If you have fibromyalgia, you experience a lot of different symptoms that may range from mild and uncomfortable, to nagging and painful, to downright excruciating. Sometimes, you might even feel crazy, or not like your usual self, as if your personality is changing. Are you imagining this or is FM turning you into someone you don’t like? Fibromyalgia is complicated and it doesn’t just involve your physical body. It can impact your mental health too, so rest assured you aren’t crazy and you can do something about it.
What Fibromyalgia Does to Your Body and Your Brain
Fibromyalgia is a mysterious illness. If you have it, you experience widespread musculoskeletal pain for three months in a row or longer. Widespread means that you feel pain all over, above and below the waist, and on the left and right sides of your body. You probably feel this pain like a dull, but constant and nagging ache all over.
As if the pain weren’t enough, you probably also feel fatigued and have trouble sleeping because of your pain. You may even have other sleep disorders like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome. Also common with FM are headaches, depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and irritable bowel syndrome and cramping in the abdomen.
Why is all of this happening to you? Unfortunately medicine doesn’t have a definite answer for us. We know that traumatic experiences and infections can trigger fibromyalgia, but it can also develop slowly for no obvious reason. It seems to run in families and women are much more likely to have FM.
The other thing we know from research is all of this physical discomfort starts in the brain, which is why personality changes can come to play in FM. It’s thought that painful sensations, which we all experience, are amplified in people with fibromyalgia. Something happens to affect how your brain processes pain signals, and normal sensations turn into painful ones.
Research has also shown us that fibromyalgia changes your brain, so it’s little wonder that your personality may suffer a few changes over the course of the illness. Researchers think that the continual and repeated stimulation of your nerve cells triggers brain changes. These include increases in brain signaling chemicals, called neurotransmitters. Studies have also found that pain receptors in the brain start to remember pain and get more sensitive with time. This could account for the overreaction to pain that you experience.
All of this research into the brains of people with FM still has not led to a cure, but it has lifted some of the mystery from the disease. There was a time when even medical professionals thought that all people with fibromyalgia were dealing with psychological issues. But don’t worry, times have changed and brains cans have proven that it may be in your head, but your pain and personality shifts are very real.
The Fibro Fog
One way that fibromyalgia can affect your personality is with the fibro fog, as it’s known. The term fibro fog was coined by people suffering with the cognitive issues caused by the disease. The cognitive issues you might experience when you’re in a fog include trouble concentrating, memory lapses, confusion, mixing up words, and generally feeling disoriented and unsure. It’s like the way most coffee drinkers feel before they get the first cup of the morning. Your brain is just foggy.
As with everything related to fibromyalgia, the fibro fog is a mystery. Researchers are working on it, though. One suggestion, thanks to brain scans, is that when you feel the fog, part of your brain isn’t getting enough oxygen. Your brain can’t function without oxygen, so when it’s in short supply you feel foggy or fuzzy. It may be the chronic pain that causes this to happen.
If you are normally an alert and sharp person, witty and intelligent, it’s frustrating to go through a fibro fog. You know you should remember where you put your keys or the name of your coworker’s daughter. People aren’t responding to you the way they used to because you’re not acting like yourself anymore. You are still you, but your disease is affecting your brain.
Fibromyalgia and Mood Disorders
Another way that FM can impact your personality is through mental health issues. It is not uncommon for someone with fibromyalgia to also have the symptoms of mood disorders, specifically depression and anxiety disorder. The symptoms can be severe and if you have experienced one of these mood disorders, you know it turns you into someone different.
When you feel anxious, you are constantly on alert. You are afraid to do certain things or go out into the world and social situations. When you’re depressed, you have no energy and no drive to do anything. You just want to hide under the covers and stay away from other people. In this way, FM can change your personality from active and brave to nervous and hesitant. It can change you from sociable and outgoing to withdrawn and sad.
What You Can Do About It
You don’t have to take these troubling personality changes lying down. There may be no cure for fibromyalgia, but there are effective treatments. To minimize the effects of the disease on your personality, work with your doctor and any specialists on your team to come up with a treatment plan that makes you feel better. And then stick with it.
Remember that this is a chronic disease. Just because you start to feel a little better doesn’t mean you can give up your treatments. That will only make the disease rear its ugly head again. Be sure to include more than just medication in your treatment plan. Lifestyle changes can help. Try exercising and getting more sleep. Reduce stress with relaxation strategies and stick to a healthy diet.
Seeing your personality change as your body throbs with pain is one of the biggest frustrations of having fibromyalgia. You want to be you, both for yourself and your loved ones, but the disease is fighting you. Learn more about your illness, work with your medical team, and look for treatments that work. There is hope that you can control and turn your symptoms around.