Public Perceptions

As a middle-aged stereotypical woman, I watch true crime stuff. One of the shows I’ve been watching lately is American Monster. I like it because it focuses on the story of the people around the person who suddenly turns out to be a “monster” – very dramatic that title – and the impact of the victims, and not just the one in the morgue. On the whole, it’s trash TV; I won’t try to claim otherwise.

Just recently I saw an episode called “Stay with Me.” It’s about an active, beautiful, and in-love couple. The wife eventually gets someone to attack her husband in order to settle a custody battle after they’re no longer in love anymore. Lots of years for attempted murder and conspiracy, but the husband survives. That’s the short version.

The reason this episode stands out to me is because the narrator points out that the wife, after a few blissful years of marriage has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, “a condition marked by widespread muscle pain and chronic fatigue.” Their world is turned upside down. There is no treatment, he notes, other than rest and reducing stress.

Fibromyalgia is not the focus of this episode. However, after that description, we find out that the wife, who is a technical writer, cannot continue to work. She doesn’t have enough energy to get up and work. We have all been there, right? Fortunately, she had a husband with a good job who could support them both when she stopped working, right? We haven’t all been there, have we?

After the couple had a child, things sort of fall apart. She believes the baby also has a health condition like hers, which is not substantiated by a pediatrician, and the couple starts to fight about whether or not the baby should be treated, among other things. It’s never just one thing, right? You know the rest of the story.

A few thoughts because this episode bothered me a bit:

  1. The description of fibromyalgia is so off. It’s good that they didn’t describe it as a so-called condition, but it’s very easy to hear “widespread muscle aches and chronic fatigue” and say, yeah so? It’s so much more, but since it’s not the focus of the episode, what else could they say? I see similar descriptions on commercials (when I’m not quick enough to skip them) that are touting pills for fibro. It’s superficial and harmful. There are people who will scoff when they hear the diagnosis, and there are people who will hear the description and jump to the conclusion that they have fibromyalgia. Harmful either way.
  2. The wife, who started out fit and trim before the diagnosis, stayed fit and trim throughout the rest of the drama. There was no fibro-50 for her. I wonder about her diagnosis. Not everyone who gets fibromyalgia gains weight, but it is dominant.
  3. More importantly, if she had not been given this diagnosis, would she have reacted to her symptoms as much as she did? There are a lot of us out there with fibromyalgia who do not quit their jobs and who do get out of bed every day even cloaked in morning brainfog. I sometimes wonder about getting a diagnosis. It helped me because I realized I could still do what I wanted to do, that I wasn’t actually hurting myself when things hurt. But it seems to have been the opposite for this person.
  4. There was no discussion about mental illness at all, either before the event or during the trial. Depression is (I think) almost inevitable. If she was focused on her child possibly having the same thing she did, was she missing signs that she needed mental health treatment? Was her focus on her child’s health a sign in itself? We don’t know whether a physician talked with her about anything related to mental health, but I would argue it should be part of any treatment plan at the very least to monitor for depression. I’m not saying fibro is going to make you talk someone into shooting a high powered weapon at your soon-to-be-ex husband. There was obviously so much more going on in this situation. Is it possible she had a mental health condition that was mistaken for fibromyalgia and then exacerbated by the stress of having a child?

I have no major insights here. It matters, though, how fibromyalgia is described in mainstream media. No, I’m not going to start a campaign about how fibro should be talked about or described, but I will point it out when it bothers me.

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