Fibromyalgia and the Army
Last week I shared this post with you about the start of my journey with Fibromyalgia. Today I wanted to add to that by sharing about my experience with Fibromyalgia and the Army.
I'm pretty sure that being in the military has only made the pain worse, and most of my doctors since I have been here in Germany would agree with you. I spent the first 3 years of my time in the Army with the 82nd Airborne Division. Even though we weren't Airborne, we were still held to the same standard. Which meant that we still ran 4-6 miles 3 times a week and did some muscle failure on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The 82nd standard for 4 miles was 36 minutes. I am so not a runner! I was good with short distances, but long distances and I just were never friends. Let me point out that running so much is part of my pain problem. Another 82nd standard was rucking 4 miles (with at least 35lbs) in 1.20 hours and 12 miles in 4 hours. I think this was the hardest part for me. When we came home from deployment, we used to do 4 mile ruck marches every other week, and I seriously struggled with these. Not for lack of wanting to finish it, because the faster I finished it, the faster I was done and could drop my ruck sack. Not only is it hard for me to walk for that long without stopping, but with the added weight, it just makes it worse on my knee and hip.
When I deployed I had to wear my body armor (which weighed about 40 lbs and doesn't sit quite right on the body), carry my ruck sack, duffle bag, and assualt pack all at once. I then had to wear my body armor and helmet every day to and from work, sometimes during work, and anyone who knows me knows that I trip over flat surfaces and thin air when it's just my own body weight. Needless to say, that made my pain worse after that year.
It wasn't until I came to Germany that I had a doctor that didn't believe that the pain was just in my head. Anyone who is in the 82nd and complains of knee pain without a glaring physical abnormality is faking it because they don't want to run. I could understand thinking that way because some people actually did this, but I honestly had an honest problem. I didn't get the help I needed until 4 years after it had started.
The thing with the military is that you have to be ready to deploy at a moments notice, especially in divisions like the 82nd, 101st, 3rd ID, and 10th Mountain. The problem for me is that I am no longer deployable. I can't wear my body armor, I can't carry my gear, and I can't do my job as an Air Traffic Controller. I can't quickly climb up and down stairs, I can't sit or stand for too long, and I have to take medication. Those three things disqualify me from being an Air Traffic Controller with the US Army. Being ATC in the Army means we have strict medical standards to follow, standards that are more strict then most of the Army. I can't take more then 200 mg of ibeprofen without a prescription, can't take allergy medication without a prescription, I can't even see a doctor that isn't my primary care manager without being a long process. I can't even have eczema (a skin condition) without a waiver! I have "Flight physicals" every year to check our overall health, hearing, vision, have labs done, and whatever else. Every 5 years (so on the ages ending in 5 and 0) we have "long flight physicals" where you have to fast and they draw a lot of blood and run even more tests, and the 4 in between are "short physicals" where they don't do as much testing.
I spent several years just living with the pain so I could continue to do my job. I suffered with the incomnia and discomfort of chronic pain just so I could continue doing a job that I really liked. However, I found out earlier this year, that Fibromyalgia permanently disqualifies me from being an Air Traffic Controller and can also medically discharge or retire me from the Army. Once I found this out, I went to see my doctor about the insomnia and anxiety because since I was going to already be medically disqualified, might as well finally get help for all of it. My old boss didn't like that one single bit. So now I am going through an MEB (Medical Evaluation Board) to determine whether or not I will stay in the Army or be discharged (most likely discharged) and whether or not it's just a medical discharge or medical retirement.
I've recently had several conversations with my CSM who likes to tell me that I am too young to just give up. I tell him that I've accepted that I have this illness and just have to learn how to adapt my life around having it, because it's not going away any time soon. He thinks that is me just giving up because I've accepted that I have this, but when I had the same conversation with my counselor, she says that it's not giving up, but it's showing strength because I am not letting it beat me, I'm not letting it get the best of me. I do my best not to let it get me depressed, because it would be so easy to let it do that, or let it make me mad all the time, but what good would it do me to be either of those? It would do me no good, just make my situation worse then it already is. I have to learn how to function throughout my life with this, learn how to function like I did before I had this, and not let it stop me. Just because I can't be in the military anymore due to the limitations on my ability to be active and because of the medication that I have to start taking, doesn't mean I am going to let it stop me from doing other things. I won't let it stop me from going to school or running my own business, even though sometimes both of those things can be difficult. I just won't let it stop me from living a normal life. Just gotta learn to adapt.
The hard part about Fibromyalgia is that since you can't physically see what is wrong, most people think it's all in your head. They think you're making it up for attention or you're depressed, or whatever other odd excuse they can come up with. I had a conversation with my mother shortly after I was diagnosed (she's been a nurse most of my life) and she said that this is a diagnosis that doctors give when they don't know what is wrong with you. I've had plenty of blood tests and physical tests done, had MRI's done on my back and knee/hip, had X-Rays done on my knee. The hard part seems to be convincing people that this is a real thing.
I have never had so many medical appointments in such a short time as I have since the March of this year. I've had to drive to Landstuhl every couple of weeks for a several month time span to see different people, got new medication to try to the insomnia and the pain, and had several vials of blood drawn. In the middle of June I have to go to Fort Eustis, Viriginia for an in-depth medical exam for my MEB and discharge.
May 12th is Fibromyalgia Awareness month (which I unknowingly missed) and the awareness ribbon is purple (just like Relay for Life).
Like I said this past Saturday, although I've had this pain for years, I am just starting my journey to a better life. I want to document that journey here. Mostly for myself, as a way to remember and look back at what I've gone through; but also partially in hopes that maybe some day I can help someone else who is just starting to go through this same journey. We have to know that we're not alone. Here in my unit- I am alone in my diagnosis- but I know that I am not truely alone. I have found some new-to-me bloggers who are going through different stages of Fibromylgia and it's helped me out. It's what has convinced me to write about my journey (since it's such a big part of my life now).