Sensory overload and Fibromyalgia

There are numerous symptoms of fibromyalgia, and range from simple discomforts such as achy feet to complex symptoms such as depression. The symptoms also vary in severity – not only from person to person, but from day to day. One aggravating symptom is sensory sensitivities. Many people do not know it, but sensory overload and fibromyalgia are connected.

 

Sensory Overload and Fibromyalgia: The Connection between sensory sensitivity and pain #BeingFibroMom #sensorysensitivity
photo credit: image created by Brandi, Being Fibro Mom, using the image from © vadymvdrobot

 

#Sensory sensitivities are connected to #fibromyalgia #BeingFibroMom #FibroSenses Click To Tweet

 

My experience with sensitive senses

I dislike hate loud noises such as outbursts, squealing, screaming, large crowds, etc.  Anyone that knows me can you tell you that.  And when I make the statement, “I cannot stand loud noises; I do not have the patience or ears for it” I usually get a baffled look from the other person.

Certain tastes (like eggs, yuck!) are also a nuisance to me. And if there is an odor within a mile radius of where I’m standing, I can smell it. Some lights cause headaches and other lights are just annoying.

I know – I have four kids. Suck it up. But that’s not it.

It’s more than just not being able to tolerate certain noise volumes, tastes, touch, bright lights, and particular smells . It’s the feeling I get when I’m surrounded by it.

My anxiety rises.

My blood pressure goes up a bit.

I start to shut down physically, emotionally, and mentally.

And aside from all that – it literally hurts my ears.

 

The connection between senses and fibromyalgia

It’s not a choice to hate loud noises, certain tastes, smells, or lights. It’s one of many symptoms of living with fibromyalgia – sensory overload. Sensory overload and fibromyalgia are connected. Sensory overload is when your senses become overwhelmed. And adults aren’t the only ones living with it. Kids are, too!

 

Research conducted by Dr. Daniel Clauw, director of the University of Michigan’s fibromyalgia research center, reported that

just as your pain signals are amplified in fibromyalgia, so are all of your other sensory inputs for touch, sight, sound, and smell.*

 

Pain signals and other other sensory inputs are amplified with #fibromyalgia Click To Tweet

 

And, as Michael Geisser, Ph.D. has discovered, the sensory overload is directly linked to increased levels of pain, increased number of physical symptoms, and decreased functional capacity.

In other words, the more your sensory symptoms become amplified, the worse your fibromyalgia will become.*

 

Sensory sensitivities include all the senses:

  • touch
  • noise
  • odors
  • bright lights
  • taste

 

Great! If it’s not annoying enough to live with this condition every day for the rest of my life, now this little sensitivity causes the condition to worsen. And, yes, I have all the sensory sensitivities; however, I was not aware they were caused by my fibromyalgia until the drafting of this post.

 

scream kid meme

 

How to deal with sensory overload

Writing this article helped me to understand my sensitivity to sound, light, taste, touch and smell. Sometimes I feel like a bad mom because of the noise sensitivity, even though it’s out of my control. The best way I can deal with it is by:

 

Gadgets to help with loud noises

There are also cool gadgets to help lessen the pain of loud noises.

Disclosure: I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post, but these are products I recommend and have verified and/or used.

For example, these easy to carry, reusable, high fidelity hearing plugs from Amazon:

Or Ear Pro by SureFire 4 Sonic Defender Ear Plugs:

 

Conclusion

I love my kids, and I know that all those loud noises come with the territory, but that does not change my sensitivity to it, unfortunately.

There have been times that the screaming and/or crying have been so aggravating and ear piercing that all I could do was laugh.  Laughing and thinking, “How did it get to this point?!”

Case in point:  Abby and the Popsicle Fiasco.

 

Abby and the Popsicle Fiasco

My sister and her son were visiting us last summer, and we took the kids swimming in the river at the bottom of the mountain we lived on.  It was extremely hot, so we gave the kids popsicles when we got home.  The older kids went outside with their treats, but Abby did this instead (video). Apparently, Abby did not want a green Popsicle, but wanted the blue popsicle instead.  We did not know that until it was revealed after the tantrum was over. Typical toddler, huh? I still laugh when I watch this video!

 

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Sensory Overload and Fibromyalgia: The Connection between sensory sensitivity and pain #BeingFibroMom #sensorysensitivity
photo credit: image created by Brandi, Being Fibro Mom, using the image from © vadymvdrobot

 

Related Posts

10 fun but quiet indoor activities for kids #FibroParenting #BeingFibroMom

 

7 Essential Items to Have When a Migraine Strikes #migraine
image created by Brandi, Being Fibro Mom, using the image from © Monkey Business

 

Less the pain of light sensitivity (photophobia) #lightsensitivity #beingfibromom
stock image from Adobe Stock by Farina3000 and modified by Brandi, Being Fibro Mom

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Brandi

I'm Brandi, follower of Christ, wife to an amazing, supportive husband, blessed mother to four sweet children, and a fellow spoonie. Facebook-+-Twitter-+-Instagram

50 thoughts on “Sensory overload and Fibromyalgia

  • April 7, 2014 at 12:00 am
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    Oh my gosh... I can so relate! I'm Bipolar, and I have serious sensory overload issues too! I have always known they're linked... But reading your post is very validating. I also have four kids, and get the same blank looks from people when they find out how noise sensitive I am.... It's like um really? They think I should be able to just get past it... You and I know that's not the case! Found you on Small Victories! Reply
    • April 7, 2014 at 9:38 am
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      Yes, I get those looks, and it's gets annoying. I don't like being so sensitive to the noises, but it's not like I can help it! Thanks for stopping by! Reply
  • April 8, 2014 at 4:32 pm
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    Thanks for sharing with #SmallVictoriesSunday #linky 14. I had no idea that sensory overload and fibromyalgia are linked but I see the correlation. I get annoyed withmy loud kids as it is. I can't imagine their yelling causing me additional pain. Reply
    • April 9, 2014 at 12:57 pm
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      Yes, it is annoying, but the pain of it is worse. Just this weekend I had to end my shopping trip early because a kid in the store (it was a small store) was screaming, and wouldn't stop. It was quite painful. Reply
  • April 13, 2014 at 7:09 pm
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    I completely understand. I find that when I'm overstimulated I end up getting very confused about what is going on. It's infuriating and annoying! Reply
    • April 16, 2014 at 10:47 pm
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      Yes! That is a great way to describe it! I get confused, too, and others look at me like "What's her problem?". It IS annoying! Reply
    • November 22, 2015 at 5:22 am
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      I to...can relate! I've dealt with, sensory overload... since my 20's. I'm now 49. Banging dishes, and silverware. Clapping, load music, SCREAMING, repetitive noises, and the list goes on. I have migraines, due some loud noises, smells & lights. It's so frustrating, when you tell people... and they treat you like... your just complaining! Please tell me how, I can get you... to understand!? I'm tired, of repeating myself! Reply
      • November 23, 2015 at 11:52 am
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        I agree. I have issues with all those sounds you listed. My mom is extremely sensitive to bright lights like the kind in hospitals and stores. They can set off migraines for her, too. Thank you so much for reading my article, Mary! Reply
  • April 25, 2014 at 2:27 pm
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    Great information. I did not know fibromyalgia was linked to sensory overload, but it makes sense! And I totally agree that when there is a child in the store & they are screaming because they can't have something they want, that bugs the crap outta me! My kids are no angels, but they knew/know that doing something like that will NOT get them what they want ;-) Reply
    • April 25, 2014 at 4:50 pm
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      Yes, my children, too! They have their moments, but they do not scream until they get what they want. They know I do not response to that mess! Reply
  • October 10, 2014 at 5:40 pm
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    I just found your blog. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia about 12 years ago and am still reluctant to divulge this info to anyone unless I have to. I have had some bad experiences with doctors and eye rolling... I guess you could say I have a mild case, for now, as I am able to still do my day to day activities, although it is less than most people my age. I had no idea this was linked to sensory problems! I always feel so guilty every time I have to say no to my son when he asks if he can have a few friends over or when I have to move seat in a theater or in class because I literally cannot deal with the extra noise or the smell of the lotion someone is wearing. This is really amazing to know so I don't feel like I'm crazy half the time! Reply
    • October 11, 2014 at 7:14 am
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      I completely empathize with you, Jen! At one point I had a doctor tell me to 'suck it up' because the pains I was feeling is called being a mom. It really hurt. I am also reluctant to tell others about my diagnosis, but then I realize that others are ignorant to this chronic condition and people will dismiss what they do not understand. It is up to us to spread the awareness of this real disease. Please contact me if you need any further help with anything. Gentle hugs, friend! Reply
      • November 21, 2015 at 8:44 am
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        Hi, thank you for helping to spread awareness of this invisible illness. With that said along with being just recently diagnosed myself, how do you tell family and friends to help them understand what fibro is doing to the body? Feeling judged makes it harder for me to deal with. Reply
        • November 21, 2015 at 10:12 am
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          Hi, Jeannie, Thank you for reading my articles. I'm glad they are spreading the awareness. It is difficult to tell family and friends about fibromyalgia because it is a complicated illness to those of us that suffer from it. However, it's essential to tell those close to you about your illness in order to build an effective support system. Tell them a brief, twenty second description of fibromyalgia that includes the main points (For example, fibromyalgia is a real illness that takes place in the nerves and is felt all over the body. I experience fatigue, body aches, mood swings, and many other symptoms that come and go throughout the days for no reason. The one way to help me in my illness is to be supportive by understanding I may not always feel well even though I may look okay.) You could also point them to sites like mine that give further details into the illness. It's important for them to understand what you're going through, but it's also important for us to know that it's difficult for them to understand all the mysteries of fibromyalgia. Be patient with them, and they will be patient with you. And even if you may feel judged a lot of times it's just us feeling judged even when we may not. Supportive family and friends will not judge you. Here's an article about how to support someone with a chronic illness for further assistance. If you need any further help, please contact me. Thank you again for reaching out to me. Gentle hugs, friend Reply
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  • February 20, 2015 at 1:45 am
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    Thank you so much for the great article. I honestly had not heard of this being a symptom as well! Will I ever stop learning of new terrible, painful things that are caused by my fibro. I just thought it was part of my depression and the no serotonin thing. Be aware of spinal spasms too. It's like your spine thinking you were in a car accident only you were just SLEEPING, and you woke up with whip lash from sleeping it's call torticollis. Everyone looked at me like I was being extra dramatic about a kink in my neck. Even my husband thought I was being dramatic. However it was thee most painful thing I have ever experienced, that include a 28 hour labor, c section, kidney stones. Has anyone else experienced this? Reply
    • February 20, 2015 at 2:02 pm
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      I have experienced that many times! I had no idea is was related to fibromyalgia. I just looked it up and read some articles about it. Very interesting. It DOES really, really hurt. I can't move my neck and almost feels as though it's paralyzed. Nothing soothes the pain either. Thank you for making this connection. I'll definitely be looking more in to it and putting out the connection in a future post. Thanks again! Reply
  • February 27, 2015 at 7:15 am
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    So true and especially when hormones, migraine, etc. chime in. I have a daughter who is a screamer. I mean blood curdling kind of screaming and she is 9! Between stubbornly moving furniture (when will I learn?) to a good scream from her, I was in so much pain for the past few days. It made me realize how far I have come. Brandi, I really appreciate your blog and tried to contact you, but the link didn't work. The reason why is because I've always been curious as to the cause of my sickness. Although I've had clues and science has some ideas, I always wanted to find a study that links commonalities in patients and wonder if I sent you a list of some things that I have experienced in childhood and on, would you concur as to any of the same? God bless and I pray that you have a low pain day. God willing. Michelle Reply
  • March 1, 2015 at 2:58 pm
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    This is very valuable information. I did not realize that there was a connection between sensory overload and fibromyalgia. Now I can understand why one of my friends backed off of spending as much time with me once my daughter was born. (She's very loud, whiny, and a very challenging child!) Thank you for sharing this information with us! Reply
    • March 1, 2015 at 6:44 pm
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      Yes, it could be why. When my nephew was born last summer, I helped out when I could, but it was limited when it came to his screaming. Nothing personal to anyone. Thanks for reading! Reply
  • March 2, 2015 at 2:37 pm
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    I have heard of sensitivity with fibro before, and I also suffer from it. I have grandkids, and it is hard to be around them. I love them, though, so much that I push myself to visit them. My husband is a great help. I think I will show him the study about this; so, he will have a better understanding of what I deal it. Reply
    • March 3, 2015 at 8:11 am
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      It's difficult to explain yourself, so it's sometimes better to pass along the reading literature on it. Talking to your kids and grandkids about the pain it causes may help the situation as well. Thank you for taking the time to read my article! Reply
      • March 6, 2015 at 11:05 pm
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        Hi Brandi! You came to our Linky party. Again, another great post. I still find the one you linked last week haunting. Am I allowed to pick you to feature? I could relate to the "Stick in the Eye" and you better be on fire... My daughter was terrified, I mean TERRIFIED of animals when younger. She would scream in such terror, it sounded like she had a stick on fire in her eye. Thanks for linking up with us! Janice Reply
        • March 7, 2015 at 12:58 pm
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          Haha My daughter is the same way, Janice! Every time she sees a dog, it's ear piercing screaming!! Reply
  • March 25, 2015 at 9:51 pm
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    This is very helpful information for people to know. Sensory overload is more common than people think! Thanks for linking up to the Bloggers Brags Pinterest Party. I have pinned your post to the Bloggers Brags Pinterest Board. Reply
  • September 26, 2015 at 11:49 am
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    I too can relate to this. My worst sensitivity is noise. I wear ear plugs 24/7 and can hear anyone talking in a normal voice just fine. So unless I'm in a conversation directly with someone, I don't usually take them out. If I'm just dealing with a cashier quickly, they stay in. If I'm talking with my doctor for a few minutes, I take em out. At home they stay in unless I have to use the headset ear plugs to listen to something on my PC or tablet. I find it is the only way I can manage my noise issue. The hubby has to have the tv low enough that I can't hear everything word for word. Music in the background just doesn't happen to me lol. If we want to listen to music it is on our separate PCs. I usually listen to ambient music you are more likely to find in a yoga or massage therapy studio. Tinnitus is also something I suffer with. Never diagnosed, but I sure notice it on bad pain days, or when the noise sensitivity issue is really bad. Especially when there is noise I cannot control. Oh, like when the neighbor downstairs plays his video game with the tv volume cranked up. Or someone is using a hammer a few houses down. Nothing you can do but hope you don't snap and go stop the noise *once and for all* lol. Great info Brandi. It's so very important that we know we are not alone. *gentle spoonie hugs* #damnyoufibro Reply
    • October 3, 2015 at 10:41 am
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      Thank you. I'm the same with noise. I easily get overwhelmed and my anxiety worsens with loud noises. I shut down. It's aggravating, for sure! Reply
  • September 30, 2015 at 11:38 pm
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    Hi, Thank you so much for the information on FM and sensory over load. This is such a baffling disease. I have no support and can not get my family who is and always has been very supportive otherwise to even listen to the PSA's put out by the foundation. i feel so alone.' Thanks again, Hollee Reply
    • October 3, 2015 at 10:40 am
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      I'm sorry you are experiencing this. I've been through it, too. Please email me if you need to talk or get additional resources. I'm here to help. Contact me here. Reply
  • November 21, 2015 at 12:49 am
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    I was not aware of the connection. It brings a lot of things into focus. I would love to repost this on Facebook, but the meme you have that is meant to be funny about children having three volume settings that says 3. I which I was deaf would offend the people on my friends list that are deaf or Hard of Hearing. I have a number of people in my immediate circle that could benefit themselves from reading this and gain understanding about my behavior as well. Thanks so much for sharing this. Reply
    • November 21, 2015 at 10:13 am
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      Thank you for contacting me about the meme. I will correct the image so that it will share the main image and not the meme. Thank you again. Reply
  • November 21, 2015 at 12:05 pm
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    I have always been an outgoing energetic loud individual, that was until I developed fibromyalgia. The sensory issues are definitely part of this debilitating syndrome. Special holidays like thanksgiving and Christmas will never be the same. Instead of socializing with everyone; having drinks, telling stories, laughing, I am in another room laying down because it is just too painful to partake. The noise of voices talking loud and laughing literally feels like ice chisel in my ears. I get fatigued so much quicker that by 5pm I'm ready for bed. This syndrome has changed everything about me. I look in the mirror and don't recognize who I am anymore. Reply
    • November 23, 2015 at 11:49 am
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      I know and understand what you are going through. When I do participate in holiday activities, the sounds quickly overwhelm me. I start to shut down and I just want to scream from the elevated anxiety levels. The holidays are great, but come with a price. I hope you have an enjoyable holidays as best as you can. Reply
  • November 22, 2015 at 1:24 am
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    My little will also throw a fit if it's not the color she wanted OR the way she wanted...yes, the color is important, because they are different flavors...kids are smart. I have stated out loud that my favorite icee flavor is blue and suddenly they all want that color/flavor..Because I said it's the best one! But she doesn't have the words to communicate it yet. AND another issue is if I take a bite of something before handing it to her (or cut it in half and it's not whole)...that can ruin it too...even if they won't finish it all themselves. They want to have their own. It's part of becoming an individual...So, when I watch this video, I think she wanted her own WHOLE icee and oh course the best color/flavor too! She is adorable. Reply
    • November 23, 2015 at 11:50 am
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      Yes, I agree with you. She wanted what she wanted, and because of a speech delay, she wasn't able to voice her opinion. We (her and me) are getting better with understanding one another. Thanks for the kind words and reading my article. Reply
  • March 2, 2016 at 1:25 am
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    This is an amazing article, Brandi! I've always had sensitive hearing because I'm partially deaf in one ear. Some sounds literally feel like a burning needle in that ear! No one has ever been able to explain why. It's gotten worse recently, I think it might because of the fibro. Some sounds can even trigger a headache or migraine for me too, especially if they're repetitive. And bright lights are the worst! My eyes will hurt and I have no shame in wearing my sunglasses indoors. Screaming kids sends chills throughout my body and sets off ice pick migraines for me if they last for too long. It's amazing how our bodies work and how this one thing, Fibromyalgia, can a set off a tidalwave of other things in our body for us deal with. Through faith, good humour, and support we shall prevail! I signed up for your blog after I read this article. I'll check out your blog posts tomorrow. Thanks for blogging about Fibromyalgia and sharing your story and Fibromyalgia information. Reply
    • March 2, 2016 at 1:38 pm
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      Thank you so much for reading my article and the kind words! Yes, I get the same pains in my ears when kids scream or are too loud. Also get a headache if it lasts for too long. You're right about faith, good humor, and support - it will help! Thanks again, Kimberly! Reply
  • April 19, 2016 at 11:22 pm
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    So I'm curious to no if clutter can be something that can trigger this sensory overload.? I have sensitivities to some lights, noises, and smells but I particularly completely shut down when my house is cluttered. I have to go into a quiet room by myself because I start having severe "anxiety attacks" along with fast heart rate, sweating, etc. Reply
    • April 20, 2016 at 8:49 am
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      yes, I believe there is a connection between the two. I get the same overwhelmed feelings and high anxiety when my house is cluttered. Going into a quiet room alone is a great way to calm down before tackling any of the issues. Reply
  • July 27, 2016 at 4:24 pm
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    I am so glad that I came upon this! I have been dealing with this since 2013. I have Lupus but my symptoms are the exact same. I find myself crying because of the pain of certain sounds! The deeper sounds hurt more but it's so bad now that I wear headphones when i'm just sitting around because it brings me comfort knowing that any sound will be filtered. If I am not wearing them, I feel anxious. (I will talk to the doctor about the anxiety, that shouldn't be :) !) But even the faintest of smells are very apparent to me and if they are strong, then it makes me nauseated. I get teased all the time for being able to smell everything but now I see that there is a reason!! I will share this because this week was really bad for me and I felt bad asking if the kids could stop banging on the walls or closing the doors hard because they are just doing what children do! Reply
    • August 2, 2016 at 10:31 am
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      Yes, I am exactly the same! Especially with the smells. My husband laughs and says if I can't smell it, then it's not there within twenty miles! haha Reply
  • August 24, 2016 at 11:04 am
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    And the light bulb goes on!! (But I have to turn it off because it hurts my eyes!). Music in the background drives me out of my flipping mind!!! My husband and I always fought at night because he liked to turn on the radio and fall asleep listening. It didn't just annoy me. It made me feel a crazy rage that was way out of proportion with the cause. So, now I get it!! No matter how low it was, I could still hear it. And I had a hard enough time sleeping anyway. Thanks for helping me figure this one out! The other kind of sensory overload I used to get crazy over was when I felt all my senses at the same time equally. Usually we focus on one or two things and shove the other senses into the background. So for me it would be the kids all talking and laughing in the car was equal to the fire truck and its siren. OMG! The piece is gum I stuck in my mouth is bursting with the most incredible flavor I've ever tasted. Meanwhile I have to put on my sunglasses even though it's not blindingly sunny because the light is hurting my eyes. My daughter sprayed some of that stinking little girl perfume that usually makes me gag in good circumstances. And the car radio--well you already know about that.and I'm hot. Really hot. Hot flash hot. So, I am being bombarded by all these sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings. But none step forward to capture my attention or backward into the background. It's as if they are all little sharp arrows that hit me at the same time. I sense them all at the same time. Does anyone else feel like this. Again, my feeling is that sense of rage because I don't know how to make it stop. At least I can spit out the gum, turn on the AC, tell my kiddos (I have four too) to knock it off, and turn that blasted radio off. I take a deep breath and feel so much better. Thank goodness for that!! Reply
    • August 25, 2016 at 7:30 am
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      I completely understand your frustration. When the kids have friends over, it's like that as well. So many different sounds and smells mixed with all the commotion of so many kids can be quite overwhelming. When it gets to that point and I'm at home, I go to my closet. It's quiet, dark, and has an air vent so it's cool. My kids have figured out that when they see me head in that direction, to calm it down. It only takes about five minutes or so to be myself again. We have a Facebook group for parents with fibromyalgia. Join us and let's do the fibro parenting together as a fibro community! https://www.facebook.com/groups/fibroparenting/ Reply
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  • January 8, 2017 at 10:48 pm
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    Your article immediately brought to mind an incident that occurred about thirty (yes, 3-0) years ago, twenty years before I was diagnosed with fibro. My husband was working for a company that emptied coins from vending machines and video games in arcades. He also loved to play the new games. Long story short, I walked in with my family and immediately became dizzy with a blinding headache. I had to wait in the car until he and the kids were done. Since then I've avoided arcades like the plague! My husband and girls are past the age that they want to go to Chuckie Cheese, but at least I know I can get those earplugs to take my granddaughter Reply
    • January 13, 2017 at 12:54 pm
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      Thank you for reading my article! As soon as you said 'emptied coins', I cringed. I know that sound and it hurts!! Arcades are one of many places to avoid for sure. If you are not already a member, please join us in my fibro parenting group on Facebook at www.facebook.com/groups/fibroparenting We have encouragement, support, times to vent, and more, but NO judgment. I'd love to have you join us! Reply
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