I first started showing symptoms of fibromyalgia and MCS while I was still living in the dramatically polluted city of Beijing. The umpteenth time I was told I was hypochondriac, I started compiling a visual journal of my experience with this seldom-recognized debilitating disease. It was self-therapy at first, but over time, it became a journey through the issues connected to disability, seen from the inside and the outside.

I wanted to question: how can we accept ourselves again, if our society constantly makes us feel weak and wrong? This is one of the main subjects I have been trying to answer for almost three years…


Daily, we hear about pollution and, increasingly, about environmental disasters. We know that we are destroying our planet, yet, this constant flow of information hardly causes us to change our course.

In 2012, I started to show the symptoms of what was eventually diagnosed as fibromyalgia (associated to MCS). I was living in Beijing then, in a country where acknowledging the rampant pollution was considered “anti-governmental”.

In China, the disease was dismissed outright. But back in Italy, my syndrome was never taken too seriously either. Even here, I still meet doctors who assume that fibromyalgia does not exist.

Fibromyalgia is a complex autoimmune syndrome first recognized by WHO three decades ago. Officially, it affects between 2-8% of the world’s population, causing them the chronic inflammation of all muscles and nerves. Still, the diagnosis remains difficult and controversial—though fibromyalgia can be highly debilitating, it is an invisible disease and thus all its symptoms are hardly recognizable from the outside. Like any other disability, fibromyalgia brings loneliness. But breaking thorough the isolating bubble surrounding it can open the way to a life still worth living.

I started doing it my own way: through photography, to give voice to my own and similar stories.

First, I experimented with the potential reach of mobile photography. At this stage, I had no diagnosis for any disease but I began to randomly document my experience with a mobile phone and post the results online. I was frustrated and took my notes in pictures—my conflicts with doctors, the inadequacy one feels compared to our healthy society, etc. This is how I met people living thousands miles away from me, yet who were experiencing the same daily paradox as mine. These meetings led us both to feel less estranged and isolated; they gave me the will to fight.

—Sabrina Merolla