How Fibromyalgia Has Impacted My Life...
... And Why I Refuse to Let It Take My Livelihood Away
I'm only 23 years old, which is far too young to have hip pain so bad I can't get out of bed some mornings. There are countless nights I can’t fall asleep, despite being exhausted all day. Other times, I’m too exhausted to go about my usual routines and sleep for 14 hours. As a full-time student, that means I drowsily sit through a lot of lectures without absorbing the material to my full potential, or miss classes altogether. As a gymnastics coach, it means I often can’t spot gymnasts the way I want to or be as active in their practices. This is hard to imagine and even harder to cope with. However, that's been my life for the past nine months. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia three months ago after undergoing a ton of testing at the doctor's office. They can't detect for Fibro in the blood, so they diagnose it by ruling out diseases with similar symptoms like lupus, Lyme's disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. In the past, I was extremely active. I'm in the Army Reserve, coach competitive gymnastics, and backpack for days on end in my free time. I've never been someone people have considered lazy, and my energy and work-ethic are a source of pride for me.
Fibromyalgia is a nervous system disorder where someone's body processes pain that isn't there. It constantly tells the individual they're in pain, even when nothing is technically wrong. As if this weren't bad enough, it comes with a side of anxiety and depression, causes insomnia, makes you tender to the touch, makes the person forgetful, irritable, fatigued, and so much more. With all of these symptoms, the worst still has to be the fact that there are absolutely NO physical indicators. No blood tests, MRIs, or x-rays can be used to positively diagnose Fibromyalgia. To an in informed onlooker, a Fibro sufferer would look completely healthy. This means there are always a handful of people who don't believe the disease is real, or the victim is being dramatic. This takes such a toll on relationships and friendships. I joined a support group online for people fighting this disease and many people have lost those close to them because of these emotional strains.
As I mentioned, I've always lived an active lifestyle. During my school years, I was a year-round athlete. I even danced collegiately! Now I coach competitive gymnastics, backpack in my free time, and love biking and rollerblading during the summer months (which, I’ll admit are few and far between in my home state of Wisconsin). This disease has made that all so hard. In the support groups I mentioned before, there are a lot of people who seem to have given up. They say it’s hopeless to even try to continue living an active life. Unless you face this disease, it's unfair to judge them because sometimes that feels like my only option, too. However, I found this to be more discouraging than anything, especially since I joined these groups for support! I'm stubborn and determined and refuse to accept a sedentary lifestyle, though. I've tried tons of different things from acupressure and massages to epsom salt baths and capsicum patches. I know that if I try enough things, there will be something that helps.
I'm still early in this journey, but I refuse to give up hope. If you suffer from Fibromyalgia as well, I hope you do the same. Reach out to people who understand your journey and lean on the things that give you relief. This disease has already taken our comfort and mental health away from us, I say we take a stand and refuse to let it take away more.