Reprinted with the kind permission of Sarah Borien and A Life Less Physical
Editor’s Note: Sarah wrote this article in January 2017 and several readers commented on her question. What would you say? We’ll ask Sarah to give us an update in the next few weeks.
What a dreary start to 2017. It’s been cold and wet, and I just want to curl up on the sofa in my Christmas trousers (that’s right, I have Christmas trousers), watch films and eat everything in sight. In fact, that’s exactly how I’ve spent most of 2017 so far and I’m starting to wonder how much causal weight gain is acceptable before I have to start watching my carb intake.
As you can tell, I haven’t really got over December. A month that is usually full of Christmas parties, excessive eating and late-night socialising was spent wedding planning, dieting and trying to get as much sleep as possible. It was wonderful and I wouldn’t change it, I just think I should be allowed to start the year with a bit of Christmas carry-over.
For those not in the know, me and R tied the knot on New Year’s Eve in a simple but beautiful ceremony, then partied our way into 2017 surrounded by friends and family. I’ll likely blog about it at some point, but I thought I’d kick off 2017 by sharing some tales about weird health experiences. Bear in mind that when you’ve finished reading this story I’m going to ask you: what would you do?
Let’s start at the beginning. At the end of last year, I had just come out of a long and painful flare and I was trying not to rock the boat before the wedding, but I developed some excruciating arm pains in the last few weeks of December and needed to do something – anything – to sort myself out. In a last ditch attempt to ‘fix’ myself before the wedding, I searched online for a local physiotherapist, hoping that some last-minute treatment would do the trick.
The physio I ended up seeing was lovely. A middle-aged woman with a kind and caring manner, she welcomed me in to a treatment room based at my local GP surgery and I instantly warmed to her. However, she quickly explained that whilst she is a qualified physio (and let’s remember that’s what I asked for), she also practices esoteric therapy and it is her belief that fibromyalgia can be cured through this emerging complementary therapy that links physical pain to our emotions.
She didn’t ask me very much. I told her about the wedding, about my job, and explained my understanding of fibromyalgia. I explained my need for some short-term pain relief that would help me get through the festive period, but acknowledged the need for a more long-term view of pain management. I told her my drugs weren’t working (her response: “That’s because the drugs are for physical issues, and you don’t have a physical issue.”) and told her my arms were particularly bad (her response: “Our arms are where we hold our anger and frustration, so I imagine there’s some feelings you’re keeping bottled up inside.”).
She asked me to lie down and rubbed my arm with a soothing ointment. She asked me to close my eyes and, for about half an hour, she talked me through mindfulness exercises interspersed with suggestions that I was holding back anger or frustration in relation to my wedding – likely because people were trying to take over and I wasn’t standing up for myself. An interesting approach to physiotherapy if you ask me.
I was clearly looking skeptical (when am I not?) because, at the end of the session, she told me that she may not have got everything right (apparently: “esoteric therapy is a bit like fortune telling, you have to guess your way through at the beginning”), but over time she was confident she could reduce and relieve my pain.
I told her three things. Firstly, that I do not hang on to anger and frustration. I am a communicator and if I was unhappy with things in relation to the wedding, I’d be talking about it. Secondly, that I have attempted mindfulness many times and would like to keep attempting it as I do recognise the benefits, I’m just not very good at it. (She told me esoteric therapy wasn’t mindfulness but, from what I saw, I respectfully disagree.) And finally, I told her that I wholeheartedly support complementary therapy and I completely agree more that you can’t separate the mental from the physical, I’m just not sure esoteric therapy is for me.
I left the session feeling mixed emotions. She told me – or I told her, I can’t remember – that my approach to coping with pain is to metaphorically hold my breath and rush around doing as much as I can, buzzing about and squeezing things in knowing I don’t have long before the next flare. I have known for eight years that this is not a sustainable way to cope with pain. But when you ask to see a physiotherapist and that person tells you you’re in pain because you won’t admit you don’t like the flowers your mum wants at the wedding, you start to feel aggrieved at paying that person £55.
But I couldn’t deny one thing. My arm felt better.
It’s very possible that my arm felt better because it was the first time in weeks I’d lay down and rested – with the added bonus of someone gently massaging my arm. But maybe there’s also something to be said for stopping all medication, focusing the mind and changing behaviours.
I truly believe the worst thing about fibromyalgia is the lack of medical support. I consider myself a well-informed chronic pain patient, and yet I have no idea how best to treat my condition. Every time I ask for help, I’m told I’m doing the wrong thing and I should try something else, but it’s all down to individual opinion. It’s exhausting and confusing and quite frankly, my health and wellbeing shouldn’t be reliant on my trust and judgement of the people trying to sell me stuff. That’s not how healthcare should work.
So let’s go back to that original question; what would you do? I’m working on these three options:
Make another appointment. She was a lovely lady and, even though her view of pain medication was somewhat dismissive, she may have a point about behaviours and emotions. It’s worth digging deeper.
Don’t go back. It’s exhausting to try every single type of therapy that comes my way. She used her physio qualification to lure me in, only to flog me a story about anger being stored in my arms. That’s not what I asked for or paid for. But if not this, then what next?
Esoteric therapy is the next big thing in chronic pain management. Definitely go back, this woman knows what she’s on about.
Is there a fourth option I’m missing? Thoughts appreciated folks; what would you do?
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Sarah Borien lives in a country cottage in Oxfordshire with her husband and their two cats. She has had fibromyalgia since 2009 and is passionate about finding and sharing new coping strategies. Sarah authors her blog, A Life Less Physical, and has written for New Life Outlook (Fibromyalgia).