This week we are getting to know Courtney “Frenchie” Donovan from York, PA. She was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia this last February, at the age of 36.
Tell us a little about yourself:
I am married to my wonderful husband, Shane, and we have a daughter who is entering kindergarten next week. We have an English Toy Spaniel named Molly, a cat named Bella, and a bunch of fish. I am an operations specialist for a major telecom company. I enjoy spending time with my family, fitness, and playing roller derby.
What lead up to your diagnosis ?
I went through a battery of GI tests in the year leading up to the diagnosis, because they believed my pain was coming from ulcerative colitis. It was even more frustrating when they kept finding no physical symptoms. I was also getting hurt a lot, multiple “sprains” and “strains” that landed me in the ortho urgent care throughout the year. I was too tired to work out most of the time, and figured when I was going to the gym, I was hurting myself. In the end, I wound up in the ER for GI testing again, and was given a leave of absence from my roller derby league. When I wasn’t working out but felt just as horrible as I would if I had worked out too hard, my friend told me I needed to see a rheumatologist, because I have the same symptoms she has with her Fibromyalgia.
What was your life like?
I was married and working full time, plus some, because my husband is not very healthy at this time. My daughter wouldn’t understand why there were days I couldn’t pick her up, or hug her.
How has your family been handling your illness?
My husband is supportive, and my daughter (age 5) tells me I need to take salt baths when I get home from the gym. She will lecture me if I don’t! However, my parents have not been as understanding as I wish they were. My dad likes to hug hard, and my mom keeps telling me to stop playing roller derby if I hurt that bad. Roller derby keeps me active in every way- if I stopped playing, I would basically stop living healthy.
What do you feel is the most challenging aspect of Fibro?
I was pretty strong before I got sick. I could do 3 hours of strength workouts in a day, and was planning to run a 5K. Now, I have to really pace myself in order to not give up on all the activities I enjoy. I have to do them all in moderation, and that includes shopping. If it’s a derby practice day, I have to make sure I am resting for most of the day, or I could hurt myself or someone else from over-exhaustion. Also, on days a low front is coming through the area, no amount of meds or moderation can compensate for that! It’s hard to go to work hurting so much, and it’s hard to skip fun things after work, but unfortunately, it’s necessary.
Do you have any other co-existing conditions? If so, what are they and how do they impact your Fibromyalgia?
I have allergies and asthma, ADHD, and osteo-arthritis from several previous injuries. I am prone to sinus infections, and when I get one, it’s even harder to sleep and the pain is exacerbated. On rainy days, I can pretty much forget about doing anything normal.
What (if anything) have you found/ done that has improved your symptoms?
Epsom salt baths within an hour after a workout have really helped the muscle soreness for the next day. I have been taking Savella, but it’s too expensive, so I am going to try Cymbalta, which my new rheumatologist says functions similarly. Savella was working pretty well. It’s a shame that it’s so pricey! In general, trying to continue to do the things I enjoy really helps me have a better sense of well-being.
How open are you with friends & family about your illness & symptoms?
It depends on the person, but I’m generally not too open with it unless it’s one of my friends who have Fibro too. Most people don’t understand that the days I look my best are the days I feel my worst, and they think I’m exaggerating, or complaining.
What is the best advice you’ve received regarding Fibromyalgia?
The best advice was really the friend that steered me down the diagnosis path to begin with. I wouldn’t have ever thought about Fibromyalgia as the cause of all my grief. No one who has it really talks about it much because it’s so misunderstood.
What was the worst advice that you followed?
I tried modifying my diet to cut down on the pain, but cutting out things I like to eat that make me happy just makes me feel like a sick person. I eat what I want in moderation, and if it makes me feel really bad, I just learn to live without. I haven’t seen much of a difference when I tweak my diet anyway. My fibro is affected more by weather and stress than anything else.
What is your favorite way to cope with your life as a spoonie?
I am going to become a fitness trainer this year. Setting and living goals I had before I got sick keeps me from getting really depressed. I am going to hurt whether I play roller derby or lift weights, or whether I don’t. I would rather gain something from the pain than just be sitting on the couch sore as if I had gone to the gym.
What is one thing you’ve learned about yourself since your diagnosis?
It’s OK to slow down and walk the dog or take a nap! I don’t need to be running errands or busy all the time. It is really hard to stop and breathe when you have ADHD. It’s really hard to acknowledge that it’s OK to do less, to not go out or be obligated. I still struggle with that sometimes.
What is the most important piece of advice you would give to someone newly diagnosed with Fibro (or even still seeking a diagnosis)?
“Do not compare yourself to others, or you will become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.” It’s a quote from the Desiderata. In the case of Fibro, the other person you will want to compare yourself to is yourself before you got sick. It will be hard to reconcile the new you with the old you, but it doesn’t mean giving up on life. You just have to learn to look at things a little differently.
Is there anything else you’d like the readers to know?
If you Google “roller derby and Fibromyalgia”, you get a whole bunch of “I quit sports when I was diagnosed…” Please don’t let it discourage you. Whether you play a sport or something else, you don’t have to quit. We have 3 girls in our league with Fibromyalgia. Success stories just aren’t big and bold on the internet, and I’m glad I can finally get one out there.
Be sure to follow Frenchie on Twitter, and let her know how much you enjoyed her interview.