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I'm a Ballet Dancer With Fibromyalgia

Most people who see me probably think that I’m a typical young adult. I’m a ballet major at a prestigious school, and in the prime years of my life — in fact, many would probably say that I’m in above-average health, compared to my peers, since I’m usually active for a minimum of three hours per day. What these people don’t see is that I have a chronic illness — fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain and fatigue syndrome, with symptoms including brain fog, headaches, vertigo, and nausea — just to name a few. The best analogy I can give to people without fibro for what it feels like is that it feels like having the flu, where your body is heavy and sluggish, every part of your body is in some kind of pain, and your brain refuses to work, instead seeming as though all of your thoughts are hidden in some kind of haze. This is fibromyalgia. It has no known cause or cure, and it can be absolutely debilitating.

The people around me see me being a pretty good student — I rarely (if ever) miss class, I participate in several hours of dance training every day (assuming I’m not injured — and that’s a whole different issue!), and I still manage to get good grades and have a decent social life, as I am lucky enough to be surrounded by my wonderfully supportive friends and family. What those people don’t see is my internal battle simply to get through the mundane activities of the day — those moments when my body is so stiff and painful that I can barely walk, when my migraine is stabbing through my eyes, the burning pain through all of my muscles from overexertion and the unfathomable fatigue that accompanies it, the consuming irritability thanks to the constant pain.

I mentioned injuries before — injuries are quite a common concern with many dancers at high levels, due to the intense demands we constantly place on our bodies, and so many dancers are used to “pushing through” pain. However, it is quite a different battle for me. My fibromyalgia makes it difficult to tell what is a serious injury and what is simply irritation due to a flare, and adding the additional pain of an injury to the already-present pain from fibro makes it nearly impossible to handle the new pain of the injury. For this very reason, injuries often seem to me to be much worse than they actually are, as the pain is basically doubled, or, conversely, I push through actually bad injuries (worsening them in the process) because I assume the pain is simply due to my fibromyalgia and I don’t want to let it take away my life. The scar tissue which results from those injuries is often the new subject of pain in my next fibro flare, whether the injury itself has healed or not.

Most people who see me probably think that I’m a typical young adult, but these people don’t know the battles I’m constantly fighting to create that appearance. These people don’t see the pain and fatigue I deal with every day, because my illness is invisible. There is no such thing as “too young” to have a chronic illness, no matter how healthy or youthful the person may appear. Just because you cannot see a person’s pain does not mean that it doesn’t exist.

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Photo by Zanne Bedore Photography