Recently a friend contacted me about her daughter, who is nearing 18 years old and who has been having chronic pain for “a couple years now.” Since my chronic pain started at about 15 years old, hearing about her daughter took me back. Way back. Like 45 years back! I don’t remember a lot of things about my childhood. I know people who can remember elementary school friends. I remember the two boys I had crushes on in elementary school. And two teachers. And taking a chicken gizzard to school for show-and-tell. It was ill-advised and stuck in my core memories. But I do remember when the doctor visits started, and I remember the doctor visits before the chronic pain started. I remember asking a nurse why I had to worry if I bumped my breast and got a bump. I remember getting my finger poked for a blood sample when I was so sick it didn’t even hurt. I remember being surrounded by a “gang” of doctors all staring down at me and terrifying me. Other childhood memories… not so much. Except dodgeball. And beating a couple boys up.
When my friend asked for advice about which specialist to take her daughter to, I was torn. I’m not a doctor, nurse, or any sort of healthcare professional. I wanted to just say, no I can’t help you. Chronic pain is so different for everybody, how could I possibly help? And what if chronic pain was actually something bad that no one had found yet? I didn’t want to be responsible for her not getting appropriate care. At the same time, however, as I thought back on the genesis of my chronic pain, I’ve always wondered, if I had been treated differently as a child with pain, would I have had a different experience? Would I be in a different place right now? Is there a window of opportunity to train a young, flexible brain away from chronic pain?
Before anyone yells at me – fibromyalgia is not “all in your head” except that it is. Our brains process pain differently, as has been shown by very specific brain studies (see the library which has been woefully neglected). If our brains process pain differently, can the brain be trained not to do that before pain becomes sort of set in its ways? I’m not saying I can’t learn things now – my brain is semi-nimble – but it’s not like it was when it was a sponge. It’s not sponge-like anymore.
Because I’ve wondered about that, I went ahead and gave my friend my thoughts (not advice):
- Start with a general physician. Run tests for all the “bad stuff” (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, muscular sclerosis, diabetes, etc). If the physician wants to do a referral to a specialist, follow those leads.
- Stop. Don’t keep dragging your daughter from doctor to doctor after the tests have been run. If she has fibromyalgia, she will do better taking a nap and then going out in the evening with friends than spending hours in a doctor’s office.
- Clean up her diet. Try cutting processed foods and sugar. Reduce carbs because they become sugar in the system. Try a really restricted diet for three or so weeks and see if it changes the character of her pain or reduces/eliminates it. If so, keep on that diet, create some new food habits. She doesn’t need to be diagnosed for an intolerance to gluten or sugar or dairy if by cutting those things she feels better.
- Encourage exercise, even mild exercise. Keep moving.
If a child is taught that pain is bad and they must do all they can to eliminate that pain by spending years in a doctor’s office, does that destine the future adult to constantly put pain first? As a parent, I understand the need to fix things for your kids, but is this one thing that the attempts to “fix” are actually damaging? It’s a thought.