In 2002, after two years of collecting on my disability claim due to severe fibromyalgia symptoms, my insurance company stopped the payments. Their reason was that psychological illnesses were only covered by the policy for two years. Fibromyalgia was considered to be a psychological illness. Therefore, they would pay no more. It took a lawsuit on my part to correct their thinking.
We can all testify to the fact that our symptoms are indeed physical rather than psychological — even though many of us do suffer with anxiety and depression in addition to the characteristic pain, fatigue, and cognitive difficulties. However, where psychology may play a key role is as the cause. Several causes have been discussed over the years, including things as varied as a virus, a physical accident, or psychological issues. In my case, I highly suspect a psychological issue as the causative factor.
In early childhood, I learned that emotional outbursts (especially anger) were unacceptable. My parents, both of Eastern European descent, were very stoic people. Hard-working and intelligent, they considered feelings to be an extravagance they had neither the time nor the inclination to discuss. Sadly, they never learned the skill of dealing with one’s emotions in a healthy manner and were unable to teach me to do so as well. Instead, any deviation from calm and total control on my part was considered “acting out,” and I suffered the consequences.
As an obedient child, I quickly learned to disguise my feelings. I didn’t acknowledge them, I didn’t talk about them. In time, I’d have difficulty even naming them. It’s not that I didn’t feel things. Quite the contrary, I felt many emotions quite strongly. I just learned to bury them.
Some feelings, like sadness, were more difficult to hide, as I was an easy crier. But I learned to cry quietly and privately in order to avoid criticism. As an adult, I found myself commonly misnaming my feelings as “hurt” when in fact, it was anger or resentment that I felt. As a child, hurt was acceptable because it wasn’t vocalized.
Unfortunately, hiding feelings doesn’t make them go away. They just lay in wait, often just below the surface. In time, they will emerge in various forms. In my case, I became cynical, critical, and sarcastic — forms of passive aggression. Even worse, I developed physical symptoms, namely fibromyalgia.
It has taken me decades of therapy to realize that I have felt plenty of anger in my life. I just didn’t recognize it at the time or even identify it correctly. I can finally admit when something makes me angry, although it’s often after the fact. I’m still learning to express it appropriately. My hope is that in time my recognition and appropriate expression of anger and other negative emotions will be a factor in reducing or even eliminating my fibromyalgia symptoms.
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