Reprinted with the kind permission of Tami at My Restored Health.com.
I’ve suffered from the symptoms of fibromyalgia for many years. I think it started when I got mono in 8th grade (1984). Since then, I’ve had times when I felt great and times when I’ve felt terrible. Getting sick back then also started my journey of learning about holistic and alternative medicine, nutrition, and other therapies.
Starting in 2003, I really struggled to find answers. I felt like if I could just lay down in a dark room for a moment, I would fall asleep. I was that tired all the time. I continually struggled with headaches. I was sick frequently. I hurt all the time. When I asked my doctor if I might have CFIDS (chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome, the term used at the time), she didn’t even know the acronym. I asked her if I might have fibromyalgia. She said no.
I found it increasingly difficult to concentrate at work. I was just so tired, so exhausted. I had no energy to do anything besides go to work, then come home and sleep. I couldn’t get up in the morning. I repeatedly had conversations with my boss about why I couldn’t get to work on time. I began to struggle with depression. After all, it’s depressing when you can’t do what you want to do!
The stress of my job continued to grow, which made my physical symptoms worse: more fatigue, more pain, more depression. Then more stress again. Work required me to travel several times a year, which was increasingly difficult for my body. It would take me multiple days to recover from simple overnight trips.
I met my husband, Scott, in 2005. We were married one year to the day from when we first met. He rescued me from my job two months after we were married. He rode down to the office on his Harley, in his leathers, and told me, “You’re quitting!” He was tired of seeing what my job was doing to me: the stress, headaches, pain, fatigue, depression, anxiety, just to name a few of the side effects. He could see me getting worse and worse over the year we were together and knew that my job had to go. So, my knight in black leather rode in and rescued me. He packed up all my stuff into the car and stood there while I gave immediate notice. The only thing that didn’t go like every girl’s dream was that I couldn’t ride off into the sunset on the back of his motorcycle. Since I drove myself to work, I had to drive the car home!
Now married, I had new insurance and needed a new doctor. Scott and I picked one at random from doctors that were nearby; however, it was really God that chose her. When I visited my new doctor for the first time, I found out that treating fibromyalgia was one of her specialties. I was amazed; finally, someone understood and could help me! I cried all the way home.
The first year of seeing that doctor was just about trying to get me functional. For the short term, we went through a lot of different prescriptions, searching for that magic mix that would bring me some relief and give me the ability to work toward long-term health. My doctor called it, “The Fibromyalgia Cocktail.” (This was a mixture of medications, not the Myers’ Cocktail of IV micronutrient therapy often used for fibromyalgia.) I think my body fell apart that year because it could. It held itself together as long as possible. While I was single and working, it didn’t have a choice. Now I didn’t have to do all that; Scott was here. I didn’t have to work and my body just collapsed. Even with that cocktail of medications, there were some days that getting out of bed was all I could do — anything else was too much.
In spring 2008, I decided to file for Social Security disability. I remember the moment I made the decision. I was trying to vacuum our stairs. I was in my pajamas because I hadn’t had the energy to change clothes or shower that day. I was sitting down trying to vacuum because we had company coming and it had to be done, but I barely had any energy. Finally, I just started sobbing because I just couldn’t do it. I realized that I couldn’t take care of my house and I couldn’t really even take care of myself — and that’s what disability is for.
In January 2009, my doctor introduced me to a health coach. The first thing my coach taught me was that it was okay if I chose to do something that wasn’t entirely healthy. That may sound odd but it’s true. I had to learn that I didn’t have to be perfect to get well. There were too many times in my life that I would say, “I blew it! I just can’t do it, so never mind!” I had to learn that this time, if I made a bad choice, I just had to get back up and start making good choices again. After all, real people aren’t perfect.
Once I learned that I didn’t have to be perfect, I had to learn that I really did need to make good choices if I wanted to feel my best. In order to do that, I had to find out what my real motivation was. WHY did I want to feel better? What was my lasting motivation that would hold up to all the unhealthy things I was going to want to do? That’s where my Health Coach, Bonnie, was such a huge help! She and I talked that one through, with her asking me questions about what it would feel like to be healthy, have energy, and be pain-free.
At first, I was completely unable to relate to anything Bonnie brought up. I couldn’t even remember what it felt like to be healthy. I couldn’t dream of what it might feel like to have enough energy to do the things I wanted to do or not have pain. Finally, after talking through all these things, we hit on something I could relate to, something that motivated me: every single day that I made good choices, I felt better. The more good choices that I could string together, the better I would feel. I couldn’t think months ahead, but I could think one day at a time.
Subscribe to the World's Most Popular Newsletter (it's free!)
In June 2009, after I’d lost about 25 pounds, Bonnie invited Scott and me to a local event celebrating people who had lost weight. While we were there, we heard story after story of people who lost weight, came off of medications, and got their lives back. A woman in the row in front of me talked about how she used to have fibromyalgia and how she used to have to choose whether she went shopping or worked in the yard or did the dishes or… Now she can do it all. I cried. I already was feeling much better, but I wasn’t where she was yet. And boy, I wanted to be!
After that event, Scott and I decided that we wanted to become Health Coaches. We had seen so much improvement in my health that we wanted to be able to help other people the same way.
One of the things I discovered during this time was that I am gluten intolerant. Going gluten free drastically improved my fibromyalgia symptoms. We also discovered that I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a thyroid disease that is worsened by eating gluten. No wonder I felt so much better eating gluten free foods!
We also discovered that my years of stress had caused me to end up with adrenal fatigue. My doctor said that if adrenal fatigue was in the dictionary, my picture would be there with the definition! We started working on healing my adrenals with supplements, managing stress and getting quality sleep. In order to help heal my adrenals, I needed to avoid sugar and simple carbohydrates.
In early 2010, after working on my eating habits for one year, being gluten free for about three months, and losing 40 pounds, my doctor and I started talking about what medications I could begin to decrease. We started first with my antidepressant, then progressed to some things I took for sleep, pain, fibromyalgia, IBS, etc. After another year (spring 2011), I’d been able to stop nine medications, including my pain medication.
In the summer of 2011, I found out that my 15-year-old cat, Bear, had cancer. We lost him on the first of July. Bear had been with me since he was a baby, 10 years longer than I’d been married. Losing him was really hard. I adopted a kitten a week later and he died after being with us for only seven days. I lost two furry friends within two weeks.
We adopted Sam on the last day of July 2011. He has been such a joy. If you ever attend one of my webinars, you’ll likely see a picture of Sam and his belly (The Belly of Happiness and Joy).
In September 2011, I was rear-ended. All of this stress caused a major flare up of my fibromyalgia symptoms and triggered a resurgence of my chronic daily headaches. One of the medications my neurologist prescribed caused me to gain four pounds per week! (You can’t safely lose weight fast enough to break even at that rate! …And no, I don’t take that anymore!)
By 2013, in spite of all these setbacks and extra stress, I was able to come off of all of my fibromyalgia medications, including my pain meds. Today, I can mostly live as if I don’t have fibromyalgia. Sure, I have to take care of myself and make smart choices, but I have enough energy to do the things I want to do and almost zero body pain.
As my health has continued to improve, my passion for helping women with fibromyalgia has also grown. I’ve taken various certifications to become a Fibromyalgia Coach and had the good fortune to graduate from the Leaders Against Pain Scholarship Training sponsored by the National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association. I am also member of the Leaders Against Pain Action Network.
I quite often feel like I’ve been given a precious gift, wrapped up and beautiful. I’m holding it in my hands and heart and waiting to see who I get to pass it along to each day. Is it you?
Tami Stackelhouse encourages hope and healing as a coach, author, speaker, and patient advocate. A fibromyalgia patient herself, Tami has gone from disabled to thriving. Her compassion, gentle support, and fun coaching style help women with fibromyalgia take back control of their lives.
Healthline named Tami’s blog as one of the "15 Best Fibromyalgia Blogs of 2015" for its quality and contribution to the fibromyalgia community. Tami is also the author of the highly rated book Take Back Your Life: Find Hope and Freedom from Fibromyalgia Symptoms and Pain. Learn more about Tami's journey to better health at: My Restored Health.com.