Fitness, Food and Fibromyalgia

As a young child, I hated sport and exercise

Zoe Mason - Sporting HeadsI was the ‘bigger’ kid who couldn’t keep up with others. I remember joining Brownies and we played duck, duck, goose. It was so embarrassing. I could see the other girls whispering about me because I was so much bigger. I got caught within seconds but couldn’t catch anyone else. I took sickies on sports days so I didn’t have to experience that same feeling in front of the whole school.

But it wasn’t until I was picked on by family members that it really started to affect me. I was told I would end up alone and that no one would want me. I was called Miss Piggy, yet told it was to motivate me to lose weight. It was relentless. That caused a lot of psychological damage that I’ve spent time in therapy trying to come back from. It affected my self-esteem, as it would with any child. These comments reinforced the notion that my worth was associated with my weight.

Bullying a child into losing weight will never work

Zoe Mason recovering in hospitalAt the age of 15 I had an extremely traumatic appendectomy which led to my appendix rupturing. From that point the pain just never stopped. For years, it was misdiagnosed as IBS until I woke up one morning in agony, unable to move and bed bound. Doctors didn’t know what had happened but after doing my own research I proposed the idea of Fibromyalgia – I’d hit the nail on the head!

I was put on 26 tablets a day to try and manage the pain but it soon became overwhelming. I just couldn’t live like this anymore. I took an overdose of my Co-codamol in an attempt to finally end the pain and my life.

Luckily my Mum got me to hospital in time and I started an intensive course with the crisis team to try and stabilise my mental health. I was passed around different mental health clinics, consultants and pain clinics but none of them offered me any relief. I wasn’t able to work, I was drowning in student debt, I was lonely, I lost friends, the pain was suffocating and again I turned to food.

It was overwhelming, but I decided if I was going to live, it couldn’t be like this anymore. So once again, I went off to do my own research. Everything I read pointed to diet and exercise, keeping the body moving and keeping inflammatory food out of my system. By this point, I was weighing in at over 17 stone and I hated what I’d done to my body. Something had to change.

The diet I could change overnight, but the exercise aspect started slowly

Coping with Chronic Pain - Zoe MAsonGentle walks, then adding a bit of resistance band work which eventually developed to weight training. I had a lot of support from my mum and my brothers who could see how much help I needed.  One of them paid for my gym membership until I was healthy enough to go back to work.

In truth, this new motivation was driven by pain.

I was promised by doctors and online research that exercise and a healthy diet would make the pain get better. If I didn’t commit to it, I didn’t have the right to moan to the doctors for more help. If I did what I was supposed to do, if I gave it everything then at least I knew it wasn’t me failing my body.

I persevered with the exercise and nutrition and slowly my body responded. I lost 10lbs in the first month without joining the gym. Once I did join, the weight started to fall off and with that my confidence soared. It was incredibly tough. I pushed through difficult workouts, sore DOMS and fibro flare ups because healthcare professionals promised me it would be worth it. As my body started to get stronger, it could support my joints better. Keeping my body moving meant that my muscles and joints weren’t seizing up like before.

A workout gives me a sense of accomplishment that nothing else ever has.

The gym became my physical pain relief but also my mental pain relief. It is my safe place to be who I am without being criticised or judged. Initially I kept to myself but slowly I started to come out of my shell, making more and more friends. Now, my gym community are the best group of people I’ve ever come across. We support and cheer each other on – it’s a friendship group that I desperately needed and had missed out on my whole life  A community of people who support each other, help you get that extra rep but remind you that your worth is connected to who you are, not what you look like.

After a good gym session I feel like I can take on the world.

Nothing works better for my mental and physical health than the gym and I crave feeling healthy and happy more than anything. It makes me feel so strong, physically and emotionally  to know that no matter how many chronic illnesses the universe throws my way, I still have control over my body. A workout gives me a sense of accomplishment that nothing else ever has.

Fast forward to 2020, and I’m now 8 stone lighter and working full time in London. I’ve completed CBT and Acceptance Therapy, I’ve trained as a mental health first-aider and I spend my spare time working with Fibro people all over the world to help improve their quality of life.

Sadly, with one chronic illness usually comes many others

Fitness, Food and FibromyalgiaI now also have Endometriosis, Hypermobility Syndrome and Spondyloarthritis, but I’m surrounded by incredible people who lift me up when I’m down. Some days are tougher than others, the pain is 24/7 and will never end which is a huge thought to process. But most days I feel strong and powerful, like nothing could ever stop me.

I truly believe that had I taken better care of myself in my younger days, my physical health wouldn’t have suffered. But I recognise that it wasn’t just my fault and it was equally up to my parents to educate me on the importance of a healthy lifestyle. Bullying a child into losing weight will never work. It made me eat more in an attempt to comfort myself, causing life-long mental health issues which have made the road to recovery so much harder.

But it’s also made me even more proud of myself and everything that I’ve overcome.