Playing the Chronic Illness Blame Game

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Reprinted with the kind permission of Donna Gregory Burch

When we’re chronically ill, it’s easy to play the blame game. Every new symptom becomes part of the complicated mishmash of our illness. If our shoulder hurts, we think it must be a weird new fibro or ME/CFS pain.  If we feel dizzy, we chalk it up to excessive brain fog. If we’re super tired, we figure we must have overdone it the day before.

But as I learned earlier this month, sometimes that kind of thinking is a big mistake. Not everything is fibro’s or ME/CFS’ fault.

When I woke up in the morning, some days my feet literally hurt before they even touched the bedroom carpeting. At night, the pain and burning were so bad that I couldn’t sleep. Even the sheets hurt! The only thing that helped was slathering my feet in a cooling peppermint foot cream, putting on some extra soft, fuzzy socks and taking a bedtime dose of Flexeril to knock me out for the night.

I bought different shoes, thinking maybe my sandals with their thick soles and arch supports weren’t worth the extra money I’d paid for them. I bought and returned several pairs of new shoes because I couldn’t find anything that was comfortable.

I’d read online that fibro can cause foot pain, so I blamed my symptoms on being “just fibro.” Finally, after months of suffering, I broke down and made an appointment with a podiatrist, thinking I would talk with him about getting fitted for granny orthotics.

Within one minute of the doctor examining my feet, he diagnosed the problem, and guess what? It wasn’t fibro-related! I have plantar fasciitis.

Two steroid shots in my arches (ouch!) and a $25 co-pay later, I walked out of there limping and mentally kicking myself for not getting my feet checked out sooner. I’d just spent months suffering from foot pain and limiting my activities because I assumed it was “just fibro.”

How many of us fall into that same trap and suffer the consequences because of it? Just this week, I read a post on Facebook from someone who had constant ringing in her ears. She blamed it on fibro. A couple of weeks ago, someone posted that she’d just lost her control of her bladder, and again, it was blamed on fibro.

Yes, fibro is known to cause bladder issues, and sometimes tinnitus (ringing in the ears) coexists with fibro. But what if, in those people, those issues aren’t linked? What if it’s a separate problem that can be treated so that your quality of life is improved?

What if you’re suffering needlessly, like I did?

I think sometimes we’ve internalized the message that somehow we are hypochondriacs – to the point where we ignore symptoms that affect our day-to-day lives – symptoms that may be able to be fixed if we received proper medical treatment.

And here’s a question that concerns me even more: What if some of these “new” symptoms are actually signs of something more serious? Would we recognize that something was going on, or would it just become part of our new normal?

I’ve learned a very big lesson from this experience: I need to stop playing the chronic illness blame game, and so do you. Our health may depend on it.

About the Author:  Donna Gregory Burch is founder of, a blog dedicated to helping others live better with fibromyalgia and ME/CFS. In 2014, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia after several years of unexplained pain and fatigue. Donna is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in publications throughout Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She lives in Delaware with her husband and their many fur babies.

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