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4 Lessons I Learned When I Began Exercising With Fibromyalgia

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In my experience, one of the first things it seems doctors tell people with chronic pain/fatigue issues is, “Exercise will help!”

And as someone with fibromyalgia, I’m sure my reaction was like many: How on Earth am I supposed to exercise when I don’t have the energy to get out of bed?!

Then I tried. I gave it an honest effort. I jumped into some workout that I had been able to do several years ago, and obviously it didn’t work out so well. In fact, I ended up in one of the worst flares I’ve ever had.

So I didn’t exercise again. For five years. I figured chasing around two little kids was more than enough activity. The problem with that plan was that it wasn’t the right kind of activity, and it wasn’t doing anything to help me.

When I finally started making some changes in my life, I figured I needed to overhaul my fitness and nutrition. Being inactive and eating whatever I wanted was making me have even more pain and less energy.  My problem was that I tend to be an all-or-nothing type of person. If I was going to work out, I wanted to be perfect, get all the way through the challenge, and see results.

I am a very patient person… with other people. With myself, though? Patience and understanding are not my strong suits. If I wanted to feel better, I had to figure out some important lessons!

First, I needed to start small. I couldn’t do a push-up, make it through a 30-minute workout, or go for a three-mile walk. My starting point was around five to seven minutes of a home workout. That was the point — I felt a little challenged but didn’t pay for it horribly the next day!

My second lesson was to change my mindset. Instead of being defeated and thinking, “Man, I can’t even get through a single workout,” I had to celebrate each victory. I had to tell myself, “You’re awesome! You just pushed through something that was difficult for you! Tomorrow is another day to try again!”

My third lesson was to listen to my body. One of my favorite fitness mantras is “Stronger every day!” But when you have a chronic illness that limits you physically, sometimes you may not feel stronger every day. Sometimes you may have days when you really struggle. On those days, I gave myself a break. I still tried to do something, but if it wasn’t the same intensity as the day before, it was OK! I was learning to listen to what my body was telling me, instead of ignoring it and trying to push through. I was becoming stronger every day, but some days it was more mental toughness than physical.

ashley hay

And finally, I had to accept that I’m human and I am making choices. There will be times I choose the ice cream and sit on the couch. The important thing is to get up the next day and move — not to feel guilty for the choices I had made the day before, but to try to make better choices today.

If you are struggling right now, I encourage you to make just one better choice today. Make it a small one. And celebrate it! Then make another better choice tomorrow! Celebrate that one, too! Even little steps in the right direction can make a big difference in your quality of life.

Editor’s note: This is based on one person’s experiences and should not be taken as medical advice. Consult a doctor or medical professional for any questions or concerns you have.

Follow this journey on Happiness Through the Fog.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the hardest thing you deal with as someone with a chronic illness, and how do you face this? What advice and words of support would you offer someone facing the same thing? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


Fibromyalgia, a chronic illness with three main symptoms — widespread pain, chronic fatigue and cognitive trouble. Fibromyalgia is a complicated illness that’s not well understood. In the past, it was mischaracterized as a mental health disorder. Even today, some doctors wave off fibro symptoms as being “all in your head.” This isn’t the case. Read The Mighty’s comprehensive guide to fibromyalgia here. Click here to join our fibro community and connect with people who get it.

Originally published: March 16, 2016
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