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Rachel Harding: How fibromyalgia has impacted me

Hi! My name is Rachel and I am 20 years old. I am currently in my third year of my Primary Education degree. I started getting symptoms of fibromyalgia in January and was diagnosed in August 2019. I feel that I am a different person to who I was before fibromyalgia. This isn’t a bad thing, though, as over time I have learnt to love the person that I have become.

Before becoming unwell, I was very social and was always going on nights out. I had finally found my confidence, something I haven’t had before. I had lots of energy, and was always on the go. My studies were going very well, and I was getting good grades that I was so proud of. My goal of going to university was so I could become a primary school teacher - which had been my dream for so long. I felt so content and happy, and to have this part of my life snatched from me was so upsetting. This was something I found so difficult to understand when I was first diagnosed.

I started feeling unwell in January when I was on a school placement - I was so weak and rundown, and was absolutely exhausted. I was becoming very forgetful too - which made remembering things to do on my placement a real struggle. It wasn’t until March when it was found that I had a vitamin D deficiency. When I was put on supplements, I didn’t feel any different. My levels rose, yet I was still extremely fatigued and weak. My doctors kept putting it down to vitamin D, until one of them recognised it needed further investigation. I had so many blood tests, each came back clear. At this point my symptoms were becoming worse - fatigue, agonising pain, body weakness, processing and cognitive issues etc. In May I was referred to a rheumatologist, with my appointment being in August. This was such a long wait, which was so scary as my symptoms progressed further. I had numbness, tingling, bad brain fog and had a big rise in anxiety. I was scared at what was happening to my body. I wasn’t in control of my body and it was so unsettling. At my appointment, the rheumatologist said that I have symptoms of fibromyalgia, and gave me information about it. I was absolutely devastated. At 20 years old, I never thought I’d be told I’m not going to get better. The pain I want to go away is going to be with me for the rest of my life. I felt like I was grieving for the ‘old me’ before fibromyalgia. The life I know I will never get back. It took a lot to pick myself up. I was encouraged to make my life as great as I can, enjoy every moment and be proud of what I’ve achieved.

Right now, I’m still at university. I was advised to defer the year, but I didn’t want to do that. I’m determined to battle through this course and graduate. I have had to make some adjustments to my time at university, but I won’t let this put me down. There has to be some bumps in a journey! Fibromyalgia really impacts on my ability to study - the difficulties processing information, the sensitivities to different things, brain fog, and the pains which make me nauseous. But my university are being so supportive, which is so helpful and reassuring! I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without the support from my parents, boyfriend and some of my friends. It’s been hard on all of them to see my health deteriorate, but their encouragement and support has made me have the strength to keep fighting. During my battles, there has been so many people in my life that have chosen to be unsupportive, and have been doubting the fact I’m unwell. This lack of understanding has been so upsetting since I have lost friendships, but I don’t want negative influences in my life, and focus on the people who build me up!

I am still understanding and learning about my fibromyalgia. It’s a hard battle, but believe me, it will pay off. I have learnt to be proud of myself for everything I do. When I’m having a flare day, I listen to my body and do all I can. Just having a shower can be absolutely tiring and can wipe out all the energy I have. Rather than putting myself down, I feel proud I was able to do it. This is one tough battle to face, but it’s so rewarding to know how much you can achieve whilst living with it. Even if I’m having a bad day, I always try to focus on the good, small things in each day. Making memories is my favourite thing to do, and I always reflect on these to bring me lots of positivity. As I said earlier, I’m not the same person as I was before having fibromyalgia. I prefer me now. I’m no longer comparing myself to the old me, as there’s no reason for me to. Fibromyalgia is such a nasty, debilitating condition, but I won’t let this define me.

To anybody who is living with fibromyalgia, or is in the process of being diagnosed, keep going! You are not alone in this fight. There are so many people who you can reach out to during your journey. It takes a warrior to fight something like this. You’ve got this!

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