Back in 2012 I was diagnosed with a chronic illness called fibromyalgia, which is a syndrome made up of a bunch of a symptoms, the most characteristic ones being widespread pain and tender points. On the one hand, I was relieved to have finally received a diagnosis after a year of suffering with it, but on the other hand, it was still a super sucky diagnosis. No one wants to be told that they’re going to struggle with pain their entire lives–and that’s exactly how I felt at the time. The pain was so intense that it launched me into a depressive episode, which then triggered bipolar disorder. There was even a time where, for a couple of months, I was using a cane because my hips and lower back hurt so horrendously. I was taking pain medication, like Lyrica or the generic Naproxin. I was in a state of constant flare. I never worked out my upper body because doing so made it flare even worse the next day.
I was doing ballet during this time when it first struck me in 2011, and I think ballet may have triggered fibromyalgia; the pain started in my shoulders, which were the most tense part of me in the beginning when I began ballet. At the time my dance teacher and I thought they were just muscle knots. I then bought a foam roller, only to make everything worse. Turns out they were tender spots, which never go away. So I set up an appointment, but it was in a month. I couldn’t wait a month and ended up in the emergency room, just so I could get some pain meds. I didn’t receive a proper diagnosis, either–just myofascial pain! Then I did see a doctor and was put in physical therapy. I thought that worked, as I was flare-free for a while. Then the fall of 2012 hit, and that’s when things fell apart for me again.
Knowing that I had–and still have–a chronic illness completely flipped my thought processes. The pain became even more real. The idea of forever grew too painful. I was wracked with pain every day. Even worse, I developed insomnia because of the fibro. This, of course, makes flares even worse. Then depression struck.
It was a vicious cycle.
Then I recovered from my first bipolar depressive episode in 2013. I was also cast in my previous dance school’s Roar of Love, playing three parts. Two were en pointe, one was flat. Because of the recital, I took class every day, and I was doing pointe work every day. Before I even began rehearsals, I was actually reluctant to dance every day because I honestly thought I would be struck with horrendous flares. I was even terrified of the pain preventing me from being able to perform. However, this wasn’t the case at all. In fact, being able to do more ballet actually helped it. A lot.
I was lucky that my pain didn’t keep me bedridden a great deal of the time, although it sometimes did that to me, at least once a week. Luckily, it never kept me from ballet. I did ballet regardless of the amount of pain I was in. And it always paid off since I felt a little bit better after class.
Now you can arguably say I’m in remission since the only time I experience flares now is around my period, making it very manageable. I think what ultimately helped was getting more exercise, stretching my muscles even more, strengthening them. In fact, I feel so great today that sometimes I wonder if the diagnosis was ever real. Then I feel the tender points and realize that I still have it. But it’s not stopping me anymore.
I am lucky. Very, very lucky. Many fibro sufferers out there are in too much pain to even exercise. In fact, for some, exercise can make the flares worse. For many, however, exercise can make it better. Fibro doesn’t treat us all the same. Some people have more than just pain, ranging from IBS, to fevers, to nausea, and all of the other symptoms among this syndrome. Some struggle with the pain. Some are bedridden. Some are wheelchair-bound. Some will always have to use canes. Some are taking over 20 meds. The degree to which fibro can effect you varies from person to person.
I tell this story so that way anyone out there struggling with fitness goals can realize that even though the odds may seem insurmountable, the struggles you endure will eventually put you where you want to be.
I didn’t see myself as a personal trainer back when I was diagnosed. I never saw myself doing more than just ballet. I never saw myself being able to lift weights. In fact, I honestly didn’t see myself still being alive. I struggled horribly with suicidal ideation, a result of both the fibro and bipolar disorder.
Yet, here I am, and here is where I plan to say.