My Story: I Was Fortunate Enough To Get Diagnosed With Fibromyalgia Earlier Than Many Other Patients

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My Story: 'I Was Fortunate Enough To Get Diagnosed With Fibromyalgia Earlier Than Many Other Patients'

Jhelum Mukherjee's passion for teaching took her to take up the 'Teach For India' fellowship in 2020. From fighting through Fibromyalgia to being creatively expressive, she is channelling her energy in initiating socio-emotional learning for children.

From a very young age, I was inclined towards creative activities. I liked writing and reading books as it was my passion. From art to dancing, I always kept myself engaged. I always thought of myself as a storyteller, an expressive one.

This passion brought me to Delhi University, where I studied in the prestigious Miranda House college. I pursued my bachelor's degree in English Literature. I loved every bit of it, and the entire experience was fulfilling.

However, an exciting encounter with Delhi's Kamla Nagar Market changed my life. In my first or second year of college, I was in the area, having tea with my friends at a stall. A child came up to us selling hair accessories and other trinkets. When we conversed with him, we learned that a young girl used to teach them, but she had to leave abruptly due to some unforeseen circumstances.

Therefore, I decided to take the matter into my own hands. I gathered a group of 10 children the very next day and started giving classes to them in the footpath. I did so for some time but had to discontinue my other academic commitments. However, that minor incident sparked a lifelong interest in teaching and interacting with children. That's how I applied to the Teach for India program.

Suffering From Fibromyalgia

I joined the Teach for India fellowship in 2020. I taught English and Social Studies. Due to COVID-19, I took most of the classes online. The experience was different and daunting, considering all the schools were shut during the pandemic. Later, the scenario changed, and I got the opportunity to do fieldwork in Delhi. I went for community visits where I met the students in Class 9 and 10. Out of 48 students under my tutelage, 20 were girls I often met in their homes.

The second wave of COVID-19 in 2021 proved disastrous for me. I had fallen sick, but we could not detect coronavirus as the RT-PCR tests returned negative. For any other person, this was a relief. However, it was the beginning of a chronic ailment that still plagues me. When I went back to work, I experienced chronic pain in my joints and inflammation. It was so bad that, at times, I could not even get up from bed. I was tired and incapacitated to carry out any work. I got several tests done to see what it was. Eventually, I found out it was Fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is a condition whose characteristics include chronic muscle pain and fatigue. Not only did this impact my physical health, but my mental health deteriorated. I experienced depression, anxiety and acute stress due to the constant pain in my joints. I often got a 'brain fog' where I lost my train of thought during a conversation. It felt like my brain was stuffed with cotton balls, and I could not remember anything.

However, I was fortunate enough to get diagnosed with Fibromyalgia earlier than usual. My doctor told me that it takes a patient 2-3 years to understand the condition itself. Therefore, I was fortunate to get it diagnosed earlier.

Reconfiguring My Entire Life

Suffering from this condition made several things difficult for me. The fellowship I am in involves a lot of fieldwork. In the long run, such activities are not sustainable for me. I love to do such work as I interact with different kinds of people. However, my chronic condition will lead to quick burnout if I indulge in such strenuous activities. Then, I realised that I had to rewire my entire life. It took time for me to come to terms with the current condition. I wanted to do something that I loved and in a way that did not affect my physical and mental health.

I began to look at everything from a different lens. I was curious about connecting disability with my creativity. I went back to writing and penned down several poems in my free time. Also, I take time to do art a lot more than before. They have become my stressbusters, and they help me deal with various kinds of pressure. Over time, I got to interact with people with other types of disabilities and understood their issues as well.

Nowadays, I can do online and offline work. The latter is more considering many schools are shut down due to COVID-19. Along with my teaching endeavours, I work with an initiative called 'Project Bhaav'. Under this, we help young children get in touch with their emotions as crucial as their book-based learning. We encourage them to express themselves through performing arts, writing, and other activities. The entire experience has been nothing short of satisfying.

In the long run, I want the world to be more inclusive. I want everyone to make space, not just for the non-disabled but also for those with bodies and minds that may be 'different' from the rest.

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Editor : Ankita Singh
Creatives : Akanksha Saxena

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