“Women never have a half-hour in all their lives (excepting before or after anybody is up in the house) that they can call their own, without fear of offending or of hurting someone”, Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale is famous as the woman who developed modern nursing. From May 6-12th we celebrate ‘National Nurses Week’ in honour of her birthday which was on May 12th, 1820. However, her birthday is now also celebrated as ‘International Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia Awareness Day’. It is thought by many to have been fibromyalgia that Ms.Nightingale suffered from most of her adult life.
The critics of Nightingale have speculated that she feigned illnesses, was bi-polar, mentally ill, suffered from depression, and post traumatic stress disorder, they were all due to various types of so-called ‘hysteria’ which commonly demeans women and highly sensitive persons. My view is that she developed full blown fibromyalgia after the trigger of contracting a fever in the Crimea while experiencing the horrific hospital and nursing conditions of war. But, it is not as simple as that. For her to have developed fibromyalgia she needed the following personality and psychological characteristics: a highly sensitive person throughout her life, and plagued with anxieties and past trauma. The war and finally the fever depleted her energy and her overwhelmed central nervous system. She could no longer work as effectively with the anxieties she had faced. While the terms ‘shell shock’ and PTSD seem to be different from fibromyalgia, they are basically of the same anxiety family.
This view is held by many and it fits with my view that fibromyalgia is socially induced, in highly sensitive people (particularly women) whose central nervous system is in a state of chronic hyper-arousal. Dr. Kevin White calls fibromyalgia the ‘Nightingale Disease’, and while I agree that many of the systems within the body eventually break down from this constant state of over stimulation of the CNS, I do not agree with him that it is in and of itself an actual disease, rather a dis-ease. However, no one has yet to ‘prove’ any particular theory about fibromyalgia, which is frustrating for both patient and health care providers. We can only continue to speculate, hoping for more concrete answers. Needless to say I believe my theory is worth contemplating about fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue.
A review of the hundreds of comments I have received over the years on many blogs and other forms of research/interviews I have conducted has been interesting to observe that many of the commentators are nurses. This fits in with my view that it is caregivers, primarily women, who are highly sensitive, working in highly stressed situations, coupled with anxieties, who often say of their lives that they are ‘burned out’ from a life time of caring for others. I continue to be amazed at how many nurses suffer from fibromyalgia brought on by a personal history of stress/anxiety and usually precipitated by a crisis, an accident, surgery or something as seemingly simple as a root canal!
I refuse to think of Florence Nightingale as a malingerer considering all that she accomplished over her lifetime, like the many women I hear from daily who accomplish so much, caring for others, wanting to make an improvement in the lives of others while continuing to face their own challenges with pain and fatigue.
Today I celebrate nurses.