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."
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.
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.
Falling into fibro and into despair
The majority of my sophomore year in college was spent feeling odd. My list of symptomstender muscles, constant fatigue, morning stiffness, and migrainesgrew quickly, taking my body prisoner before I had time to process it.
I watched from the sidelines as my girlfriends gallivanted off to parties. I'd hang back knowing that the alcohol and late nights would only provoke migraines and intense fatigue (not to mention the trigger points the stilettos would set off in my feet). When rain was forecasted, my roommates complained about getting wet, but I dreaded the havoc it would wreak on my muscles. I experienced widespread anxiety that my friends often attributed to being a perfectionist, which, of course, I let them think. By the end of the year I was significantly heavier (the pain loves junk food) and I felt lost and depressed.
Finally taking charge
Arriving back on campus my junior year, I decided enough was enough. I had never been a helpless person, and I was not going to allow myself to become one. I began slowly by taking steps to improve my diet. As the weight came off, I felt more motivated to move. I took the stairs to all my classes and walked to and from my off-campus apartment rather than opting for the bus. Gradually I began running and as the miles increased, I enrolled in a yoga class to balance out the tension the running was putting on my muscles. The months flew by in a blur. I had rekindled my old friendships, began going out (though never drinking, and always leaving by midnight), and had managed to steady my condition as much as possible.
It was during these years of actually experiencing the syndrome first hand, that I began to understand that no two cases of the condition are the same. While I could lean on my family for moral support and advice, none of them held the key to pain-free living. Each and every one of them had to go through their disease journey and find what worked best for them, just as I did. My aunt swears by yoga and a strict diet, my oldest sister runs distance while my middle sister and my mother hardly exercise at all. All of this is accompanied with wraps, heating pads, and my mother's famous tennis ball invention which, when rolled on at the exact right angle, can hit a trigger spot and provide some temporary relief.