Perspectives: How to Get a Job – Advice from Someone Actually in Human Resources

Howdy y’all! I’ve been in my current position as a Human Resources intern at a large, multinational software company for about two months now. While that may not seem like a very long time, I have learned a ton of tips and tricks, ins and outs, of the industry during my time there. Unemployment being what it is in the current economy (getting better, but still higher than everyone would like to see), I’d like to share some of my new knowledge with you in order to help you in your job search.

Hahaha too true

(courtesy of pinterest, themetapicture.com)

Here we go.

6. How to write a resume recruiters want to read

I work specifically for the recruiting portion of HR at my company, and due to a new hiring push from upper management, we go through an extremely high volume of resumes every day. They are not all the polished, professional products we would like to see from people applying for software development, finance, and managerial positions. Some of them are downright awful. Here are a few tips on writing a resume that doesn’t make the recruiter cringe:

  • Use your full name, first and last, at the top of the page. You may be surprised by the amount of people who give only a first name and a last initial when submitting a resume to Careerbuilder.com or Monster.com. When I am going through these websites to pull resumes for my recruiters to look at, it’s off-putting to not have a last name on the page.
  • Don’t use a cover page. Your resume is not an APA formatted paper, and does not need a cover page. Simply put your name, phone number, and email (and address, if you so wish) at the top of the page, then begin listing your experience. Also, your resume should not be 20 pages long. This isn’t a contest of who has done the most stuff – we just want to know if you can do one specific job.
  • Use only one or two fonts. If every line of your resume is in a different font, the whole document looks incredibly childish and unorganized. Great fonts for resumes are Arial, Times New Roman, Georgia, and Calibri. These, of course, aren’t your only choices, but keep in mind that you want the hiring manager to look at what you’ve accomplished, not how it’s written.
  • Don’t put weird graphics in the background of your resume. Unless you are an artist of some sort, the only picture on your resume should be a small one of your face, tucked in a corner, and even that is optional.
  • Please don’t put your social security number or birth date on your resume. We’ve had people do this, and it is… a security issue. Why anyone would willingly give out his social security number without prompting is beyond me, but please think about this: do you really know who you’re sending your resume to?

With these things in mind, here are some online resources to help write a good resume. Just remember, if you use a template, please fill out all the information – don’t leave blank spots from the template hanging in there. Then we know you used a template and that you don’t know how to write a resume. It’s fine to get help, just, please fill in the template correctly.

http://www.instantresumetemplates.com/

http://resumizer.com/free_resume_templates.htm

Resume Samples By Profession

5. How to ace those aptitude tests

Many companies now screen applicants using aptitude and personality tests. Our company does, and it is surprising (having taken these tests myself) how many people do not pass. Often, these assessments are timed, which can make some people nervous (I am a sufferer of test anxiety myself, so believe me, I understand), but there is no need to worry. Here are my tips for these tests:

  • Call the HR department to ask if it’s alright to use a calculator. Seriously. Our assessment is online, and states that you can’t use a calculator or scratch paper, but our company allows it (the test is through a third party, so the rules differ). Give yourself every advantage you can; I promise, the people in HR don’t mind letting you know their rules for the test.
  • Make sure that your computer is running smoothly. Most companies will be pretty forgiving if your internet crashes while you’re taking their test, but it’s still better to be prepared than have to sheepishly call afterward and ask for a redo. It saves time for everyone.
  • Give yourself a quiet, distraction-free space to work. Whether this is at home, the library, or at a park, make sure you can concentrate on the assessment. Nothing is going to mess up your score more than having to stop in the middle to do something else.
  • Brush up on your math and verbal skills. Many of these tests include a math and/or verbal portion, which harken back to ye olde SAT. If it’s been a really long time since you’ve done anything of the sort, (and hasn’t it for so many of us?) be sure to brush up on these skills before taking the test. Often, the link to the test will be good for a couple of days, or can be resent if you ask, so take the extra time to, well, study. You don’t want to miss an opportunity just because you haven’t taken algebra in 15 years; it’s not fair to anyone. Here is a free SAT practice test to use: http://sat.collegeboard.org/practice/sat-practice-test

I can’t guarantee that these tips will get you an A on every test, but I hope they help. As for personality tests – consistency and honesty is key. We really do want to know how you’ll fit in at the company and for which role. We want you to be happy at your job when you get it, and that’s why we give those tests – not just to bum you out. Promise.

4. Phone interviews

A large portion of my day is spent scheduling phone interviews for my recruiters. I don’t have too many problems in this area, and most people are great about making themselves available for interviews. I just have a few tips:

  • Know what time zone the company you’re interviewing with is in. I work in Arizona, which is Mountain Standard Time, all year round. This means we match up with Pacific Daylight Savings Time in the summer, because we don’t do daylight savings time. I know, it’s weird. But what’s weirder is the amount of interstate candidates I have who don’t know where our US headquarters are (we only have one site in the US). So when I ask for availabilities, and I get a list of times without time zones, I have to assume you mean your time zone, but… come on. Did you even look at our website when you applied?
  • Make sure you’re somewhere with reception, or a land line. I have had to reschedule several interviews due to bad reception, and it’s a waste of everyone’s time. Be prepared.
  • Practice. Just like an in-person interview, phone interviews ask certain questions: “Why did you leave your last job?”  “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”  “Why X company, instead of others?” Think about your answers to these questions before the interview. If you tend to get nervous on the phone (like I do), have some note cards written out with cues and answers. Give yourself the advantage.
  • Have questions for the interviewer. There is always time at the end of the interview when the recruiter asks, “Do you have any questions for me?” Your answer should be “yes,” followed by intelligent, well-thought-out questions. Some of the best examples are below:

#Interview tips

(courtesy of pinterest)

3. In-person interviews

In-person interviews, much like phone interviews, are all about making impressions. I find them more natural and relaxed than phone interviews, but that’s probably due to my phobia of talking on the phone. I haven’t personally witnessed any candidates coming into their interviews ill-prepared or shabby looking, but I’d like to warn against it anyway. You are trying to let the recruiter know not only that you are fit for the job, but that you want it. Please dress like it.

Here is an infographic about how to prepare for your interview. Good luck!

My girlfriend sent me these before an interview and now I scored my first job at Starbucks. Hope it can help someone else. - Imgur

(courtesy of pinterest)

2. Taking rejection gracefully

Nothing makes my day better than a strongly worded email letting me know what a horrible person I am for not giving so-and-so a job. I’ve been accused of agism, racism, being generally stupid and mean, and honestly, it just makes me laugh.

Yes, part of my job is sending out rejection emails to applicants who didn’t make the cut for whatever reason. It’s not particularly fun, but guess what? I don’t know anything beyond your first and last name, and what position you applied for. It would be pretty difficult to be prejudiced against someone who I knew nothing about. Unless I really hated people named Tom, or something (I don’t). Also, yes, while I have access to more information about applicants, it would take extra work for me to look at it and decide to find in there some reason to discriminate against you. Beyond not wanting to be discriminatory, I also just don’t want to do any extra work, so I promise I’m not violating any EEO statutes.

This goes for everyone in HR I’ve ever met, in this company or others. People who work in Human Resources tend to like, well, humans and take things like confidentiality and fairness very seriously. And again, we are already busy, so we aren’t going to put in extra effort into being prejudiced when there’s so many other, useful things to do.

Finally, I’d like to add this note: the company I work for now actually has the decency to write rejection notices and send them out – we make sure that no one waits more than a week to find out whether they’re getting an interview or not. The times that I have been job hunting, getting any communication from a potential employer, positive or not, was rarer than gold, so please appreciate the time we take to do this. And remember, it isn’t fun for either of us.

1. Please don’t connect with me on LinkedIn

This may sound cold, but it really weirds me out when applicants do this. Every week, I send assessment reminders to applicants who haven’t taken our test yet, and my email signature goes out with this. Several times people have used this to find my profile on LinkedIn and asked to connect with me.

My answer will always be “no,” and I’ll tell you why.

You, the applicant, have not even assessed yet. If you pass, you will get a phone interview, then an in-person interview, and maybe even a job. But at any point in that process, you may get rejected, for any number of reasons. It may be as simple as having you wait until a different role opens up, or it may be that you didn’t pass the assessment. Either way, guess who has to send you a rejection email?

That’s right. Me.

I don’t want to have to do that if I have some more personal connection with you, and that is why I will not connect with you on LinkedIn. I also don’t want you to think that connecting with me will give you any sort of advantage over other applicants, because my recruiters don’t have anything to do with my LinkedIn account, and they are the ones who are really in charge – not me.

I’m not saying I don’t like networking or meeting new people. I’m just saying, until you actually get the job, let’s keep this strictly professional.

(courtesy of pinterest, someecards)

Okay. Not entirely.

 

5 Times I Realized I’m Turning Into My Mom (And Why It’s Not So Bad)

My parents and I buying my first and only car, April, 2005. I think I look much more like my dad here.

My parents and I buying my first and only car, April, 2005. I think I look much more like my dad here.

My family at my wedding. I believe I look much more like my mother now. July, 2011.

My family at my wedding. I believe I look much more like my mother now. July, 2011.

As a younger kid, before puberty especially, I greatly resembled my father in nearly every way. Except that I was, you know, a girl. Obnoxious red hair, freckles, and a strong sense of sarcasm caused all my older relatives to comment how I was just like a little copy of my dad, but female.

And I could not have been more proud. As a kid (and to this day), I hero-worshipped my father. He had fought in the Viet Nam War, he worked grueling hours as a cement mason, and inspired my love of reading and learning. So when people told me I was like him, well, that was just fine with me.

I was something of a tomboy as a kid; my favorite activities were bike riding, running around the neighborhood barefoot all summer, climbing trees, and playing pick-up games of baseball. I also got into more than a young lady’s fair share of fights (according to my parents), but I swear every single one of those kids (boys and girls) had it comin’. They had insulted my hair, my freckles, my pale skin, you name it; and I wouldn’t stand for it.

No two ways about it – I was my father’s daughter.

As I grew older, I hit puberty, and things started changing. And not just the normal stuff. Puberty was when the pain started.

The first time I got a cramp, I was in so much pain that my parents thought I might have appendicitis, but it eventually passed. I suffered “growing pains,” mood swings, falling out with friends, and eventually depression.

#5. My voice is just like hers (and hers is just like her mother’s)

Me trying to get close to my husband. May 2001.

Me trying to get close to my husband. May 2001.

When I was 13, after we had moved from Missouri to Arizona, I learned all about the wonders of monsoons. In Missouri, if it hadn’t rained in a week, we may as well have been in a drought, but Arizona is, naturally, a different story. It is dry throughout most of the year, but for a month or two in mid-late summer, we just about wash away. (Fun fact: this is the only time of year you can find umbrellas in stores.)

This time of the year is called monsoon, and most of us await it with bated breath, because the moisture is so desperately needed. However, since all 9″-20″ of yearly rainfall happen in a matter of soggy afternoons/nights, power outages can be a problem during the bigger storms.

After one such power outage, I was helping my parents return all the digital clocks in the house back to the correct time, when I came around to the phone. Even though it was 2001, we only had one phone, and it hung on the wall in the kitchen, and had one of those nifty answering machines (not voicemail) whose message had to be rerecorded every single time the power went out. Being the only person in the house with the technological prowess to do so (read: the only person in the house who didn’t remember rotary dial phones), I recorded a short message and reset the time, and went about my business.

The next time a relative called the house and got the machine, the message played back, “Oh Wanda, I love the new message you put on here! Anyway, call me back, blah blah blah…”

I was mortified. At thirteen, I could imagine no worse fate than becoming my mother, and now I, apparently, sounded just like her! It was a disaster!

She tried to comfort me with stories about how my grandmother used to answer the phone and talk to my mom’s boyfriends when she was in high school (Nana and my mom sounding so alike that the boys never knew the difference), but really that just sounded like more of a threat.

This was the first time I realized that there might be a bit more of my mom in me than I ever thought before.

#4. I Needed Glasses

By the tenth grade, I was an avid reader of anything I could get my hands on, fascinated by this new “internet” thing, and defiantly sitting as close to the television as I could get away with while watching MTV and VH1. I had made in with a close-knit group of friends, guys and girls, and we spent many an evening spread across the floor of my living room, TV blaring in the background, noses crammed in books to study for our Advanced Placement classes.

And boy did I ever have a crush on one of my guy friends. He was, like, totally cute, and funny, and dorky, and perfect to my 14-year-old self. My parents didn’t like him very much either (they thought he was weird), which really just made the pot that much sweeter. So I had him over to study, along with my other friends, too, of course, as much as possible. And I sat by him in as many of our shared classes as I could.

It was in one of these classes, and due to my ridiculous crush (as well as the deep-seated, but incomprehensible, need to try on someone else’s new eyewear) that I found out I needed glasses. My crush had been suffering from headaches for a while, and it turned out his vision was in need of correction. He walked into AP World History looking like a modern-day Buddy Holly (which is what I’m into, I guess?) and I immediately fell in love with his glasses. And so I ripped them right off his gorgeous face and tried them on, because that makes any sense.

Right away, I noticed something was different. I asked my teacher;

“Has that map always had political boundaries?” The map in question spanned an entire wall of our classroom and was, in fact, a geoPOLITICAL map of the modern world (as of 2002). I never before had seen the lines denoting countries, or the bold-faced type screaming CHINA on the wall nearest my seat.

“I think I might need glasses.”

My father had perfect vision up until age 27, when an accident at a construction site nearly cost him his life. His face was literally crushed when a box of welding rod fell onto his head from about 30 feet up, and only his metal hardhat (which he had refused to switch out for the new, improved plastic ones) saved him. Every bone in his face was shattered; he lost nearly all of his front teeth; he underwent extensive plastic surgery, but still suffers from nerve damage, and damage to his eyesight.

My mom, however, has worn glasses since elementary school. When I found out I needed glasses, I supposed I was lucky enough to inherit enough of my dad’s genes that I had made it to tenth grade before needing them. Sort of like meeting in the middle.

Andrew and I rocking our glasses at the bowling alley.

Andrew and I rocking our glasses at the bowling alley.

When I came home with my revelation, there was a flurry of activity: an eye appointment, picking out frames, deciding between glasses and contacts (I opted for just glasses at the time, but within 8 months went back to get contacts). Eventually, after two long weeks of waiting and constantly borrowing my crushes glasses, now just to read the vocabulary words (mostly – it turned out we had very similar prescriptions), I got my first pair of glasses. And my second dose of “how to be like mom.”

#3. Dysmennorhea (A Long Word for Extra Sucky Periods)

My first memory of anything puberty-related is my excruciating first cramp, in a motel in Oklahoma during spring break when I was ten. I was in so much pain, my parents were nearly convinced I had appendicitis, only that the appendix is on the other side of the body. After what seemed like hours (surely it was only minutes), the pain subsided, and we all settled in to watch television while the car was getting repaired. If I remember correctly, it was the timing belt that had broken on our way back from our vacation to San Antonio, Texas.

In any case, the cramp was promptly forgotten and we all went back to life as normal. I graduated from 5th grade at the end of May, and I began middle school in the fall. Eight months after the initial harbinger of menstrual doom, and 1 month 2 days before my 11th birthday, I started my first period, and blossomed into a woman. Or whatever.

The first few years of menstruation were like what I imagine most young girls’ to be; irregular, sometimes painful, and generally just obnoxious as you discover all these new hormones and urges.

By the time I got to high school, my periods were still wildly irregular, while most of my friends’ had evened out. Mine were also ludicrously heavy, and the cramps I experienced, all the way throughout my cycle, were nothing to scoff at. Every time I complained, which, as a teenager, was loudly and often, my mom would sigh and say, “Why’d you have to be so much like me?”

Eventually, my doctor had to put me on oral contraceptives just to control all these symptoms, though I’ll tell you; word gets around in a small town, and when you have a steady boyfriend… People talked. I mostly was too relieved at the lack of cramps, the lighter, predictable periods to care, but I remember being at least a little bothered by the implications. Particularly because these were my same classmates who had witnessed me get carried out of the classroom, on numerous occasions, whimpering in pain. I suppose that’s how teenagers function, though, and, I cannot stress this enough, I was so happy to be free of pain, I didn’t give much of a damn what anyone said about me.

Later, I would attempt to go off oral contraceptives, and get a Mirena (R) IUD instead, but after a year of heavy, irregular, and painful periods, I was forced to go back onto oral contraceptives as well. At least now, they’re free. Thanks, Obama!

#2. The Big F…M: Fibromyalgia

If you’ve read my other articles, you’ll know that by the time I made it to college, I was beginning to suffer from fibromyalgia. At first, widespread pain, as is touted as the most common and pervasive symptom in all the Lyrica (R) commercials, did not plague me. I was merely tired… all the time. In my first two years of college, I spent the majority of my time, including class time, napping.

And no matter how much I slept, I never felt rested.

In my third year, other symptoms began to make themselves known; acid reflux and back pain. Still, my overarching complaint to doctors was of being bone-tired all the time, and never seeming to be able to get enough sleep (even if I was getting 12-14 hours a night… Or more!).

Around this time, my mom was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which she had suspected for years; but, as research on the condition was not as extensive then as it is nowadays, she had never been given a real diagnosis. She was prescribed Lyrica (R), and started to feel much better. I was really happy for her, because it seemed that finally a doctor had truly listened to her.

I never realized that I was about to go through the same thing.

Being of a scientific mind, I began to see various specialists to try to rule out causes for my exhaustion. The first on the list was an allergist, as I have always suffered from nasal allergies, and thought perhaps I wasn’t getting enough oxygen – surely that could cause me to be tired all the time. While I was, in fact, allergic to just about everything in the scratch test, the doctor didn’t believe my allergy symptoms were causing my tiredness.

Then I tried my college’s Campus Health. They sent me to a sports doctor, who sent me a couselor, who sent me to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist was the one who finally diagnosed me with fibromyalgia, and when he started talking about treatment I mentioned that my mother was on Lyrica (R) for FM.

“Oh, well, what dosage does she take? We’ll start you on that.”

My dad came to visit just before I got diagnosed. October, 2008.

My dad came to visit just before I got diagnosed. October, 2008.

#1. My Newest Addition: Neuropathy

Obviously, my mom was pretty heartbroken that I turned out to have so much in common with her. In the past two or three years, doctors have discovered that I also have nodules on my thyroid; due to my family history (my mom, her parents, and all her siblings have thyroid problems), I’ve something in the realm of 6 ultra sounds and 2 biopsies on the nodules, as well as trimonthly blood tests to make sure I’m not developing thyroid disease, or worse, cancer.

My mom and I even tend to experience FM flare ups at the same time. Part of this is a function of living in similar geographical areas (we each live in different parts of Arizona), and being sensitive to the same weather patterns. Right now, we are both in considerable pain from the monsoon season starting. The constant flux of barometric pressure seems to play hell with the muscles and joints, and we have even had stomach trouble. On the plus side, it’s always nice to have someone to commiserate with, and my mom is always just a phone call away.

When I visited my parents recently for the Fourth of July holiday weekend, i made note to complain to my mom that I had begun experiencing neuropathy in my feet. She has been experiencing the tingly, pins-and-needles pain in her feet for years now, and I often wondered how she could even walk! Now I know… You do what you have to.

“I demand a refund on these genes!” I told her, joking, as I explained how any prolonged pressure on my feet (from standing, being pressed against the floor when I sit, or against the wall of my too-small bathtub) causes tingling numbness in my extremities.

“Honey, if I could take away your pain by claiming you were adopted, I’d sign you away, trust me,”my mom replied.

I thought about this, and how my mother was completely serious. Because she is exactly that – she is my mother. I know she would do anything for me. I’d do anything for her, too. Which, yeah, I may have inherited a host of health problems from my mom, but I’ve also got her kindness, her indomitable strength, and on a good day, even her patience (I’m still more like my dad in that regard).

So, no, I wouldn’t give her up. She’s a keeper.

“Meh, then who would I have to blame all my problems on?”

My mom and I at her father's Celebration of Life. 18 months after diagnosis, May 2010.

My mom and I at her father’s Celebration of Life. 18 months after diagnosis, May 2010.

Recipe of the Month: July

Quinoa Spaghetti

I have been feeling pretty down lately (very low on spoons and in a lot of pain), and Andrew was smart enough to attribute at least some of this to our recent diet. We visited our parents for the Fourth of July weekend, which meant lots of junk food, lots of grease, and lots of red meat.
This falling off the wagon, along with the change in weather (monsoon season is here in Arizona) has been really hard on my body, so Andrew suggested changing the one thing we can control: our food.
I turned to Pinterest to find an easy vegetarian meal to make for Sunday dinner, and came across this.

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I immediately wanted to try it for a few reasons:
1) It’s a one pot meal. The fewer dishes I have to do afterward, the more I can enjoy cooking.
2) I love Italian food. 4 srsly. It’s my fave.
3) Taylor had already tried and approved of the recipe. She is my go-to foodie, so a recommendation from her is the same as my own stamp of approval.

So, I set out everything I needed to make the dish, except for the things I needed to grab at the grocery store – garlic and vegetable broth. Since I needed to go shopping anyway, I got to thinking… Did I need to use spaghetti? Could I use something else? Many of my friends really like, and some prefer the taste of quinoa over pasta.
I had eaten quinoa a few times before, but never cooked it before, so I got a few tips from a friend who is gluten-free and a great cook. She suggested using a risotto method for the quinoa, toasting the grain before adding the liquid. I love the way this tastes in pasta and rice, so I decided this would be how I did this dish.

Sunday afternoon, after going to pick up groceries, here is how I made my Quinoa Spaghetti.

1 16 oz. can diced tomatoes with jalepeños (chiles optional- being in the Southwest, we do love our spicy)
4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 large white or yellow onion, cut in strips
2 cups white quinoa
2 cups vegetable broth (I use low sodium, but that’s up to you)
2 – 2 1/2 cups water
Basil
Italian spice
Black pepper
Salt
1 tbsp. butter or margarine
1 tbsp. olive oil

Put large sauce pan on stove at med-high heat. Coat the bottom of a large sauce pan with the butter/margarine. When it is melted, add the olive oil (for flavor). When it has spread around the bottom of the pan, add the quinoa, and toast the grain until it begins to get golden brown and smell, well, toasty.
Add the vegetable broth, water, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and spices. Let come to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and cover. Let simmer until quinoa is fully cooked. It will become translucent, with a small ring around the outside edge, and over double in size.
The quinoa should absorb all the liquid, but if now, simply uncover, and increase heat slightly until excess liquid boils off.
Buon appetito!

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5 Reasons I Don’t Want Kids (Yet)

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Lately, I have read several articles about why we should stop asking women the question, “So when are you going to have kids?” Among these are: she and her partner may be trying, but having difficulties; she and her partner do not want children (now or ever); or she may be focusing on other life goals before becoming a mother.
For many people, asking when a woman will have children is a form of small talk (as discussed in Chris Bucholz’s article, 4 Personal Questions People Seem to Think are Small Talk) but this particular question has been a source of frustration, and sometimes even rage, for me, for several years. Only 6 months after my wedding I began receiving emails from TheBump.com (sister-site to TheKnot.com, which I used to help plan my wedding), and was fairly offended, as apparently this website had assumed a shot-gun wedding? At the very least they seemed to be saying, “You’re married now, so it’s time to fulfill your one duty as a woman and pop out some kiddos!”

They very clearly do not know me.

It’s coming close to my three year wedding anniversary, and many people are wondering when Andrew and I are going to start our family. I don’t fully understand their question, because to me, the two of us, and our super-spoiled dog, Murphy, are a family. I’ve never seen a need for children in order to make a family a family, and I think it’s an extremely personal choice that should be left to myself and my husband.
Because I’ve been reading so many articles that validate my own opinions, and in light of the most recent Supreme Court decision, I’d like to present the five top reasons why I don’t want kids (yet).

(more…)

Why I Roar

I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
So I sat quietly, agreed politely
I guess that I forgot I had a choice
I let you push me past the breaking point
I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything

You held me down, but I got up (HEY!)
Already brushing off the dust
You hear my voice, you hear that sound
Like thunder gonna shake the ground
You held me down, but I got up (HEY!)
Get ready ’cause I’ve had enough
I see it all, I see it now

I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire
‘Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
Louder, louder than a lion
‘Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You’re gonna hear me roar

Now I’m floating like a butterfly
Stinging like a bee I earned my stripes
I went from zero, to my own hero

You held me down, but I got up (HEY!)
Already brushing off the dust
You hear my voice, you hear that sound
Like thunder gonna shake the ground
You held me down, but I got up (HEY!)
Get ready ’cause I’ve had enough
I see it all, I see it now

I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire
‘Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
Louder, louder than a lion
‘Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You’re gonna hear me roar
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You’ll hear me roar
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You’re gonna hear me roar…

Ro-oar, ro-oar, ro-oar, ro-oar, ro-oar

I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire
‘Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
Louder, louder than a lion
‘Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You’re gonna hear me roar
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You’ll hear me roar
Oh oh oh oh oh oh
You’re gonna hear me roar…

 

This might seem a bit atypical compared to my usual post style, but bear with me. If you don’t like the song I’ve posted above, that’s fine – I understand differing musical tastes. I currently have headphones in so my husband doesn’t have to listen to this; he’s an Irish punk/heavy metal kind of guy.

What I want to focus on here is not the music itself, but the lyrics of this song, and why, when I’m at my lowest, they give me hope that I can (if not overcome) live a full and happy life with fibromyalgia.

I realize that this song is actually about a break-up with an overbearing boyfriend, and a woman coming into her own – which is a great message. For me though, the poetic you referred to in the lyrics doesn’t refer to a past love, or any person in particular, but fibromyalgia. This disease, throughout the large majority of my life has been trying to keep me down, and I now know that I refuse to let it. I went from zero to my own hero.

But it didn’t start out that way.

For the first several years that I suffered from FM, I did seek help from doctors at a fairly regular rate, but with no success. I thought that because I was just “some dumb teenager,” I didn’t have any right to argue with a medical professional. I know better now – if what the doctor is saying doesn’t feel right to me, I have every right in the world to make a fuss until I get the answers that make sense. Until I get a solution that works. I do not have to meekly accept the brush off from someone who says that it’s all in my head. Who thinks it’s a phase. Who thinks I’m just depressed. I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath, Scared to rock the boat and make a mess. So I sat quietly, agreed politely.

And even after I was diagnosed, I didn’t seem to understand how severe my FM was. I thought that a few pills would completely cure me. I was wrong, so wrong. And I let that fact, that I was sicker than even I had imagined, get me down. I felt like I couldn’t participate in any part of normal life. This hit me as an extreme personal failure. “Why couldn’t I be easily medicated? What was so wrong with me that nothing seemed to make my body and mind work the way they did in high school?”

With so little back up from doctors for so many years, I really began to believe that maybe there was something wrong in my head. Perhaps it was all just psychosomatic. I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything.

After graduating from college, some of the stress in my life was gone, and I felt a renewed zest for life. Maybe now that I was free from the shackles of higher education, the pressure of grades and homework, I could focus on my mental and physical health.

I certainly had the time on my hands. As I graduated in May of 2010, not long after the big recession got into full swing in America, I had a hell of a time finding a job. As a child of the ’80s/’90s, I had always been assured that if I went to college, graduated with a “useful” degree (I would classify my Microbiology Bachelors as such, though perhaps not my Linguistics Bachelors, since I’m not actually fluent in another language), a well-paying job would be waiting for me when I graduated. How quickly was that illusion shattered when I found myself rejected from every single job I applied to, for one of two reasons: not enough experience (I need experience for an entry level job?), or having a degree made me overqualified. In any case, eight long months dragged on before I got a job, and I had fallen into quite the depression.

I secretly suspected that all the hiring managers knew how sick I was with fibromyalgia and didn’t want to hire a sick/crazy person.

When I finally got a job, it was a wonderful position that was pretty much in my field (extracting plasmid DNA from E. coli is microbiology, right?) and I loved the people I worked with. The lab was doing great things in the world, and I was very happy to be a part of it for the short time I was there.

My next lab position I found within two months of being let go, and the experience at Bio5 really helped me out with getting a new job. I even started making more money. This job, however, was not in my field at all, really. I had never worked with animals, particularly mice, a day in my life, but after a couple of months of seriously in-depth, hand-on training, I felt ready to tackle all the animal research life could possibly throw at me.

Eighteen months later, my husband and I adopted our dog, Murphy. He’s the light of our lives, though he does bark a lot. He’s incredibly intelligent, friendly, and lovable. And this is when my mind, cruel beast that it is, decided that I couldn’t be allowed to work with animals anymore.

I began to dream, every night, that I was performing the same experiments on Murphy as I would on the mice at work. Waking up in a cold sweat, tears streaming down my face, I would push the nightmares away, and dutifully get ready for work (often late, but I was exhausted from restless, nightmare-fraught sleep). By the time I got to the building, I would be in tears again, shaking, nauseous and hyperventilating at the very thought of having to go inside. I missed a lot of work those last three months before I finally quit. I let my fibromyalgia, my depression, my anxiety, and my fears get the best of me.
I let you push me past the breaking point

The day I quit, I emailed my boss from my phone while I sat in a bath of rapidly cooling water, debating whether it was even possible to drown myself. After I sent in my resignation, I texted my husband, and let him know that I had quit, apologizing for being the scummiest person on the planet. Apologizing for letting him marry me when I knew I was worthless.

Then came the self-harm; opening up old scar tissue so people wouldn’t notice the marks. I didn’t feel any better after. Lying on my bed with a razor that day was probably the darkest I’ve felt since I was in high school and struggling with major depression.

I don’t really know how I got through the rest of that day. It was a bit of a blur, talking to my parents, who reassured me that I had to do what was right for me; texting my best friend who said basically the same thing, but I should have given two weeks’ notice, and what will I do now?; begging my husband to forgive me (fun fact: he was never mad).

After a couple of weeks, months, of soul-searching (and honestly, I’d thought about it before), I decided to go back to school. Now I’m getting my Masters in Education, and I can’t wait to be an inspiration to other people, encouraging curiosity, critical thinking skills, and a love of science. I really feel like me again. And I wish that I knew more about how I got here, but mostly, it’s just been a hell of a ride. You hear my voice, you hear that sound? Like thunder, gonna shake the ground

Nowadays, when I’m not feeling so hot, or my new job is stressing me out (turns out I’m not fitting in with the corporate structure of the company, but I try to keep my opinions to myself), I think about how I am going to treat every moment as a challenge-whether I win or lose, I’ll know that I gave it everything I had and feel proud. I’ve got the eye of the tiger.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts please call 1-800-273-8255 immediately or visit http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

If you feel that you want to self harm, please call 877-995-5247 or visit https://safehelpline.org/effects-of-sexual-assault/self-harm-injury

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Healthy Eating, Exercise and Chronic Illness

Last week, my friend, Taylor Hamp published an article about running her first 5K, encouraging others of all fitness levels to do the same. Beyond proud of her wonderful and interesting writing, I was also impressed by her, as we call it in the educational field, differentiated instruction. She provided resources for everyone from fitness gurus to casual gym-goers to even couch potatoes to train for their first 5K run.
As someone with fibromyalgia, this was (mostly) uplifting, as many fitness article trends seem to be about making yourself work out until you puke. Which frankly, is not healthy for anyone, but especially for those with chronic pain. Fitspiration posts such as this or this can be very discouraging when even your doctor has forbidden you from certain exercises. Or when it takes all of your spoons to just get out of bed in the morning.
So, as I stated, I was very excited to read a fitness article that did not advocate this kind of overzealous workout, but because I carry much of my pain in my joints, I told Taylor I would never be able to run a 5K, though walking or bicycling would be doable. (I actually used to bike around 5K, or 3.1 miles to work everyday before we bought our home on the opposite end of town from my workplace.) She, naturally, encouraged this immensely, as exercise in any form is wonderful for the body, the mind, and the spirit.
I, when I feel well enough to exercise, agree completely. I am also very lucky in that my husband and I were able to buy a house at a great price during the depressed market, and we have both an extra room (see picture above) that we have converted into a home gym and a swimming pool.
Our home gym features a dual trainer (an elliptical/stationary bicycle), a weight bench, free weights, and a yoga mat. These are all low impact exercises, as is swimming, that do not put extra stress on my joints when I work out.

Reducing stress (on my joints, muscles, and on my system as a whole) is a huge part of my treatment regimen and lifestyle. In the past few months, I realized, along with my husband, that we were creating additional stress on our bodies by eating poorly. Our diet, no less than three months ago, consisted mainly of take-out Chinese, McDonald’s, and pizza. Beyond not giving my body the nutrition it needs to stay healthy (for varying definitions of healthy), I had also hit my highest weight ever. I am only 5’3″ (160cm), but I saw the scale practically screaming 200 at me every time I stepped on. Aside from damaging my fragile self-esteem, I knew that the extra weight was making my joints ache more and my body get tired more easily than before. Something had to change.
For the first month, Andrew and I set our diet up as a challenge; we would not eat out at a restaurant, pick up food from a restaurant, or order delivery from a restaurant for 4 weeks. I was worried about the prospect of cooking at home every day, as I am not very fond of cooking, and I generally find myself lacking the energy to do it. Despite this, with the hubby’s help, those first four weeks flew by. We celebrated by eating out, but we didn’t seem to crave it the way we used to.
For the second month, I began to enter calories on an app Taylor recommended to me called LoseIt! I encouraged my husband to do so as well and we are now going strong in the third month of our diet. I’m down to 186 lbs! Most importantly, I am feeling better, because I am eating better.
I now check labels on food at the grocery store, and avoid items with too many sugars for no reason (why do my canned green beans need sugar?), and items with too many preservatives (looking at you, frozen meals). Fresh fruit, vegetables, brown rice, eggs, milk, and fresh meat are big staples at our house now, and I can honestly say I rarely get a craving for restaurant food at all; when I do, we will make a home version of the meal, and it is usually even better.
One thing we avoid like the plague (obviously not clichés): aspartame. This is also known as NutriSweet, and it, along with other artificial sweeteners like Splenda and Stevia cause fibromyalgia flare ups for me. Every person is different, but if you notice yourself feeling low on spoons after drinking a diet soda, this may be the cause. Because the digestive system can be as sensitive as the rest of your body, it is important to be careful what you give it; food sensitivity, IBS, and GERD are all common symptoms of FM.

I also feel that I should mention how much confidence I have in my body now that I know I am treating it well. I may not be my ideal size, but every morning, I look in the mirror and know that I am on my way to a healthier life, and it makes me feel gorgeous.

The main message of this article, if there is any, is that no matter who you are, where you are, or what level you’re at, you can do it! It may be tough, it may be the most difficult thing you ever do; but changing to a healthy lifestyle by eating well, exercising well, and feeling good in your own body will be the best thing you ever do for yourself. So get up, and take that first step toward the ultimate goal – better health and a better life!

6 Myths About Fibromyalgia and Why They’re Just Not True

From deviantart.com by artist MidknightStarr

From deviantart.com by artist MidknightStarr

I found the following pins on Pinterest, and agreed with their message immediately. I found the myths reflecting things I’ve heard from people about fibromyalgia as well as other chronic illnesses.

#1: We all get more aches and pains as we get older.

Well, yes, but that’s not what fibromyalgia is. Fibromyalgia is generally diagnosed in women above age 18, but most of us would not agree that the “aches and pains of getting older” begins at 18. Additionally, juvenile fibromyalgia is now a recognized medical diagnosis, generally diagnosed in the early teens. This alone completely invalidates the idea that the pains of FM are caused by getting older.

Along with diagnostic age-related evidence that fibromyalgia is not related to getting older, the “aches and pains of getting older” are generally treatable with either common prescription drugs, or over-the-counter drugs, such as aspirin. FM, as it is not caused by wearing joints or sore muscles, but rather by misfiring nerves, cannot be treated with normal analgesics or anti-inflammatories alone. Many treatment regimens include anti-seizure medications, nerve inhibitors, and even narcotics for pain.

Finally, many FM sufferers, myself included, also suffer from a condition called tactile allodynia, which causes even the slightest touch, sometimes the feel of clothes touching skin, to feel like burning, aching, or being flayed alive. This is not a normal bodily response to aging. If it were, people over 50 would be legally allowed to murder anyone who touches them without express permission (yes, it does hurt that bad).

These distinctions are important for those with FM and those without to remember when talking about the condition. Speaking of important distinctions…

#2. I’m always tired too, maybe I have that!

While as adults, we often find ourselves lacking the energy we remember having as children, and as responsibilities and bills pile up, this is a normal part of growing up. Though most adults struggle with mild to moderate tiredness, the fatigue of fibromyalgia is so much deeper than this. As it is often described, this feels like the batteries have simply been taken out of you, or the sensation of being unplugged.

Also, because FM is often accompanied by depression, it can come with serious sleep disturbances. Insomnia is commonly a symptom of depression, and when this combines with the fatigue of FM, it can make for a truly miserable experience.

Just after my first year of college, I began suffering from terrible insomnia, though I wanted nothing more than to catch up on all the sleep I felt I’d missed during the semester. I also had to have my wisdom teeth removed; when I went to the dentist for surgery, I eagerly looked forward to being put under anesthesia, as it was the only sleep I would have for 3 days.

Needless to say, the exhaustion (and sometimes impossibility of sleep) of FM are worlds apart from the normal loss of energy we feel as we get older.

#3. You just need a job or a hobby to take your mind off of it.

This is a facile argument, as many FM sufferers already hold regular jobs. We also enjoy just as many varied and interesting hobbies as anyone else. I am currently working 30 hours a week as an intern in Human Resources at a worldwide healthcare IT company, I am attending an online university to obtain my Master’s degree, and I have many hobbies. I enjoy reading, writing, several TV shows, crocheting, swimming, and baking. And I am not an unusual case.

My mother, also a life-long FM sufferer, held at least part time positions for most of her adult life. (Being from another time, there was often no financial need for this, and she worked to stave off boredom.) She is an avid knitter, painter, and a wonderful cook. Though she certainly had bad days, and days when she absolutely could not go in to work, she consistently persevered; this has remained a source of inspiration to me on those days when I feel I can’t go on.

It is true, that when FM gets severe enough, sometimes jobs and hobbies fall by the wayside. The Social Security Administration recognizes FM as an authentic disability, and these benefits can be drawn in cases of severe disease in which the person afflicted cannot work. Overall, however, these cases are rare, and most people with FM respond to treatment well enough to continue to function in our jobs and lives.

#4. My doctor says that fibromyalgia isn’t a real disease.

I just want to tell you now, if your doctor is telling you that the pain is just in your head, and that fibromyalgia isn’t real – YOU NEED A NEW DOCTOR!

I dealt with this for around 3 years. I heard the following, and more from my doctors, supposed professionals, when complaining of sleeping 18-20 hours a day:

  • “It’s just in your head.”
  • “You’re a teenager. You’ll grow out of it.”
  • “It’s just a phase.”
  • “There’s nothing physically wrong with you. You’re just depressed.”

As I was on antidepressants for clinical depression and anxiety disorder that began a few years prior, many of my complaints were either brushed aside or completely ignored by doctors.

Finally, at the age of 20, a psychiatrist diagnosed me with fibromyalgia after watching me breakdown, bawling, “Everyone says I’m crazy, but I know there’s something wrong with me, and it’s not just in my head!”

Unfortunately, all too often this is the fate of the FM sufferer; to continue to suffer at the hands of (hopefully) well-meaning, but un- or under-informed doctors. And despite the abundance of medical research that now exists on the existence, diagnosis, and treatment of FM, many doctors still do not believe that this is a real disease. I must repeat myself; if this is the case – GET A NEW DOCTOR!

#5. If you get more sleep, you’ll feel better.

This seems at first glance to be perfectly reasonable. As fibromyalgia causes such extensive exhaustion, it would be logical that extra sleep would help alleviate this symptom. Unfortunately, the exhaustion is partially caused by the sufferer not hitting the correct parts of the sleep cycle.

When you sleep for 8 hours, you ostensibly hit about 5 REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, cycles. This is the deepest part of sleep, and the part which restores the body and mind to working condition. For those afflicted with FM, however, while it may (or may not) be easy to sleep for 8 or more hours a night, reaching restorative REM sleep can be impossible.

It becomes a vicious cycle when sleeping doesn’t make you feel refreshed; you feel exhausted, so you sleep, but when you wake up, you still don’t feel rested, so you decide to sleep more. Because you never reach restorative sleep, you continue to get more and more tired, despite spending, in my case, up to 20 hours a day asleep.

#6. But you don’t look sick.

We tend to get this one a lot. As FM generally doesn’t present outwardly physical symptoms, we very often don’t look stereotypically sick. But again, sometimes neither does a Stage I cancer victim – why cancer can go unnoticed until later stages.

In addition to not actually looking as sick as we feel, FM sufferers hide much of their pain behind a façade of normalcy. This can be for a number of reasons: to try to feel more normal (via the theory of fake it ‘til you make it), to not appear like a whiner (to those not afflicted with FM, the constant complaints of pain and fatigue can be tiring in and of themselves), or to just not bother anyone else. After so many years of being pushed aside or ignored by medical professionals, I felt as if I was simply bothering people or wasting time by trying to talk about my problems (because they were “all in my head”).

Comments like “you don’t look sick,” just like being ignored, can make the chronically ill feel as if his or her feelings are invalid. This is not a great way to start an honest conversation about the condition; I always clam up when it begins like that. If you start with “you don’t look sick,” I just assume you don’t want to hear how sick I really am.

 

 

Instead of the myths as described above, I’d like to encourage everyone to be more honest and accepting of those with chronic illnesses. Treat people’s stories as true, no matter how far-fetched it may seem to you, because they are personal truths. We won’t lie to make ourselves look more pathetic, we are not just looking for attention – we simply would like understanding.

Spoon Theory and Life with Chronic Illness

Soup_Spoon

“Life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” – The Princess Bride by William Goldman

This is certainly true for us all. Life has its ups and downs, its hardships that make the good times shine that much brighter. But for a person with a chronic illness, such as fibromyalgia, lupus, or chronic fatigue syndrome, life can seem much more than simply painful. Christine Miserandino describes in her article The Spoon Theory, how one with a chronic illness must make choices about simple tasks that healthy people take for granted each day (e.g. washing your hair, cooking dinner, or cleaning the house).


In case you don’t feel like reading The Spoon Theory (though you really should), here is the gist; grab a handful of spoons (at least a dozen). Begin to think about your everyday routine: getting out of bed in the morning – that’s a spoon. Showering – that’s a spoon. For the ladies – if you have to wash your hair and shave your legs – that could be one to three spoons depending on the day, medications, and how much you slept the night before. Choosing and outfit and getting dressed – another spoon. That’s a minimum of three spoons before you even get to work!

When you get home from work you may be down to only two spoons. You have been low on spoons lately and the house is filthy. You now have to decide between saving energy for later, just in case you get sick (it’s flu season), and need to work through it. You decide to cook dinner – a spoon – and eat, followed by vacuuming the living room – your very last spoon. This is what it’s like to have a chronic illness. Each and every simple task throughout the day requires serious consideration, as at the end of the day, you can’t have a deficit of spoons.

Sometimes you can borrow against the next day, but if you get into the habit of doing this, at some point, you will have no more spoons to borrow from. Just like all debt, it must be repaid at some time, and usually with interest. In the case of spoons, debt is generally repaid in long days of rest, sickness, or even hospital stays. You never want to run out of spoons.


Christine’s is a story that I have taken to heart, but for me, Spoon Theory is much more than a story, more than a way to explain my woes to healthy people; it is a skill set that I am trying to master. For the majority of my life, I have considered myself an overachiever; I was salutatorian of my high school, I got two  Bachelor degrees in university, and I have always put my all into every job that I have held. But despite my efforts to ‘overcome’ my condition, I found myself unable to reconcile the demands I had put on myself through work and school and the limits my body and mind were putting on me.

Early in my undergraduate career, I took 17 and 18 credit semesters (well over the 12 credits that are considered ‘full time’), and worked part time at the university hospital. Very soon, I found myself with only enough spoons for either class or work each day, and I found myself skipping class more often than not. My grades suffered, and as a previous straight-A student, I suffered. Eventually, I gave up my job, but it stung as a personal failure – Why couldn’t I go to school and work like so many others did successfully? Little did I understand that I had been overdrawing my spoons from the beginning by taking far too many courses at once.

I was lucky enough to never be much of a party girl, so even though I was in college I never squandered any of my precious spoons on drinking, dancing, or hangovers. After endless doctor appointments, complaining of vague symptoms with no conclusions, I also felt incredibly lucky to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia in my 4th year of college, but I still thought that with adequate medication I could function like a ‘normal’ person. I still hadn’t learned about balancing out my spoons each day and making those difficult choices about simple tasks. I was taking the gravity of my situation for granted, and I wanted to feel the way I had in high school – full of energy and ready to take on the whole world.

After college I stumbled onto a great job. The hours, workload, and coworkers were such that I continued to take my situation for granted. I was working in a fascinating laboratory job, isolating plasmid DNA from E. coli, which was right up my alley so far as my degree in Microbiology was concerned. Also, for the first time in several years, I had access to health insurance, and with regular doctor’s appointments, I was feeling better than ever. At this time, my long-time boyfriend and I got married, and I felt on top of the world.

It couldn’t last. The research team was dissolved – or at least that was the official story. Low-level people were let go after the purchase of an extremely expensive and, frankly, impressive, new sequencing machine. I was devastated to lose this position, as I loved the work and the people, but I was thankful for the experience, and found a new job within only a couple of months. I was feeling so healthy at this time, I was on top of the world.

My new job was much more emotionally and physically demanding. I still worked in a laboratory setting, but this time with animals. I am an animal lover; I never relished the idea of having to put animals down, but I am also a scientist, and I understand how essential animal research is to the advancement of medicine. And though it was difficult, for the first 6 months, I mostly enjoyed the position, as I was learning so much about medical research and cancer research. After this time passed, the emotional toll of the job began to wear at me, eating away at my daily allotment of spoons. I began to make more doctor’s appointments, I researched new medications and began taking them, and I even talked to my boss about changing some of my job duties to lessen the stress.

It seemed there was nothing that would help. Every single day found me in the negative. Every day that I felt so sad and worn out, my body hurt more and more. As my body gave out, my depression worsened. Eventually, I began to research fibromyalgia and chronic illness online support. I could not deal with my feelings by myself anymore.

I stumbled upon Spoon Theory, and suddenly everything seemed to click!

The number of spoons I had at my disposal was dwindling, fast, and I had to make a move. In the end, I quit my job, as animal research was not what I had ever meant to go into with my degree anyway. My husband, who is the most supportive person I know (along with my parents) encouraged me to check out the various graduate programs at my disposal, as they know how much I love school.

Attending graduate school has actually added a spoon per day (at least) to my repertoire. I am so much happier now that I am pursuing a career I know I will love. I am also consciously making decisions about my spoons and what my priorities are in life.

I am holding a part time job, but it is a position I find simple – it doesn’t take many spoons to fulfill all my job duties each day. My husband is great about helping out with housework and cooking, though I do as much as I can. He understands that if I do too much, I won’t be able to do anything at all for a while, so he lets me take it easy.

I also have a great support group in the form of family and friends. Talking with my parents usually gives me a spoon, though hanging out with friends generally takes one. I’m learning, albeit slowly, that life is about balance, and it is incredibly important for those with chronic illness – like walking a tight rope every single day, and if you make one wrong decision, you fall.

After all, life is pain.

Five Things I Never Knew About Fibromyalgia Until I Had It

nik

Left: 16 years old. 4 years before diagnosis. Right: 25 years old. 5 years after diagnosis.

I am a 26 year old graduate student, and I have fibromyalgia.

I was diagnosed six years ago, while I was in college, and have been dealing with worsening symptoms since diagnosis. And I consider myself lucky.

#5: Not all people feel fibromyalgia the same way

Most commercials for the prescription medicines that treat fibromyalgia (such as Lyrica®) show middle aged women that complain of a bone-deep muscular pain that can’t be treated normally. I began showing serious symptoms at 18 years old, and my main complaint was not pain, but fatigue. The first time I complained of any problems to a doctor, the only thing I could tell her was that I was sleeping 18 hours a day.

Now that I have been dealing with this for about 8-10 years, I notice the pain of fibromyalgia much more than I used to. I get sore easily, especially in my neck, back, and legs, and I have many of the other issues associated with FM. I have acid reflux and dysmenorrhea, as well as about 11-12 pressure points that when touched, send me into a paroxysm of pain.

My mother also has fibromyalgia, and she has very different symptoms; she feels extreme muscle pain all the time, and suffers from what is called “fibro fog” – a state of mental confusion and lack of focus due to the brain’s inability to process all the pain signals and outside stimuli. She also suffers from IBS, a common gastrointestinal symptom of FM.

Because of the variety of symptoms and their severity, it can be extremely hard to diagnose this disease. The problem is compounded when…

#4: Many doctors are uneducated about, or do not believe in, fibromyalgia

When I started college, I was already on antidepressants due to some issues that started in high school. After my second year of college ended, I visited the doctor for a yearly check-up, and I mentioned to her that I was sleeping 18 hours a day. She wrote it off as my being a teenager, and sent me out of the office to go home and… sleep.

Over the next 2 years, I saw half a dozen doctors who dismissed my all my complaints as “teenage problems” (though I was no longer technically a teenager) or growing pains (though I was full-grown and had been since sixth grade). I was put on three different antidepressants over this time period; nothing seemed to help.

Hope finally came in my fourth year of college, when…

#3: Nearly any kind of doctor can diagnose and treat fibromyalgia

… I saw a sports doctor at the university’s clinic. After relating my symptoms, the doctor began to press on seemingly random points on my back. After he did this three times, I broke down in tears, it was so painful; each point being pressed on felt as if a white-hot icepick was being stabbed into my muscles. The doctor handed me a tissue and said,

“You may have fibromyalgia.”

I then had to have a battery of blood tests to rule out diseases such as hyper- and hypothyroidism, HIV, autoimmune disease, and others. Once my blood tests came back clean, I had to undergo psychological testing to ensure that my symptoms weren’t being caused by some other syndrome. Finally, I was assigned to a psychiatrist, so I could talk about my symptoms and issues more in depth.

I broke down completely during our first meeting. I absolutely bawled, telling the psychiatrist how all the doctors up to that point had called me crazy. How I felt crazy, because it seemed no one else could understand what I was going through. He, of course, assured me that I was not crazy, and that fibromyalgia was a real condition.

My psychiatrist treated me until I got out of college, when I had to switch doctors. My primary care physician now treats my fibromyalgia, and I have a host of specialists to keep the various symptoms in check.

#2: Treatment can literally kill you

One of the most common methods of treatment for fibromyalgia is a combination of antidepressants, one of the three approved prescription medications for FM, and some sort of pain management. For instance, my regimen includes topiramate (for general symptoms), Celexa® (an antidepressant), and Voltaren® gel for localized pain. My mother, on the other hand, uses Lyrica®, Cymbalta®, and tramadol for pain.

There are risks associated with all of these medications, not the least of them the increased chance of suicide that comes with taking any kind of antidepressant. However, tramadol and certain antidepressants can cause serotonin toxicity, as mentioned in John Cheese’s article 5 Things No One Tells You About Taking Antidepressants. My mother, in particular, has to be very cautious about this, as she suffers from carcinoid syndrome in addition to FM. Carcinoid syndrome is caused by an excess of serotonin in the system, which can cause sleep disturbances and GI symptoms. If her doctors aren’t vigilant about her medications for fibromyalgia, they could very well kill her with an overdose of serotonin.

In addition to these dangers, there are also the dangers of addiction. Lyrica® is physically addictive, and when I switched from Lyrica® to topiramate, it took about 8 weeks to wean off it; and I went through withdrawal symptoms like nausea, pain, irritability, and insomnia. Some doctors also use narcotics to treat the pain of fibromyalgia; this can be extremely dangerous if the patient has a family or personal history of addiction, drug or alcohol abuse, or alcoholism. As I have a family history of alcoholism, my doctor is hesitant to give me many types of pain medications, and so far, we have been able to manage my pain with Voltaren® gel and Tylenol®.

#1: Everyone has a cure; none of them work

I never realized until I had fibromyalgia how much useless and unwanted advice other people give. And of course, these are my friends and family, but with the exception of my mother and aunt, who also have FM, they have no idea what I’m going through.

As fibromyalgia has caused my metabolism to get crazy slow (and I tend to eat my feelings), one of the most common pieces of advice I hear is “just exercise. If you lose weight, you’ll feel better.” Well, yes and no. Losing weight will make me feel better in all the usual ways (not having to carry as much weight around, decreasing the risk of heart disease, increasing self-esteem, blah blah blah), but the process is much more intricate for someone with FM. Because of the increased pain signals our muscles put out, exercise has to be approached with extreme caution, and certain types should be avoided completely. I am lucky to have a very supportive husband who wants to encourage my journey to healthiness, so he has gotten us a house with a pool (swimming and water aerobics are wonderful no-impact exercise), as well as set up our third bedroom as a low-impact home gym. I have an exercise bike/elliptical-dual trainer, a yoga mat, and some free weights (though I am careful not to over do those).

Additionally, dieting can be very difficult for the FM patient, as diet foods and additives, like aspartame, can cause flare ups. This means a diet of lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and grains, versus prepackaged foods with preservatives that can make me sick. Unfortunately, cooking can sometimes be the last thing I want to do after a hard day of work.

I am lucky though – I have a wonderful husband who cares about my health, and together, we are making it work; when I am just too tired or achy to stand at the stove and cook, he will whip us up something to eat instead. And do the dishes! This kind of support system (not unwarranted, unwanted, or unsupported advice) is what really helps me get through the tough times.

 

What helps you get through your bad days? What experiences have you had with doctors? Please comment below!