How I Faced and Fought the Family Illness: Fibromyalgia

Coming from a family of fibromyalgia sufferers, Caitlyn Elf, 23, of New York City, was devastated when the symptoms—tender muscles, fatigue, stiff joints, and migraines—set in during her sophomore year of college. Falling first into a depression, she later found the strength to fight fibromyalgia and reclaim her life.

Caitlyn (right) and her mom both have fibromyalgia. For Caitlyn, developing the illness was a journey from depression to triumph.
Sitting in the exam room clutching my fists in some misguided attempted to alleviate my aching muscles, I heard it: "You know, it is possible that this pain is just in your head."

There it was. The frustrating response that my sisters, my mother, my aunts and my mother's mother before them had received time and time again; the one simple statement that took years of endless pain and transformed it into nothing but an illusion. It was only then that I truly understood what it meant to live life with fibromyalgia.

Had I not been cautioned by those who preceded me in hearing this diagnosis, I would have been much more outraged. Despite the warning, I still found that it hurt to actually hear someone cleanly dismiss the entire disorder like that. Not because I felt irritated (though I did), but because it meant little hope for a pain-free future. If medical professionals refuse to recognize the reality of fibromyalgia, there is little chance of a true treatment ever being explored, let alone found.

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Whether someone else believes it or not, I am forced to deal with this pain daily. Some days my muscles are so inflamed that I can hardly bear the weight of clothes. Migraines often induce a toilet-hugging night, praying for the pain to somehow subside. Rather than trading beauty and fashion tips, my sisters and I exchange remedies and treatments. Family gatherings frequently devolve into commiserating about the myriad of sub-symptoms: the IBS, the anxiety, the fatigue.

The family inheritance I'd rather forego
As children, my sisters and I would sit and listen to these stories from grandmother, mother, and aunts. We were a captive audience to the tale of a seemingly far away journey. But soon, my sisters received their diagnoses and began to chime in, offering their own management tips. It wasn't until college that my symptoms really picked up, finally allowing me into the club. I quickly realized that this was one conversation I would have gladly sat out on.

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Lead writer: Caitlyn Elf
Last Updated: April 07, 2008

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