Fibromyalgia & Mental Health: This Didn’t Happen Overnight!
Last updated: November 2023
Editor's Note: This piece has brief mentions of alcoholism and familial abuse.
If you are a person living with fibromyalgia, it is very likely that you are also affected by mental health. Due to stigmas and false perceptions about fibromyalgia, some people in the fibromyalgia community might argue this is not true. However, living with a chronic pain disorder can be mentally challenging for anyone.
My fibromyalgia and mental health struggles were the result of inheriting poverty and a lifetime of emotional traumas at a very young age. While at a residential center for “troubled teenagers,” I was diagnosed as “emotionally disturbed”. However, I can recall the “disturbance” way before then. I still have vivid memories of “Little Milly” crying when her dad came home drunk, engaged in physical altercations, and when after bowing down on one knee to gift her a Susan B. Anthony coin, left and never returned.
Chronic illness and adverse childhood experiences
A study by the Centers for Disease Control found that adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect, and other traumas affect brain development and increase a person’s vulnerability to encountering interpersonal violence as an adult and to developing chronic diseases and other physical illnesses, mental illnesses, substance-related disorders, and impairment in other life areas.1
Having survived more than a handful of traumas before I was “legally" an adult-I can totally relate to the CDC study. I plan to tell y’all more about the “interpersonal violence” I have overcome in a future article. Now back to “Little Milly,” the poster child for missed opportunity of not achieving equity early in life and the effects of under resourced opportunities.
In elementary and middle school, I was an A student. Later, at the High School of Fashion Industries in New York City, I was being prepared to receive a “regents’ diploma.” This type of diploma is a "more advanced high school diploma” you get after passing rigorous testing. Growing up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the West Bronx where “underperforming schools” were considered the “norm,” this would have been an extreme honor for me and my family.
An impacted nervous system
However, the alcoholism my dad, an evangelized Christian struggled with, the mental health my single mom inherited, and all the traumas I witnessed and survived while growing up are direct results of how trauma early in life impacted my nervous system. This vicious cycle of developing physical and mental illness also contributed to socioeconomic barriers that caused a long-term effect on my family. The inequities and health disparities of being born poor are known to impact up to 3 generations, that is how long it takes to break away from the cycle of poverty.
Inequality and physical and mental health conditions
A more recent study conducted by researchers at UCLA, found that “Low-income youth are more vulnerable to physical and mental illnesses which can lead to long-term health and socioeconomic impacts.”2 That study found that children from low-income communities were twice as more susceptible to developing long term physical and mental health conditions than children in higher income communities.2 The study highlights the missed opportunity of not achieving equity from the start of life, especially for Black and Latinx children.
These are some of many reasons why at the Fibromyalgia Care Society of America, Inc, I am dedicated to taking a whole family approach to care. We must remedy the inequities at the root cause in order to harvest and grow healthier communities!
Have you experienced medical gas lighting?