Unfreezing Fibromyalgia

Note: this article contains disclosures which might be triggering if you have experienced assault or other forms of abuse.

The psychological/spiritual role of illness is a dimension routinely ignored by modern healthcare. It’s important to look at it because of the part it plays in a person’s ability to have a great life while living with chronic pain.

I seek to understand the physiology of fibromyalgia and its treatment through exploration of my own chronic pain symptoms. I experience muscle stiffness as well as pain daily. I feel like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz.

The stiffness is similar to what is experienced when a person initially experiences a trauma. Research has established that traumas, such as those resulting from abuse, accidents and severe infections, trigger fibromyalgia. Trauma is a condition resulting from extreme stress. The stress response is often described as a “fight or flight” mechanism but there is a third component, “freeze“, that can also be expressed.

I experienced the “freeze” phase of the stress response during a sexual assault that occurred when I was a young child. I remember feeling like my body was bolted to the floor while my consciousness escaped into the ceiling. I relate the stiffness I have felt ever since to this part of the stress response.

The metaphor of being frozen makes even more sense when I consider treatments that bring me lasting pain relief: warm baths, other applications of heat, and exercise. While these treatments are comforting, the painful stiffness of being frozen eventually returns. I wondered if there was a psychological or spiritual state of being frozen at the core of this.

I think there is. It’s like I’ve been stuck in spiritual ice because I wasn’t able to forgive myself fully for what happened, despite knowing I was not responsible for the assault.

I came across the Ho’Oponopono prayer/meditation when I was researching other spiritual meditations, such as Loving Kindness. My first experience of Ho’Oponopono literally caused me to melt – into tears – as I was overwhelmed by feelings of forgiveness. This inner melting has not yet led to full defrosting of my stiff body but changes are happening.

I often ask my clients “What has this [condition] meant for you in your life?” and find their answers to be revealing and insightful. Many have never thought about it before. Finding meaning in your experience of illness can be a way of making peace with it. Peaceful acceptance of what is (for now) can lead to greater happiness and better quality of life, the least that anyone living with chronic pain deserves.