“People look at you sometimes like you’re crazy,” said 40-year-old Mara Mittelman of Carney’s Point, New Jersey, in a telephone interview. “But I’ve always been honest about having fibromyalgia. I just want people to know that (people with it) aren’t crazy and it’s a real condition.”
A National Institutes of Health website defines fibromyalgia as a “common and chronic disorder” involving widespread soft tissue pain and tenderness. It can also cause fatigue, cognitive and memory problems, headaches, and sensitivity to noise, lights, and temperature. People with fibromyalgia often are accused of making up symptoms or told their symptoms are in their head. But the condition is real and in some people meets the criteria for a disability. It affects five million Americans over 18, mostly women.
Said Mittelman, “In 1998, I was a medical assistant and my shoulders were killing me. I was constantly having to lie down at lunch to relax my back. I couldn’t figure out why everything hurt all the time. I saw a neurosurgeon because of the pain, and he said four of my vertebrae were compressing, and two were dangerous. I ended up having a cervical fusion.”
Months later, she was regressing in terms of pain, but this time of a different type. At age 25, she no longer had any energy and her entire body hurt. In August 1998, a doctor diagnosed fibromyalgia. Her symptoms would improve slightly over time to where in 2008 she was able to complete her associate’s degree.
Even so, fibromyalgia still affects her. “For example, I worked in the garden the other day and am still in pain. When choosing an activity, I have to consider I might be in pain (for days). So I have to ask myself whether doing an activity is worth it.”
Mittelman now works as a part-time apartment complex leasing agent. She can’t return to her job as a medical assistant because the stress experienced there triggers severe fibromyalgia-related flareups even while taking medication. To cope with flareups, which can last a week, she prays, talks herself through tough stretches, reads, and crochets.
She said, “If somebody told me they had a cure for fibromyalgia, I would be first in line. By the same token, because of it I am the person I am today. It has made me stronger because I have had to fight through it.”