Jamie McQuade explores how fibromyalgia impacts mental health
My interest in fibromyalgia has been long standing.
So much so, that I based my dissertation for my counselling degree and research on fibromyalgia and its connections with trauma.
According to BUPA around two in every 100 people have fibromyalgia but it could be even more as it can be difficult to diagnose. It is also 10 times more common in women than men.
It has been called the ‘invisible disease’ which is such a poignant term as it captures the hidden symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Most people associate fibromyalgia with chronic widespread pain and persistent fatigue, disturbed broken sleep and problems with memory sometimes referred to as ‘fibro fog’.
However, fibromyalgia is a more complex disorder. As if the devastating physical symptoms were not enough for people living with fibromyalgia, it is often linked to mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
According to the American College of Rheumatology people who experience fibromyalgia are three times more likely to suffer from depression than the rest of the population.
So why does it influence mental health?
For those who suffer from fibromyalgia they live day after day with chronic pain, fatigue and immobility, the bottom line is that dealing with pain day in, and day out is emotionally draining and exhausting for sufferers. Many of us who do not suffer from this condition can wake up in the morning and get ready and we take that for granted.
For many fibromyalgia sufferers when they wake up, they are hoping today will be the day that their pain/fatigue is more manageable to allow them to do simple, everyday tasks. Fibromyalgia does not follow any kind of pattern - just because you can perform a particular task on Monday does not mean that you can do it again on Tuesday.
For many sufferers it affects their ability to work and earn a living to provide for their families. When your ability to work is affected due to the chronic pain and lack of concentration and more, the thought of having to give up their career or worry whether they can afford not to work often fills sufferers with dread.
This can lead to people losing confidence and belief in themselves as they are no longer able to do their job to the level they were once able to do, as well as feelings of anxiety.
Most fibromyalgia sufferers, even though they are exhausted physically and mentally, find it extremely hard to sleep due to the chronic pain which can make it difficult to be still or even get a decent night’s sleep. Due to the lack of sleep, they can experience more anxious and depressive thoughts and feelings.
As if the physical and psychological burdens of Fibromyalgia were not enough, the social stigma surrounding it must be managed as well. Fibromyalgia is a challenging condition to get a grasp of as it presents a list of symptoms that are difficult to identify and harder to describe.
Much in the same way with mental health issues, imagine trying to explain fibromyalgia to somebody that has never suffered from it. Due to a lack of understanding and education it can breed misinformation and stigma because those who do not understand see fibromyalgia sufferers getting on with daily life, work etc and they appear to look healthy.
What makes matters more complicated, is that for a sufferer pushing themselves to their limits on that day can set back their symptoms for weeks or even months. It can lead to thinly veiled accusations of putting on a show or making out their symptoms are worse than they really are.
Social isolation can impact a sufferer’s mental health as well. This is because the effects of fibromyalgia can lead to people not being able to go out as often as they would like because of this illness.
When people cut themselves off from the outside world in a way, they are building a wall around themselves to block out things that could hurt them, but what this also does is that it prevents the good and positive things being able to enter your life as well.
This means that they are more isolated and feel less motivated to leave their home, feel more anxious when leaving the house, decline invitations to meet up and even ignore offers of help.
Fibromyalgia is an area that I am passionate about working in with clients who come for counselling and I hope this article can help create more awareness and understanding about how complex and difficult fibromyalgia is for those who suffer from it.
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