Living Within The Limitations of Fibromyalgia

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Life limitations with fibromyalgia and MECFS

Living with the limitations of fibromyalgia is not an easy thing to do. [Updated 2020] 

Hi! My name is Carrie and I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014 after receiving a primary diagnosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis in February 2009. I was doing well for my first few years with AS until fibro hit me like a freight train.

Life has had a lot of ups and downs since then, but one thing has been consistent and right by my side the whole time – fibromyalgia.

Living with fibromyalgia is one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn. I’m still living with severe limitations of fibromyalgia. 

When you’re living with such huge disabilities, it’s natural for your quality of life to go down as you lose core strength and energy. 

Nothing with my health has changed since I wrote this article in July 2016. I’m not any better. I’d say I’m not much worse either. I’ve been housebound for close to three years now. I leave my house once a week if I’m lucky.

It’s important to try to limit my time out to 2-3 hours. A huge factor in me leaving my house is knowing how much walking I’ll have to do and how comfortable I’ll be when I’m out.

There is always a payback to leaving my house and doing any walking if it exceeds more than 3,000 steps per day.

Living Passionately with Chronic Illness My Several Worlds

One of the biggest challenges with chronic illness is learning how to live with the limitations of fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia creates pain, autoimmune fatigue, and poor sleep patterns that don’t allow patients to cope with day-to-day activities at times.

Writing about the limitations of fibromyalgia lets others know what we live with on a daily basis. These limitations can range from small disruptions to severe disruptions that leave people housebound.Carrie Kellenberger - Health Advocate for Ankylosing Spondylitis

Sometimes I knowingly surpass my limits if I really want to do something.

I also have hard lines that I never cross.

Having an understanding of my limitations has allowed me to learn a lot about my body.

I’d wager I know as much about my body as a world-class athlete does, only I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum as a world-class weakling. Muscle fatigue is brutal. Think of how weak your legs feel after you’ve gone for a run. I have this all the time and it gets worse throughout the day.

Today, I’m writing about a few of my limitations with chronic illness while recovering from a two-and-a-half-hour walk with my dad this morning.

Yes, I overdid it and I’m hurting pretty bad right now. We found out that what was once nothing to me, roaming the halls of my former high school from 20 years ago, is now too much for me. At least I was able to do this one last time with my dad!

Me and Dad at CPHS in July 2016


Patients with fibromyalgia struggle constantly with extreme muscle fatigue.

I can’t lift or carry things without severe consequences. Exercise makes me worse. Walking for more than an hour leaves me feeling utterly drained and the agony hits if I’ve been standing for more than 10 minutes.

Patients like me walk a fine line between doing any exercise and overdoing it. It is SO easy to overdo things. I have to keep a close eye on energy reserves. For example, I can conserve energy by keeping my my arms crossed over my body. It also helps because I feel less pain if my arms aren’t hanging down.

Working at not lifting things is hard because my instinct is to help. I don’t want people to think I’m lazy. But helping and lifting or carrying things always impacts my health the next day.

The downside to lifting things is that usually I can’t lift my arms the next day. It feels like a grizzly bear ripped my chest and upper back wide open. Doesn’t that sound crazy? This is a classic example of fibromyalgia and Myalgic encephalomyelitis.

This is why I pick and choose what I carry and how much activity I engage in. It is a form of self-preservation.

Sense of smell is another example of living with limitations of fibromyalgiaCarrie Kellenberger for Fibromyalgia Awareness Day

A few months ago, I was driving with my husband. When I got in the car, I noticed the strong odor of gasoline. My head started pounding within minutes. Within 10 minutes, I was dizzy, nauseous, and a migraine was starting. My throat started closing up and my lips went numb and started swelling. I couldn’t think straight.

When I got away from the smell of gas, my throat stopped swelling. My lips and tongue stayed numb and swollen for the rest of the night and the headache turned into a migraine that lasted three days.

We ended up getting rid of that car because my husband couldn’t fix that problem.

It took me a long time to realize that some things aren’t good for me.

People with fibromyalgia are sensitive to smells, lights, touch, foods, sounds, and more. Learning about an offending smell or environment allows us to protect ourselves from it.

Concerts or sporting events are out. I can’t do them. After seeing the Senators play the Coyotes in Phoenix in December 2015 with my family, I spent the next day in bed in a dark room. The entire day was wasted over a two-hour hockey game.

My Several Worlds Best of Fibromyalgia Blogs 2020 with Healthline

My limitations with fibromyalgia have taught me to increase my awareness of what bothers me or makes me sick. That level of awareness is basic instinct for me now.Invisible Illness - Fibromyalgia

I can still decide to do something that I know might make me sick. I just have to decide if I’m willing to pay for it afterwards.

This is why I plan in advance. My level of participation is determined by how much I want to do it, despite the consequences.

I explained to my mom the other day that my limitations of fibromyalgia  fall into three categories:

Category 1: Nope. I’m Not Doing It.

This category includes activities, events and things that are not healthy for me. I always learn about these things the hard way. I’ve found that it’s best to avoid situations that fall under this category completely.

Examples: Staying away from triggering smells, saying no to activities that require physical effort, vacuuming or mopping floors, absolutely no hockey games or concerts, etc.

Category 2: Once In A While

Category 2 is reserved for things that bother me just enough to say no if I need to. If it’s an activity that I know causes me pain, I don’t do it unless it’s a special occasion.

Examples: Weddings, family reunions, and get-togethers all fall under this category, performing on stage, and attending certain events throughout the year.

Category 3: Maybe, But Today Is Not A Good Day To Try

This includes everything from activities, events, and relationships that I find tolerable when I am feeling well, but that sap my energy when I’m not feeling well. I make my decision based on how I feel that day.

By knowing my limitations, I can protect myself and use self-care. It’s good to say no every once in a while. We can all learn from paying attention to what is and isn’t good for us.

I’m ending with some good news: Since writing this post in 2016, my advocacy work for fibromyalgia has paid off. I’ve continued to update this post each year because it has been shared widely.

I’m so proud to say that My Several Worlds has earned Healthline’s Best Blogs about Fibromyalgia in 2020. This is the third year in a row I’ve been acknowledged for this award. It’s moments like these that give me the courage and motivation I need to keep writing and to keep sharing about my journey with fibromyalgia.  

Carrie Kellenberger - The Limitations of Fibromyalgia


Post Author: Carrie Kellenberger

I'm a chronically ill Canadian expat who has been living abroad in Asia since 2003. I moved from China to Taiwan in 2006. My husband and I have owned our own business in Taiwan since 2012. In addition to my own work, I've been writing professionally about Asia, travel and health advocacy since 2007, providing regular content to several publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. Follow Carrie on on Twitter @globetrotteri or on Instagram at

4 thoughts on “Living Within The Limitations of Fibromyalgia


    (June 3, 2020 - 8:30 pm)

    Thank you for bringing fibro alive like this Carrie. I was nodding away to so much of what you said. I’m totally the same with scents too! Can’t stand them, and it can easily bring on a migraine. Weirdly my fibro doctor hasn’t ever said anything to me about it. I must ask next time.

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (June 4, 2020 - 3:56 pm)

      I often wonder how many of my triggers are different to others. My doctor has also never mentioned scents, but that’s a major one for me and almost always sets off migraines. The other one is flashing lights in a loud area. That makes me very sick quite fast. By the way, your comment came through, lovely! We’re doing something right! Thanks so much for stopping by, Claire!

    Shruti Chopra

    (June 3, 2020 - 8:49 pm)

    Over the last few years I’ve gotten increasing sensitive to smell and sound – sudden high pitched sounds can throw my leg into jerks and short spasms. Smells give me migraines. I could so relate to everything you were pointing out and it can all become a steep learning curb when one thing after the other hits us – but we do learn and adapt and reading through this post reminded me of that – which I think I needed, and I’m sure many like me would too.

    Thank you for sharing this Carrie 🙂

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (June 4, 2020 - 4:04 pm)

      Hi Shruti,

      I just mentioned this to Claire. I wasn’t sure if other people were experiencing the same kinds of sensitivities I get, but it sounds like we all have similar issues! One of the first things I noticed first was household aerosol sprays and deodorant sprays. My husband and his mother in law really like using Febreze and other aerosols, and that stuff sets me off really quickly. We got rid of all of that.

      After looking a little further into household cleaners and autoimmune illness, I learned it’s best to make your own and go as a natural as possible. I’m so glad you were able to relate to all of this and I really appreciate you sharing and taking the time to read through all my super wordy posts. LOL.

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