Switching off the pain

Fibromyalgia is a debilitating condition that causes severe muscle and joint pain and fatigue. Singer-songwriter Emily Maguire speaks candidly to Health and Homeopathy about her life as a sufferer of this chronic illness and how homeopathy has helped her.

It was when I was in my early teens that I first began to be troubled by constant muscle pain and fatigue. I had constant pain from muscle spasms that seemed to be moving around my body, burning sensations or aches that could last for seconds, minutes or hours. Sometimes I would get a flare-up and my whole body would feel like it was on fire.

On bad days I had great difficulty walking and getting up and down stairs. My arms and legs would suddenly seem to lose all strength or I’d have what I would call a “wipe-out”, when I would be overcome  by extreme fatigue and have to lie down wherever I happened to be, even if I was in the street. Naturally, this made going out, even with walking sticks, very unnerving. Other symptoms included an extreme sensitivity to temperature – I felt better in warm weather and much worse when it was damp and cold – bright lights and a feeling as if my skin was burned or badly bruised.

Originally I was misdiagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a type of chronic arthritis that affects parts of the spine, including the bones, muscles and ligaments. I was prescribed a “Line 1” arthritis drug for which I had to sign a consent form because apparently one of the side-effects is death. Although it didn’t kill me it made me vomit every day for the three months I was taking it.

There followed what I can only describe now as years of pharmaceutical experimentation as doctors and specialists struggled unsuccessfully to find the right medication to alleviate my symptoms. This included being prescribed nearly every pain killer licensed in the UK. Although these drugs had little effect on the pain I was suffering, my disturbed sleep was helped by taking amitryptiline.

I was admitted to the Royal Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases in Bath on three occasions, where I was treated with cortisone steroid injections, but this only made the pain worse. Like many of the other patients in the hospital the only thing I found that would offer any relief from the pain was certain types of cannabis.

It was in 2001, ten years after the pain first started, that fibromyalgia was finally diagnosed. This was during one of my stays at the Royal Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases where most of the other fibromyalgia patients were in their 50s and 60s, as it is unusual for someone as young as I was to have this condition. The consultants, nurses and physiotherapists treating me were all extremely kind and sympathetic, but their attitude was that fibromyalgia pain syndrome is a chronic, incurable condition that I have to come to terms with and learn how to manage: a distressing prognosis for someone in their early twenties.

Suffering from this illness inevitably has had serious consequences on my life and development. While my friends were at university or starting careers, I was registered disabled with my mother as my carer.  Over the years I’ve had to resign from two fantastic jobs (one in publishing, the other at an arts venue) due to the illness. Trying come to terms with having a painful and disabling condition that I would have to live with for the rest of my life was very difficult for me, and resulted in my suffering from anxiety, depression and other cognitive problems.

An alternative approach
It was possibly this failure to come to terms with my illness that led me to explore complementary medicine, and I must have tried nearly every alternative therapy under the sun in attempt to find a cure. I tried osteopathy, chiropractic, Chinese herbal medicine, aromatherapy, hydrotherapy, magnetic therapy, a TENS machine, heat pads, yoga, the Alexander technique, Tai Chi, reiki and more, but none of them had any effect.

Homeopathy, for some reason, was the last therapy I tried. This now appears strange to me because my godmother had been cured of severe depression at the NHS Royal London Homeopathic Hospital (now the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine) many years before and she’d always said to me that I should go there as it is “not like any other hospital”. A friend was similarly full of praise having been successfully treated there for chronic gynaecological problems.

I was referred by my GP to the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital in Great Ormond Street and saw Dr Peter Fisher – my fourth consultant rheumatologist. First he carried out some tests and confirmed the diagnosis of fibromyalgia. He then started asking me extremely detailed and varied questions about every aspect of my physical and emotional life. Some of the questions appeared to be totally irrelevant to my health and I remember particularly being taken aback when he asked me if liked wearing roll-neck jumpers, which I didn’t. What this indicated about me I still don’t know, but I do now recognise that he was taking an entirely holistic approach to my health and my condition.

The consultation lasted for over an hour, at the end of which Dr Fisher prescribed the homeopathic medicine Ignatia; two pills to be taken twice a week. At the time the only conventional medication I was taking was amitryptiline to help me sleep and Dr Fisher was happy for me to continue doing this, as he said homeopathic Ignatia wouldn’t react with it.

When I had my first appointment with Dr Fisher I had been in constant pain for nearly ten years. Within one month of taking the homeopathic medicine, the pain was completely gone.

Since then I’ve only needed to use the homeopathic medicine occasionally when I’ve felt that the symptoms could be flaring up again, but this is rare.  But I have turned to homeopathy for other problems. I use Argent nitricum (silver nitrate) regularly for anxiety, particularly performance anxiety before I take to the stage. Occasionally I use Lycopodium to help me sleep and have used Ignatia to help with grief. Incidentally, my Australian mother-in-law uses homeopathic medicines, with remarkable success, for treating the animals on her farm.

Last year my mother was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Initially, her doctor got her to attend an extremely depressing outpatient clinic where they were instructing patients on how to “live with the condition”. She has since undergone homeopathic treatment and has been restored to health.

Holistic healing
Although naturally I’m delighted by the improvement in my health that homeopathy has helped to bring about, I don’t want to give the impression that it is a “miracle” cure, as I believe strongly that the lasting relief from the symptoms I suffered from for so many years was the result of a combination of factors that brought about holistic healing. These include achieving lower stress levels (I practise meditation every day), a daily gentle exercise routine, taking the amitryptiline to help me sleep, and living a more creative and thus fulfilling lifestyle that has given me a sense of purpose. But the point is this: by the time I saw Dr Fisher for the first time I was already doing all these things and yet still suffering constant pain. Homeopathy was like the switch that enabled all these other factors to combine and finally turn the pain off. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Emily has recorded three albums Stranger Place, Keep Walking and Believer which are available from Amazon, HMV, Play.com and iTunes. For information about Emily’s musical career visit www.emilymaguire.com

The homeopathic medicine Ignatia is derived from the seeds of Ignatia amara or Saint Ignatius bean, a seed pod from a tree found in the Philippines and other parts of South East Asia.