Dealing with Skeptics

It is a serious matter when you suffer from a health problem like fibromyalgia. Sometimes just getting through another day can be difficult. What may compound the problem is the fact there are those who do not believe you are sick at all. These are the skeptics. Unfortunately, they have questioned the existence of the medical condition since it was first recognized and then labeled as fibromyalgia in 1990.[1]

In 2005 and 2009, serious debaters waged a “Fibromyalgia War.”[2] To date, there are no winners in this war because a lot more research must be completed. But there are individuals who represent collateral damage when it is their physician, family, close friends and work associates that remain skeptical about the syndrome.

How do you Handle Skeptics?

Learning to deal with skeptics is important for anyone who has fibromyalgia. The exact way you deal with them though depends on who is being skeptical. Is the person minimizing your medical condition:

  • Your doctor or a member of your medical team?
  • A family member?
  • Your partner?
  • A work associate?
  • A good friend?
  • Someone you know casually?

Are they being skeptical:

  • Out of ignorance?
  • Because of fear
  • Out of a lack of any empathy?
  • Because it is their nature to question everything and everyone?
  • Out of denial – they don’t accept it because they would have to deal with it?
  • Because it’s how the person always reacts to you – negatively?

Once you identify the type of individual and your relationship with him or her, then you can find a way to manage the skepticism so that it doesn’t harm you physically, mentally or emotionally.

If the Skeptic is your Physician

When the skeptic is your doctor, it can be both easy and hard to deal with the person. If it is a family doctor who has been treating you for years and someone you have trusted implicitly up until now, you may be shocked and upset by the person’s attitude. One solution to this problem is to keep seeing your family doctor for most medical problems, but not for your fibromyalgia. It is not beneficial for you to have a doctor determining treatments when the person doesn’t even acknowledge the fibromyalgia syndrome exists.[3]  However, the multitude of symptoms exhibited by fibromyalgia may make it difficult for you to separate fibromyalgia symptoms from symptoms associated with other medical problems.

Of course, another solution is to change doctors for all of your medical care needs. What you decide should be what’s best for your health.

Family

If your family has any doubts about fibromyalgia being a “real” medical condition, you need to start the conversation.[4]  Avoiding the discussion will only create more tension between your family and you. Moreover, the stress may increase the number and severity of your symptoms. A frank discussion can help you find out why they doubt your illness. Is it out of fear? Are they worried about you, and denial is the only way they know how to handle the situation? In other words, is denial a part of their general coping mechanism?

Talking to your family openly about what fibromyalgia is and what it is not may help clarify a few points. It is an opportunity for them to learn about the syndrome and its associated symptoms. Talking also gives people a chance to express their concerns out loud.

When discussing the syndrome with family, you need to be clear in your explanations. You also need to avoid lecturing. (Yes…a power-point presentation is over the top.) Any discussions you have at this point should focus on educating your family while leading them gently towards an understanding of fibromyalgia. You also need to listen closely to their opinions, concerns and beliefs so you can respond appropriately. Do not ignore their questions. If you do not know the answer to questions, simply say so.

You should know the facts about fibromyalgia before initiating discussions, and then be succinct in your explanations. Do not belabor medical details, become upset or talk until everyone, including your supporters, lose interest or becomes confused. Remember, they are your family and just want to know you are going to be okay and how they can help you whether or not they believe fibromyalgia exists. If the skeptic is your partner, you need to help gain that person’s support too. Possibly, your significant other is scared, worried and not sure of what is going on or what to expect and so refuses to acknowledge fibromyalgia exists.

You can also ask your family why they would think you are “faking it” to borrow from the vernacular. Of course, this question or approach may result in you hearing some opinions about yourself that you would rather not hear. As a result, be careful about over-reacting to responses you don’t approve of, particularly if they are coming from family members. Your ultimate goal is to simply explain what fibromyalgia is all about and then solicit their help in managing the condition. Angry responses will serve no purpose.

Another approach would be to include a skeptical family member when you go to a meeting or a doctor’s appointment. Another good option is to watch a documentary with your family about someone who has been living with fibromyalgia.

Friends

Following are some suggestions for approaching friends who are skeptical about fibromyalgia:

  • Don’t be angry. It’s not personal on your friend’s part. This is a general and often unsubstantiated stance they are taking and you just need time to explain.
  • Don’t lecture. It is not going to help you to help them to understand. Don’t pontificate but simply share what you know about fibromyalgia.
  • Use humor. It only works if you are the type of individual who can make light of themselves. Be careful about sounding sarcastic though.
  • Before you make any sort of defense, be sure you have the facts about fibromyalgia. You must know exactly what you are talking about. Do your research and learn what you can about what is happening to your body. If respond to queries with inaccurate responses, your friend will only get more confused and you will appear to be a dubious source. If you fall short in making a solid case, the skeptic now has more reason to doubt fibromyalgia is a real condition.
  • Don’t be too verbose. Keep the language simple and at the level where the skeptic can understand but not so simple as to seem to insult his or her intelligence.
  • If you can, indicate where their argument is faulty. Point out the illogical opinions. The specific approach will depend on whether the skeptic is a close friend or acquaintance.
  • You might like to play the role reversal card. As your friend how she would feel if you refused to believe she had a medical condition.

Conclusion

There will always be skeptics and doubters. They are in most people’s lives. They do not believe anything unless it is proven to them somehow. It is your decision as to whether you need to convince someone otherwise who is skeptical of fibromyalgia, or if it is best to simply state that you have this medical condition and leave it at that. Sometimes, it is best to agree to disagree. It requires too much energy to try to change some people’s minds. It is energy that is better spent managing your fibromyalgia and improving the quality of your life. However, you will have to learn to not let the skeptics drag you down emotionally or mentally when in their presence.

References

[1] Hall, MB (2009). The Fibromyalgia Controversy. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books

[2] Wolfe, F (2009). “Fibromyalgia Wars.”  The Journal of Rheumatology, 36(4): 671-678.

[3] Bassman, L (2007). The Feel Good Guide To Fibromyalgia And Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Books.

[4] Marek, CC (2004). The First Year: Fibromyalgia. New York: Marlowe and Co.