When a Loved One Has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia (FMS) are debilitating chronic illnesses that can strike people of both sexes and all age groups. Partners, friends, and relatives of people with CFS or FMS may feel confused and helpless, not knowing what to say or how to offer support. Perhaps chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia has stricken your spouse, your child, your sibling, or a good friend. Whatever the case, it’s difficult for you to see a loved one in such pain. The illness presents new challenges to your relationship as well. It may also worsen any existing relationship problems.You want to be positive and helpful, but you don’t know what to do or say. Maybe you’ve tried to be supportive and find that your loved one reacts in frustration. What should you do?These tips from the Chronic Fatigue and Immune System Dysfunction Syndrome Association of America may help.
#1 Understand the ConditionMost people know very little, if anything, about CFS and FMS. Both conditions involve much more than “a little fatigue” or “a few aches and pains.” If you have a friend or loved one with one of these conditions, you should learn as much as possible. The more you understand, the better you will be able to offer support.
#2 Do Not InvalidateSometimes people think that individuals with CFS or FMS are lazy, exaggerating their symptoms, or suffering from a psychiatric condition. They may mistakenly believe that their loved one just needs to push herself a little harder. People with CFS or FMS often feel invalidated when they hear:
- “You look good to me.”—Underlying invalidating message: “You don’t look sick, therefore you must be exaggerating or faking.”
- “Oh, I’ve had symptoms like that before. I get tired like that too.”—Underlying invalidating message: “So, what’s the big deal? Everybody gets tired. Get some rest.”
- “Have you tried (a suggested treatment)?”—Underlying invalidating message: “If you don’t take this remedy or do anything to help yourself, it’s your own fault that you’re still sick.”
- “Are you still sick?”—Underlying, invalidating message: “What’s wrong with you? It’s your fault that you’re still sick.”