Fibromyalgia is a Friendship Challenge—Can Stress Relationships

Discussion in 'Fibromyalgia Main Forum' started by JLH, Mar 12, 2007.

  1. JLH

    JLH New Member

    Having an invisible syndrome like fibromyalgia can stress relationships because it shifts you into a new reality that isn’t seen or understood by friends. Let’s face it: having a confounding syndrome like fibromyalgia is baffling to all concerned. You, your family, doctors and other health care providers can’t explain exactly what fibromyalgia is, why you got this syndrome, or how to treat it. It is no surprise that explaining it to friends can be down right impossible. How many times have you tried to explain to friends what fibromyalgia is and saw in their faces an expression of complete confusion? A friend’s lack of understanding can be upsetting, but it doesn’t have to cause the end of the relationship.

    Not understanding what you are going through is by far the most common reaction of friends, and that stresses the relationship. Other reactions from friends can also be hard to experience. Most will express some kind of sympathy for your ailment, but don’t really know how they could be of help. Others might be confused or even skeptical, and come up with their own diagnosis—the worst of which is that it is all in your head. It isn’t surprising that some friends judge you to be exaggerating, making excuses or possibly turning into a hypochondriac.

    Most friends are caring and remember to ask: “How are you doing?” This is usually appreciated but also can present some dilemma for the fibromyalgia sufferer in how best to answer. When managing well with low pain it is easy to reply, “I’m fine.” But when in flare, do you dare tell the truth and list off the troubling symptoms of widespread body pain, poor sleep, low energy, difficulty concentrating and functioning fully, and feeling low? No, I don’t think many of us will tell the blunt truth of our experiences with fibromyalgia to friends. It is important though to find ways to share with friends some of what you are experiencing. Educate them gradually about how chronic pain robs one of a sense of well-being, and limits functioning and ability to participate with family and friends in usual activities. Friends can’t take the pain away but they can hear you out and respond with validation and comfort for the losses you are experiencing. This can go a long way in easing the pain.

    It isn’t easy to do this kind of sharing when we are in the midst of a flare and at our worst. The irony is that when we need our friends the most, we tend to withdraw inward, isolate ourselves, and not reach out for support. Flare is always upsetting. We know we aren’t good company when fibromyalgia wears us down, as it does from time to time, and so we isolate or just stay quiet. Even if a friend calls we may choose to minimize or even hide how bad we feel. It is hard to resist the pull of isolation and to take advantage of comforting words from a friend.

    There are many reasons why we might choose isolation when in pain. Female patients have, like all women, been socialized to hide bad feelings. There is also the fear that if we expose our distress we will be seen as weak or, at worst, needy. We all fear revealing our vulnerabilities and want to be seen as capable and strong. With our good friends we have developed a level of trust that enables us to be ourselves. With the challenges of chronic pain we have lost our old self and fear that by speaking of our suffering and revealing the fibro self we will burden the friendship and chance losing a good friend.

    We have to discern which friends can deal with the realities of fibromyalgia and which can’t. We all have fair-weather friends with whom we enjoy various activities. These activity friends may take it personally when you turn down invitations. They don’t understand that if it weren’t for the limitations imposed by chronic pain, you would love to accept their invitation. There are the friends who like to give advice and take on the task of getting you well. These friends sometimes end up getting discouraged or, even worse, angry when their advice doesn’t rid you of fibromyalgia. Other friends really can’t understand why you can’t be your old care-giving self in the relationship and feel abandoned. Some friends feel helpless in the face of your suffering and cope by withdrawing.

    You can decide how best to handle the friends who are having difficulty adjusting to your new life situation. It is just as important to consider how to keep the fair-weather friends in your life, as it is to learn how to ask for support from your steadfast friends. Friendships are a two-way street where what one does and says influences the quality of the relationship just as much as how the other behaves. We can allow chronic pain to teach us how to be a better friend or allow it to isolate and limit our friendships. The experience of chronic pain teaches us lessons of the importance of understanding, caring and compassion in relationships. It is important both to be able to give and to receive these gifts of friendship.

    No one with fibromyalgia wants to take on the role of being “the sick one,” or to be seen as a patient who is pitied in a relationship. We want understanding, support and recognition from our friends for the way we are meeting the challenges of fibromyalgia—not pity. We do best when we don’t allow our aches and pains to take the foreground in our lives and relationships. This means that in our interactions with friends we are always negotiating between how much to share about our troubling symptoms, and wanting to be our old selves in the relationship. Most of the time we need the distraction of not thinking or talking about symptoms and the enjoyment of talking about all the usual things we share with friends. In all good friendships we share a mix of the good, joyful, funny, and bad that life offers. Most of all, we need and want to laugh with our friends. Friendship is healing and is the best medicine for the body, mind, and heart.

    By Elena V. Gonzales, Ph.D.

    for more info, contact:
    National Fibromyalgia Association
    2200 N. Glassel Street, Suite A
    Orange, CA 92865
    Phone: 714. 921.0150
    Fax: 714. 921.6920

  2. monkeykat

    monkeykat Member

    Great article. thanks.

    Keep Hope Alive,
  3. jmq

    jmq New Member

    Wow, perfectly said. Is there a way to cut and paste that to send via e-mail to someone? I tried it and it comes out looking like a skinny newspaper article...hard to read. I would like to send it to some of healthy friends to thank them for hanging in there with me.

  4. JLH

    JLH New Member

    To copy this article and then cut and paste, then email to someone, I would do it one of two ways:

    (1) Click and highlight the entire article, or what portion of it you want to send, then go to the menu at the top of your computer and click on "Edit", then you will see various choices, click on "Copy". Then go to your "Create Mail" and go to the body of your email and go back and click on "Edit", then paste. Your info should be there. Then all you have to do is add in your addresses and a subject line!


    (2) If you have a mouse with a "right" click button:
    Left click and highlight the entire article, or what portion of it you want to send, then "right" click and choose Copy, go to your Create Mail and to the body portion of your email, then right click again and choose paste. It should be there!

    I really don't understand how it could come out looking like a shiney newspaper article! Does anyone else?

    Hope it works for you,

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