Before my fibromyalgia got as bad as it is now, I used to be an outdoorsy person. Now, even though I'm only 37, there are many days when I can't walk without a cane and times when migraines hit me so badly that I can't get out of bed.
I've always had a very low pain threshold and problems sleeping. At age 15 I began having intense pain in my upper back. I saw several doctors, including chiropractors, neurologists, and general practitioners, but none found anything wrong.
There are several theories about the causes of fibromyalgia, from hormonal disturbances to stress to genetics. While there is no clear consensus about what causes fibromyalgia, most researchers believe fibromyalgia results not from a single event but from a combination of many physical and emotional stressors.
Then in 1998 I met my current doctor, who diagnosed fibromyalgia. At last I had a name for what I was going through. I started getting treatment for my symptoms: upper back pain, insomnia, and an irritable colon. Since then I've developed migraines and widespread body pain.
Knowing you aren't alone is one of the best things. It helps to have a support system when dealing with a chronic illness. If you're lucky enough to have close family and friends, enlist them in your search for treatments and assistance in everyday things. I've made great, long-lasting friendships online that have helped as well.
And my kids, who are 19, 10, and 7, understand like no one else does. They don't always like it, but they know that Mom just can't do things like other moms because she hurts so bad. And when they see me struggling, they are right there to offer to help me. They are my angels.
I have come to terms with living with chronic pain. Feeling sorry for myself won't do anything but sink me further. I have decided to grab life by the horns and live it the best I can.
I maintain a positive attitude. I've learned that, above all, you need to have a sense of humor and be able to laugh at your shortcomings. Smile. Stay busy. Bone up on the latest research. Be a proactive participant in your care.
I want to spend my life looking forward, not back, and to be remembered as someone who accomplished something despite a chronic illness. I want to be defined not as a person who struggles to live but as one who lives life to the fullest extent possible.
Editor's note:Fibromyalgia is characterized by chronic pain and fatigue. Those diagnosed may not have the same symptoms as Dawn, though body pain is the primary one. Fibromyalgia affects about 2% of the population -- and nearly 90% of those who have it are women.