She was the life of the party, with an infectious energy and big personality. You could always find her happy and smiling, showing off her pearly whites, perfected by $5000 worth of orthodontic work. Her dimples were as deep as the Grand Canyon, and the light in her eye shined brightly. Her natural glow radiated, drawing people to the light she so effortlessly magnified. She lived life, full of positivity and optimism. And despite all of the trials and tribulations in her life, she persevered through each one.

Her determination, ambition, and self-motivation were unmatched. She learned the value of hard work by watching the women in her family do what was needed in order to make ends meet. However, although she admired them, secretly she didn’t want to mimic their lives – existing to take care of kids and pay bills. She wanted to live her life and live it grandly and for the most part, she did.

She embodied the social butterfly. Her black eyeliner, bronzy cheek highlight, and “Ruby Woo” red lips were her wings, simple, but pretty enough to make a statement. She strutted her way through life, in 6-inch stilettos, and the world became her runway. Just as she learned from Beyoncé, she “twirled on her haters.” So much like the soap operas her grandma used to watch, she was bold and beautiful.

She lived for girl’s night out, dancing until night turned into morning, sipping on Cîroc and lemonade; for happy hours with her sister-friends; for Sunday brunches with bottomless mimosas. She and her friends could laugh and talk for hours.

But slowly, her sparkle began to dull. Rihanna said, “Shine bright like a diamond,” but the girl I used to know just couldn’t seem to shine, and her light began to dim. She stopped feeling like herself. Things changed and not for the better. Something took over her mind, body, and spirit, like a thief in the night, robbing her of precious moments, memories, and time with the ones she most loved. This intangible thing – stealing her essence, taking away all the things which made her who she was – if she could, she would pay a million dollars to get rid of it and to find herself again.

Many days, it felt as if she were fighting Mayweather – but with no gloves. If people could actually see, her body would have been black and blue, covered in bruises. It was pain, affecting all parts of her, inside and out, overpowering her 5’2 frame. Perhaps the mental and emotional anguish she kept bottled inside – the secrets she never told, her sadness buried deep within – maybe it had finally begun to make its way to the surface, disguised as migraines, muscles aches, and joint pain. She looked fine on the outside, maybe this was why people didn’t believe her when she described her pain, and it became exhausting, trying to convince the world that most days she felt as if she had been hit by a semi-truck. It became easier for her to just say she felt “OK” when she really wasn’t.

Doctors initially dismissed her. They tried to convince her it was nothing serious, that ibuprofen should alleviate the pain, but it didn’t. Maybe it really was all in her head. She started to doubt herself, something she had never done before. Was it all just a figment of her imagination? Just a pesky imaginary friend that followed her everywhere she went? But she wasn’t crazy, and she wasn’t going to let the world convince her she was.

How do I know this for sure? Because she is me. I am the girl missing the former version of herself and now my pain has been given a name, Fibromyalgia.

Fibro, as it’s called, is a chronic pain condition affecting over three million people in the USA, and is described as widespread, constant pain in the musculoskeletal system. My muscles and joints throb all over. But pain isn’t the only symptom. Fibro is accompanied by headaches, fatigue, brain fog, and even depression. I am in a constant battle with my body because deep down, I feel like it has betrayed me.

I suffer my way through many days because I don’t have a choice. I have kids who depend on me, so I literally have to push through the physical, mental, and emotional pain. However, as I’ve navigated through my condition, I have tapped into my true strength and resilience. I am learning self-care and really what it means to love myself. So, maybe Fibro came here to teach me or maybe to warn others like me – the strong, hardworking women who take care of everyone else but themselves.

Self-care is important. Self-care is necessary. If you continue to neglect yourself you could end up like me, 34 years old in chronic pain. Fibro and I have started to come to an understanding. I’ve had to make adjustments, and every day I am learning to listen, with love, to my body’s messages. Learning how to better give it what it needs to feel better. And although Fibro doesn’t have a cure, I refuse to let it own me. It is a part of me, but I am not my condition. I am not defined by it, and I won’t be defeated by it.

This feature was submitted by Trina Nicole

A self-proclaimed, “Fly Girl,” Trina Nicole is the founder of “Fly Girl with Fibro,” a book, blog, and podcast dedicated to raising awareness about the condition Fibromyalgia. Her mission is to educate, encourage, and empower others to engage in better self-love and self-care and to take care of their physical, mental, and emotional health. When she is not writing, speaking, or doing yoga she is spending time with her three very active boys.

For more on Trina Nicole, click here. Be sure to follow her on social media @flygirlwithfibro.

Featured Image by Will Matthews of Viper Vision Photography | Instagram | provided by Trina Nicole