JUANITA Miller started experiencing violent pain in her joints just weeks after the devastating Black Saturday fires.
Ten months later she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a disorder characterised by widespread musculoskeletal pain.
There is no known cause for the disease.
Mrs Miller, 44, believes the profound stress she experienced throughout February 2009 is responsible for the onset of the illness.
The Black Saturday fires obliterated most of Mrs Miller’s Long Gully street and claimed the life of her neighbour.
“It was devastating when he passed away. To see mortality that close was horrible,” she said.
The Miller family home was fortunate to remain standing.
Mrs Miller recollects her husband calling to say he had fled Long Gully.
“He said as he was driving away everything was exploding and going up in flames. He told me we had lost the house,” Mrs Miller said.
“Later a fireman rung to say they had saved our place.
''I felt so guilty, we still had a home when so many had lost theirs.”
Arthritis Victoria health educator Chris Eastham said although research indicated stress could be a trigger for fibromyalgia, no one was sure of the reasons behind its onset.
“We know there’s a link between the two but we really don’t understand the cause of the disease,'' he said.
''Some people experience high levels of stress and will never develop fibromyalgia. We don’t know why that is.”
Mrs Miller’s life has been deeply affected by the chronic illness.
She says every morning she wakes up with agonising pain in her joints, as if she has the flu.
“I have to psych myself up to get out of bed,” Mrs Miller said.
She also suffers from low blood pressure which causes intense nausea and fainting spells.
“Occasionally, I pass out while showering in the morning. I have a chair to sit on if I start feeling dizzy. But sometimes I’ll fall off that as well and come to with the chair on top of me.”
Mrs Miller has tried a range of treatments but none have been successful.
At times the pain is so severe she has to admit herself to hospital.
“I do have pain medication but often it’s not enough,” Mrs Miller said.
Mr Eastham said support groups were crucial in the treatment of fibromyalgia.
“Over the last 20 years the importance of social support has become evident. There is a direct link between the quality of support networks or friends you have and your health,” he said.
Mrs Miller set up a fibromyalgia support group a year ago so sufferers in the Bendigo area could talk to others who understand the severity of living with the disease.
“I’m blessed to have a supportive family that understands. However I know some people aren’t as fortunate. It’s really important to have a place to vent,“ she said.
The group meets at Our Place Community Centre in Eaglehawk but the venue is at risk of closing down due to lack of funding, leaving the essential support network without a meeting place.
The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, October 28.
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