Living with fibromyalgia

Megan Ellis was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2013. This is her story.

27 July 2015
by Stefan de Clerk

Two years ago Megan Ellis was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition characterised by widespread pain, intense fatigue, and stiffness in the joints. Megan’s day-to-day life has been a challenge ever since. She shares her story:

In 2013, a close friend of mine died and I fell into a deep depression. After numerous therapy sessions and anti-depressant medication, the suffocating feeling of despair subsided, but I kept feeling exhausted all the time and my studies started suffering. No one seemed to be able to pinpoint what exactly was wrong with me, until I read about the symptoms of fibromyalgia. After investigating my symptoms with my doctor and doing some tests, it became clear that I had fibromyalgia.

The treatment

There is no definitive cause of fibromyalgia, and thus there is also no set treatment, so doctors can basically only treat your symptoms. I was put on an antidepressant and given strong painkillers.

I was also told to get regular exercise, which is a bit ironic, because when you experience a flare-up, moving becomes incredibly difficult, not just because of the pain, but also because you’re so exhausted all the time that you just don’t have the energy to move. But not moving makes the flare-ups worse!

The physical and mental challenges

Living with fibromyalgia isn’t easy, and it completely changed my life. I could no longer go out as much as I wanted to and, because it’s an ‘invisible’ disease, many of my friends didn’t really understand the severity of it. People tell you that you’re exaggerating, that you’re focusing on the pain, and that you should 'stay positive' – but it's really not that simple. I’m lucky to have an understanding boyfriend who I can turn to for support.

My flare-ups last between two to three weeks, and trying to keep moving is as much a mental as a physical challenge. Focusing at work can be very difficult too. There are certain triggers for my flare-ups like intense exercise, physical and emotional stress, and diet. Working as a journalist in a high-stress environment doesn’t help either.

My advice on staying strong

Fibromyalgia can be tough, because you can no longer do the things you’re used to doing, at the level you used to. My advice is the following: Don’t hold on to huge expectations, and stop beating yourself up. Rather focus on the small things you are still able to do, whether it’s walking around the block, or even just down the street.

Flare-ups happen and you must build resilience in order to bounce back. It’s also very important to build a support base around you – understanding friends, family, and especially an understanding doctor.”