would both look in the mirror and go, “Oh, my God!” There was light emanating from my face; it was really a pretty sight. I felt a lot lighter and more unclogged. I felt clean inside, and it was easier to move, easier to think, because things weren’t gunking up my system. It was really surprising.
The complete program runs for three weeks, and I’m really glad I was able to stay for the third week. It really tied things together. You go to classes the whole time you’re there, and you learn about how your body works, how the foods you eat affect your body. Not only are you doing the cleansing process, you’re also learning about why it’s good for you, which really helps. I met another woman there who had FM. She was only able to stay for a week, and she still felt bad by the time she left.
I was amazed by the difference afterward. I didn’t have any expectations about it, but I was able to sleep better than I ever have in my life.
I closed in a lot on myself when I got sick; I stopped socializing with people; I couldn’t deal with people, I had to make huge lifestyle changes: leaving the corporate structure behind forever, changing the way I think about my body, the way I think about health. I’m now going back to school, partially as a result of having to learn all this stuff. I’m learning Chinese medicine. I’m really excited about it. I’m spending all my time doing this anyway, so I want to figure out how to make money doing it! My life is now nothing like it was when I first got sick. I’m a lot calmer and much more focused. When you’re running on such a deficiency of mental acuity, you really have to focus to be able to do anything.
At first, it was embarrassing for me to be diagnosed with FM, because there’s no societal acceptance of it. There’s no allowance for people to be ill in our society, unless you have something really obvious, like cancer. I felt like I got a lot of disbelief from people. But a lot of positives have come out of this, even though it’s been brutal. I think it’s gotten me closer to where I want to be. You have to spend so much time going internally, because you’ve got no energy to be external. I had to sit with myself. At the time, I couldn’t do much of anything else.
I would say that I am now 95 percent pain free. When I do experience pain, I do chi kung or some kind of exercise. When I need to, I go to the chiropractor, but that is very rare. I still haven’t mastered the head fog, though. But I honestly believe that if I stick with this diet long enough, I will be completely well.
Source: Skelly, Mari and Helm, Andrea. “Alternative Treatments for Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; Insights from Practitioners and Patients.” Hunter House Publishers 1999.