BY RHODA FUKUSHIMA
When Claire Lewis of St. Paul was 39, she went roller skating with friends at Lake Calhoun. Though she wasn’t a rookie skater, she fell, breaking her wrist. It took a year to heal; even after, she never felt quite right. Over the years, she was in a lot of pain. She didn’t sleep well. Some mornings, she wasn’t sure she could even get out of bed. In 1993, she finally got a diagnosis. She was 43.
“It’s difficult for me to share that I really hurt. I tend to make light of it. During a physical, I said, ‘My knees are killing me.’ (My family doctor) said it might be a touch of arthritis. I saw a rheumatologist. He diagnosed it in 10 minutes as fibromyalgia. It was a relief. At least, I had something to call it. I knew the pain wasn’t in my head.
“Then I was very depressed. I can remember thinking, I might feel this bad in my 80s, but I can’t live like this for another 40-50 years.
“I went on an anti-depressant and gained 35 pounds in less than six months. I didn’t think it really helped me much with the pain.
“I realized I’d become very isolated. I couldn’t run and play with my friends as I had in the past. I was in the process of blending a family (with my husband’s).
“I finally decided take control of myself. I thought the best thing to do was to get myself to a gym. I decided to find a partner to help me get better. That’s where Dennis (Gudim) came in. I had a training session with him at the YWCA in St. Paul. This was 1998.
“I had never done strength training. I would tend to push myself too far, too fast. Dennis took it in small steps, but it was more than my rheumatologist suggested. I started working out with Dennis three times a week. It was a difficult decision. Financially, it felt extravagant (Gudim charges $40 per session for a 10-pack series). I decided to think of it as doctor’s appointments. Exercise is what keeps me functioning.
“I’ve been with him ever since. It doesn’t get boring because he changes it up. Once in a while, I think, ‘Do I have to keep doing this?’ As soon as I stop or cut back, I always end up regretting it. I don’t feel as good. I start hurting. I lose ground.
“In 2003, I saw an allergist who asked if I would look at my diet. I have backed off eating wheat and sugar. I have a little more energy. The nice thing about that is I lost 30 pounds.
“All of this has made me a lot more compassionate. Fibromyalgia is one of those things you can’t see. You don’t look sick. I have learned that a lot of people have things going on that you don’t know about.”
Source: Twin Cities (Pioneer Press), online at www.twincities.com
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