I want to share my fibromyalgia diagnosis with my family and friends but, having been viewed as a "complainer" over the years, I'm worried they won't take me seriously. How can I best articulate my condition so that I receive support, not skepticism?
If you feel like your loved ones don't take your chronic pain symptoms seriously, you're not alone. In a 2009 survey (commissioned by HealthyWomen as part of a collaboration with Pfizer) of men and women with chronic pain, almost twice as many women as men with chronic pain (59% of women versus 36% of men) felt they were considered "complainers" because of their experience.
Receiving a diagnosis—giving a name to the cause of your symptoms—is definitely a step in the right direction. Your experience thus far may have been completely valid yet difficult to articulate, but now it's easier to explain. There are a few things you can do to communicate your experience more effectively.
Now that you know the name of your condition, it's your responsibility to learn more. Fibromyalgia resources are plentiful. You can start right here at HealthyWomen, and check out a huge variety of resources from the National Fibromyalgia Association. The more you understand about fibromyalgia and the causes of your pain and fatigue, the better you'll become at answering questions from curious friends, family or coworkers.
If you've been experiencing unexplained symptoms for a long time, the people closest to you may feel frustrated. They want you to be well, and they want to help, but they don't know how.
Start sharing the resources you find with them, including websites, books, videos or other sources of information. Seeing others echo your sentiments and experience may help them understand you better, and feel more hopeful about your future. A great place to start is HealthyWomen's fibromyalgia video series, which includes a selection created just for loved ones.
Be a good patient
Pledge to follow a treatment plan, and DO IT. Celebrate each small success with loved ones. You'll feel great about taking steps toward feeling better, and by taking measurable action you demonstrate how seriously you take your condition—and how much responsibility you're willing to accept for getting better.
People who may have been skeptical about your experience before will see your dedication as a sign that you're serious. They'll find it harder to label you as a "complainer" when you're working every day to improve.
One of the toughest challenges of having an "invisible" illness is that some people just can't be convinced. Save yourself valuable time and energy by accepting that now—and don't take it personally. Pick your confidantes wisely, focusing on sharing your experience with those who validate your condition. Be choosy with your words, too; as long as you're clear about your experience and needs, there's no need to overload loved ones with extensive detail. The less time you spend focusing on negative things, the more time you’ll have for the things you love.