Reprinted with the kind permission of Sarah Borien and A Life Less Physical
My sister is two years younger than me and about ten times more exciting. Life many sibling relationships, I am the older sensible sister who is somewhat predictable but dependable in a crisis; she is the younger fun sister who is a bit of a rebel and always taking on a new challenge.
A couple of years ago, she moved to Sydney, Australia, where she now lives as a blonde beach babe with a year-round tan. By contrast, I live in a quiet country cottage with year-round British drizzle.
Seven months ago, my little sister, the girl I spent years protecting in the school playground, decided to enter Wimp 2 Warrior. For those who are unfamiliar with terrifying fighting championships, it’s a mixed martial arts programme that describes itself as “the ultimate human experiment taking you on a 6-month mental and physical journey from ‘Wimp’ to ‘Warrior’ culminating in a mixed martial arts cage fight.”
I don’t think there’s a lot about that sentence I don’t hate. Human experiment? Piss off. Physical journey? No thanks. Cage fight? Do one. But my sister’s reaction was something completely different. She took up the challenge and no sooner had she been accepted than I was receiving pictures like this.
She was up at 4AM every day, training and fighting, changing her diet and changing her attitude day after day until she was finally ready to step into the cage. She punched and was being punched, she kicked and was being kicked, she built up her muscle and built up her strength and fought day after day to take on her opponent in the ultimate fighting championship. Sadly, after six months of hardcore training – and a set of abs to die for – a disc bulge in her neck put her out of action and she was forced to spend fight night in the crowd. It was devastating for her and, if I know her at all, I reckon she feels like her challenge is left incomplete.
This whole thing got me thinking.
As people living with chronic illness, we often talk about “fighting” our pain. We refer to long-suffering patients as “fibro warriors,” and we change our diet and lifestyle to tray and be stronger than this thing we’re fighting.
Watching my sister’s highs and lows over the past six months has been like watching a really intense condensed version of someone responding to chronic illness. She’s had days where she felt she could take on the world; she pushed her limits and felt stronger and prouder than ever before. On other days, she cried tears of exhaustion, experienced intense pain and felt frustrated knowing some friends just didn’t “get it.” Sound familiar?
Every time we messaged, I wanted to say I knew exactly how she felt, but, in truth, how could I say that when I hadn’t had my face shoved up a cage as someone kneed me in the thigh and punched me in the stomach? Thankfully, I couldn’t.
Fibro warriors don’t look like fighters; we don’t always sound strong and our bodies rarely show our hard work, but we’re pushing ourselves, our governments, our researchers and our medical professionals every day.
I guess warriors come in all shapes and sizes. They’re punching in a cage, raising children, caring for the elderly, overcoming miscarriage, battling mental illness, fighting chronic pain, and so many other things.
But of all the warriors that are in my life, this year my sister takes the crown. I have hated many parts of her journey and secretly hoped she would stop on countless occasions, but seeing her hard work and determination has been incredible. She may not have made it to the final stage, but nothing is incomplete here. There is no doubt in my mind she has won her fight and is one hell of a warrior. The only difference is she was never a wimp to begin with.
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Sarah Borien lives in a country cottage in Oxfordshire with her husband and their two cats. She has had fibromyalgia since 2009 and is passionate about finding and sharing new coping strategies. Sarah authors her blog, A Life Less Physical, and has written for New Life Outlook (Fibromyalgia).