Trigger Warning: This story mentions attempted suicide
“When I developed Fibromyalgia, I thought my life was over. In fact, I was so desperate to get out of the pain I even tried to end it myself. Fibromyalgia is an incurable, chronic illness that causes constant pain throughout the body. No one knows for sure what causes it. However, it’s believed trauma can activate it. My trauma started as a child but my condition was activated by an immensely traumatic surgery.
Growing up, I was always teased about my weight. I was heavier than the rest of the kids in my class and I remember being occasionally teased about it but I was too young to really understand people were actually being mean to me. Once I started being picked on by family members, it really started to affect me. I was told I would end up alone and no one would want me. I was called Miss Piggy and told it was to try and help motivate me to lose weight. It was relentless. Once I started secondary school, the teasing from other kids stepped up a level, with nicknames like Fiona (from Shrek) or laughed at for my ‘tree trunk’ legs. It caused psychological damage because it affected my self-worth and essentially instilled in me that my worth was associated with my weight. As a result, I’ve had two rounds of therapy in the last two years in an attempt to pull myself back from not feeling ‘good enough.’
Despite the teasing from some groups of kids at school, I was a relatively happy kid still. Then, at age 15, I had an extremely traumatic appendectomy caused by my appendix rupturing. I thought once I got through the ordeal, it would be the end of it but as I recovered, the pain carried on. It started off localized to just my stomach region and for years, it was misdiagnosed as IBS. With the frustration of not getting anywhere with doctors, I turned to food for comfort and my weight ballooned to over 200 pounds. Then after an immensely difficult relationship with a borderline alcoholic, I woke up one day in January 2015, aged just 21, in agony, unable to move properly and essentially bed-bound. My doctors didn’t know what had happened, confused by my pain levels, and seemingly frustrated with me because I wasn’t getting any relief from the pain medications they were giving me. I resorted to doing my own research and I came across Fibromyalgia. I put the idea forward to my GP and after a process of elimination of other possibilities like arthritis, I finally received my diagnosis of Fibromyalgia.
I was put on 26 pills a day to try and control the pain but by Valentine’s Day, the constant pain was so overwhelming I felt like I couldn’t live like it anymore. I took an overdose of my Co-codamol in an attempt to end my life and the pain. Luckily, my mom took me to hospital in time and I started an intensive course with the crisis team to try and stabilize my mental health. I was then passed around various different mental health clinics, consultants, and pain clinics, none of which offered me any relief. I wasn’t able to work, I was drowning in student debt, I was lonely, and I lost friends. The pain was suffocating and again, I turned to food. By May, I was over 230 pounds. By this point, I hated what I’d done to my body. I knew it was time for a change.
It was overwhelming but I decided if I was going to live, I wasn’t going to live like this. So once again, I went off to do my own research in the hopes I could find something to help. Everything pointed to diet and exercise, keeping the body moving, and keeping inflammatory food out of my diet.
The exercise aspect started slowly: gentle walks, then adding a bit of resistance band work to eventually get up to full-blown weight training. The diet was an overnight change. I removed anything that would affect me: wheat, gluten, milk, essentially anything not FODMAP friendly, in an attempt to try and lower the levels of inflammation in my body. I added the support of supplements to ensure my body was getting all of the nutrients that it needed.
Pain treatment wise, I tried acupuncture, cryotherapy, cupping, massage, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, chiropractor — everything I could possibly think of (and afford) to lower my pain levels. Sadly, the NHS doesn’t fund any of it as it’s an alternative therapy for Fibromyalgia. I was racking up huge bills on my credit cards, which was putting additional stress on me.
I persevered with the exercise and nutrition and slowly my body responded. I lost 10 pounds in the first month without even joining the gym. Once I did join, the weight fell off me even faster and my confidence soared. Healthwise, it was tough. I pushed through difficult workouts, sore DOMS, and fibro flares up, knowing healthcare professionals and everything I’d read online promised me it would be worth it. After a couple of months, my body started to adapt. It got stronger and could support my joints better and keeping my body moving meant my muscles and joints weren’t seizing up like they did before.
Fast forward to 2020, and I’m 100 pounds lighter, working full time in London, I’ve completed CBT and Acceptance Therapy, I’ve trained as a mental health first aider, and I spend my spare time working with Fibro people all over the world to help improve their quality of life. The gym is my physical pain relief but it’s also my mental pain relief, my safe place to be who I am without being criticized or judged. It’s given me a community of people who support each other, cheer you on to get that extra rep, and remind me that my worth is connected to who I am, not what I look like. It gave me confidence, discipline, and self-worth.
Sadly, with one chronic illness usually comes many. I also now have Endometriosis, Hypermobility Syndrome, and Spondyloarthritis. I’m surrounded by incredible people who lift me up when I’m down. Some days are a lot tougher than others. The pain is 24/7 and will never end, which is a huge thought to process. Most days I feel strong and powerful, like nothing could ever stop me. It’s also all made me realize what’s important in life. Health really is wealth and the people around you are what matters.
I truly believe had I taken better care of myself in my earlier days in life, my physical health wouldn’t have suffered and maybe I wouldn’t have so many chronic illnesses. But I recognize it wasn’t just my fault and it was equally up to my parents to educate me on the importance of a healthy lifestyle. Bullying a child into losing weight will never work. It just made me eat more in an attempt to comfort myself and it caused life-long mental health issues for me which have made the road to recovery so much harder. But it’s also made me even more proud of myself and everything that I’ve overcome.
For anyone with Fibromyalgia or any other chronic illness, I would like to let you know there is hope. You may not be able to heal your body completely, but you have the power within you to nurture your body by feeding it right and keeping it moving to improve your quality of life. I rely heavily on the information I get from my specialists, but I’ve also found so much success by carrying out my own research. Don’t give up, the power is in your hands.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Zoë Louise Mason You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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