After battling 12+ years of an eating disorder, in late 2016, my body was at the point of functioning normally. I was finally feeling confident in my healthy body. I was happier than ever and had a truly healthy relationship with my body and with food.
That confidence and surge in self-esteem was short-lived, however. Later that year, I was faced with a new illness, a battle that wreaked havoc on my body – and no doctor was able to diagnose what was going on. I got what felt like millions of diagnostic tests, gave my body weight in blood draws, and even spent time in the hospital, where I got more testing done. Not one test came back abnormally. Meanwhile, I was experiencing very real symptoms of muscle pain, headaches, Gastro Intestinal upset, extreme fatigue, and more.
Because I couldn’t get a diagnosis, the doctors I saw didn’t have any treatment recommendations to decrease the severity of the symptoms. Of course, they all wanted to know my medical history. So I knew it was necessary to tell them about my eating disorder history – but I was very hesitant to do so.
There are many doctors that will hear the words “eating disorder” and attribute all of the symptoms to that. This happened to me a few times, and it made me aggravated to no end – I was recovered at this point, and I was very adamant that the eating disorder was not the issue.
After various procedures (including gallbladder removal surgery) and appointments with specialists, I was eventually referred to a rheumatologist, who diagnosed me with fibromyalgia. This illness, characterized by the symptoms listed above, is what is referred to as an invisible illness. This means that the symptoms are not detectable with any sort of testing.
Fibro is diagnosed by process of elimination, ruling out illnesses instead of matching the symptoms with diagnostic criteria. Having an invisible illness is very difficult, and since the symptoms are not visible, there are people out there who believe that it is “all in your head” or that you are “faking it.”
Fibro also interferes with my mental health. Episodes of depression are a common occurrence, and they can hit me out of nowhere. I also experience “brain fog,” which makes me forgetful and makes it hard to concentrate. This brain fog can lead to embarrassment sometimes, like when I am speaking to someone and I lose my train of thought, or blank out on a common word.
My energy level and motivation also fluctuates, and I often get so tired during the day that I can’t keep my eyes open and need to take a nap. It’s really frustrating to deal with all of this because it is such an unpredictable condition. I have learned what methods I can use that help me get through the tougher times.
A lot of it is about acceptance – the reality is that these symptoms will occur, and that there is no option except to power through and deal with them.
I find it interesting to compare this to an eating disorder. Acceptance is important in eating disorder recovery as well – when we choose recovery, we choose to fight the behaviors head-on. Accepting that the behaviors will not vanish overnight is very difficult and essential to the recovery process. I think about the paradox of the way I rearranged everything in my life to accommodate the eating disorder, and in recovery, I had to rearrange my life once again to kick the eating disorder to the curb.
There is currently no cure for fibromyalgia, but there are treatments to help reduce the symptoms. Exercise has been proven to be very effective. Recent health issues have greatly impacted my ability to exercise and live my daily life (more on that in my next guest post), but I am practicing acceptance of my current situation. It is also important for me to remember that these hard times won’t last forever. My perseverance and strength, however, are things that will.
Alison is a passionate advocate for mental health awareness and recovery. She graduated from Salem State University in 2015 with a bachelor's in psychology, and returns to the school annually to speak about eating disorders and share her recovery story. Learn more about Alison on our Blog Squad page.