Vegan Conversion

My dietary transformation is complete. I’ve been vegan for a while now, and I’m a believer. I assume that the lack of dairy and meat in my diet is reducing inflammation in my body, but whatever’s happening, I feel better than I have in years. My life is mine again. My mind is clear (well, mostly—I’m always a little scattered!), my body is getting stronger, and my gym routine is getting more vigorous.

I’m not taking any prescriptions, and I didn’t even get Botox in my neck last time I went to the doctor. I still have stiffness and aches, but between the vegan diet and the hot tub, I’m alive again. I can’t say that being vegan cures fibromyalgia, but mine is certainly massively improved.

Fibromyalgia is a bit like a monster under the bed at this point. It’s there, and it reminds me of my presence fairly constantly. But it’s more under the bed now that I’m vegan, whereas just a few months ago, I thought my life was soon to be over. The pain, spasms, and debilitation were crushing.

I ran six miles today, a distance I hadn’t been able to cover in months, and I did it with very little pain. Afterwards, I got in the hot tub, then ate a huge bowl of vegan organic potato, kale, and lentil soup. As of this evening—a time of day that I used to dread—I’m stiff and uncomfortable, but I’m not in the familiar agony that plagued me for so long.

I’ve undertaken a new project to chronicle what feels like my new life—a life filled with activity and vegan food. Check it out here if you’re interested.

Fibro Athlete in a Hot Tub

I’m still madly in love with my hot tub. It’s a little trashy looking and it’s loud when it cycles on to clean itself, but the warm water is heavenly. I’m using it twice a day on average, but sometimes only once or sometimes thrice. The new plastic-y smell is dissipating, and I put some bath mats under the stairs to soak up excess water. I’m definitely noticing full-body improvement. When I go into muscle spasms, the hot water takes them away. I know that cold is supposed to be better for an acute injury, but since my spasms are chronic and I HATE cold, I’ll stick with what works—my hot tub.

Pain Relief in a Hot Tub

After hitting an all-time low of muscle spasms and pain, I’m feeling optimistic and seeing major progress, no drugs required. I’d heard about warm-water therapy and had even helped my patients utilize it when I worked in a clinic with a pool a few years ago, but I thought it was out of reach for me. We can’t afford an in-ground spa (estimate $27,000!), and the natural water around here only reaches 80-85 degrees in the summer. We started pricing hot tubs, and they, too were expensive. Then we found a local company with no-frills hot tubs and great service, and we took the leap and made the purchase.

I’m not sure if this is true in other states, but where I live in Florida, if you have a valid prescription for warm water therapy, you don’t have to pay sales tax on a hot tub. When you’re spending a couple thousand dollars, the lack of sales tax really means something. I’ve also heard that we can claim the hot tub on federal taxes as a medical device, but we’ll see about the possible truth in that once tax time arrives.

The hot tub is a lifesaver. We were able to fit it on our screened porch, so we don’t have to swat mosquitos while trying to relax. I keep the water between 101-102 degrees, and sometimes I use it three times per day. It’s a simple setup—two low bucket seats and one long bench—and it’s perfect. We got a small set of steps to make getting in and out easier, and we put a bathmat under the steps to soak up extra water.

The miracle is the warm water. When we first bought the hot tub, my back was killing me, my neck was hurting, and my knees were aching. The warm water didn’t cure me over night, but it was soothing, and the cumulative effect is incredible. I had to take muscle relaxers and steroids to get me through the worst times, but the hot tub has helped me stay drug-free for the past two months, except for occasional ibuprofen.

I’ve heard that heat bothers some people with fibromyalgia, but for me, cold is the worst. When I sink down in the hot tub, I feel instant relief, and even though it sometimes only lasts a few minutes after getting out of the water, other times it helps for hours and even all day.

At night, my new routine has been to use the hot tub a few hours after dinner, then stretch my muscles on the carpeted bedroom floor. I’m seeing improvements in flexibility, pain, and anxiety. I even started running again two weeks ago—something I’d worried had been taken away from me forever after the latest bout of back and knee pain. I’m increasing the amount of weight I do each week at the gym, and I’m even returning to some high-intensity activities like jumping. I’m nowhere near 100%, but the hot tub is helping me feel closer to normal. I’d hit the point of not being able to do anything I wanted or needed to do, and the feeling of hopelessness is an awful thing. The hot tub wasn’t cheap, but it’s already paid for itself a million times.

I’m Ready to Swim

I’m so ready for warmer weather, and it’s only December! Right now I feel like a lot of my aches and pains could be resolved by warmer weather and a swim in the Gulf. One of my huge hopes for the new year is that I’ll be able to turn my neck to the side enough to breathe while swimming. I love to swim, but it’s pretty much impossible to swim without having neck mobility. Some people have suggested that I get a snorkel, but I don’t like the air that comes through one. It always tastes like plastic. If I can’t turn my head this spring, though, I just might buy one. Water exercise can be a very healing thing for me, and I love how it takes some weight off my spine. Warm water would be ideal!

Product Review: Tiger Balm Red Extra Strength

Smells good, feels good.
Smells good, feels good.

I love the way Tiger Balm smells, which is more than I can say for most topical analgesics. I also love the way it soothes my sore joints and muscles—a key component in the road to relief from fibromyalgia symptoms.

After dealing with pain for years, I’ve tried almost everything. CryoDerm is still my favorite topical for the really bad muscle issues, but I prefer Tiger Balm for a less medicine-y experience. Smell-wise, Tiger Balm makes me think of a health food store, and neither the inactive nor active ingredients sound lab-made or scary.

Like many topical pain relievers, Tiger Balm uses menthol 10% as an active ingredient. It also lists camphor 11%. I use the .63 ounce jar of ointment, but there are also Tiger Balm rubs and patches, as well as various formula strengths. I recently bought the Ultra ointment, but haven’t tried it yet.

The most accurate description that I can come up with for the Tiger Balm experience is “soothing.” Everything about it feels gentle, especially compared to other topicals that can leave you smelling like a doctor’s office. Tiger Balm has a variety of natural oils in it, which makes it easy to gently rub in during self-massage.

The hexagonal glass jar is small and easy to store, and it’s kind of cool to look at, too. Tiger Balm takes a few minutes to start working, but once it does, the effect slowly and steadily builds. It wears off fairly quickly like all topicals, but usually stays with me long enough so that I can fall asleep with less pain. I get better results on my neck spasms with CryoDerm, but Tiger Balm makes my sore legs—especially the quadriceps and knees—feel great. And since I’m a believer in staying with natural products whenever possible, I definitely appreciate its ingredients.

Goodbye, Lyrica

Lyrica is not the drug for me. I gave it a few months, and after some ups and downs, the bad outweighed the good. I only got to 150 milligrams per day, partly because my rheumatologist is conservative, and partly because I was reticent to take Lyrica in the first place.

Titrating down wasn’t fun, but it wasn’t the worst thing ever. I went through a week where I alternately felt like Lyrica made me wide awake and obsessive or knocked me out. The last two weeks, I’ve been down to one 50mg Lyrica per night, and every time I took it, I started feeling increasingly more like I was losing my mind. And it was that scary kind of mind loss—like the stories you read about where people are going crazy, but they’re still sane enough to know it.

Two nights ago was my last time taking Lyrica because of the unbearable psychological distress combined with a complete lack of effectiveness at relieving my fibromyalgia symptoms. I felt like I’d need a massive dose of Lyrica for it to be effective, but I also felt like I’d lose my mind entirely if I took the necessary dose. My memory had gone to hell, I’m certain my IQ had dropped significantly, and I felt like an addict. But the going crazy thing is what tipped me over.

Insomnia has plagued me for years. Sometimes my body (in whole or part) hurts too much for me to get comfortable in bed. Other times, my mind races and I can’t stop thinking about the herniated discs in my neck. Then I get so mad about not sleeping that the frustration keeps me awake. I was very worried about returning to completely sleepless nights post-Lyrica.

I bought sublingual melatonin at the health food store in hopes of sleeping somewhat normally. It tastes like orange-flavored cough syrup, but it helps some. I’m only trying 1.5 mg per night for now, but they had 10 mg pills. The first night off Lyrica and on melatonin, I didn’t feel crazy at all, and I even slept for 6 hours. The next night, I got less sleep, but I still didn’t feel crazy. And I’m gradually losing the tough case of the stupids that I’d gotten while on Lyrica.

Exercise-wise, my first day off Lyrica started with an hour-long run. My second Lyrica-free day included a 35-minute bike ride in a thunderstorm (fun, really), 15 minutes of modified Crossfit, and 20 minutes of low-intensity weightlifting. My neck has been sore constantly for several days, and my left hip and knee are tender, but nothing’s majorly flared at the moment. The harder I exercise, the better I sleep, no matter what hurts.

I’m continuing with a vegan diet, and am soon going to add yoga to my exercise repertoire because I’m ridiculously inflexible and unable to relax. I’m weening off caffeine, and one of these days I hope to give up tortilla chips and rice crackers.

I’m so tired of being on drugs. Even when they’re legally prescribed, pills make me feel beholden unto a toxic substance, which in turn makes me feel even less in control of my life. Fibromyalgia has already stolen so many of my choices, and drug addiction—albeit legal—is something I’m trying to avoid. And at this point, I think I’ve tried almost every drug anyway, and none of them work for longer than a few weeks. I’m so, so tired of prescription drugs and their side effects.  After years of trying everything else, “vegan exercise fanatic and melatonin user” doesn’t sound so bad.

Vegan Update

The quick verdict thus far: a vegan diet is helping my fibromyalgia symptoms recede!

At the 2 ½ weeks mark, I’ve had a reduction in arm pain, muscle spasms, and generalized neck pain. I haven’t had any new rashes or random injuries, either, and I’ve been able to sleep fairly normally most nights.

breakfast bowl
Fruit and nuts = breakfast.

Breakfast has been one of the most challenging vegan meals, because I love scrambled eggs. I’ve found a good alternative, even though it’s not even remotely similar to eggs—a bowl of strawberries, pecans, and slivered almonds.

My favorite homemade vegan dinner so far is Indian-style vegetable korma with saffron rice. I used coconut milk as the base for the korma, then added plenty of curry powder, fenugreek, and garam masala. Sweet potatoes, kale, English peas, and cashews were delicious in the seasoned coconut milk.

Simple, vegetable-based sautéed dinners have helped me avoid what some vegans have warned is the “you’re always in the kitchen” trap. Cutting up sweet potatoes, onions, yellow squash, and zucchini and making a quick batch of egg-free cornbread doesn’t take any extra time beyond preparing a meat-based dinner at home.

I’m realizing more and more how dependent I was on dairy. I miss cheese like an old friend, but the loss is getting easier to deal with as time passes. Fibromyalgia really, really sucks. Dealing with it can be very hard, but having struggled for so many years with pain, the food-based sacrifices to become vegan probably seem a lot less challenging then they would if life had been easier the past few years. I’m going to keep going on this vegan train, and will continue to post updates for those interested in using diet to control their fibromyalgia.

Product Review: CryoDerm

As a longtime athlete and fibromyalgia sufferer, I’ve tried almost everything imaginable to relieve the joint and muscle pain that I experience on a regular basis. I even once had a woman rub “dragon’s blood” on my neck. It was red liquid in a bottle with Vietnamese writing on the label. It didn’t work, but it had an interesting smell.

cryoderm
4oz bottle of CryoDerm liquid gel.

CryoDerm is a topical pain-relief product that comes in several varieties, including roll-on, spray, and gel. My chiropractor has used the spray on my back and neck a few times, and I have a bottle of the gel at home. As of this posting, a 16 ounce bottle is around $33 online.

The active ingredient in CryoDerm is listed as Menthol USP 10%, which is common with many topical, non-prescription pain relievers. Other ingredients that catch my eye are arnica, boswella (although most sources site “boswellia”), eucalyptus oil, and peppermint oil. All of those, as far as my research goes, are plant-based. There is a handful other ingredients, so read the label if you have sensitivity issues.

I’ve used CryoDerm for muscle spasms, herniated disc pain, aching knees, and tendonitis in my wrists and elbows. It’s a bit liquidy, and I’ve had the gel drip down my body before I could rub it in. CryoDerm definitely smells like a medicinal preparation, but I like its sinus-clearing properties. It takes about two minutes for me to notice any effects, but then there’s a nice tingling that gives way to a deeper, soothing feeling.

CryoDerm is no miracle drug, but it does a good job of calming acutely aggravated parts of my body. My right wrist was hurting too much to type this morning, but since using CryoDerm on my elbow, forearm, and wrist, I’m able to type again. It’s also calmed my neck spasms enough to allow me to concentrate on work.

The label says not to apply CryoDerm more than four times per day, but in my experience, it only lasts ½ hour – 45 minutes, depending on the severity of pain in any given area of my body.

I definitely recommend trying CryoDerm if you’re already a fan of topical pain relief treatments. It’s not as greasy as IcyHot and doesn’t tend to ball up like BioFreeze. And, their website claims “no animal testing,” so yay for simple kindness.

Disclaimer: Consult your healthcare provider before trying anything new.

I Hate Rough Seams

Fibromyalgia sucks. So do rough seams.
Fibromyalgia sucks. So do rough seams.

Fibromyalgia and rough seams do not get along. I’ve worn my running socks inside out for years to avoid blisters, which gave me the idea for a solution to the daily fight with shirt and bra seams. Sports bras and wicking t-shirts have some of the most unforgiving seams on the clothing market. When fibromyalgia’s flaring, and my body gets that flu-like don’t-touch-me feeling, the seams dig into my back and shoulders like emery boards.

At the risk of looking stupid, I’ve started wearing most of my workout t-shirts inside out. Seam problem solved. Since I wear sports bras that don’t have individual cups, I’m also able to turn the bras inside out. It’s a whole new world. I can bike, run, and hit the gym without feeling like my clothes are sawing away at my skin.

I get very tired of making adjustments and lifestyle modifications to accommodate fibromyalgia, but I can live with inside-out clothes. If my workout clothes are going to be stinky and sweaty anyway, they might as well look funny, too.

A Few Thoughts on Lyrica for Fibromyalgia

Three 50mg Lyrica pills per day. And yes, I have weight-lifting calluses on my hands.
Three 50mg Lyrica pills per day. And yes, I have weight-lifting calluses on my hands.

I have a complicated relationship with Lyrica. It has vastly improved my life, but has also turned me into a forgetful, emotionally foggy person. I hate taking medication, and am well aware that oftentimes our over-medicated society is burying itself in toxic pills. But there came a point when it was either live or die, and I decided to take my chances on Lyrica rather than giving up just yet. I’m only taking 150mg per day at this point, but will likely go up on the dosage soon.

What’s Good

I’m sleeping 8+ hours per night for the first time in a few years. I was agonizingly scraping through life on 0-2 hours some nights, and regularly 4 hours of sleep per night.

There’s no denying my psychological connection to fibromyalgia. Pain creates anxiety, and anxiety creates pain. It’s a real bitch. Lyrica definitely whittles away at anxiety.

Initially, as in the first week or so, I had almost no pain anywhere in my body. I slept like a character in a fairytale, and would’ve slept all day if not for needing to do basic things like go to work and be a mother to my dogs.

The debilitating muscle spasms have mostly stopped. My feet no longer cramp and feel like they’re folding in half, and my lower back and quads are mostly fine. My neck range of motion is better, especially when looking up.

I’ve been on it for a little over a month now, and have only had one day of paralyzing, flu-like fatigue.

Strangely, Lyrica seems to help my body respond well to ibuprofen. I try not to take ibuprofen (or any drugs, for that matter) unless I’m really hurting bad, and for years, it was like swallowing nothing. Now, combined with Lyrica, ibuprofen seems to take the edge off the full-body soreness and aches.

Lyrica hasn’t seemed to affect my athletic ability at all. In fact, since I’m hurting so much less, I can do more and not be completely wiped out.

Alcohol usage hasn’t seemed to change the way my body reacts to Lyrica, but I only drink 1-3 beers per week.

What’s Not Good

As far as side effects, other than the forgetfulness and sometimes feeling like I’m looking at life through beer goggles, my appetite is huge. Lyrica is reported to cause weight gain, but for me, it’s just caused a major appetite increase, which of course can lead to weight gain if I don’t practice restraint. Another aspect of the reported weight gain that I suspect is this: since Lyrica cuts down anxiety, I don’t obsess over food as much as I used to, which means I eat a bit more crap now, especially when out with friends.

A lot of the pain came back after two weeks of taking Lyrica. Mainly, my neck pain and spasms have returned, although they’re definitely not as bad as they’ve been in the past.

It’s expensive. Even with insurance and a manufacturer’s discount card, I’m paying $137 for a month’s supply of Lyrica. That number should go down some once my giant prescription deductible is met.

The forgetfulness and fogginess were so bad during my first week on Lyrica that I almost burned my house down. I’d put a pot of dry kidney beans on the stove to par-boil before putting them in the slow-cooker, then immediately forgot what I was doing.

I went outside with my dogs to enjoy a day off work and read in the backyard. After awhile, I started smelling foul smoke. I peaked over the neighbors’ fences to make sure their houses were okay. It wasn’t until I turned and saw white smoke pouring from the doorframe of my own house that I realized what was going on—sort of. Even then, I assumed it was an electrical fire. I ran into the house, fully intending to shut down the circuit breakers and see if the fire was something a household extinguisher could handle. It wasn’t until I saw the pot on the stove billowing smoke that I remembered it. FYI, extremely scorched kidney beans smell worse than a porta-potty. And no, the irony of a drug saving my life and almost killing me in the same week is definitely not lost in my fogginess.