*Fibromyalgia is an illness where the nerves in the body rapidly misfire at random times. This rapid misfire causes severe and mostly debilitating pain. In order to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia you must have had this chronic widespread pain for at least three months. Fibromyalgia makes it difficult to function normally and the symptoms are rather spotty. One person can have one set of symptoms where as another person can have a completely different set of symptoms (pain is always a symptoms).(1)
The American culture does not yet understand fibromyalgia. It is difficult to understand the pain and symptoms a person with fibromyalgia is experiencing when it is as hidden as pain is. There are no major outward symptoms like rash or bleeding so we can’t readily see the illness in another person. It is also largely expected in this culture to not show weakness or pain. When pain is outwardly shown it is seen as weak and people begin to believe you are overreacting. Fibromyalgia patients are repeatedly questioned and judged in regard to whether they are actually ill, or just suffering from some imaginary illness. Sometimes they are even given a psychiatric label. In fact, fibromyalgia has been described as the ‘new psychiatric disorder’ and even a modern form of ‘hysterical epidemics’.(Werner, 2004) This can be especially difficult for someone experiencing such immense pain on a normal, daily basis with very little relief from medications.
In such a tricky culture to experience such a devastating illness, it can be just as tricky to make medical professionals believe your illness is real. This is discussed in Werner, Isaksen, and Malterud’s article in Social Science and Medicine (2004). It is indicated that ‘hard work was needed to make the symptoms socially visible, real, and physical when consulting a doctor. Their efforts reflected a subtle bodily and gendered balance not to appear too strong or too weak, too healthy or too ill, or too smart or too disarranged. Attempting to fit in with normative, biomedical expectations of correctness, they tested strategies such as appropriate assertiveness, surrendering, and appearance.’
*I believe this complete negative view of fibromyalgia causes extreme issue in managing and treating the illness. The lack of cultural understanding can cause the patient to become more depressed and unsociable than the illness will itself. When medical professionals misdiagnose or refuse to diagnose fibromyalgia, it can keep the patient from medications that can help to manage the symptoms and help improve their lives culturally and socially.
*As for belief and healing; I do believe there is an extensive and amazing connection. Our brains really can do amazing things. It is seen all the time in cases of hypochondriacs (which I am myself or so I’ve been told by a psychiatrist). There is not normally anything medically wrong with a hypochondriac but because they believe it, they can begin to show signs and symptoms of the illness or disease they believe they have. In the other aspect of belief and healing is the placebo effect. In the film “Placebo: Cracking the Code” was an example of the elephant skin boy. In this example the boy had a deadly disease that caused his skin to harden and become leather-like. The anesthesiologist that cured him with hypnosis was sure he was treating warts, not a serious deadly disease. Since both the boy and the anesthesiologist believed completely in the curing affect of hypnosis, the boy’s brain was able to heal itself and his skin. The anesthesiologist tried to use hypnosis on several other patients but found it to be of no help as he himself did not believe in the power of hypnosis for the elephant skin disease. If people truly believe that something will positively or negatively affect their health, it will actually show to do just that in most cases.
(1) Cymbalta. Understanding Fibromyalgia. 2012. http://cymbalta.com/Pages/understandingfibromyalgiapain.aspx. Accessed July, 24 2012.