To the Doctor Who Blamed My Fibromyalgia on My Weight
If you struggle with an eating disorder, self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.
For eating disorders, you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.
Dear Dr. [Redacted],
I get it. Sometimes, it’s easier to just blame the patient for their problems. Sometimes, it’s easier just to tell the patient they need to lose weight. It’s a lot easier than actually doing your job, I suppose.
And yes, I am fat. I have been fat for years. The only times I wasn’t fat were when I was a young child, and then again in high school, mostly because I had a very complicated relationship with food and would often starve myself as a form of self-harm.
But it doesn’t explain my pain.
I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2017, when I was still living overseas and was able to be referred to a rheumatologist. I was relieved. I finally had an answer for the pain I’ve been experiencing since I was a teenager, the pain that has rapidly gotten worse over the last five years, to the point where some days I can’t even get out of bed. And when I can get out of bed, I feel nauseous, weak and brittle, as if I am going to crumble and fall apart at any moment. Unfortunately, when I was made to leave and come back to the States, I was completely dismayed and nowhere near the hopeful person I had been when I was diagnosed. I knew it was going to be an uphill battle trying to get doctors to believe me.
And I have had doctors dismiss it before, but nothing like how you dismissed it; when I first walked into your office, you listened to me describe my symptoms. You listened to me describe the intense back, shoulder and neck pain; the spasming in my hips and knees; the weakness I feel and the amount of sleep I get (sometimes more than 12 hours in one night); the gastrointestinal problems I struggle with; the fact I get home from work and break down into a fit of tears because I ache and hurt all day. Finally, you listened to me as I said, “I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia,” and you immediately recoiled in anger.
“It’s not fibromyalgia,” you said. “I’m going to give it to you straight — it’s because you’re fat.”
Yes, I know I’m fat. I’ve had this pain since I was skinny. Maybe gaining weight has caused it to get worse, but I don’t believe that’s the only reason I’m in pain. I explained this to you through tears.
“Well, lose some weight first and if you still have pain, maybe it’s something else.”
And, well, despite knowing full well that I had a diagnosed autoimmune disease in addition to the fibromyalgia (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), it didn’t register to you that maybe some of my pain was because of this disease. It also probably didn’t register that I was more likely to have the MTHFR mutation; I assume this because you still gave me Vitamin B12 shots in order to “give me a boost of energy,” which I later discovered were not being absorbed by my body. Every single week, when I was getting these shots, I was told I would start to feel better. But instead, I felt worse, because my body continued to attack itself. And you blamed me for not trying hard enough to lose weight.
You gave me an appetite suppressant to help me lose weight. And it didn’t work, because I’m an emotional eater. Because I’m in so much pain all the time, it makes me frustrated and sad, so I eat, and I eat, and I eat. But instead of telling me how I can fix this, instead of prescribing me something that’ll help subside the pain, instead of listening to me, all you can say is, “You’re fat. You need to lose weight.”
Even when I told you I had severe pain in my fingers, you acknowledged it could be nerve damage, which is when I thought you would change and come around to the fact I actually did have problems with pain. But then, you immediately regressed into telling me I needed to lose weight and that the pain would stop if I did so.
It’s not OK to treat your patients this way. To treat us as if all of our problems can be solved just by simply losing weight. To treat us all as if we have the same pain that can be alleviated by simply losing weight. What would you say to someone who was much thinner than I, explaining they had severe pain in almost every part of their body that never went away? Would you dismiss them, or would you actually accept their pain is real? Would you have turned away the unhealthy, thin 16-year-old me who experienced severe back pain, or would you have told me to lose weight, or would you have believed me?
Just because I am fat does not mean my pain is somehow less real than someone who is skinny. Just because I am fat does not mean my pain is intrinsically linked to it.
I want to be an advocate for myself. I want to be able to speak for myself, and not have someone dismiss me because of my weight. I want to be able to openly talk about my symptoms and my problems relating to my pain. I want to do it free of judgment. For this reason, I have decided I can no longer see you. I need to find someone who will validate me, who will actually listen to my problems and not blame it all on my weight.
I owe myself that much, at least.
Photo by Makenna Entrikin on Unsplash