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To the Show That Made It Seem Like Invisible Illnesses Should Be Questioned

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To the ladies of “Face the Truth”:

I usually watch your show every weekday. I get to do this because I have chronic illnesses that keep me from having a traditional career/job. Pain and other symptoms keep me from living the once active life I used to have. When I heard the subject of a show earlier this month, I was immediately curious about how you were going to handle a mother accusing her daughter of lying about her chronic invisible illness. I had never seen anything from your show that made me worry about your approach, so I was hopeful you would handle the chronic illness aspect in a way that would raise awareness for fibromyalgia and other invisible illnesses.

I was disappointed. More than disappointed, I was rather disheartened, and at times heartbroken, to see how you were treating this girl.

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She had been diagnosed by a medical professional, and you did make a point of stating that before talking about the possibility of a misdiagnosis. So if that girl does have fibromyalgia, and has been experiencing all this pain, she was just interrogated and criticized on national television by not only her mother, but also four powerful women who were supposed to be helping her.

The potential damage that could have on her mental health is pretty far-reaching, and she already has mental health concerns. Since there’s a medical professional on your panel, I expected her to care more about that aspect. I’ll readily admit there is plenty of information about the young woman’s health I am not aware of. She could have even been evaluated by your staff more extensively than was shown, so I can’t really say more on that part.

I am fully aware of what you did show on the episode, though, which was concerning to me as a member of the chronic invisible illness community. For those watching, it looked like it was perfectly acceptable to accuse someone who has an invisible illness of lying or being misdiagnosed, when we have been fighting for decades against exactly that type of behavior. We’ve fought for research proving these conditions exist. We’ve fought to get doctors properly educated about them. We’ve come a long way in recent years, but it’s still a very real struggle.

To see how lack of understanding and compassion affects our lives, you only need to visit sites like The Mighty. I invite you to visit the fibromyalgia section and read some of the stories, including my own. If you look through the comments, you’ll find a recurring issue: people still don’t understand the pain we live in, and all the ways fibromyalgia can affect our bodies. You’ll also find people describing some of the challenges we face every day, and the despair and depression that can come along with them.

We go to The Mighty to connect with others who do understand what it’s like because society is still so far behind. Your show made it seem OK, even wise, to question those with invisible illnesses. There are probably people who watched that show who have someone in their lives with an invisible illness. Maybe they won’t outright accuse them of lying, but the seed of doubt and suspicion has been planted in their minds. Now, they might wonder if their friend, co-worker, acquaintances or even strangers are lying or have been misdiagnosed, just because it was OK for you to do it. Unfortunately, this can be how people think, so it should be something that concerns you.

If this specific show ended up in my hands for approval, I would have insisted there be a disclaimer. It should have been clear and stated outright. An example:

Chronic invisible illnesses are real and affect millions. We are intervening today due to the lack of extensive evaluation and testing before diagnosis. We want to make sure all of her medical conditions are being addressed, both physical and mental. Only trained medical professionals who have been educated on the most recent developments of these conditions can accurately diagnose them. Unless you are one, it is wrong to assume you know enough to judge whether these individuals have been misdiagnosed.

Yes, it needs to be that seriously and detailed because this really is that big of an issue. I acknowledge that you did go over some of the medical details with a doctor at the end of the segment, but nowhere near well enough to convey the seriousness of fibromyalgia, and what people who live with it have to deal with every day.

I sincerely hope you’ll consider this perspective, and then watch the episode again through the eyes of someone who has fibromyalgia. Imagine fighting those types of accusations on a regular basis. I believe the whole incident stems from a lack of understanding of how much this subject affects our lives. We still need more research, treatments that actually give some relief, advocates for awareness and education for medical professionals and society. You have the platform available to you to be an advocate, and repair some of the damage potentially caused by that episode.

I hope you’ll choose to use it to educate people on the seriousness of fibromyalgia and other invisible illnesses. I respect that you strive to get people to face the truth about their lives and situations they’ve gotten themselves into, and generally agree that the people on your show needed their eyes opened. I hope you see the truth in this situation, and give it the consideration and attention it deserves. Thank you for your time.

Originally published: February 5, 2019
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