Fibromyalgia in the Media

The first doctor I saw after my diagnosis told me fibromyalgia didn’t exist. I was in my early teens about seven years ago. Over the years I’ve encountered many sceptics, from those who have denied it’s existence outright to well wishers telling me they know of someone who had a “touch of fibromyalgia” who almost always has been miraculously cured within a few weeks.
Historically, fibromyalgia has been viewed as merely an inconvenient condition or worse, a scammers dream come true. It’s very difficult for fibromyalgia to be proven through tests, a truly invisible illness. A diagnosis is reliant on symptoms dictated to a medical professional, in conjunction with tests ruling out something “more serious.” It’s the type of condition a lot of people associate with an excuse for laziness, or more worryingly an easy way to claim benefits either as disability payments or to subsise the inability to work.
This stereotype is continually perpetuated in the media. Whether it’s an episode of ‘House’ where pain medication is substituted for a placebo which eased the patient’s symptoms. Or the comedy film “Identity Thief,” which depicts Melissa McCarthy, dramatically falling to the floor crying out about her Fibromyalgia. As much as I adore and admire her work, to me, this scene was problematic. As the title suggests, she plays a character who has stolen multiple identities and supports her lifestyle by conning and scamming the people around her. Although not expressly stated in this scene, the background of the character adds to the suggestion that Fibromyalgia is a made up illness or at the very least a convenient condition, used to get out of something or to gain sympathy.
A feature segment on ITV’s popular program ‘This Morning’ where a lady claimed that dressing as a doll helped her deal with Fibromyalgia. The hosts asked questions in depth about her clothes, her shoes, how much she had spent on her collection. The one thing that was missing… proper questions about fibromyalgia. Quite rightly this received a lot of backlash from the Fibromyalgia community as it was seen to trivialise the condition and omit all the relevant factual information or delve into the way fibromyalgia can impact a person’s life. I agree with the interviewee, ‘distractions’ can be a great way of coping with pain, but in a time where the media seems to be against us, I worry how this will impact the fibromyalgia community as a whole.
In the relatively short time since I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, the condition has gone from extremely obscure, to something people have at least heard of. Not only has it become more widely recognised, funding and research is helping sufferers better deal with the condition and it’s limitations. In many ways 2018 is the year of acceptance. The terms ‘invisable illness’ or ‘hidden disability’ are regularly used and mental health awareness seems to be at an all time high. Maybe one day Fibromyalgia will be taken more seriously, and we won’t have to ‘prove’ our pain. Maybe it will be recognised as the life altering and in many cases devastating condition it can be. I for one certainly hope so.

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