Living with Fibromyalgia: An Athlete's Personal Story

A journey through diagnosis, symptoms and treatment of fibromyalgia

March 16, 2017 | By Megan Densmore

When she was just a teen, Good Zing expert and athlete Megan Densmore began her ongoing battle with fibromyalgia, hypoglycemia, chronic fatigue syndrome, IBS, PCOS and other related conditions. After trying and testing numerous lifestyles to manage the conditions, Megan currently experiences a very healthy lifestyle and manages all symptoms of her diagnosed conditions 100% naturally. She is a certified pilates instructor and expert on nutritional supplementation. She also competes in kettlebell sport and was a member of the US team at the IUKL World Championships in Dublin, Ireland in 2015. She continues to patiently guide clients through the complex layers of chronic pain and chronic conditions like fibromyalgia. Here, she shares her journey.

Megan's story

Living with fibromyalgia

"As an athlete, when you get diagnosed with fibromyalgia, things change very quickly. 

I was 13 years old when I first got diagnosed. I was a regular kid who was always an athlete, inside and out and I loved it. I was a sprinter in track and when it came to the point when my body wasn't able to handle it, I realized the severity of the red flags quickly.

My parents took me to a rheumatologist who confirmed the diagnosis. There was no question about it, or no other ideas for what was happening for that matter. The problem though was that I had no major symptoms – so didn't really identify. I was recommended tons of medication which deep down, I didn't feel was the right path. I began with the prescribed medication, but it didn't feel right, so I spoke to my parents and they were fine with my choice to stop taking anything. I didn't resort to any treatment for the rest of most of my teen years and continued my love of sport and exercise.

College was a difficult time, as my symptoms worsened. I moved from dance and athletics into a more intellectual creative side to better myself. I did my undergrad in theatre but it was a constant difficulty psychologically to ignore everything I knew and felt about athletics and I missed dancing seriously. When you take away a core piece of someone's spirit, it's hard to piece a new version back together. I had to figure out how to incorporate some form of physical activity – that's when I figured out that I could bring physicality into my acting work and I started turning some negatives into positives.

Symptoms of fibromyalgia

The symptoms though, had built up. A lot. I went to school in LA and had to drive to campus. Park in a lot. Walk up stairs. All of these things, seem like normal day to day unimportant events, but for me, it was terrible. I found myself not being able to climb the steps to get to the lot. I would be forgetful and lock my keys in the car with it running. I gave my best friend an extra set of keys to my car just in case this happened. The fog and fatigue that comes with this condition was debilitating. 

At the height of the pain and discomfort, I was graduating from college. I was 21 years old. I went back home, did some physical therapy and kept hearing the same thing from doctors I visited, "We tried everything and we don’t know how to help you". Frustrated, that's when I began to look into alternative health therapies to treat fibromyalgia. I went to get acupuncture for a while, which helped a bit, and sought out the guidance of a naturopathic nutritionist who unfortunately put me on a strange diet – a candida cleanse. At 21 years old, I lost so much weight. 

I felt depleted. I then got into the idea of actually understanding what I was eating, and fresh, healthy foods as opposed to processed foods. I came across Dr. St Amand of The Guaifenesin Protocol who claimed that the drug guaifenesin could treat fibromyalgia symptoms by removing excess phosphate from the body, which he believes to be the root cause of fibromyalgia. But in order for this to work you can't have any salicylates, and these are difficult to avoid in foods and simple personal care products.

After a while, I hated the restrictive lifestyle so I stopped. I still don't know if that specific protocol would have worked for me. Then, discouraged, I didn't actively seek any treatment for a while other than acupuncture, and trying to eat as well as I knew how.

Living with fibromyalgia without medications

Fibromyalgia without medication

Soon after, I started to slowly get better by adding one lifestyle change at a time. I was interested in pilates and how your central nervous system and other systems interact, leading me to train as a pilates instructor. The fact that I was lying down and using a machine to help me get some exercise was great. I was able to calm down and get into a mind and body connection, kind of like yoga but I couldn't do much of yoga because the positions were too painful and I seemed to always overdo it and get injured. My neck and upper traps were the main pain areas, and pilates released that. My muscles and back became more connected and I started to feel better overall.

Suddenly, positivity sparked inside of me. I read The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton and a new thought movement emerged. I started meditating, thinking my body can heal itself. I knew it wasn’t all 'universe', I know I will agree to help when I need it, but this was a huge change for me. A great one. 

From there I got interested in learning about supplementation and looked back into nutrition. I removed gluten from my diet and found a healthy way of eating that doesn't require so many restrictions. I don't know if it's completely gone, but my inflammation got to a healthy range because of these changes. After being on my supplementation and diet plan for six months I slowly tried to reintroduce sport.

How to cope with fibromyalgia pain

It can be hard for the average person to even start exercising, but I always continued to exercise even when I was at my sickest – which is rare. I couldn't just shut it out. It's a part of who I am, a competitive athlete. I pushed myself even though some exercises taxed my central nervous system.

Just before I went to the World Championships in 2015 I think I may have had a fibro flare. My first one in about 5 years of remission. My digestion shut down. I realized that I had to really make sure I listened to my body and respected what it can do. I also had to heed the emotional and psychological stressors in my life at that time and make even more lifestyle changes. 

Every person is different, so you really have to listen to your own body. When you deal with any condition like this, each person’s system is different and you have to take into account how your body is wired.

Struggling with fibromyalgia

The difficulty in this environment is when someone is told by their doctor that they need to exercise, and yoga is usually recommended. But yoga actually caused me pain even though everyone told me to do it. I had to develop stability in my joints through pilates and weightlifting before I was able to do yoga safely and enjoyably. Now I can. The point is that you need to be careful with recommendations around movements for a group of people who have auto immune and neurological conditions that are in different parts of their bodies. There's no perfect form of movement for this certain group. If a person suffering liked to do something before they got sick, then they should scale it way back and start again very slowly. For example if they were a runner before, they should start walking then jogging or use a cardio machine, to practice endurance.

Natural remedies for fibromyalgia pain relief

Natural remedies for fibromyalgia

Body awareness needs to increase and warm ups are very critical and can't be skipped when you're exercising. Massages are good for release and acupuncture is helpful for people with sensitive tissue. Without good nutrition however, none of this happens. It's important to remember that it’s all connected. Take that perspective slowly and be patient, you'll get somewhere that looks familiar to where you were before. Even though not everybody can exercise when suffering from fibromyalgia, I was an athlete before so a new way of exercising, learning and respecting my body is best for me to perform at my optimum.

The right supplements can help you sustain a healthy, strong lifestyle by providing micronutrients to back up the macronutrients in the food you eat. Science and the western world will tell you one thing about nutrition, the holistic side tells you something else, and everyone in the middle say supplements don’t work. The turning point five and a half years ago, was when I found supplements that did work as designed. Amazingly, nearly immediately did the ease of the management of inflammation, recovery and energy come. With this help, I refocussed on anti inflammatory foods like kale and spinach. Though no certification in supplementation currently exists in the US, I've now worked with leading scientists and medical professionals in this field and intend to be a part of developing one of the first certifications for this area of expertise.

I'm happy to say that I've been symptom free for nearly six years, and have been a competitive athlete for five.

Best treatments for fibromyalgia

• In terms of exercise, try the smallest thing first then move up, tracking your endurance. 

• Try not to eat processed foods and keep sugar to a minimum. Be careful with caffeine.

• Try removing things like gluten and dairy from your diet for three weeks to see if you respond positively or negatively after reintroducing it.  
• Eat extra vegetables.
• Try meditation. Learn to breathe – you don't need to attend classes or anything if you don't want to, but try simple things first like having a mantra to remind yourself that you can and appreciate yourself despite it all.
• Decide where you want to put your money – for example supplements, sticking to one thing for at least six months, then consider adding something in addtion. Start to see what else is there for you and structure your life around supporting your health.

Click here to read more about why understanding fibromyalgia can change your life.

Yes I'm an athlete, but I'm no different from anyone who wants to live a healthy lifestyle. Making your health a priority is key. Scale it to what works for you. I don't condone massive, quick changes. I track my nutrition and am aware but I can’t be super strict as it doesn’t work. You can’t hear your body when you do a massive switch after all. Gradual changes help you understand what your body wants and needs."

Click here to learn more about Megan's exercise programme, Zero to Hero.

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Learn diagnosis, symptoms and treatment of fibromyalgia through diet, exercise and natural lifestyle changes.