Emma McAlister ’22 on living with fibromyalgia

Emma McAlister SFCM Student ’22

The SFCM voice student discusses becoming a disability rights advocate in the arts.

In her own words, Emma McAlister (MM ’22) recounts her fibromyalgia diagnosis.

I have a chronic illness called fibromyalgia. It's debilitating. Fibromyalgia affects musculature, causes chronic fatigue in muscles, difficulty in thinking and brain fatigue, as well as general fatigue.

A lot of people don't know what it is, or how to deal with it, so I’m really vocal about it. I’ve become a disability rights advocate. Especially in the arts industry, because I feel like in our industry, it's really easy for us to just go-go-go and keep going until we hit that wall. For me, that wall is every day—there are days that I can't get out of bed. I also struggle with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Those things are a bit more subtle than fibromyalgia—they aren't as obvious to spot and a bit more taboo to talk about.

I was diagnosed at the beginning of this year. At first, we thought it was chronic fatigue syndrome, which is very similar to fibromyalgia. Both of those illnesses are really hard to spot and diagnose. There aren't any diagnostic tests, really, they don't show up in scans or bloodwork. It takes months of testing to make sure it's not any other chronic illness like lupus.

I feel like whenever you get a diagnosis, it's really validating because it doesn't take away anything but it explains the way that your body is acting or the way that your brain is functioning. It gives me this concrete thing that says, 'Oh, this is why my body is responding like this.' And also, 'This is how I can treat it now.' It's not curable, but I can treat it.

What pushes me when I’m dealing with symptoms has been the repertoire that I'm working on, I feel like a lot of it is just so fun. I really do love it. And there are so many professors at SFCM that I just adore. I've been here for less than a year, and with the relationships that I’ve formed with some professors here, I know I will be connected with them for the rest of my life. I'm so thankful for that.

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