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Living with Fibromyalgia

We're all in this world together. And perhaps those of us with chronic diseases realize this more than most. Living with a chronic disease can be challenging, stressful, frustrating, time-consuming and painful at times. Yet it can also bring blessings in the form of richer relationships, deeper insight and personal strength. It all depends on how you look at it and how you live your life.

Looking back, Meribeth Tyszkiewicz can remember being 10 years old, bending over to brush her teeth and not being able to straighten back up. That was probably her first step in a long and complicated journey to diagnose fibromyalgia. A chronic condition, fibromyalgia is characterized by fatigue and widespread muscle pain. "I saw a chiropractor in my 20s," Meribeth recalls. "When I started having trouble moving, I began my quest for a diagnosis, which for fibromyalgia is hard; the symptoms mimic other illnesses. Orthopedists, neurologists and neurosurgeons ruled out diseases like multiple sclerosis and ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) using CAT scans, MRIs, EMGs. "I felt like a hypochondriac," she said. "The doctors would say 'everything's fine, your tests are all normal.' But I couldn't walk." Finally, in 1989, the rheumatology department at Henry Ford Hospital diagnosed fibromyalgia.

Meribeth then began to deal with the disease in her matter-of-fact, philosophical way. An advertising production specialist, she was accustomed to being on the go. "I was one of those people who never stopped. I'd work all day, come home, and stay busy for five hours before bed. Today I need to take care of myself more, making sure I get at least eight hours of sleep. My husband has been extremely understanding," Meribeth adds. "Fibromyalgia is cyclical, so during bad periods, I'd work, come home and he'd do everything else."

A self-defined information hound, Meribeth often finds herself sharing knowledge with other fibromyalgia patients. "I've found information on the Internet, through my physicians and at bookstores. If talking about it can help dispel fear, I want to do that. While the disease is chronic, it's not degenerative. It won't get worse. Understanding that helps keep stress levels down, which is important." Meribeth also advises that if you need medication to get sleep, take it. When her own doctor first recommended an antidepressant, Meribeth initially resisted, until she learned that one of the problems with fibromyalgia is sleep disturbance. "I don't get to the lowest level of sleep, which repairs my muscles. The antidepressant gets me to that level."

"I believe in fate," Meribeth concludes. "Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes I don't like it, sometimes it hurts, but I'm going where God planned."

"One of the biggest challenges in dealing with a chronic disease is dealing with your attitude. I can't change the fact that I have fibromyalgia. But I can affect my attitude."

– Meribeth Tyszkiewicz

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