I live every day with fibromyalgia. It’s the headache that never goes away. It’s the pain in my shoulders that makes my left arm feel like it’s going to fall off. It’s the ache in my knees that no painkillers can ease, the cramp in my hands that makes it hard to hold a pen. It’s the constant fatigue that makes going to the grocery store seem as difficult as climbing Mount Everest, and the buzz in my brain that keeps me lying sleepless no matter how tired I am.
My symptoms started in May of 2018. I had just recovered from a Dengue Fever infection that I picked up in Guatemala, and when my joints started aching again, I thought it was another tropical disease. After months of doctor’s appointments, specialist visits, and diagnostic work, every result said I was perfectly healthy.
I had started CrossFit a few months before in February. I enjoyed it and loved every WOD, but with the pain in my joints and the exhaustion I had stayed away for weeks.
At my last visit to the infectious disease specialist, all my results had come back normal. My doctor tried one last test. He pressed on a spot near my elbow joint. I yanked my arm away because it hurt so badly. When he pressed on the back of my shoulder blade, I nearly leaped off the table. Shoulders, elbows, wrists, back, hips, knees; every place he pushed was excruciating. He printed off a pamphlet about fibromyalgia. I had no doubts.
The pamphlet was discouraging. There was no cure for fibromyalgia, no completely effective treatment. Pain relievers had zero effect. But the pamphlet said the best treatment was exercise.
I went back to CrossFit.
It wasn’t an instant fix. It took a month at the box before I felt okay, but each week was a little better. The pain eased. I was able to sleep through the night. Going to Trader Joes was no longer a trial.
Even now, two years after my symptoms began, I still find it hard to accept that this is my new normal. My future. But CrossFit makes it bearable. I still have pain. I still have exhaustion. But even on the bad days, I always feel better after a hard WOD.
I have found that I need to go to the box at least 3 times a week for my symptoms to be tolerable. Its not a hardship; I love CrossFit for more than just relief of my symptoms.
The sleeves of my jackets no longer fit, because for the first time in my life I have biceps, and I love it. I was once ashamed because I couldn’t lift a 20-pound object above my head. The day I moved from the trainer bar to the women’s bar was huge. On the day I wrote this essay, I did an 80 lb push jerk, which is an achievement I am very proud of. Two days ago, I ran a mile and a half without stopping, which is something I had never been able to do before, and it is all thanks to CrossFit.
I am still a beginner. I have only Rx’d one WOD so far, and the weight I use is one of the lightest in the box. My baseline is always tired, so each workout is a little harder than it would be without fibromyalgia. But I improve every day.
And I love my box. CrossFit Paso Robles is family friendly, and even though I don’t have kids yet, it is a dynamic I enjoy. The coaches are the kindest, most encouraging people I have ever had the pleasure to work with, and the 4:30 pm class is always ready for a good time.
I will always have fibromyalgia. I will always have to manage it, to survive it. But I will always have CrossFit to help me thrive, despite the obstacles of this chronic, invisible illness.
Kathryn Cehrs is a dedicated CrossFit novice, and a regular at CrossFit Paso Robles. She makes her living as a veterinarian on the central coast of California. Her hobbies include scuba diving, photography, and writing.