Fibromyalgia in Highly Sensitive People

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Are you one of the 5 million Americans living with fibromyalgia pain? Although the specific cause of fibromyalgia remains a mystery, how the nervous system perceives pain may very well play a role. “It’s like the volume is turned up on the pain. In many people with fibromyalgia, their entire sensory system is amplified, making them highly sensitive to touch and other stimuli: something as simple as a clothing tag on the backside of the neck can be intolerable, and even a bear hug from a loved one can generate pain.

Others report that noisy gatherings or crowds can overload the senses, making their fibromyalgia symptoms that much worse. And some people with the chronic pain disorder are much more sensitive to medications and chemicals. Sensory sensitivities, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and other chronic pain syndromes seem to travel together. Rising data is showing that these factors are some way linked and may be part of a group of disorders being called central sensitization syndrome.

In my view, fibromyalgia is precipitated by the emotions of anxiety/fear which began perhaps in utero, but more likely early in life in which a child develops a hyper-aroused nervous system. Traumatic episodes experienced in a highly sensitive person are a fertile place for fibromyalgia roots to take hold.

Generally, this dis-ease (not disease) begins to show its ugly face early in midlife. As a youngster, this child is often said to be ‘highly strung’ or ‘too sensitive’ or ‘too fearful’. One woman I interviewed said she was likened to a ‘hot house orchid,’ fragile and overly empathetic. I have yet to hear any of the hundreds of people I have either spoken with or read about who did not say somewhat the same about themselves.

Tuned in to the world in a hyper-vigilant, overly caring way, the parts of the brain which can distinguish between that which is safe, or conversely fearful in our environment, is in a state of disarray, Anxiety predominates the personality of the fibromyalgia person.

I knew that sensitive people existed, but apparently they are far more common than I thought. And when I mean sensitive, I don’t mean emotionally. Not necessarily the type of person that is easily upset or is prone to spontaneous crying. At least not solely sensitive in that way, No, the HSP is hyper sensitive to light, sounds and smells. Over the years, and especially in the last decade or so, I have also found that I’m a human sponge for emotion. Maybe when I was younger it just didn’t phase me.

Or maybe I didn’t care as much? I don’t know. But in the last decade, I simply cannot be around certain types of people for too long. I call them Emotional Vampires (EV). These people are often completely unaware that they are Emotional Vampires, but they sure drain me and my energy nevertheless.

An EV can be an overly angry or negative person who is constantly judging others or pointing out flaws. Or maybe everything and everyone under the sun is wrong or not up to their expectation in some way – Judith Orloff MD calls this type The Controller. Barbara Keddy, PhD, considers herself a highly sensitive person (HSP) with fibromyalgia. Keddy is the author of Women and Fibromyalgia: Living with an Invisible Dis-ease.

“In her book, she wrote about a theory she developed, which suggests that in order for a person to develop fibromyalgia, that person’s personality must be that of a highly sensitive nature.”By the term ‘highly sensitive person,’ I mean someone who is hyper-vigilant, easily aroused with too much stimulation, highly intuitive, and so on.”

A year of living as a person who is attuned to the atmosphere in any environment has allowed us the ability to read people and situations more easily than most people. We can almost feel the anxiety of another. Chronic anxiety and fear, two debilitating emotions, result in a myriad of physical ailments such as pain, fatigue, insomnia, itching, and digestive upsets among the more common ones.

Silent and invisible as this condition is, we become demoralized and soon depression sets in. We long for peace and calmness which become almost non-existent.  People with fibromyalgia become the walking wounded living with chronic pain. I believe that while over a lifetime they have become anxious and fearful about many things, it becomes much worse when they have a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

Then they begin to think in catastrophic terms: What if they become totally disabled? What if this pain never stops? What if they become totally house-bound? What if there isn’t anybody to look out for them? Are they about to have another pain flare-up? Their brains are forever seeking out where they have perceived or experienced fear in the past and imagine that they should be fearful in the moment. They become emotionally dis-regulated. Their plastic brain which is stimulated in a particular way becomes more and more enmeshed in their pain and/or other debilitating symptoms.

Keddy says when she’s over-stimulated she always ends up feeling pain and exhaustion. For the reason that of that, she keeps a “fairly quiet” schedule that involves meditation, work out, and qi gong, a Chinese recreation technique that uses kind movements, mental focus, and deep breathing. “I do these things throughout the day not all at once and listen to music and read quietly,” she says.

Along with medicine and being cautious about avoiding sugar, this way of life helps her take control of her nervous system. Keddy says for people living with fibromyalgia pain planning such a schedule does involve some discipline. Because there’s no treatment for fibromyalgia, “we have to become experts in our own lives,” she adds.

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References:

  • Fibromyalgia in Highly Sensitive People By Regina Boyle Wheeler via Everyday Health
  • HSPs and Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Other Illnesses Perhaps Related to “Central Sensitization” via HS Person

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