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32 Photos That Reveal the Different Ways Fibromyalgia Can Present Itself

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Although those with fibromyalgia may experience many of the same symptoms, such as widespread pain, fatigue or brain fog, the illness can actually manifest in a variety of different ways. For some, fibromyalgia may be largely invisible day-to-day, while others have more visually noticeable signs or symptoms. Just as everyone’s body is unique, so are their experiences with fibro.

We wanted to shed some light on all the various ways fibromyalgia may (or may not) present itself, so we asked our Mighty community to share photos that reveal what fibro can “look like” for them. Regardless of how your fibro manifests, your experiences and symptoms are real and valid.

Here’s what the community shared with us:

1. “My fibromyalgia linked to another condition but this was one of my good days. I went with my family and service dog to Lowe’s. It may seem little but these little outings are meaningful.” – Jamie H.

woman sitting in a wheelchair and wearing a facemask in an aisle at lowe's. she has a blanket and a dog in her lap.

2. “I had to use voice to text because I can’t even type due to pain. I’ve had a migraine for over a week and any task I do makes me want to lay down and sleep for a week. Now if I actually got rested when I slept…” – Didi M.

selfie of a woman with dark hair wearing a hoodie and looking tired

3. “Holter test… again. Those stickers itch like crazy!” – Melanie C.

woman wearing a holter monitor on her chest

4. “The bottom pic is during a fibro flare in my feet and the top is the contrast pic. They swell and get so tight, it feels as if I’m walking through water and the pain is unbearable. Sometimes I don’t get the swelling and just get the pain and am able to strap my feet to give some relief but most of the time I can’t do anything. I’ve recently decided to start using a walking stick during a flare, because limping and trying to not put any weight on that foot is aggravating the fibro in my back and hips.” – Janelle F.

two photos comparing a woman's foot on a 'normal' day versus when it's very swollen

5. “A trip to the park for my son who’s 13 with fibro and chronic fatigue syndrome. He rides his bike, I take the wheelchair for back up. Turns out we needed it – he was exhausted. This is about half a block from our house. I got a neighbor to ride his bike home. The juxtaposition in this picture caught me as it was both visible and invisible. And how it’s so unpredictable.” – Alison D.

boy wearing a helmet and sitting in a wheelchair at the park with his bike propped up behind him

6. “Cold intolerance/Raynaud’s. Though I do have lupus and other chronic illnesses as well as fibro, this is my most recent pic documenting my life with multiple chronic illnesses. I was putting my groceries in [the] freezer and didn’t put my gloves on.” – Sam C.

a woman's hand with her fingers looking red because of raynauds

7. “This is me right now. I’m exhausted beyond what words are capable for expressing. Too exhausted to type so I’m using voice to text. Haven’t been capable of much today. My grandpa, who just had his toe amputated at the age of 83, would still beat me in a foot race and I feel so guilty not being able to help him at the end of his life. It makes me so angry with my body.” – Ashley W.

woman lying in bed under a black and red blanket

8. “At first glance this looks like a photograph of a girl (me) simply enjoying the view of some beautiful holiday lights. However, if you look a bit closer you will notice that my legs don’t seem quite right. The combination of cold weather and walking had wreaked havoc on my joints. Specifically my knees, ankles and my fingers. The journey to reach this place had taken its toll. I was stiff and absolutely shaken to my core with pain. My limbs twitched with each movement. I was fighting off nausea. Fatigue pulled at my shoulders as if gravity had been amplified. But to bystanders I seemed to be an average woman just enjoying the sights as they were.” – Sarah R.

woman walking outside among christmas lights with her legs bending to the left

9. “My love for head scarves. I’m always in pain having more than one illness. So not being able do my super thick hair they are a lifesaver, not to mention it hurts to do my hair also because my scalp hurts as well. So this is me happy I got this wrapped right.” – Tasha S.

woman wearing glasses and a white head scarf sitting on a couch

10. “Debilitating back pain. So bad that I can’t move. With no other route cause. Yay fibro!” – Taylor H.

woman taking a selfie in the hospital. she has an IV connected to her arm, is wearing a hospital gown and lying under a blanket

11. “My husband’s side is the left, mine is the right. What you can’t see is the heated blanket on the bottom closest to me that is on its last leg after just three months.” – Abbie B.

photo of a couple's bed. the left side only has the duvet, while the right side is piled high with blankets and heating pads


12. “Picture on the right is what most see me as, in college, out and about. The left is what I’m hiding behind the scenes, what happens when I cancel and [am] stuck in bed. Massive difference? Yup. I’m great at hiding my illness you could say.” – Kirst F.

two side by side photos of the same woman. on the left she is lying in bed sick in a t-shirt and no makeup. on the right she is dressed up with her hair fixed and makeup done, walking around outside.

13. “It feels as if I’m laying under a sewing machine every day. Every day I wear a mask so the world can’t see how much I suffer. The minute I am behind closed doors, the expression on my face reflects the rest of how my body is actually feeling.” – Mateo E. C.

black and white photo of a man lying down in bed with his eyes closed

14. “This was just over two years ago after my son was born. My symptoms increased exponentially once he was born. This is one of the rawest and most vulnerable pictures I have of myself. I was exhausted, as every new mother is, but I was also so sad. Sad because my whole body hurt so badly that I could barely hold my little baby without crying from pain. Sad because what should have been a joyous occasion was overshadowed by my disease. You’ll notice my hair is a mess. That’s because I couldn’t lift my arms high enough to fix it that morning. I could only sit, and lean back with my son on my chest and only with the support of a boppy pillow…Thankfully I have a partner who understands just how much pain I hide and is more than willing to help in any way he can.” – Virginia R. K.

mother in a pink shirt with her hair up in a ponytail and not wearing makeup holding her newborn baby against her chest

15. “This is my chest. I break out in hives and rashes, sometimes seemingly at random.” – Chauntayna M.

woman's chest looking red and splotchy from hives

16. “I recreated this photo to show what happens at work a lot of the time. I am unable to inform every person that I suffer from fibromyalgia. We have a constant rotation of people and with so much gossip I’d rather keep my condition to myself if possible. But I have coworkers that are kind and like to praise workers for their hard work or simply say hello. But they usually do it with a pat on the shoulder or back. Getting a light pat on the back is very painful. I don’t even see them coming most of the time. For those I see every day, I have told them about my condition. But people forget. So this is something I deal with because I can’t just tell a whole factory I have lupus and fibromyalgia and I can’t wear a shirt every day that says “Don’t Touch.” I wish I could.” – Sindy L.

black and white photo of a woman wincing as someone touches her on the shoulder

17. “Severe pain in my feet and legs. Under my jeans are compression garments. Often I will use a wheelchair.” – Lola C.

photo of a woman's feet. her compression leggings are visible under her jeans

18. “Me in bed after dropping kids [at] school… my whole body is in pain, not able to lift head up or body. Arms ache from holding even a phone… alarm’s on times five for school pickup as I snooze it for five minutes and doze off… need dinner for kids… what do I cook… something simple. Hubby works 12 hours a day or more since me leaving work as we cannot financially survive [otherwise].” – Mirzahan B.

woman lying down in bed on a pink pillow and frowning

19. “Khloe has to be near me in my flare-ups and I live in leggings and comfy clothes due to skin sensitivities.” – Erin A.

photo of a woman's legs wearing patterned leggings. she's lying on the couch watching tv with her cat.

20. “These photos were taken on the same day. I’m in [debilitating] pain throughout my whole body in both, my joints feel like they’re about to pop out of their sockets, I feel sick and fatigued and disorientated, but I had a commitment to go to a friend’s wedding reception. I had to rest most of the day and then it took hours to get ready. Luckily a friend had done my hair the night before. This is a side that no one really sees. I still live my life as fully as possible, but going out takes a lot of planning, preparation and painkillers now.” – Alison M.

side by side comparison photos of a woman on the same day. in the photo on the left, she's not wearing makeup and is lying in bed under a floral blanket with her eyes closed. in the photo on the right, she is dressed up, wearing makeup and smiling.

21. “Being present in my life with smiles and laughter when deep down inside I just want to cry and give up! I fake it to make it every day, not just for myself but my loved ones, so they don’t worry about me. I just [want] to be treated like a normal person without people looking at me wondering what’s wrong [with] me. This was a day of heavy fatigue and joint pain.” – Sandrini G. S.

black and white photo of a woman wearing a striped shirt smiling

22. “Thanks to fibromyalgia’s effect on cognitive function, my mind is a sieve (and that’s being generous). I took up bullet journaling because I love how the system works and it works really well for me…I am able to easily look up doctor appointments, plan blog posts, plan future projects, log my goals and track my day to day life. I use it to track my pain and fatigue so I can try and figure out any triggers or patterns that will help my doctors find a way to treat my pain better. I also use it to track my mood, which is super important and something I sometimes forget. Fibromyalgia affects both body and mind.” – Dakota S.

bullet journal with harry potter sticker and colored sharpies

23. “I drew this to express what it feels like when I’m trying to fall asleep to escape the pain, but all I can think about is how much everything hurts.” – Stacy R.

drawing of a woman curled up with various designs representing types of pain surrounding her

24. “The following is a photo of chronic fatigue/insomnia. Six hours total sleep in three days. Not enough energy to shower in as much. Just pure exhaustion.” – Daniel P.

man wearing a brown sweatshirt and sitting on his bed

25. “Fourteen years old and only able to walk five to 15 meters because of fibromyalgia and symptoms like chronic pain, chronic fatigue, balance problems, vertigo, migraine and blood pooling in legs.” – Ina H.

14-year-old girl riding a mobility scooter outside and wrapped up in warm blankets and a coat

26. “I try my best to not let fibromyalgia show on my face. I never try to let people know that I am in pain. On the outside it looks like I’m just trying to take a serious picture but on the inside I am in pain. I’m exhausted although my face is trying to look refreshed. We tend to wear a mask so that others don’t question how we feel.” – Nikki F.

woman taking a selfie on snapchat with a filter of a bunny nose and ears overlaid

27. “Neuropathy and chronic rashes with no explainable cause.” – Jessi E.

photo of a woman's legs covered in a rash of red bumps

28. “It’s having all your memories, trips and most moments with canes. Learning how to look not so sick with a cane. Even joking around with canes because you can’t take if people make you feel older or sicker. Because only with canes can you expect to be merely functional or normal on a trip; still, you’ll spend most times sitting down. It’s also having a can of canes and umbrellas because God forbid you catch a cold (which you are very, very likely to and will spend most of the year having one).” – Mariana S. C.

collage of photos of a young woman posing with her canes

29. “I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe.” – Dalai Lama (Submitted by Puja R.)

woman looking away from the camera with the quote 'I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe.' by the dalai lama

30. “This photo was taken two years ago on a good day and my 65th birthday and I was feeling strong and loved. I have been using yoga to reduce stress and pain. Not every day or hour is the same and some days are spent in bed but this is a reminder to myself of the good days.” – Kate F.

woman doing a plank on a yoga mat in a yoga studio

31. “This picture is from after being admitted to the hospital for gallstones and needing to have my gallbladder removed. I was so used to having abdominal pain and symptoms of gallstones that my doctors said were just part of my fibromyalgia, that I completely ignored these symptoms until I was severely sick and had to have emergency surgery to remove my gallbladder. It’s extremely frustrating having a doctor tell you that your body is fine and blame it on your fibromyalgia when you know deep down it’s not what’s wrong with you.” – Theresa E.

woman taking a selfie wearing a hospital gown

32. “This is one of my favorite photos, because I feel beautiful even though I see how much fibro has affected my life in it. A casual observer might see the wheelchair by the photographer I had just moved from and nothing more… They wouldn’t realize the mask is because I am immuno-deficient and often afraid to go into public because of how easily I get sick… That I like wigs because I miss my long hair, now either as short as a crew cut to a maximum of shoulder length due to difficulty of care from joint pain. I’m sitting because it hurts to stand even long enough to take a picture sometimes. If I am with my parents, people often don’t realize the service dog is for me… Here, my fibro and a few of its various symptoms are both visible and invisible, depending on the observer… on one of my ‘better’ days. I haven’t known a day without pain in so long I forget what living without pain even feels like.” – Britany T.

woman with pink hair and a pink face mask sitting in front of a lily pond with her service dog standing next to her


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: January 17, 2018
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