Jenni’s Story: From Disability to Dancer

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overcoming fibromyalgia pain

By Jenni O’Connor

“Just come keep me company… I’ll pay for your entry.” These were the words my friend used to convince me to join her at a pole dancing class. It was 2010, and I was 32, obese, and applying for disability for my Fibromyalgia/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The severe pain, fatigue, and depression did not allow me to work a full-time job.

On an average day, I feel like you do when you have the flu… achy, exhausted, and my brain is a little fuzzy. On a bad day, I literally can’t walk. My husband carries me, or I use a wheelchair. I lack the fine motor skills to pick up a pill, and the strength to hold something “heavy” like a water glass. Constructing a simple sentence takes major effort, and my words slur as if I’m drunk. Sometimes the pain is so overwhelming, my body just trembles, as if it doesn’t know quite how to process it.

There’s currently no cure for Fibromyalgia/CFS, and the knowledge that the rest of my life would look like this caused me to entertain suicidal ideations. My beautiful daughters, and knowing how much my death would hurt them, were the only things that kept me from ever following through. I was painfully shy, and had no self-confidence. Photos show me turning away from the camera, or hunched over in a subconscious effort to hide myself and my “flaws” from the world.

This was the condition I was in when my friend asked me to join her for class. I had seen a few celebrities take pole dancing for fitness, and was curious. But in my mind, it wasn’t for me. I was very conservative, and definitely not what I considered to be sexy. I went to “do her a favor,” and wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into!

In our first class, the instructor used supportive and encouraging words that made me realize how little I valued myself. I quickly realized how much confidence the experienced students at the studio had, and how much I was lacking. I knew I needed this class… physically and emotionally. What finally sold me was watching a certain upper level student dance. She wasn’t an overly athletic 20-year-old. She looked like me. And she could flip her body upside-down and hold it in mid-air. She rocked a tiny pair of booty shorts, with no self-consciousness about rolls or cellulite. She was so strong and confident… I wanted that for myself. And so my pole journey began. Not only did I take weekly classes, but I also got courageous enough to perform… both in showcases, and in pole dance competitions. I started to see my body changing, and my pain levels decreasing.

As I grew in strength and confidence, I realized I wanted to share this experience with other women. After a bad experience with my second studio, I realized I not only wanted to teach, but wanted to open my own studio. I even chose the name and bought the website, believing that this dream would happen for me. I named it Studio Phoenix, after the mythical creature that rises from the ashes in rebirth. I returned to my original studio (with the owner’s knowledge that I wanted to eventually open my own), became certified to teach pole dancing, and started teaching for them.

A series of events transpired that resulted in Studio Phoenix opening in October 2013. With the help of my amazing staff of 15, we have grown quickly. I teach several hours of pole dance classes a week, as well as floorwork classes, aerial yoga, and parties. It’s a level of physical activity I never thought I could accomplish. Having experience in working through a pain disorder gives me the unique perspective to compassionately and safely teach my students who also live with pain.

Jenni O'ConnorThrough pole dancing, I’ve been able to improve my health and strength to the point that (with my doctors’ blessings) I no longer need daily prescription pain medications, anti-depressants, or sleep medications. I primarily treat my symptoms with nutrition, exercise and natural methods (with the occasional assistance of prescription medication). While I still deal with depression and anxiety, I am no longer suicidal. And while I am still curvy, pole dancing has taught me to value my body for its strength, and not focus on the “imperfections.” While pain conditions can cause us to resent our bodies, or see them as the enemy, pole dance helps train me to work with mine.

I’ve learned to love myself. Most importantly to me, I’m able to pass this along to other women. To help them see their value, and show them they’re capable of things they never imagined. To show them you don’t have to fit a certain stereotype to be a strong, beautiful woman. I can use my weaknesses to inspire others to overcome.

I still have Fibromyalgia/CFS. As I said, there’s currently no cure. On my bad days I can’t walk, and I work on my business from bed. But on my good days, I can suspend my body upside-down on a pole using just my arms. I can soar through the air gracefully in a beautiful spin. And that’s the balance of life with a pain disorder. Some days I can’t walk… but some days, I can fly.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Wow pole dancing !! I used to love being a dancer and dance teacher my dreams of being on stage have gone for me well they had until i read your story which is just about the same as mine . Im a mother of three my youngest a girl is seven my middle boy is 14 my eldest is 24 . I have enormous amounts of guilt because i cant do the physical things that my daughter wants to do im so depressed iv given up and i really hate myself for giving up but iv no more fight left in me im in so much pain and im so exshausted i have no support from my doctor and im sick of having to repeat my story to people who clearly have no idea what im talking about . But reading your story has given me a ray of hope for now and you are truly an inspiration but il be honest it seems like a lifetime away for me to feel as though i have a light at the end of my tunnel ❤❤ much love to you ❤

    • Jackie,

      Thanks for your comment! I’m so glad you found Jenni’s story to be inspirational. It can feel so overwhelming when you’re thinking about where you want to be and where you are now. If you can identify the goal that you want to hit, focus on the why (it sounds like this is spending more quality time with your daughter) and then focus on the smaller steps that it will take to get there. Slow and steady progress is key, and doing at least one thing a day that can help you reach the big end goal is a sustainable way to make great progress. Wishing you the very best!

      Your Friends at Pain Resource

  2. I think I’ve had fibromyalgia for many years but was diagnosed approximately 5 years ago. I was working at Walmart and was just exhausted. Not the tiredness that sleep helps. I mean totally exhausted, with muscle pain. My primary doctor diagnosed fibromyalgia. He  prescribed Cymbalta around 4 years ago. Cymbalta was approved for Fibromyalgia treatment. Although it did relieve some of the pain, I still suffered from fatigue. November 2017  my doctor started me on Natural Herbal Gardens fibromyalgia Herbal mixture,With the help of Natural Herbal Garden natural herbs I have been able to reverse my symptoms using diet, herbs, which i feel has made the most difference. The Fibromyalgia natural formula immensely helped my condition, it reversed my Fibromyalgia. my muscle pain. And then the joint stiffness, and fatigue. gradually disappeared.

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