For 17 years, Joe Steck of Eagle Lake, Minn., owned a financial planning firm and after that earned a six-figure income as a steel fabrication salesman. Then suddenly, his physical health and life began unraveling.
In a telephone interview, 52-year-old Steck said, “Eight years ago, I came down with something no one could diagnose. I went from being bedridden and barely able to work to having convulsions. My biggest fear was of having a spine or brain tumor. It took almost three years (for doctors) to figure out what I didn’t have in order to put a label on it.”
He was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. The National Institutes of Health defines fibromyalgia as a “disorder that causes muscle pain and fatigue,” one creating “tender points” in areas like the hips, arms, legs, neck, back, and shoulders. Other symptoms can include headaches, limb tingling or numbness, and thinking and memory challenges. No cure exists.
Today, as publisher of MankatoTimes.com, an online newspaper, Steck can’t plan much in advance because “I never know when the fatigue will kick in,” he said. “Because of that I’ve become far less social. It’s embarrassing when I’m at an event and break out in sweats and get a blank look on my face because all my energy has left me.”
He can sometimes go two or three days and be fine, and then be unable to work for several days. Any sort of emotional stress seems the trigger that sets off his condition. He would like his old health and life back.
Perhaps his greatest frustration has been in sustaining dating relationships. He said, “Women try to understand, but then they want to go somewhere (on a date) and get frustrated when I say I can’t because of my symptoms.”
Fibromyalgia has taught him valuable life lessons, though. “One thing is I’ve learned to be more compassionate,” he said. And to get his mind off his symptoms, he spends time praying for the needs of others.
As for his business, he said, “I’ve always been good in sales. A salesman is a good story teller and listener. Now with an online newspaper, I listen and tell the stories of others and that can be rewarding.” His online newspaper schedule gives him more flexibility in adjusting to the physical and mental ups and downs fibromyalgia brings.