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Expert advice from Leslie Epstein, M.S., MFCC
While only one person in a family may suffer from fibromyalgia the entire family is affected by it. Your family faces a troublesome time while learning to cope with the anxieties, fears and trauma produced by fibromyalgia. Thus, it is essential that the family become part of your therapeutic program. More explicitly, family support is crucial to the successful management of any chronic and painful condition.
A common problem for patients is disassociation, where a family member may want to deny that there is anything wrong with you. That family member seems to feel that if he/she pretends nothing serious exists, the illness and its problems will go away. This type of person rationalizes that “if there is nothing I can do (about my loved one having fibromyalgia), I may as well act as if nothing is wrong and go on living my own life.” The patient, in turn, resents this apparent disinterest and interprets it incorrectly to mean that their family member does not care, creating added stress.
Open communication among family members is important. The family must learn to discuss all feelings that arise, including frustration, resentment and impatience. Expression must not be restricted. The patient should be comfortable discussing personal needs and feelings with the family, and the converse should also be true. In this connection, it is vital that changes in family roles and responsibilities be discussed openly in order to prevent repressed anger and resentment, since hostile family attitudes may cause a patient’s symptoms to flare.
The difficulty seems to be in finding the best response at a particular time: empathy when the symptoms appear to be worse; support during times of fear and crisis; and allowing patient control in periods when they are feeling better. Thus, a good system of communication within your family is essential.
Finally, family members are not immune to depression. It is frustrating to watch people who are sick and in pain, and yet to have little control over their illness. This can anger family members, who typically are unwilling to vent their frustrations onto you for fear of inducing more stress and causing an exacerbation of your condition. Instead, the family member’s anger turns inward, creating depression.