“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” ~Rumi
TRIGGER WARNING – This article includes discussions on difficult topics like suicidal depression and fatal car accidents.
I’ve always been an active, athletic person. In my twenties I was huge in tennis, squash, and swimming, and I began every morning with an intense workout that cleared my head and let me confront the day’s challenges with a relaxed, positive attitude. So, when I started experiencing mysterious pains and fatigue that didn’t go away no matter how much sleep I got, my life was turned upside down.
After two years of doctors’ visits, I finally received the earth-shattering diagnosis: fibromyalgia. It was the worst nightmare. My doctors said I’d have to quit exercising because all of the activities I love are so hard on my joints. They advised me to just take it slow. But physical activity was my life, and I quickly found that “taking it easy” was emotionally devastating for me.
My depression and anxiety spiraled without me following a workout program. I couldn’t find meaning or purpose in my day-to-day life anymore. All the energy that I used to expend through exercise became stale and turned inside me into daily panic attacks.
Worse than anything was the sense that my body—my best friend and my #1 support system for so many years—had betrayed me. Even worse, my symptoms of fibromyalgia didn’t improve despite me giving up exercising. They were actually getting worse.
When I was in my thirties, my turning point occurred several years later after my diagnosis.
My condition had continued to decline, and I was ready to give up—on my body, on myself, and on life. It’s not something you can really understand unless you’ve experienced it yourself, but I had reached a point where I had no interest and no motivation to go on living. The uphill battle just wasn’t worth it to me anymore.
The moment is still fresh in my mind. It was dark outside, and it was pouring down rain. I opened the window, put my head outside, and screamed from the top of my lungs into the howling wind: “Why, God, why do I have to go through this?” Then, overtaken by a sudden urge, I lifted my leg to climb out of the window, to fall to my death and put myself out of this agony.
That moment was the turning point in my life. I can still not understand why. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a child standing by my side—a child I quickly recognized as the younger version of myself.
With pleading eyes she looked up at my face and begged that I keep on going. I was told to get back to work, because that would help me. She also said that my biggest struggle with fibromyalgia would bring me to my destination.
It was like I’d just woken from a dream. I shut my bedroom window. The night was a turning point in my life. I decided to not give up, knowing that my story could never end. I realized I had more to offer—instead of turning my misery into someone else’s grief, I could turn it into a gift that I could share with the world.
My family and friends had told me to relax and stop working out, but the next day I went swimming in the pool. While I was there, I shared my story with a lifeguard who in turn shared some unexpected wisdom with me: “A doctor reads the book, memorizes it, and repeats it to the patient, but the patient knows her body.”
These words spoke to me. My mild exercise regimen consisted of swimming for a couple hours per day. This was much easier than squash or tennis and my joints. After some time, I decided that it was worth trying again to enjoy the sports I used to love before getting my diagnosis. The trick was knowing my body—learning and recognizing its warning signs, keeping a close eye on how I felt, and not letting myself overdo it.
My remedy was exercise, as the young girl who tried to stop me from living my own life was wrong.
Although I experienced some physical and mental pain, I began to feel better. I couldn’t choose to live my life without pain, but I could choose to live it without suffering.
You won’t believe me when I say it was an easy recovery. I had bad days—days where all I could do was curl up in bed and cry, days spent feeling sorry for myself and angry at the universe. There were days when my symptoms became so severe that I lost sight of my positive outlook and my mission to use my experience to benefit others.
A serious setback occurred almost ten-years after I received my diagnosis. I was driving along with my best friend when we were involved in a terrible car accident. My fault was my own. My friend who was hit by the car was declared brain dead. In my case, I sustained severe injuries to my spine that severely aggravated my fibromyalgia. If my condition does not improve, doctors advised me to get a wheelchair.
(Incidentally, while receiving psychiatric treatment for extreme suicidality in the days following my accident, I was also diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia—a fact that might once have given me consolation or comfort in understanding why I am the way I am, but given the circumstances, only served to depress me further.)
My physical decline combined with the trauma of causing my friend’s death was more than I could bear, and I again spiraled into hopeless agony. It was the worst time of my life. Even worse than those few years following my first diagnosis of fibromyalgia. I was not as miserable now than I was back in those days. Now, as I look back, I can see why.
I was able to cope with any hardship because of this disease and my determination and active participation in making the most of it.
My physical and mental health was worse than it had ever been. However, I made the decision to continue my journey years before and kept going with it for years. This helped me keep from crumbling when I reached rock bottom.
And so I continued to go. My pain and my tears were my strength, and I continued to work out each day. My yoga and Pilates training continued, so I was certified. It was at this point that I earned my black belt (albeit it took six years) in Taekwondo. My experience with Fibromyalgia allowed me to become a personal trainer and offer a unique view on mental and physical health.
This realization marked the start of an even larger understanding of the challenges each person will encounter in their lives.
The first is that setbacks will always be part of any recovery.
If you’re not seeing forward progress on a day-to-day basis, that doesn’t mean you’re not still moving forward! I went through long periods of nothing but bad days, but I wasn’t giving up, and that’s what mattered. Continuing to fight is an active choice—you are making progress every day that you choose to stay alive.
Second, no matter what you’re dealing with, you have the power to turn it into something amazing.
Fibromyalgia helped me become a more caring, open, compassionate and understanding person. I was able to communicate with people better and be a greater help than before. This opened doors and allowed me to pursue career and personal paths that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It taught me patience, gratitude, and—more than anything—that I am capable of so much more than I think.
Fibromyalgia was the best gift I have ever received. But I want you to know that this is not a curse. It’s a blessing because it became one. The universe handed me an awful situation, and as you now know, I came close—too close—to letting it destroy me. I made the decision to transform my suffering into the blessing it is now, both for me and those around.
There are many hardships in life, and yet we can choose to respond. Or, you could choose to make your suffering a blessing.
Which one will you pick?
Fari, a spiritual mentor and life coach, specializes in helping people who are lost to rebuild their self-esteem, improve their relationships and make their suffering into something beautiful. Her website, LinkedIn and Instagram are all ways to connect.
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Tiny Buddha published the post Why Fibromyalgia was my greatest gift in life.