Fibromyalgia Guest Blog Vikki Patis Fibromyalgia and Pilates

Vikki Patis is an avid blogger, book reviewer, and author. By day, she works in the regulatory department for a medical supplies company; by night, she runs The Bandwagon blog, writing about everything from fiction to feminism to fibromyalgia, and writes for a host of sites, including The Mighty and Elephant Journal. Her short story collection, Weltanschauung, is available on Amazon.
How I Use Pilates To Help With Fibromyalgia

Followers of my blog, The Bandwagon, will know my journey of coming to terms with having fibromyalgia. I believe that my symptoms started 8 years ago, but I wasn’t formally diagnosed until last May.

In the months preceding my diagnosis, I was at my lowest. I was exhausted, both mentally and physically, and preparing to give up. I considered quitting my job, despite the financial hardship that would follow, and, at one point, I even contemplated suicide. That’s how bad it got. The pain, the fatigue, my constant companions, were dragging me down. I struggled to get out of bed each morning; I fell straight into bed not long after I got home from work. I did nothing, felt nothing but pain and exhaustion. I worked, I slept, sometimes I ate, sometimes I showered. That was my life.

After my diagnosis, I was put straight on to amitriptyline, a tricyclic antidepressant. The summer months of 2016 were taken over by adjusting to the drug, slowly increasing my dose. It definitely got worse before it got better, but when it did get better, the difference was outstanding. By winter, I was able to venture into town on a weekend for a short walk and a coffee with my partner, something I could never have dreamed of being able to do.

In January, I decided to try a Pilates class a colleague had told me about. She’d been having back problems, and this class was specifically designed for people with back and joint issues. I contacted one of the teachers, told her of my health problems, and she immediately responded, booking me in for a trial class. I bought my own mat (OCD is another of my concerns), some of those socks that allow better grip (I wasn’t getting my bare feet out!), and went along, nervous.

I probably couldn’t have picked a worse time to start a new exercise class – January, when many people are joining gyms and classes to fulfil their “new year, new me!” resolution. I worried that people would judge me – my size, my complete lack of fitness – and expect me to disappear after a few weeks. But I was determined to try, and to hell with the opinions of others.

One of the things I was really concerned about was the pace of the class. 
  • Would I be able to keep up? 
  • Would I get hot and sweaty and red-faced? 
  • Would I have to leave?

As it turned out, none of those worries came to fruition. The class was slow, gentle, accommodating. The teacher, a lovely woman called Sarah, was kind and patient. The others in the class were a mixed bag – mostly older women, with their own health issues, but some men too – and everyone was focused on their own bodies, their own abilities. It was hard to feel overly self-conscious.

My body is limited, I know that. I had Perthes Disease as a kid, so my left hip didn’t develop properly, and the fibromyalgia hinders my movements. Even as a child, I could never touch my toes. I could never sit cross-legged. I’ve always had limitations, and I’ve learned to live with them, because what other choice did I have? But since starting Pilates, I’ve learned that my body can do far more than I gave it credit for. After four months of weekly classes, I found I could touch my toes during the roll-down. I could hold my hips steady during shoulder bridge. I started to move up to the more challenging moves. But I still struggled to do anything that involved lifting my legs while standing. 

My hips just aren’t built that way, it seems.

We went on holiday in June to Cornwall, where I lived and studied a few years ago. We visited friends, stayed in Fowey, and went out exploring. We visited the tin mines at St Agnes – an incredibly beautiful place, one I fell in love with – and we clambered over the ruins, picked our way down the cliff, and just enjoyed the place. We had rucksacks full of everything we’d need, had to pee al fresco, and then had to climb back up those cliffs to get back to the car. I managed it. Me, who couldn’t walk ten steps without pain a year before, had managed some pretty tough terrain. I was exhilarated. We ventured down to the river from our holiday home in Fowey almost every day, a steep climb down and back up, and we wandered around Lanhydrock House when the weather turned rainy. It was the most active holiday I’d ever had, and I loved it, but most of all, I loved what my body was able to achieve.

In July, I stopped going to my weekly Pilates classes for a multitude of reasons – work, sickness, fatigue, simple laziness – and I didn’t go for about 5 weeks. I noticed a clear increase in pain, particularly in my back. I went for a couple of sports massages, tried some of the moves at home (and could barely reach my shins, let alone my toes!), but I knew that, in order to get back to how I was, I had to return to Pilates. Now I’ve gone back, and I can already feel the difference.

Fibromyalgia, or any such chronic illness, cannot be cured by simple exercise. It’s just not as easy as that, unfortunately. How many of us have heard “why don’t you try X/Y/Z?” from well-meaning friends or colleagues, and we’ve rolled our eyes at their ignorance. But Pilates has made a huge difference to my life, to my quality of life. I experience less pain, I feel more flexible, stronger. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still in pain, and flares can still grip me mercilessly. I had a bout of sciatica last week, and it knocked me for six. I still get incredibly tired – working full-time, and attempting to do more things, be more social, also means that sometimes I push it too far, and I end up in bed by 8pm. I accept that as something I just have to deal with. But it isn’t every night, and my days aren’t completely bleak. And for that, I’m so very thankful.

For any local readers who are interested, I go to NuYou Pilates in Hertford. They also run classes in Hoddesdon, and they cater to people of all abilities.

Thank you so much to Vikki for writing this guest blog for me. 

You can follow her blog here


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