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.

Vegan, Day 3

Newby vegan pitfall—tortilla chips. Yes, they’re unhealthy and fattening, but they’re also vegan, and they taste great with guacamole, which is also vegan. I gained two pounds from water retention overnight!

I didn’t sleep much last night. I couldn’t get comfortable, despite an impressive selection of memory foam and cervical support pillows. My right arm, both knees, both hips, neck, and thoracic muscles were unhappy. I can tell there’s a facet joint locked in the upper thoracic area, and I’ve been resetting it by rolling on a ball (not fun, BTW), but I couldn’t get it to stay unlocked last night.

This morning, I mustered a decent 48-minute run through a couple of local parks. I had trouble looking for cars, because I couldn’t turn my head or upper back enough to see behind me. Most of the other aches improved during the run, but the back and neck did not. And, as I thought about my newly minted veganism, I majorly craved a baloney and mayonnaise sandwich.

For the record, I think baloney is gross. But there’s something about “can’t” that makes me want all kinds of non-vegan fare. I don’t feel any different yet (and I don’t expect to), although the random cravings are odd. When I got back from my run, I had a big bowl of Mesa Sunrise cereal with fresh strawberries, peaches, and unsweetened almond milk. So far, it’s easy to eat a vegan diet, but the cravings are definitely wild.

On a more serious note, I understand that fibromyalgia is closely tied to inflammation in the body. Refined sugar, dairy, and heavily processed foods have been reported to cause or increase inflammation. It seems like a no-brainer that going vegan could help or even cure fibromyalgia. Personal results remain to be seen, but I’m hopeful.

Vegan, Day One

Desperation—muscle spasms, joint aches, a persistent rash on my left hip—has led me to my latest attempt to cure fibromyalgia. The last reasonable solution I haven’t attempted is veganism, and as of today, I’m giving it a chance.

I was a vegetarian for much of high school and college, although not a particularly healthy one. My meal choices centered around cheese pizza, tater tots, soda, and ice cream. Not eating meat isn’t a huge leap for me, but veganism is. I’ve been on a mostly organic-based diet for years, but that includes organic cheese, free-range meat, and even organic ice cream. I cut out refined sugar for five months and saw minimal results, but I’m hoping that going with a strict vegan diet will finally kick fibromyalgia out of my life.

This morning, I had our local co-op’s version of energy bars for breakfast. They’re fig-based squares with cocoa powder, goji berries, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds. I’ve eaten them for years before a long run, so this day so far hasn’t been much of a foray into veganism. I have a feeling that it won’t be for three or four days that I really notice how closely I have to watch my food choices to stick to the vegan way of life.

Pain can make a person crazy. Fibromyalgia combines pain with a special kind of erratic yet constant crazy. If almond milk, fig paste, and Brussels sprouts can fix this hell, then I’ll raise a glass of kombucha to the vegan cure.

Running from Pain

Ever tried on pants that were several sizes too small, stretching the seams to the max? This morning, the muscles across my upper back felt like overburdened seams, straining and ripping. I was angry, depressed, cynical, and miserable. I begged my girlfriend to tell me everything would be fine. She couldn’t. So I went for a run.

I made it 61 minutes and 42 seconds in the Florida summer heat. An absolute fury built inside me while I ran. My upper back and neck felt like a feather being pulled apart down the middle, and I could’ve sworn someone stabbed me in the collarbone and left the knife there. The worse the pain, the stronger the fury.

I lucked out today. It’s hard to say that athletes with fibromyalgia luck out with much, but the fury cooking inside me allowed me to wrench loose some of the locked facet joints and muscles spasms. I swung my left arm at an odd angle while I ran, and by the half-hour mark, the tearing sensation gave way to crepitus and popping. And then release, physical and emotional.

Not all days bring such luck. I’ve run many miles where I couldn’t even turn my head to look for cars because muscle spasms locked me in a straight-ahead stare. Sometimes my hips and knees feel like they’re on fire when my bodyweight lands for a footfall. But not today.

I hate fibromyalgia. It may kill me one day, but I’m going to fight every second not only for my life, but for my lifestyle as an athlete.

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.