Working with Fibromyalgia 

Let’s be honest life does get much more difficult with Fibromyalgia and it’s hard for people to understand how it feels to have this condition.  I’ve had spinal issues for ten years and had chronic intermittent pain for 6 of those and permanently for the rest.  But I never ever imagined that I could feel so ill all of the time.  

It is only since I started mindfulness meditation that I realised that the pain is not constant, it changes and there are brief moments that I don’t feel any pain.  I do also believe that because our brains and bodies have increased pain sensitivity that we are used to feeling it therefore our brains and nervous systems continue to ramp up the pain.  When I meditate I focus on the areas that hurt the most, which is mostly where I have my fusion.  I slow down my breathing and focus on the area of pain and the area around it and I realise it’s not constant but changeable and I focus on what colours it reminds me of and what shape and contour the areas are.   We are often told by our doctors to ignore the pain and try to keep busy, I find this just stresses me out as I end up only focusing on the pain.  I find by using meditation to focus on the area and acknowledge the pain, making friends with it, realising it’s not constant I feel so relaxed, you can read more here.

Anyway let’s discuss working, some days I often wonder why the hell I put myself through the stress but I’d rather have a reason to get up than be at home depressed and worrying about my body hurting.  My job is very stressful, working with extremely challenging stakeholders and trying to manage my time to work within my limits.  I have had to toughen up and learn to pushback and say no, people constantly try to book long meetings, want me to travel to London (5 hour round trip) for something that could be done over the phone/screen share. There’s an expectation to always be online and work long days constantly attached to your desk, work through lunches and attend lots of meetings,which dramatically reduces productive time to do any actual work.  Meetings are also booked back to back so you end up running from one place to the next and always being late.  
Do not be afraid to speak up about changing your work environment and ways of working.  Here are some of the changes I’ve made to my working week:-

  • Don’t work excessive hours, listen to your body, my fatigue generally takes 48 hours to kick in.
  • Block out lunch breaks, what’s your contracted minimum lunch break?
  • Set your calendar so people know what hours you work.
  • Eat lunch away from your desk, unless you go for a walk at lunch!
  • Don’t be afraid to say no, not everyone’s priority is your priority, negotiate on deadlines.
  • Block out time in your diary to do actual work with a no meetings clause.
  • Switch off your phone and email when working on something to reduce distraction.
  • Book out meeting rooms or ask to work from home when you need quiet time to get stuff done.
  • Make action lists so you don’t miss any deadlines.
  • Don’t stress about things you can’t control, speak to a friendly face and share your concerns, you’d be surprised how helpful someone else can be when they look in from the outside.
  • Book meetings for 25 or 55 minutes giving you time to get to the next meeting and grab a drink or nip to the loo.
  • Make sure you take a healthy lunch and water with you as you need to eat to stay focused.
  • Make sure people factor in breaks to long meetings and especially lunch breaks as you need to rest and eat.
  • Keep weekend work to a minimum don’t let it become the norm.
  • Don’t just say yes to travel, always challenge the need for a face to face meeting, can’t it be done by phone/video conference or a screen share?
  • Have a rule of no meetings till X time, to give yourself time to prepare in a morning.
  • Have a rule of no meetings after X time to allow yourself a reasonable finish time.
  • Work from different positions, could you get a hydraulic desk, I have one and it really does help my back.
  • Block out time before and after meetings to prep or write them up to ensure you stay on top of things.

These are just some of the things I have put in place and I always find that if you’re honest with people and explain why you do the things the way you do, most people are reasonable and understanding.  The ones that aren’t you may have to enlist the help of your colleagues or just stick to your guns.

You are no good to anyone if you end up going off sick.  Many times in the past I’ve pushed myself too much and caused a flare up, now I have learnt the warning signs and I’ve even cancelled meetings as I haven’t felt well, explaining that if I don’t I’ll be off work.  

If you feel you aren’t getting the support you need maybe it’s time to have an honest chat with your boss about your condition or maybe look for another job.  I recently moved out of my old role which I loved as I couldn’t do it anymore, the expectation of being out on the road constantly was impossible.

Put yourself first always even if at first it feels uncomfortable, which it probably will as I know I did. ūüėČ.  You can read more about working with Fibromyalgia here 

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Pain flare ups with fibromyalgia

I find there are a few reasons our bodies hurt, for me I’ve put them in to 3 categories:-

  • Psychological; for instance when I get stressed or I am under pressure, say from work, my brain then relays this into physical pain into my weak spots – my spine.
  • Not using pacing; doing too many activities and not resting enough, again my brain warns me by creating physical pain, mostly into my weak spots, my spine or all over aches and pains in my muscles or skin pain by touch, allodynia.
  • An injury, say from twisting my body or falling over.  I find that with fibro I hurt a lot by just simple acts I performed before I had fibro which might never have caused any lasting pain.

It’s important to understand which of these we feel during a flare up.  For example when I developed fibromyalgia and I didn’t know I had it and I was sure I had another serious problem with my back.  The pain was actually my heightened sensitivity to pain and the fact I was trying to undertake lots of activities such as before I had back surgery.  But when I learnt I had developed fibro I realised that my back did not need further investigation and that I had to learn to pace myself and I understood that my brain was increasing the pain signals through my nervous system instead of in a non fibro sufferer reducing the pain signals.  

An example would be falling and hurting your ankle with a sprain that Fibromyalgia could increase the pain and symptoms such as touch and to feel more like a break.  It took my sprained ankle 2 years to heal instead of a normal 3-9 months, even for a bad sprain!

Plus when you understand how pacing works, you can begin to understand your limits and reduce activities to a level that flare ups are rare and manageable.  Keeping logs and diaries are a great way to help you learn about your condition, body and reduce the boom or bust scenarios.  Please read here for more information. 


The above shows you how boom or bust works and learning to pace activities will help to reduce or even eliminate these.

Now I’m not an expert, I came home yesterday in tears as I pushed myself too hard this week at work.  I called my new manager and asked to come and see me this week as I needed to talk through my new role, his and my expectations and make it clear I will not risk my health for work.  He agreed and seemed generally caring, which is a start.

I have tried to deal with fibromyalgia by popping pain pills but this treatment does not work.  Eventually our brains get used to them and then you have to keep moving onto stronger medications.  I weaned off 5 tablets and now find that I deal with fibro much better by just taking them during flare ups, as they seem to actually work and the rest of the time I use a holistic approach, I’ll give you a brief run down of done of the things I use:-

  • Regular massage
  • Magnesium flakes in my bath
  • Mindfulness and meditation
  • Pacing, spreading out activities with regular rest
  • I use a hydraulic desk and spinal chair at work so I can work standing and sitting
  • Heat, I have hot water bottles everywhere
  • I take a varied amount of natural minerals and vitamins
  • I use positive affirmations all the time, by saying out loud positive things such as I love mornings, I am going to have a great day today
  • I use essential oils in a device click here

I am not sure where you are on your journey with fibromyalgia, but if you understand why you get flare ups and increased pain you can learn to reduce or remove these episodes. 

Pacing with fibromyalgia

I have kept diaries in the past to track pain which was hard to determine what caused it as I did not know I had fibromyalgia at that time.  Everything hurt like hell ūüėāūüėā

I started to keep a Fibro diary about 3 months ago to see what caused pain and exhaustion to try to help me figure out what I could do and not have a Fibro attack, crash whatever you want to call it.

As part of my mindfulness course I am trying a new one which is a much better plan:-


This lists, activity, time taken, a rating for whatever you are tracking, mine is pain and exhaustion as separate ratings.  1 being minimal and 10 being extreme.  Then I log a physical tension rating and whether I perceive the activity as either an increase ‘+’ or decrease ‘-‘ or no change ‘0’.

The whole purpose of this is to try to see what activities increase pain, exhaustion and tension or whatever your scale is tracking, then to try to reduce the length of time by 20%, to try to reduce the boom, bust cycle, so the overdoing it then becoming ill, making myself incapable of activities until recovered. 
For example if sitting for 10 minutes is ok but more is painful, I just get up at 8 minutes and do something else for a period of time to reduce the chance of pain.

This is great in principle as it can help me plan my day better but presently it hurts to sit and stand at work and the more walking I do the more exhausted I get ūüėāūüėā. Since adding the hot water bottle I can sit for longer.  So I have in fact found a compromise.

I am going to keep the diary for a few days until my next session to see what happens and see if I can change anything to ensure I don’t fall into the boom or bust cycle. 


There are some great tips on the 2 pictures above.  

I have even been using my mindfulness meditation at work at lunch time as I find it helps me control my exhaustion due to mental exhaustion.  I don’t even need to close my eyes anymore as I can do it staring at something with a soft focus.

The pain I have is lower back ache which has ramped up since I restarted my regular mindfulness yoga.  It’s just lactic acid building up in my body as I allowed myself to become immobile.  The more I exercise the stronger I will become and in the long term my pain will reduce.

I will never ever allow myself not to be able to exercise and I will not allow myself to get overweight as this would be irresponsible and showing contempt for my health and wellbeing.

Exercise and Fibromyalgia

I hear from people with chronic pain that they cannot exercise and that I shouldn’t be exercising, now quite how exercising can make you ‘more ill’ I will never know, but I do know from having over 10 years ‘service’ of having advanced degenerative disc disease that some days you just don’t feel like it, plus when you first start the soreness you get from exercising can be off putting. ¬†I lifted weights and undertook insense interval training all through my back pain until I couldn’t do it anymore as my spine started to twist.

Not exercising just makes me more stiff, I get out of breath easily and I end up pulling more muscles as I am not used to moving around.  I also buzz off exercising, we all know from research that exercising releases endorphins or feel good chemicals.  But with Fibromyalgia the soreness from exercising can be epic.  Like a mild flu feeling in our bones, exhaustion and a reluctance to exercise again.  I gave up weight lifting for a year, then started again last year, only to stop again when I completely crashed early on in the year.

I’ve researched and spoken to many people that have gotten through the crashes and learnt ‘pacing’, more on this another time. ¬†Every person I spoke to exercises but it has taken many many months and in most cases years to be able to exercise anywhere near how I used to. ¬†Click here¬†to read more about this subject.

I tried swimming once a week, only managing 8 lengths then increasing to 12 over 2 weeks, then I made it up to twice a week and boy did I feel awful. ¬†Widespread pain and severe exhaustion but I did notice my average sleep was up! ¬†It was too much too soon. ¬†I know I need to go slower. ¬†I spotted mindfulness yoga, it was relaxing and even though I looked like a baby giraffe and the crappest yoga participant ever I didn’t care, I mean no one could see me……

So I am going to take it real slow. ¬†Mindfulness yoga once a week and swimming once a week (8 lengths) for a couple of weeks, see how sore I am then move on to 2 yoga sessions and once swimming etc. ¬†Magnesium spray is a fantastic straight into aching muscles, rubbed in. ¬†I buy them from EBay, look up Magnesium flakes here¬†and then you boil some PURIFIED water (keep tipping in till they won’t saturate anymore) then simmer and cool, add to a spray bottle and it works a treat!!

I add 2 cup fulls to each bath too. ¬†This might make you itch and come out in a rash but soon you won’t feel it, but your muscles won’t ache as much. ¬†I love the stuff.

My ultimate goal is to get back in the gym on the weights but that might be a while off yet.  First goal is to slowly increase my sessions up to 5 a week 30 minutes a day and I am hoping to be 3 days a week by Christmas!

Let me know what exercise you do and how often with Fibromyalgia and what tips and techniques you have for dealing with the very painful elevated soreness post workout?