Andrea feared being labeled a hypochondriac.(ANDREA COOPER)
If you live with fibromyalgia, you know that every day can bring new challenges. Andrea Cooper, 52, of Phoenix, Md., has had the condition for more than 20 years. When her pain forced her to retire from her job as a graphic designer, she began volunteering as a patient advocate for the American Pain Foundation. Part of her work is sharing her own pain struggles with others so that they know they are not alone. Below, in her own words, are the challenges Cooper faces every day.
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- Never knowing when you're going to fall apart or for how long.
- Feeling that people perceive you as unreliable because you cancel appointments or engagements at the last minute.
- Worrying that your husband considers you a burden or your kids question why you aren't like other moms.
- Feeling sexually undesirable and distracted by pain.
- Being so uncomfortable at work, in a theater, or in public that you feel like you could literally explode—and there's little you can do about it.
- Being afraid to talk to people (or even some doctors) about your pain and other symptoms because they will brand you as a complainer or a hypochondriac.
- Having to lie down on the floor in a department-store dressing room, hotel lobby, restaurant restroom, or on a park bench because you are in so much pain—I've done them all. Meanwhile, people stare and your kids are mortified.
- Being excited at the prospect of going out to dinner, a concert, or other event, but by the time you get ready and get there, you are too exhausted or in too much pain to enjoy yourself.
- Giving up so many things due to fear of causing more pain: planting flowers, playing the guitar, watching a movie comfortably, driving a car longer than a few minutes, surfing the Web, volunteering at my kids schools.
- Feeling as if I never finish anything: dinner half made, cake not frosted, songs never finished, art projects barely started in piles around the house. Also, always running late for appointments and constantly dropping the ball.
To learn one of the ways Cooper overcomes these challenges, watch her talk about the painkilling power of joy.