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When a Friend Told Me My Fibromyalgia Is 'All in the Mind'

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Yesterday I was talking to a friend and her husband about fibromyalgia and the pain I had been in while I was poorly. The husband turned and said to me that the medical profession is trialling a new procedure for fibromyalgia. I naturally asked what it was and I was gobsmacked! Apparently throwing someone in a bath of freezing water is enough to restart the connections in the brain so that symptoms of fibro are reduced and eradicated.

He then proceeded to tell me what fibromyalgia is “all your in head. It’s a psychological condition. Pain breeds pain – the more you think of your pain, the more you hurt. It’s triggered by depression and anxiety.”

Well, you can imagine my frustration! I was so annoyed with him that I told him what I knew of fibro (as I have it!) and said it is not a psychological condition. There are various causes which include misfiring pain and nerve receptors, among other things. I know it’s not “all in my head.” I had a very high pain threshold and it took a lot to knock me down 10 years ago. Now, on a bad day, you could probably knock me down with a feather. I’ve had depression for 22 years, fibro for seven and anxiety for four. Fibromyalgia caused my anxiety. I was so energetic and fit and suddenly I was in pain I could not explain, I could not go out, I lost friends. It took its toll on me. I always thought fibro was a made-up illness – it didn’t sound plausible until I was diagnosed. Then it made sense.

This is isn’t the first time someone has questioned my fibromyalgia though. A friend messaged me last summer and asked if I had a tattoo on my foot. Random question, but I messaged back and said no, why? The response was unbelievable. She told me four people she knew who had fibromyalgia also had a tattoo on their foot. Really? Are you actually kidding me?! A tattoo on your foot could be the cause of fibromyalgia? As if! I laughed so hard, I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing!

I know fibromyalgia is a complex illness and there needs to be a lot more research into the causes of it, but telling somebody their illness isn’t real, it’s all in their head or that it’s caused by a tattoo just makes that person question themselves. Anyone who has a chronic pain condition knows how long it can take to accept that there is something wrong with you that will affect you for the rest of your life. For someone else to put doubts in your head, especially a friend, just makes things harder to accept.

I have to say, I’m very lucky that I still have a handful of friends who I see or speak to regularly that were there before I was told I had various health conditions. Everyone else I lost due to either letting them down at the last minute, not being able to go out or because they thought I was faking it. I’ve been called a “benefit cheat,” “lazy” and a “fraud.” I’ve worked since I was 13 (I’m 40) and sadly had to give up college as well as work due to my son’s health when I was 33. I’ve tried jobs since and even started working from home, but the more I pushed myself to do well, the bigger the toll it took on my body.

I hate being at home – I would give anything to go back to work. To mix with adults and to have grown-up conversations. But at the moment, I can’t. Issues with discs in my neck mean that my arms and hands are badly affected. I can’t lift, I can’t carry, I can just about hold a small cup of coffee let alone anything else. I’ve even had to give up my makeup business because I can’t hold a makeup brush long enough some days to put any on!

The one thing I do know is that I’m trying my best to get through each day by doing what I love, writing (OK, typing, as it’s slightly easier). But even that takes time. Some days are easier than others, depending on whether my brain is working to its full capacity or if it’s shrouded in fog. Have you tried writing when you can’t find the words? Not easy!

I also know I’m not alone in what I’m going through and there are probably many of you who feel the same as I do. Just know that the people in your life matter, and that those who aren’t, don’t.

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Getty Image by Sonya_illustration

Originally published: February 19, 2018
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