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How the Comfort of a Horse Helps Me Deal With Fibromyalgia

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When you live with a chronic illness, you seek comfort in any place you can find it. For me, comfort came in the form of a 1,000-pound Thoroughbred mare. Whisper, an ex-racehorse, entered my life while I was in college. I bought her just before my senior year while double majoring in music performance and English and promised her a forever home.

I could never have guessed what an integral part of my life Whisper would become. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was suffering from fibromyalgia and had been for years. My fibromyalgia would go undiagnosed for three more years, but I knew that something was wrong. Chronic pain, fatigue, brain fog…I had all of the symptoms, but no one had been able to put them together.

As my symptoms worsened and intense back pain was added to my ailments, Whisper became more and more important. I suffered “flare” days when the pain in my hands was so great that I couldn’t saddle Whisper, so I took to hand walking her around the neighborhood and into the wooded trails that stretched for miles beyond the barn. On days when I could mount but suffered from back pain, I climbed into the saddle and let Whisper’s motion and body heat loosen my sore muscles. Often I felt better after a ride than I had all day.

It was when fibromyalgia ended my music career that Whisper became a truly vital part of my life. After graduating college, I took time off before pursuing a graduate degree in music performance so I could get to the bottom of the pain I was experiencing. Two years later, I would receive my fibromyalgia diagnosis. Not knowing what fibromyalgia was, I left the doctor’s office and went to a local McDonald’s for the free Wi-Fi to research the condition online. Reading the list of symptoms was like reading a description of my life for the past five years.

The fibromyalgia diagnosis brought with it the sad realization that music performance would never be a viable long-term career. My body would not hold up to the rigorous practice schedule that I had forced it into during college, making graduate school and any sort of upper-level performance out of the question.

This loss hurt more than the physical pain, and I grappled with the unfairness of it all and what this meant for my future. So I turned to Whisper. I spent time just sitting in the barn and found taking Whisper on walks was a way I could escape from my thoughts, even if just for a little while. There were days when I could feel the emotional pain roll off of me, so I would go visit with Whisper. She couldn’t erase the pain, but she could ease it, ever so slightly.

Having a chronic illness that’s invisible, as fibromyalgia is, there are days when I can get frustrated with the world. I almost wish I had a visible illness so people could understand when I’m having a particularly painful day. The mental toll of living with a chronic illness has become so great that I can feel beaten down.

With Whisper, it didn’t matter. She could tell when I hurt and when I didn’t have the mental strength to be able to tack her up and go for a ride. And she didn’t care; she would stand with me while I groomed her or hand grazed her. She didn’t judge, and most importantly, she was always there.

Chronic pain gradually erodes away your strength. Whisper gives me more strength than I ever would have had, and when I’m riding, she makes me feel like I’m capable again. I can’t possibly describe the power with which she canters or the surge when she pushes off to carry us both over a fence. She is strong, powerful and capable of racing the wind, and when I am with her, I am, too.

Paige Cerulli the mighty.4-001


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: August 25, 2015
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