Fibromyalgia – Well for a Day   3 comments

Fibromyalgia is often referred to as an “invisible illness”. Despite suffering a multitude of debilitating symptoms, people with fibromyalgia tend to look well. This normal appearance leads others, even many doctors, to underestimate the effects of fibromyalgia. Some people even dismiss the disease completely, stating it is “all in the mind”.

It is difficult enough trying to lead a relatively normal life with fibromyalgia. This denial from the people around us has a negative impact.

I often see fibromyalgia sufferers with wrist supports. Others have walking sticks, or neck collars. I have recently bought a shoe-horn because I find it difficult to bend down to put my shoes on – it’s the sort of thing my grandmother would use, and she’s eighty-six!

Sometimes I wonder if these props have more than one purpose. Not only do they serve their primary function, supporting joints, aiding mobility, etc, they also give a visual clue to the user’s health problems.

There are other clues too:

People with fibromyalgia often look well, but they don’t always look happy. Is this because an unhappy facial expression is another signal of ill health that the sufferer is keen to send out to people?

How are you? Have you ever asked someone that question and wished that you hadn’t? It can open the floodgates to a flow of negative affirmations: “I feel terrible”, “I’m in a lot of pain today”, “I hardly slept last night”.

As a doctor, I often start my consultations with the question, “How are you?” This is such a common question that most people have a standard response – one that comes out automatically. I’m always very interested in their answer, because it tells me something about the sort of person they are.

When I ask this question in my practice, many people will say, “Very well, thank you”, and then remember where they are and laugh. At this point they will correct themselves, saying something like, “Well, I’m not great, obviously, or else I wouldn’t be here!”

Another common response is “Don’t ask”, preceded by a deep sigh.

What is your standard response to this question?

Many aspects of our health are psychological. If we are constantly giving out the message that we are unwell, we are in fact making illness a habit: By the way we act, and appear, and talk, it is easy to reinforce our negative health beliefs.

This behaviour is sometimes called the “sick roll”. It’s the behaviour we lapse into when we’re unwell. Unfortunately, in chronic illness, this roll can become a life-long habit.

I have a challenge for you: Be well for a day. Even though you don’t feel it, PRETEND. Don’t pick a day when you feel especially unwell, but don’t wait until you’re feeling great either – sadly, this day may never come. Discard your visual props, stand upright, smile and face the world. Get ready for the “How are you?” question, and answer, “I feel pretty good today, thank you”.

The way we behave really does have a strong effect on our health. But just as ill-health leads to negative actions – like playing out the sick roll – the same principles can be applied in reverse: By acting the way we do when we are well, even if we don’t feel it, we can make a positive impact on our health.

Posted May 19, 2011 by Dr Chris Moore in Uncategorized

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3 responses to “Fibromyalgia – Well for a Day

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  1. My standard response is (in a cheerful voice): “could be a lot worse!”.
    1. This is entirely true even on rough days.
    2. It prevents the stigma that is often laid on people who complain.
    3. It often starts a funny small-talk discussion.

    Telling the truth is a double-edged sword because, on the one hand if people don’t know we feel sore and suffer pains, they can think we are lazy or slow, on the other hand (despite all politeness and good will) nobody likes to hear someone complain about their health and repeated complaints become dismissed.

  2. I am a CFS/ME sufferer rather than a fibro sufferer, but I’ve been reading your blog today with interest, this post in particular.
    Whether I feel close to death or am having a better day my response is always: ‘Ah, not too bad thanks, how are you?’ quickly moving the conversation on. My friends and family know that it is not the question that will give them the answer they want if they genuinely want to know how rough I’m feeling that day- if they want that then further questioning is required. It means that I don’t have to think about how I’m feeling when put on the spot by people who probably don’t want to know my long list of symptoms for that day though, win-win as far as I’m concerned.

    One of the first difficulties I encountered after diagnosis was how often the question ‘How are you?’ is asked. To start with it genuinely made me want to cry every time someone asked, and I was left speechless and struck down by how ill I was feeling whereas before I had been successfully putting on a brave face. I think you HAVE to come up with a coping mechanism when you have a chronic illness, afterall, neither you nor the person who has asked genuinely wants to think about how horrendously ill you are feeling that day.

  3. Thanks guys, just re-reading this after nearly a year and realised I never replied to your comments – how rude!

    Nobody objects to receiving a little sympathy now and again. But sympathy is one of those things that people only have so much of to give – they quickly tire of feeling sorry for you!

    The power of the mind is quite extraordinary – you really can talk (or act) yourself into better health.

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