The number-one thing you can do for a family member with fibromyalgia is to support them. This may sound like a simple, needless-to-say thing, but one of the greatest struggles in the history of fibromyalgia diagnosis, research, and treatment was convincing people that fibromyalgia is a real physical condition, not just a mental disorder. Being an unseen disease, it’s hard for someone with fibromyalgia to ask for sympathy, and even harder to get it. “Well, I’ve had body aches.” “Fatigue? I’ve been tired for the past 20 years of my life,” some might say, brushing off the symptoms of fibromyalgia as just whines or complaints; the best way to help a friend or family member is to extend real understanding and support to your loved one.
It’s important to educate yourself on fibromyalgia; know that your family member or friend is going through. Learn a little more about symptoms so that offering sympathy can come from an educated foundation. If you live with someone with fibromyalgia, maybe you could participate in some fibromyalgia pain relieving activities together – e.g. Pilates, massage, and acupuncture. Everything is more fun and feels a little less like treatment if you have someone to do it with you.
Offer to lend a hand in any way you can. Don’t try to do things for your loved one if they don’t ask you to – no one wants to feel like they can’t take care of themselves – but do as if there is any way at all that you can help. If your family member or friend is hopeful that they can get into a fibromyalgia clinic but they can’t afford the trip on their own or don’t want to make the trip alone, maybe you could offer to help them out or accompany them. On a less extreme note, make it a point to accompany them to their doctor’s appointments (if they want you to) to show that you have an active interest in their well-being. At appointments, you could even offer to take notes; this way the two of you can decode the jumble of medical jargon together later, cementing both of your understandings of your friend or family member’s condition.
Being understanding and forgiving when it comes to making plans is also important. Don’t get mad if your friend or family member needs to back out of something you were going to do together; some days are just harder than others, and sometimes bodies resist movement, fatigue is overwhelming, and your loved one just needs a day to take care of themselves.
This last point is a tough one to remember – because you want to treat your loved one like they are fragile and deserve all the care in the world – but your friend or family member is still the same person they used to be, only now they have a name for those aches and pains and fatigue that have been plaguing them. They still like the same flavor of ice cream, the same music, the same TV shows. Don’t alienate them from you by treating them like they’re a condition instead of like they’re a person.