Fibromyalgia and Nurses

“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.

9 thoughts on “Fibromyalgia and Nurses

  1. Jacquie Raffile

    May 12th was International Fibromyalgia Day. I forgot to mention…brain fog and so many other things on my mind. I hurt my neck badly mostly on the left while building a garden. The garden came out great while I’m still in lots of pain. Had an epidural and have to go to PM docs on 5/20. I’m trying to take it easy or else they’ll try another procedure (I can’t remember the names of the other procedures as I’ve never heard of them before). Wish me luck. Thanks Florence.

  2. Christy Delany-Richardson

    I find your observation about nurses and the high percentage with FM interesting. I have not heard of this before but I am a physician suffering from FM and I think your theory makes some sense. Maybe I should read your book?

  3. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Thank you for your comments, Dr.Christy Delaney-Richardson:
    There is little doubt in my mind after all these years of research that FM occurs in highly empathetic, highly sensitive people, particularly with those in the caring professions.
    So many us have hoped in vain that a ‘cure’ would be found, that FM is caused by a bacteria or a virus. But alas! Decades have not been fruitful and it keeps coming down to a CNS that is easily aroused. In particular because of the ways in which women are socialized to be intuitive, caring and anxious to see to the needs of others we are the ones most easily affected!
    Very best wishes to you,

  4. Pia Thompson

    I also am a nurse (oncology) and have had Fibro and ME for two years following mono, a root canal and hysterectomy.

  5. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Aha, no surprise! Those three issues plus your work in nursing certainly makes you more susceptible to FM, particularly if you are a highly sensitive person!
    Thanks for you in-put! best wishes,

  6. Pam

    Your theory makes me wonder…Is it possible for Fibromyalgia to “evolve” in the everyday person..? I have never been officially diagnosed,could never afford a trip to a doctor,but…. From what I can remember,I literally woke up with symptoms 5-6 years ago and have never been able to figure out why…I was working in retail at the time,and employees were constantly being expected to behave a certain way,which is totally not my personality and made me feel like I was not being me…I got to the point where I could hardly move and was considering buying a walker just so I could survive my work shift..I could barely pick up my feet to walk…I felt like I was constantly being hit all over my body by a baseball bat…I had episodes of fibro fog which scared me (I’m 61)…I also oddly enough developed psoriasis at the same time,which,appeared on my face and caused me stress as I was face to face with people all day long,and at times,had joint pain in my fingers enough to barely hold a pencil..My mother suggested I might have Fibromyalgia,so.I started reading everything I could find about it,started getting a lot more sleep,worked very hard about feeling less stressed and let everyone know I hurt..I decided this was going to be a war of mind vs. body..The pain finally quieted down after about 2,almost 3 years,but it was still there and I was still fighting the psoriasis. (No meds of any kind for me other than aspirin,Tylenol or Ibuprofen if needed) I ended up quitting my job last year after 9 years simply because I was tired of what was going on in the company and I wasn’t going to get any further ahead there anyway…I moved 1200 miles back to my hometown last fall and now consider myself retired…The psoriasis has pretty much disappeared..I still have episodes of pain just springing up wherever it wants to (mostly in my arms or legs) but not every few minutes like it used to,just here and there,and it depends on what I’m doing…Tylenol pretty much takes care of it…I still get fatigued at times,but try to stay away from things that trigger it… I feel more my normal self again…I feel like I’m in a remission and I’m trying to keep it that way…I feel stress is a huge contributor to Fibromyalgia,and if it can be controlled,it helps control the Fibro….(Just my opinion..!)

  7. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Pam:
    I do hope that you don’t need a diagnosis of fibromyalgia since it seems likely that you were experiencing serious anxiety over the job situation. If you do have another flare up of the symptoms it would probably be a good idea to have yourself checked out by a physician. Fatigue goes along with pain in fibro as well as skin rashes but they also are exemplified in stress related conditions. It is a positive sign that Tylenol usually helps your condition. Excess stress in anyone’s life is not healthy. I am happy you are more settled now, retired and in your own home town.
    Keep in touch,

  8. Pam

    Thanks Barbara,
    My problems have been at their quietest for about a year or so now….It just started to quietly settle down little by little over time about 2 years ago …The pain,the skin problem and the fatigue hit me years before I quit my job…Out of the three,the pain was the absolute worst part,that was in the first 3 years….I felt like someone was beating me up all the time,sometimes to the point that I’d holler out “Ow..! ” just like when someone slugs you one in the arm…Simple OTC meds didn’t really work full force when pain was bad,only in the past 6-8 months…Now I only need it 1-2 times a month,if that much,and just a half dose….I did notice that when I get 7-8/9 hours of sleep over my usual 5-6/7,I do hurt less…I think letting the whole body rest as long as possible is critical to how one gets through this…
    If it all flares up again,I still won’t be going to a doctor,I just can’t afford it,but at least I know how to deal with it…For now,so far,so good for me….I’ll let you know how it’s going…

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