AS far as Carina MacLeod is concerned, laughter really is the best medicine.
The actress and stand-up comedian has written a hit comedy show about living with fibromyalgia.
The 46-year-old says performing it is not only helping her, but others diagnosed with the condition, which causes intense pain all over the body.
“I’ve been living with the symptoms for 10 years, but it was less than two years ago I was diagnosed,” Carina explained. “I felt I had to write a show about it because there are still a lot of people who haven’t heard of it and I needed people to know about it.
“Before I was diagnosed in March 2017, I had heard of a couple of people with it, but writing and performing the show has opened my eyes to just how many have it.
“A lot of fibro sufferers have come along to the show and know exactly where I’m coming from. I’m not laughing at fibro, I’m laughing at what it does to me.
“I wrote it in such a way that it’s not just for fibro sufferers, it’s for everyone to appreciate.”
Now Carina is planning a series of comedy workshops for people with fibromyalgia, which she hopes to take around the country next year.
“I did a one-off workshop in Dumfries earlier this year with a group of women and we talked not only about comedy, but also about how you can laugh at yourself, how you can move forward and not feel like a caged animal.
“I hope to be able to do a workshop the day before or after a show and to take them to fibro groups throughout the country.”
But Carina has to manage her schedule carefully due to the condition, which also affects pain threshold, memory, mental health and bowels, among its 200 symptoms. “Doing a show leaves me quite tired, so I can’t do a 19-day run like a lot of comedians,” said Carina, originally from the Isle of Lewis but now living in Glasgow.
“A lot of people with the condition have asked me where I find the energy, but I refuse to let this beat me.
“I know if I’m doing some shows or have a strenuous night out then the next couple of days will be brutal. The pain is so severe that it feels like your body is being put through a vice.
“But you can never predict when a flare-up might happen, it can come on in minutes.”
Although it’s difficult to determine just how many people have the condition, there are thought to be around a million sufferers in Britain, with women seven times more likely than men to have it.
The condition typically develops in those aged between 30 and 50 but can occur at any age.
It’s believed to be related to abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain, as well as changes in the way the central nervous system processes pain messages.
In addition to fibromyalgia, Carina was also told she had osteoarthritis.
For a long time she had no idea what was wrong with her, suffering 50 of the symptoms associated with fibro.
“It started when I met my now husband, Alan, in 2008. I thought I was allergic to him because I developed all of these allergies, too!
“I was reaching the stage where I wondered if I was a hypochondriac, but finally I secured an appointment with a rheumatologist and was diagnosed in 15 minutes. Everything else had to be ruled out first. I feel very positive about it, but it has affected my life.
“On a good day I feel I’m 23 and act like a hen on a hot girdle, but on a bad day it’s like I’m 93.
“There are things I’ve had to give up. I can never do a small-scale theatre tour, travelling in a van and performing in a different venue each night.”
But Carina does continue to act, doing a lot of voiceover work for Gaelic cartoons and she has also been offered a part in a Gaelic-language drama.
As well as that, she returns to Websters Theatre in March as part of the Glasgow International Comedy Festival, having sold out a show there as part of the event earlier this year.
“I hope I’m able to lift people’s spirits,” she added. “Even if it’s just for 90 minutes.”