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Gratitude despite pain: My life with fibromyalgia

By KAREN MBUYA MURIUKI
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Maureen Muturi was a happy-go-lucky and healthy teenager until she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2012.  

According to the Mayo Clinic, fibromyalgia is a disorder characterised by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues.

Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.

The 22-year old social sciences student at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa sheds more light on her condition, and how it has affected her.

“I had been in pain for six months yet doctors were unable to tell what was ailing me. Eventually, I travelled to India where I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in July 2012. The pain was in my whole body.

It started with a right knee surgery in January of 2012 after a dislocation. I started experiencing electric shocks two weeks after this. This pain would start from one toe, to the rest and then spread to my ankle and knee.

I could not walk because the whole right leg became numb after this. The pain then moved to my left leg, and would alternate on different days.

SHARP PAIN

Some weeks after, I felt a sharp pain on my thumb while I was writing notes in class. I waited for a while before it stopped so that I could continue.

A day after, I felt it from my neck, up to my head. The pain got worse at this point, because it would then move concurrently to my leg, arms, or any other part of my body.

We saw over 10 doctors between January and July, all of whom could not establish the origin of the pain because the tens of tests showed nothing.

The thing with this condition is that it cannot be seen through MRI’s, CT scans or blood tests; which is why the doctors here concluded that there was nothing. We finally decided to seek treatment in India and I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

EXPLAINED THE CONDITION

This was after the neurologist applied pressure on my tender points- which are 18 points of the body which when touched, a healthy person would feel pressure but a person with fibromyalgia would feel pain. Normally, feeling pain on 11 of these points is a fibromyalgia definition- I felt it on 14 points.

That, plus the pain I had been having for six months was a clear indication of the condition.

The doctor took his time to explain the condition to me. He said that it just has triggers and no known cause. Triggers may include accidents, tissue injuries, significant emotional trauma or surgeries, which I had undergone.

Fibromyalgia also has no known cure but can be managed by exercise and drugs. I was put on medication and an exercise regime for three months, after which I was completely okay.

I relapsed again after four months. This was at the beginning of 2014, my final year in high school. All this while, I had been in boarding school, but the relapse meant that the condition needed to be managed from home. That year was really hard for me because it got to a point where I could only be in school for two out of five days in a week despite having to study for my final examinations.

During my KCSE, I would be taken into the examination room in a stretcher because I could not walk on most days. My hand would also be in so much pain at times that I could not write my exam. This was the lowest point. I had to dictate my answers to someone who would then write them down. I would also get bad migraines in the middle of my examinations. Luckily, I had very understanding invigilators who allowed me to rest, and continue with the paper when I felt better.

The condition has been a rollercoaster since then. Fibromyalgia is an autoimmune disease, where your body attacks its own cells. Autoimmune diseases tend to string along each other, and so I was diagnosed with chronic migraines in 2016.

I am very blessed to have a very supportive structure, from my family especially. My parents and two sisters have been there for me all through and this has really strengthened me over the years. My friends have also been there for me, and I am really grateful.

RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD

My relationship with God has also been a pillar of strength for me. His grace has carried me through the past six years. He understands the pain that I go through.

I bloat on a daily basis, and this means I have to cut out foods that cause bloating. I have also had to understand my body because many are the times that doctors have told me that I am my own doctor. I have to always be on guard.

Fibromyalgia comes with a lot of fatigue so these days, I know when to say that I cannot be somewhere. This was a challenging.

Over the years, I have met people with the same condition as me. My two friends and I formed a WhatsApp Fibromyalgia Support Group earlier this year to make sure that no one goes through their journey alone, especially when the people around them do not understand what they are going through.

I am also part of a larger group called Connective Tissue Disease Association which has people suffering from any type of auto-immune disease. We give each other support here too.

I have always wanted to help others. In the long run, I hope to become a clinical psychologist to help people who are going through what I have, and even more.

It has made me more grateful, even for the littlest of things. In a day, I could say thank you more than a thousand times; whenever I do something that I could not do previously.”