He’s Not Drunk, High, or Mentally Challenged, He Has Brain Fog
The symptoms of brain fog in men with fibromyalgia are often perceived as the symptoms of being high, drunk, or even mentally challenged. In addition to the pain, this mental fatigue can get in the way of basic functioning.
It can take much longer for a man with fibromyalgia to complete a task whether physical or mental, because of the crushing fatigue.
This means men with this condition much choose the level of importance of every task, even the mundane. He must decide, “Should I do some housework or cook?” Because when he’s having a flare-up, he can’t do both, and if he’s not having one, doing both could trigger one.
“So how do I deal with my mental fog? Sometimes just basic breathing and re-focusing exercises help. Some days it’s music, either in the background or blasting to short-circuit my brain into re-setting itself. Yoga I have found really helps with the pain, and that, in turn, can help with the mental fog.”
There are some days when getting up, showering, putting on clean pajamas, and watching Netflix is the most productive Norman can be, and he’s learning to live with that.
A Man With Fibromyalgia Faces Unique Challenges
Due to the fact that fibromyalgia is seen as a “woman’s disease”, men with the condition are often stigmatized as weak, inadequate, and unable to be a provider. Also, since men are less likely to seek treatment than their female counterparts, the condition has more time to do lasting damage before it can be gotten under control.
“There are many studies that women have a higher pain tolerance than men. I do not know if this is true or not, but most men with fibromyalgia will attest to the fact that the pain is constant and most wearing.”
How Fibromyalgia Affects Mental Health
While fibromyalgia itself may not have a direct link to depression and anxiety, the constant pain, brain fog, and feelings of inadequacy can cause the sufferer to develop these conditions.
Many people struggling with fibromyalgia do not seek treatment for mental health symptoms because they don’t want to be branded with yet another “label”. They figure if they can go to work and function on a somewhat “normal” level, then it’s not a problem for them.
“As sad as it was to lose Robin Williams, his suicide brought many mental health issues, however briefly, to the forefront, making it easier to discuss depression and mental health.”
Norman took an eight-week course at the VA pain management clinic and it has helped him deal with the mental and emotional suffering that comes with chronic pain and illness.
Here is what he learned:
“The pain of fibromyalgia does not go away. It is like the neighborhood smelly bum. Always there, always wanting something. So you have three choices:
- Try to ignore him, and hope he goes away, leaving you alone.
— Does this ever really work? —
- Fight with him, trying to get him to go away.
— Might work for a short time, but he always comes back. —
- Accept that he is there, and live as best you can with him in your life.
— Basically, learn to live with fibromyalgia. A new way of living, accepting that there are new limitations to what you can and cannot do. —
Let me put this another way: As a man let’s say you LOVE camping, but due to fibromyalgia you feel that you “can’t” do it because of your pain. So when friends ask if you want to go, you say – “I would love to, BUT I am in pain”. This statement can lock you into a continuing spiral of isolation, which can increase your feelings of depression and anxiety.”
Norman advises changing one word of that sentence. Instead, reply to a friend who is asking you to go camping by saying, “Yes, AND I am in pain.” This tells your friends that you can go and that you value your time and activities with them, but you will just be doing less.
In a few months, Norman plans to re-take the class and his personal goal is to put it into video form for others who would not have access to such help otherwise.
Priorities, Lists, and Pacing Yourself
Norman’s professional life consists of eight to 10 hours of work per week, helping a home business owner, and even this amount of exertion has proven difficult for him. The good thing is, he is allowed to work on a flexible schedule and the people who run the business are very understanding.
“However even being such a short work week, I know on days when I work (2-4 hours per day), by the time I get home I need a 2-hour to 4-hour nap to recover.”
He used to call it a “crash” when this happened to him. Now he’s using what he learned in the class to be better accepting of his need to recover.
When Even the Weather Puts Pressure on You
Norman lives in Arizona where it is currently monsoon season. When the pressure builds and falls, his pain rises and falls along with it. Although many doctors do not believe people can “feel” a rain or other storm coming, they can. Thousands, if not millions of people with fibromyalgia and similar conditions are basically human barometers.
“With the constant yo-yo of weather and pressure, this is my least happy season. The up-down of my pain levels really is physically, mentally, and emotionally draining.”
A Combination of Western and Eastern Medicine
Although Norman is not the biggest fan of Western medicine, he currently uses anti-inflammatories (Motrin, Naproxen), muscle relaxers, Tramadol, and Cymbalta (recently changed from Amitriptyline), on a daily basis to cope with the pain.
He also uses Tiger Balm, frankincense and myrrh neuropathy oil, and prescription-strength Lidocaine ointment. Heating pads and ice packs come in handy, but it depends on what type of pain he’s experiencing at the time.
He has also made use of yoga and aquatic physical therapy and is taking advantage of the health benefits of the Paleo diet.
“I have found when I eat too many grains or sugar, my pain is always higher.”
Stay tuned for part 3 of “What Men With Fibromyalgia Want You to Know”!
Photo of man with brain fog courtesy of Flickr/Lisa Brewster