This post is weird and hard.

This time last year, fibromyalgia was my life. Every day. All day. Now, it´s basically nothing. And I find it impossible to remember the panic, desperation and fear that I was living with before. To be honest, I don´t really want to go back there, but I feel it is a good thing to share my experience and tell other people that recovery is possible.

Firstly I´m going to quickly sum up how I got ill in the first place. It was a muddle as at first, I thought I was dealing with sciatica, then I was trying to find links between endometriosis medication and muscle cramps until eventually I was resigned to being in a wheelchair with no clue as to what was going on.

I first got cramps in one leg whilst I was driving down to live in Spain, over the next few weeks the cramps spread to the second leg, then my arms and eventually fingers, until I couldn´t even peg a peg, or squeeze a tube of toothpaste. I had a couple of months of tests and hospital stayovers until I received the eventual diagnosis of “Fibromyalgia.” The diagnosis was the worst part of all of it. I was told that it´s not possible to recover but that many people learn to “manage the pain quite well.” But I´m a sports girl, a traveller a passionate worker, I couldn´t accept this! I then called the official Fibromyalgia Charity and they were like “ahh, you poor thing, yeah, it´s pretty rubbish”...after which, it was all I could do not to find the nearest high building.

So, that was life. Taking about 10 prescription drugs per day and sitting on the sofa mostly crying. I did a lot of drawing and occasionally was taken out on a day trip, which would wear me out for about 2-weeks or so.

I quickly decided not to take the pills and to make sure I could feel the pain. I don´t know why exactly. But somehow I thought I needed to know what my body was doing, even if i didn´t like it. And I decided I HAD to recover, otherwise (and I hate to say this) but I wasn´t convinced that life was worth living. I couldn´t see a reason for waking up in the mornings just to sit around in pain with nothing to do. In fact, I hated waking up, it was the worst part of the day, remembering the reality and seeing the long hours ahead of me to get through, endlessly. It was terrible.

So I looked online for recovery stories. And there were plenty. I never joined any support groups, as they scared me even more. I just took one recovery story at a time and decided to copy each one until I found one that worked for me. If one person can recover, everybody can recover. I can recover. That was my approach.

The biggest course of action I took was ANS Rewire, an online recovery programme that´s doing the rounds. I had googled “mind control for pain” or something like that. I committed. It taught me a lot about pain management to the extent that I kept saying “I bet if I broke my arm or something I´d be able to control the pain.” Ironically, at the time of writing this I had broken my arm and was out of the sling within 2 weeks and no painkillers. Kinda cool that I could put that random theory to the test!

It also got me out of the wheelchair, but I still couldn´t do sport. I plateaued for about 6 months and nearly went mental with all these mind-control techniques. I got totally lost in it. It was all about acceptance of the illness and pain, seeing results every 6 weeks or so and just relaxing. Well, I couldn´t accept it. I´m not relaxed. F**K that! I wanted my life back. Trying to pretend that I was just OK with everything drove me mad. I lost my mind and that was the worst. I hated it and I wanted out.

But then, 2010 BMX World Champion Joey Gough messaged me on Instagram. Her mum had had M.E and was now a therapist in Mickel Therapy and she encouraged me to give her a shout. So of course, willing to try anything, I did.

What is Mickel Therapy? That is the main point of this post. Here is my understanding of it. It is basically understanding what your body is saying to you. Like, all your feelings are experienced in your body, for example if you´re nervous you get a churning in your belly (or pre bike-race you might need to keep going for a wee! Haha!). When you have to spend time with someone you don´t like you can get a headache, or really drained of energy. When you're stressed at work you get a stiff neck. When you're frightened, you get goosepimples. When you ́ve had a severe shock you might faint or throw-up. Big things, small things, we receive it all through reactions in our bodies, right?

So Fibromyalgia, M.E. and Chronic Fatigue are all basically an exaggerated version of that.

For some people, it can be a long, slow build up of ignoring the signs, lots of little things that you accumulate on a day-to-day basis. For others (and for me) it can be a collapse all at once. It is so OBVIOUS now looking back, but at the time I couldn´t see the connection between the stresses in my life and the reaction in my body.

To quickly sum up (because what was happening for me is not what will be happening for you, but to just explain my story), I was driving down to Spain to be with my (now) husband, who was an illegal immigrant, unable to cross boarders, unable to work or go to hospital who was in constant hiding from the police. I had TV work that I was contracted for the next 6 months, so I could fly back and forth for well-paying jobs. But the Bike Channel who I was working for went bankrupt (I found out on Twitter on my drive down south), losing me 6 months of pay and another 6 months of contracted wage that I had been counting on. It was a life changing amount of money. A huge amount. Suddenly I found myself in Spain in a place where I don´t really speak the language with no money and unable to use my presenting skills to get a job. I was pretty screwed, supporting my partner without the support network of our friends and families back home, it was an impossible situation. But I kept positive. I kept a smile on my face and honestly, it´s so stupid, but I was genuinely confused as to why I had searing anxiety when I told myself that I was capable, adaptable and fine.

But biggest learning last year is that positive thinking and acceptance are not your friends! If you have anxiety, if you have a stiff neck, if you have butterflies in your belly, it means something is bothering you. Yeah, you might be able to say that the stiff neck is from sitting in an office chair for 8 hours a day, but don´t you see? Sitting for that long is not right either. Your body is telling you that. You have a choice to listen and make changes, or not. You can put yourself first.

And then, the thing with Fibromyalgia and the other ones, is that they are so horrifying it can easily keep you trapped. Which I guess is why they say so many people never recover from it. Because you get stuck in a negative cycle. With me, I ended up so ill that I couldn´t work, so our situation got worse and we ended up homeless and I STILL tried to stay positive. At one point, we were living in a field with some crazy religious naked hippies! We were desperate so we ended up in desperate situations. We had no electricity, washed in a river, tried to make a house in a tree out of wood we found in skips and tried to make the best of a bad situation. I tried to look on the bright side. I told myself it was an amazing experience to live off-grid, be auto sustainable and look at the stars at night. But it WASN´T amazing.

It was Gill who got me to admit to her and to myself that I actually really didn´t like it at all. I´m from London, yeah, I love the outdoors but I´m also creative, ambitious and career-driven. Waking up in a field with nothing to stimulate my mind other than how to fend off religious conversion from the christian nut-jobs was just not interesting. I hated it. I frikking HATED it.

Gill convinced me to say that out loud, to take action on it and I risked getting a credit card and rented a real house instead. Within 2 weeks of talking to her, I went from barely being able to walk to going surfing!! It was crazy!

She got me to write down my symptoms every day to see what I was doing, thinking and feeling at the time. At first it was constant. I had 10 pages of notes every session! But we systematically went through it...I forced myself to look for the negatives in life. It was so hard because I have spent my whole life looking on the bright side, it took a while to peel back the layers of habit. Of course, it´s not about BEING negative, it´s just about identifying the negative so that you can take positive action against it. You´re using your body as a guide to tell you what´s up.

Another part of the process was making balanced plans each day, so making sure that I was going to bed looking forward to the next day that was going to be productive, social and fun - a mix of everything a human needs.

I basically took 2 weeks to go from housebound to being able to do sport and go back to work, but it took me a whole year to work on the other, smaller, lingering symptoms that fluctuated up and down. So, until Juan got his residency and a job and was allowed to go to hospital if he broke himself (which he did fairly regularly) I remained with an almost permanent knot in my chest.

I also started to get muscle twitches as I walked through the door of my new job. I worked out it was because I wasn´t being given a contract and that I was scared to be working for a company that wasn´t doing things legit. After all I had been through, I craved some stability and didn´t want to be involved in any more illegality. So I forced myself to be extremely assertive, even though I was uncomfortable with the awkward conversation. This is the sort of thing I´d previously have kept quiet about and let it build up inside of me, to avoid conflict. The evidence was that once they agreed to the contract, the muscle twitching stopped. But then, after a few weeks and the contract hadn´t appeared yet, the twitching started again along with a churning in my belly. My body was sending me alarm signals and I could either deal with it head-on, or ignore it and allow myself to get sick again. So I looked for additional work to take back some control where I couldn´t control others and get a sense of security for myself. And hey-ho, the symptoms disappeared again. I loved my new job, but I had to listen to my body and stand up for myself and put my needs first.

I think that the above example is a more relatable one for many people. Stuff in daily life that isn´t fair and isn´t right, it´s really common to want to keep the peace and keep quiet, but your body and mind won´t thank you for it in the long run.

There are another 2 really important things to note.

  1. The situations that triggered your fibro/M.E/CFS may not be the ones that keep it going. That is why it can perpetuate forever. There is no need to look backwards at the cause. You just need to look at the right now. For example, I noticed that I was getting symptoms every time that I sat on the sofa. It was a reaction to having spent months and months sat on the sofa with fibromyalgia. I associated it subconsiously to a dark and terrible time. This shows how fibro can become a cause in itself, making it so difficult to get out of it. At times it was annoying and even now I can get a tinnitus ear ringing if I sit on the sofa for too long, so I force myself to get up, do something else and reassure my body that the sofa is not my prison anymore. I hope you can see what I am saying, the sofa didn´t cause my illness but as things evolved it kept me stuck in it, even if the original causes had been fixed.

2. Mickel Therapy, or simple, reading your body and acting on it before it gets worse, seems to have indirectly cured my endometriosis. Endometriosis is this thing where cells grow on the outside of your uterus and stick to each other and other organs and when they move, they rip and tear the lining. It´s SUPER painful and I´ve had it since I was 18. I had been given the green light to have a hysterectomy as there was nothing more that I could take or do for it. But as I recovered from fibromyalgia, I also ended up forgetting that I had endometriosis. It´s so wierd.

So that´s it. That is how I recovered. And now it all just seems like a distant bad dream that I can barely remember. Joey and Gill Gough and Mickel therapy literally saved my life! It all seems so logical and obvious now but if nobody explains it to you, how would you know? Everyone is different and Mickel therapy understands that and just helps you work out what YOU need to do, not necessarily to do it the same way as me. All I can say to anyone with fibromyalgia is that if one person can recover, EVERYONE can recover. This is the recovery strategy that worked for me and will continue to work for me if I ever notice symptoms again. If you do this systematically and accept some things that might be hard to accept then it´s basically impossible not to get better.

Best of luck and thanks for reading.

Anna x