In January 1997, I was hit by a car while walking across the street. It was several days into my final semester at the
I was in physical therapy, seeing a chiropractor, and a massage therapist, but nothing seemed to make the pain and fatigue go away. Finally, a physiatrist diagnosed me with post-traumatic fibromyalgia. I was relieved that there was a name and a reason for why I was in so much pain, but it also brought up as many questions as it answered. I was 24 years old when I got my diagnosis. Did this mean that I was going to feel like this forever? Will I be able to work? Am I going to have to take medication for the rest of my life?
I wondered how I was going to regain quality of life, as I had known before the accident. I had just received a degree in archaeology, but there was no way that I was strong enough for the physical demands of the job. I was working at a desk job as a video game producer when I got my diagnosis. At first, they were very understanding, even letting me work part-time, but as I missed more and more days, they let me go in October 1998. By November and December I was spending most of my day in bed because of the pain and fatigue. I didn’t seem to be able to find the right combination of medications and felt really helpless and afraid of what lay ahead.
Then I decided that I would start walking in an effort to get some gentle exercise. At first I didn’t go very far, just around a block or two. I took my dog Zeus with me and very slowly started to increase the length of my walks. I started hiking easy trails by my house, and really enjoyed the exercise I was getting. I used hiking to increase my strength and was able to go back to work part-time. I continued to receive massage on a regular basis and took my first yoga class. I realized the more I was active, the better I felt. In August 1999 I was finally strong enough to get a job as an archaeologist.
I continued increasing the length and difficulty of my hikes and in 2002 I went on my first backpacking trip. The trip was 3 days in the Grand Canyon– down the South Kaibab, two nights at the bottom, and back up the
Since my accident, I have always received massage therapy on a regular basis. I feel it is a vital part of managing my fibromyalgia. After working as an archaeologist for several years, I decided it was time to go back to school. Instead of continuing my studies in archaeology, I decided that I wanted to take what I had learned about my body through this experience and help others by becoming a massage therapist in 2002. I now specialize in helping others in chronic pain, and I think my firsthand knowledge of chronic pain gives me a unique perspective in my profession.
A word on medications– doctors had put me on numerous medications for fibromyalgia. Some helped, some didn’t. I did find a combination that I was happy with, but I hated the idea that I was going to have to be on medication indefinitely. In 2005, I began working with my doctor to get off my medications. I am happy to say that I have been off all my medications since 2006.
Once I shifted my perspective to embrace movement rather than be scared of the pain it might cause, I found a variety of ways to stay active. I have studied bellydance since 2004, and believe the undulations and range of motion involved in bellydance are very therapeutic. Yoga is fantastic for stretching achy muscles and calming the mind. I have learned to listen to my body and take time to rest when needed.
Although my outcome has been positive, fibromyalgia affects everyone who has it in a different way. One thing all people with fibromyalgia have is pain. Some are in pain all the time. I was fortunate that my doctors were always very supportive. Many people with fibromyalgia go months or even years before being properly diagnosed.
I hike thinking about those with fibromyalgia who may not even be able to walk to the end of the street without excruciating pain. Pain is problematic, because the person has to deal with not only the physical sensation, but also with the disruptions that the pain may cause with daily activities. Chronic pain is also difficult for people to understand, especially since the person may not look “sick”.
One of my goals with this hike is to educate people about fibromyalgia, as well as give people an idea of what it is like to deal with a chronic pain condition. Even though I am well enough to do a hike of this length, I always am thinking about how best to go about it in a way that will not aggravate my fibromyalgia. I still worry about having a flare-up, even though I haven't had a flare since 2006. It took a long time to find the right combination of methods to manage my fibromyalgia, but it was well worth the effort. I think that not giving up, no matter how little energy I had, or how much pain I was in, was the single most important part of my recovery.
Please contact me if you have any questions about my story.