About 18 months ago, Nicole Burow realized that she was truly unwell.
She was exhausted all the time, and she had muscle and skin pain.
"Even a little light touch hurt - getting dressed hurt," Burow said. "The bottoms of my feet hurt so bad it hurts to walk."
Doctors have ruled out Lyme disease, mononucleosis, multiple sclerosis and vitamin deficiency. She is still in the process of medical tests, but the best theory is that she suffers from fibromyalgia, a mysterious disease with no known cause or cure. She tries to get enough sleep, eat a healthful diet and exercise. She also takes medicine that specifically helps alleviate some of the fibromyalgia symptoms.
Once thought to be a psychosomatic ailment, fibromyalgia is now recognized as a physical disability.
"It's real, I promise you," Burow said.
An exercise physiology technician and certified personal trainer by profession, Burow, 24, works at Clearwater County Memorial Hospital's cardiopulmonary rehabilitation center. She said her disease, and the coping strategies she has adopted, help her work with patients suffering the same or similar maladies and chronic pain.
"That's what's really a blessing," Burow said. "Everything happens for a reason. I've been put in a position where I can help people in pain."
Burow now plans to extend her therapy to Bemidji. She will teach classes on functional fitness and pain management 1:30-2:30 p.m. every Saturday in February at Fusion Dance & Fitness Center. For information, go online to fdfcbemidji.webs.com or call 444-4599.
In spite of her disability, Burow is active and athletic, especially on her good days. She ran the Polar Challenge last weekend, enjoys downhill skiing at Buena Vista, competed in the 2009 Paul Bunyan Triathlon and hiked in the mountains of Utah.
"I love being outside - I love to be moving," she said. "That's what's frustrating, too. I can do all those things, but sometimes, I can't do them. It's day to day."
For example, because extreme cold causes her symptoms to worsen, during the early January subzero cold snap, she was unable to work.
"There's no miracle drug or miracle cure for it," Burow said. "You have to be patient. It's really individual."