In the spring of 2009, I was a semester away from finishing my master’s degree. As a bright young woman with the world at my fingertips, I was ready to run free, to experience all that life had to offer. My future was fast approaching and the possibilities seemed endless. But it all came to a screeching halt when I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Instead of moving towards my aspirations, I spent the next two years painfully spiraling out of control.
At 25 years old, I was in the prime of my life. I had spent the previous two years studying Social Work, hoping that after graduation I’d be able to make a real difference in the world. From the day I began my graduate studies I had two goals—to graduate on the Dean’s List and to find a job that would grant me financial independence from my parents. With extreme dedication to my studies, I was on the right track.
Aside from my strong academic focus, I was also known for my animated and rambunctious sense of humor. My one-liners and brazen remarks kept people entertained where ever I went (although my mother might tell you otherwise). I loved my life and it showed.
Being so close to finishing my education, I’d spend my free time envisioning my picture-perfect future—a rewarding job with a comfortable salary and a wonderful man to share it all. In a few years, we’d have kids and build a family of our own. I dreamed of a life filled with joy, passion and security.
Then came the nightmare.
I had been working a low level secretarial job on the side to help support myself while I was in school. I’d never before considered ergonomics to be of much importance until the day my desk was changed. Besides being known for my loud mouth, I’m also known for being quite petite. Sitting at my new, oversized desk, I found myself overextending my reach in order to use my keyboard and other necessary materials. After only a few minutes of working I began to feel intense pain in my shoulders and upper back.
At first, I tried to work through the pain, thinking my injury wasn’t very substantial. But the pain seemed to be getting worse by the minute. After a week, I knew something was seriously wrong.
Although I tried to push through, I eventually had to stop working. I tried to return to school to complete my final year, but after a semester of struggling to complete assignments, I realized I needed to take time off to focus on my health. The day I finalized my paperwork for a leave of absence, was the first of many days filled with tears over the loss of my dreams.
My life suddenly started to cave in. The pain, which started in my shoulders and back, eventually spread throughout my body. Every part of me ached and burned. The weight of my clothes against my body was too much to bear. Sleep was impossible. I’d toss and turn for hours trying to find a position that didn’t send lightning bolts through my body. I’d try to read, but would have to stop after a minute or two because my hands and arms felt like they were on fire from holding the smallest of books. I’d go on short walks through my neighborhood to stay active, but I’d only make it to the end of the block, or less, before having to turn around.
Eventually, I was reduced to spending day after day with my body covered in heating pads. My parents became my caregivers. They drove me to daily doctor appointments, cooked for me and even helped me dress. Instead of developing into a young adult, I became a child again—dependent on my mom and dad for almost everything.
I was seeing an array of specialists, but none could understand why such a minor injury was causing so much pain. I had heard the word fibromyalgia mentioned before, but the doctors’ diagnoses were always inconclusive. Because pain isn’t something that can be measured or seen, many doctors didn’t believe it was real. Fibromyalgia and the associated syndromes don’t show up in blood tests, therefore they would conclude that I was physically hurting because I was depressed and emotionally unstable. This made no sense to me. When the symptoms surfaced, I was excited about everything in my life.
Because of my growing dependence on my parents, we began talking about whether I should move back home, an idea that tore at my heart. I thought about how life is supposed to be for someone my age—living on your own, learning to balance work and a social life, finding love. Would I ever experience these things?
As my hopes for a normal life faded, I was left isolated from the outside world. My friends slowly disappeared, one by one. They couldn’t grasp the reality that I could no longer hang out and do normal things. I felt abandoned, cast aside. At a time when I most needed friends, they never looked back.
The only thing that started making sense in my mind was to end my life. I didn’t want to live the next 50 years in isolation and in pain. So I started planning my suicide. I knew I had enough prescription pills to go through with my task. I just needed to figure out when to do it. The hardest part was how I’d say goodbye to my parents. They’d done so much for me. I didn’t want to hurt them. But I couldn’t live in torment. I was on the fence, needing more time to think it all through.
On my worst nights, I would call my mother and ask her to come to my house. She’d sit with me as late as I needed, just to be there so I wasn’t alone with my thoughts. She knew I wanted to end my life, and she watched over me to make sure I didn’t act on my plan. Although she didn’t do anything but sit in the same room with me, my mother saved my life. Having her presence during my darkest hour was my first step towards recovery.
I decided to work with a woman who calls herself a healer and who claims to have cured fibromyalgia in 100% of the women she has worked with. I had previously tried a number of alternative treatments, including self hypnosis, meditation and yoga—all of which were helpful in easing my pain for an hour or two but not removing it from my life. While I didn’t really believe that this woman could cure me, I thought it was a better alternative than trying to end my pain forever, while passing another kind of pain onto my family.
The first day I met my healer, I knew there was something special about the work she was doing. When she walked into my home, she found me curled up in a ball. I was going through one of my worst bouts of opiate withdrawal. One minute I’d be wrapped in blankets, shivering like crazy. The next, I’d be burning up. This woman wasn’t scared, or even worried. She sat across from me and talked to me about what I was feeling. Within minutes, simply by talking, she took me from a pain level of 10 to a level of 1. I’m still not sure exactly what she did on that day.
I do know that, although she did not fully cure me, she did set me on a true path to recovery. And for that I will always be grateful. She helped me understand and accept myself as someone living with a disability. Through her teachings, I began to learn that life is a gift and that the hardships we face are challenges that make us stronger.
I’ve finally come to accept that I have physical limitations that will always separate me from my peers. But I’m also learning that there are times when I shouldn’t let these limitations hold me back. I am learning to take more risks. And thankfully, my peers are learning to accept and embrace me again.
Recently, I made the difficult decision to go snowboarding with a friend, an activity that can cause pain even in healthy people. That day, I didn’t let my disability or my fear hold me back. I participated in an activity that the doctors said I’d never do again. It was a day of triumph. As I stood on the mountain, looking at the beautiful vistas and the people flying by me, I knew everything would be alright. I knew I could handle a life with fibromyalgia. I thanked the universe for giving me my body—pain and all.
Of course, I wish I didn’t have fibromyalgia and the daily pain that comes with it. But I know I’ve emerged a stronger person. I know that independence, work, friends and love will eventually come to me, just different than the way I’d originally planned.
With extreme dedication and patience from a caring Rheumatologist, my pain is under control and I have returned to a somewhat normal lifestyle. In fact, I’m on the verge of completing my master’s degree. I’m living independently. And I am happy again. Through this tough and trying lesson, I have learned to cherish the little things in life, and I have returned to reaching for the stars—although now-a-days I’m using a handicap placard and accepting the help I need along the way.