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Should Morgan Freeman Speak Out About Fibromyalgia?

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In August 2012, Esquire magazine published a fascinating, insightful article about actor Morgan Freeman.  In the article, author Tom Chiarella recounts the day he spent with Freeman at his home in Mississippi.  As they walked around Freeman’s property, Chiarella noticed he was in pain.  In the following excerpt from the article, Freeman reveals the cause of his pain.

Every so often he grabs his left shoulder and winces. It hurts when he walks, when he sits still, when he rises from his couch, and when he missteps in a damp meadow. More than hurts. It seems a kind of agony, though he never mentions it. There are times when he cannot help but show this, the fallout from a car accident four years ago, in which the car he was driving flipped and rolled, leaving Freeman and a friend to be pulled from the car using the Jaws of Life. Despite surgery to repair nerve damage, he was stuck with a useless left hand. It is stiffly gripped by a compression glove most of the time to ensure that blood doesn’t pool there. It is a clamp, his pain, an icy shot up a relatively useless limb. He doesn’t like to show it, but there are times when he cannot help but lose himself to a world-ending grimace. It’s such a large gesture, so outside the general demeanor of the man, that it feels as if he’s acting.

“It’s the fibromyalgia,” he says when asked. “Up and down the arm. That’s where it gets so bad. Excruciating.”

This means Morgan Freeman can’t pilot jets the way he used to, a hobby he took up at sixty-five. He can no longer sail as well. There was a time when he would sail by himself to the Caribbean and hide out for two, three weeks at a time. “It was complete isolation,” he says. “It was the best way for me to find quiet, how I found time to read.” No more. He can’t trust himself on one arm. He can’t drive, not a stick anyway, not the way he used to — which is to say fast, wide open, dedicated to what the car can do. And he can’t ride horses as much, though once he rode every day.

He never mentions any of it as a loss, though how could it be anything else? He never hints around about the unfairness of it. “There is a point to changes like these. I have to move on to other things, to other conceptions of myself. I play golf. I still work. And I can be pretty happy just walking the land.”

Wait. How can he play golf with a clipped wing like that? How can you swing a club when you can’t lift one of your arms?

“I play one-handed,” he tells me. “I swing with my right arm.”

How does that work out for you?

“See for yourself,” he says. “I’m playing at 3:00 today.”

To Speak Out or Not to Speak Out – That Is the Question

Freeman’s revelation that he has fibromyalgia spread like wildfire through the FM community.  Finally, here was an A-list celebrity acknowledging he had been diagnosed with FM.  A handful of other celebrities have had the courage to speak up about their FM, for which we are extremely grateful, but as yet none have had the super-star power of Morgan Freeman.

Almost immediately FM patients and advocates began calling on Freeman to speak out on behalf of others with fibromyalgia.  It’s even been rumored that a large national FM organization has approached him about being their spokesperson.  While most in the FM community seem to strongly support that idea, a few have questioned the wisdom of Freeman being an FM spokesman.

From what I have read, those who are hesitant about Freeman representing the FM community appear to have three concerns:

  1. Does he really have fibromyalgia since he only mentioned pain in his left shoulder and arm?
  2. He is still very active and therefore would present an inaccurate picture of how debilitating FM can be.
  3. Since most people with FM are women, as a man he would not be representative of the majority of patients.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these concerns.

Does he really have fibromyalgia? – I have to admit the first time I read the article I, too, wondered whether he had been diagnosed correctly.  But when I reread it, I noticed that he said, “Up and down the arm. That’s where it gets so bad. Excruciating.”  His statement, “That’s where it gets so bad” sounds like he probably has other pain but it’s the pain in his arm that is the worst.  For many years, I could have made a similar statement about my left hip.  Although I had body-wide pain almost all the time, it was the pain in my hip that was usually the worst.

We also have to remember that the purpose of this interview was not to discuss Freeman’s fibromyalgia.  The author simply noticed Freeman grimacing several times and asked him about it.  It’s logical that Freeman would only mention the pain he was experiencing at the time.  Or perhaps he did go into more detail but when composing the article, Chiarella chose to include only what he felt was most important.

So is whether or not Freeman really has fibromyalgia a valid concern? Absolutely.  When we’re talking about someone being a spokesperson for a disease, it’s legitimate to want to be sure they actually have the disease.  We just shouldn’t jump to any conclusions based on one isolated statement.

His activity level doesn’t paint an accurate picture of FM. –  People with FM fall into a wide range of functioning abilities.  Freeman appears to be fairly high-functioning since he continues to work and play golf.  The article did note, however, that he has had to give up several activities that he loved.  On the other hand, some people with FM are completely disabled, unable to handle even basic self-care tasks.  The rest of us fall somewhere in between.  While Freeman’s activity level should not preclude him from representing people with FM, I would hope that part of his message would be to describe just how debilitating FM can be and to explain that different patients have different levels of disability.

As a man, he is not representative of the average FM patient. – Frankly, I think the fact that he is a man with FM is a positive thing.  Whether we like it or not, when it comes to health issues, men are still given more credibility than women.  Studies have shown that health care professionals are more likely to take a man’s symptoms seriously, but attribute a woman’s symptoms to emotional causes.  Although the acceptance of FM has come a long way in recent years, there are still some people, including some medical professionals, who don’t believe it is real.  Therefore, having a well-known and highly respected man like Morgan Freeman speak out about FM might help improve our credibility among the doubters.

It’s a Personal Matter

Given the repeated urgings to step up and be a spokesperson for fibromyalgia, I sometimes wonder if Freeman wishes he had never mentioned it.  He probably never dreamed uttering that one word in the middle of a multi-hour interview would ever garner so much attention.

In our enthusiasm to have a prominent celebrity like Morgan Freeman speak out on our behalf, I think we need to keep in mind how doing so could impact his life.  Years ago celebrities did everything in their power to keep any health problems secret because revealing an illness could ruin their careers.  Although Hollywood seems to be a little more accepting these days, I suspect there is still some hesitation about casting an actor who has a known health issue.  And even if his career is not a major concern, Freeman strikes me as the kind of man who prefers not to dwell on his pain and what he can’t do but rather to push ahead and focus on what he can do.

Yes, it would be wonderful if Morgan Freeman would decide to become an advocate for fibromyalgia.  The entire FM community would welcome him with open arms.  His support could do wonders for increasing awareness and raising money for research.  But ultimately it’s a personal decision – each of us has to decide what is best for our lives at any given point in time.  While I hope he’ll choose to use his celebrity to help others with FM, I’ll respect his decision either way.

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21 thoughts on “Should Morgan Freeman Speak Out About Fibromyalgia?”

  1. SuellaP says:

    We all have different, and changing stories to tell about or CFS and FM. Because FM and ME/CFS are invisible it is less likely that people understand that we are struggling and why.

    A celebrity will attract many more readers/viewers than a non-celebrity. If we want more research and donations to improve out situation than this is a wonderful opportunity.

    More people will be interested and gain understanding and hopefully compassion should Morgan Freeman be prepared to speak out for us. I feel it would be wonderful if he feels he would be able to do so.

  2. welltrvld says:

    After reading the article, I question whether Mr. Freeman even has fibromyalgia. It sounds more like some sort of referred pain from his nerve damaged injuries – sort of like radiculopathy or perhaps even more like something that’s called Compartmental Regional Pain Syndrome or CRPS. It used to be called RSD or Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. Generally, its onset occurs after injury and/or surgery and from what I know, is extremely painful.

    It shares some fibromyalgia characteristics, in that it can cause some autonomic type dysfunction, but that generally occurs when the whole body is involved (like the case of an acquaintance of mine, who was thrown through a windshield and suffered head trauma as well as full body injuries). Most cases, like Mr. Freeman’s as well as another friend of mine, are localized to the injured extremity or perhaps a quadrant of the body, especially if it’s referred pain.

    I could definitely see misdiagnosis’ between the two conditions. I also base my theory on the fact that Mr. Freeman does not complain of any unwell feelings or lack of normal energy for a man of his advanced years.

    I definitely think it could detract from the campaign to give fibromyalgia some medical credibility, if it turned out that a famous spokesperson/sufferer didn’t have the condition to begin with. Just my two cents worth…Rick G.

    1. Sportstergyrl1 says:

      Fibromyalgia DOES have a link to being caused by nerve damage. Have you done any recent research?! And how long have you been a sufferer?! Besides Fibro do you have any other diagnoses? Your article was appalling! Are you actually an MD or an RN!?

      Being S/P a cervical fusion with titanium plates and screws, 5 years ago – it has caused an immense amount of pain on top of my Fibro! And the actual surgery has caused NERVE damage up and down my spine!

      So before you discredit Mr. Freeman, do your homework, my friend! His pain is as real as mine and everyone else’s who has had to stand up and fight to prove this is a real chronic illness!

      Fight The Invisible

  3. pcarol9 says:

    He may not have it. I realize many have different symptoms, I don’t recall having an issue with one body part. I have had fm for over 6 years, most of what I experience are text, exhausted fatigue, pain all over and joints, tender areas, sleeping problems, everyday day is different, and challenging. It would be wonderful for him to speak out, if it is in fact his true diagnosis. More people need to recognize this to be real.

  4. IanH says:

    Well this just depends on how you define FM and on what you base the condition.

    Our theoretical position is that it is an immunological dysfunction being a part of the ME/CFS spectrum of neuro-immune disorder.

    When a person like Morgan Freeman with susceptibility is injured or develops an injurious pathology such as whiplash or repetitive strain injury an “auto-immune” process ensues. This in turn causes undulating attacks on the “damaged” or sub-standard musculo-skeletal tissue.

    Take another example. Some people develop spinal wear causing stenosis. Following surgery some people improve well and yet others do not. Partialling out the work related prognosis some people are clearly having ongoing difficulty due to periodic pro-inflammatory attack (not due to their activities). These people have an immune dysfunction causing inflammatory attacks on the injured area.

    Technically you can call this fibromyalgia. It does not appear to be the same as the widespread pain syndrome that others develop. However when we look closely at these individuals they also have widespread pain as evidenced by the following symptoms:
    fatigue, inability to crouch then stand, P.O.T.S.,
    memory disturbances, disturbed sleep, morning stiffness, sometimes digestive tract problems and chemical hypersensitivities.

    They can also have the same raised pro-inflammatory cytokine profiles.

    It is clear that the diagnosis of FM is being more widely applied than the old tender points test (which was nonesense from the start).

    I personally believe that any form of chronic pain can develop into a wider pain syndrome if the person has a susceptible immune system. Chronic pain is just another stressor on the neuro-immune system.

    I know two people who developed focal dystonia and after 7-10 years clearly have fibromyalgia. The question of whether the chronic pain from the dystonia cause an immunological involvement is not known but I strongly suspect it.

    1. IanH says:

      People with FM who have focal injury such as this often have more pain in the focal area and that takes their attention. This seems particularly true in males. So their reporting of their “condition” is very biased towards the focal pains. aslo we have noted some people who have had Fm for many years but later developed arthritic pain, eg. cervical stenotic pain or radiculopathy say that their FM pain decreased but the arthritic pain is worse. This can be explained by understanding pain processing. Putting it crudely, Sharp focal pain has preference in the pathway.

    2. djburloak says:

      I may have missed this crucial point while reading this article and other comments, but I would hope that should Mr. Freeman be interested in taking on a celebrity advocacy role for Fibromyalgia, there will be a confirmed diagnosis from a reputed medical specialist before any such invitation is extended.

      Credibility is paramount and based upon the speculation voiced in just this forum, clearly there must be verification first.

    3. Dideno says:

      I am a fan of Morgan Freeman and believe he would be an excellent spokesman for people with Fibromyalgia. But I respect his decision, as a person with fibromyalgia I cannot commit to even a dinner outing because I never know how bad the pain will be from day to day. So how can I ask such a commitment from Mr Freeman?

    4. sick4ever says:

      Men are, indeed, taken more seriously than women, which could raise credibility for fibromyalgia considerably. But perhaps the greatest benefit would come from promoting fibro as a gender-blind illness. As long as it is seen as a woman’s issue, not only will it be dismissed as purely psychosomatic, but it will also never get the necessary resources devoted to research into causes and treatments.

      As a feminist, I fiercely resent that a man would be a better spokesperson for us than a woman–for ANY reason/rationale. But reality is what it is. And it bites. So we need to take advantage of whatever tools may be available, and a well known and highly respected man such as Morgan Freeman is a real opportunity.

      All that said, it’s his decision to make. While the fibro community stands to gain should he speak up, there is real risk to him, for reasons familiar to all of us.

    5. wyldaeval@yahoo.com says:

      After reading a few of the comments, I agree that Mr. Freeman would be an excellent spokesperson for FM, however, he speaks of his love of solitude and being under constant scrutiny as FM’s spokesperson wouldn’t be to his advantage where solitude and privacy are concerned.

      I feel men are taken much more seriously when it comes to most health concerns. Most of the major studies involve men, not women, even though both sexes suffer from most of the same maladies. Would I like for Mr. Freeman to speak out regarding his battle with FM? Would I like to see more “non-believers” among the medical community take notice when a truly credible person offers his perspective on a greatly misunderstood affliction? Of course I would. But he isn’t obligated to do so.

      As someone else mentioned, we know how taxing it is to have an active flare. We know what it’s like to live hour to hour or day to day unable to make plans that involve much more than a nod and a nap, if we’re lucky. On reading Mr. Freeman’s description of his bout with FM I have no doubt that he does indeed have it. He does paint an accurate picture of FM, similar to my own experience. I feel more people would take notice and make an effort to understand Fibromyalgia, were he to speak out about it. But it’s not up to us to determine whether or not Mr. Freeman should speak out about FM.

    6. Sportstergyrl1 says:

      Okay, I am getting tired of reading these comments….do you have Fibro? How many times have you been mis-diagnosed? How long had you suffered being told that there was nothing wrong with you, or that you were just depressed…take these pills!?
      How many doctors, how many tests, how many years…?
      People, give it a rest already! This article in Esquire was NOT an interview with Mr. Freeman to discuss his medical issue! It just came up! Read it again if you do not understand it. I know all of us Fibro warriors suffer from, what they call “fibro fog”, and believe me, as a career professional- it has been one of my worst symptoms!
      And if you are Not a sufferer, and maybe have a friend or loved one who struggles daily with this awful chronic illness – do yourself a favor – Read, Research, and Rejoice! The more informed you are, the better friend, spouse or partner you can be. The smallest effort may mean the World to someone suffering in silence. Blessings. .

    7. teaguesmomma says:

      I think Freeman would be a great asset for FM. Many people have heard about it, but don’t know the symptoms or how it effects people differently. That is what we need to stress, is how it effects one person mildly and they can go about their day with little pain and for others they can not work and some can’t get out of bed. Lyrica’s commercials paints a small glimpse into FM, but lacks the real truth about it. Of course, they want people to buy their drug so after taking the pill all is well, NOT. This is where Freeman could make a difference, I think. Also, shining the light on what chronic pain sufferers go through with the medical profession. I have been denied by three doctors now for care because of my FM and chronic pain issues and my prescribed medications. Its almost like going into a job interview when you have to “apply” for a new doctor.

    8. anngee48 says:

      Why couldn’t there be an hour long tv program about Fibro to educate the public about this dreadfully painful and debilitating disease. Because so many of us are women, it would HAVE to include the two lesser known patients, children and men. It could have a panel with discussion, clips showing what people can/cannot do. DOCTORS Let’s bring out the fact many doctors do not believe in the disease so how can people be treated properly. How many of us are there really? Twice the number diagnosed? Three times? Mr. Freeman’s voice is famous and discernible. AS narrator it would be wonderful to be able to have him. There are famous women with it as well. Let’s face it, the more people who would volunteer to do this, the better. Maybe Oprah network or Dr. Oz’s show would be an option. I’m just throwing ideas out there because people, even family members and friends, have difficulty understanding and relating to our issues.

    9. Sportstergyrl1 says:

      Thanks Ian H for the response and the clarification on the many possible known causes, and sometimes debilitating symptoms of Fibromyalgia. I don’t think I could have explained it any better. : ) (not with this awful brain fog) lol.

      Fight The Invisible

    10. Sissyshaw says:

      I thought your comment was very well written. I to was in a car accident I had severe whiplash and thoriatic spine pain. After many months of chronic neck and back pain, and no sleep …I developed Fibromyalgia/ cfid/me and Inalso suffered all ver body pain. Along with left side shooting nerve pain.
      Well it seems my nerve pain may have been caused by multi level stenosis in my neck..which caused shooting pain up and down my arm.
      Fast forward many years later and I’m almost pain free, 80% yet I have more fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and high levels of EBV IGG , test says positive .
      So I agree the original injury does cause immune activity.
      Chronic High levels of stress from chronic pain, and lack of sleep nightly…is going to show up somehow in your body. We are not made to be in hyper alert for long periods of time.
      I do wonder after reading your post if I’m primary fibromyalgia or Chronic fatigue or do we cycle though both? I have the hypothalamus pituary axis disfunction. But maybe I have both? My neck no longer hurts , unfortunately my back still does. But I’m not better and I think it’s the sleep disorder that devoloped in th beginning from my severe whiplash, moving nightly form my bed to the couch, to a chair, to the floor…trying to escape from the pain which I think was worse than labor. Labor ends a lot sooner after 6 months or so my sleep disorder was here to stay no matter what drugs, or lifestyles I changed. My human growth hormone is only 37 pitifully low… As my sex hormones, also extremely low, my adrenal hormones aside from DHEA which is low , the rest are normal. Anyway my point is I agree fibro/cfid are a symptom or are caused by a larger factor that caused the body to become out of whack and basically turn on its self, as for Morgan Freeman who are to question his word on his diagnosis? Doesn’t that make us all upset when someone does that to us? Never mind him supporting fibromyalgia we should be supporting him? Just saying…anyway thank you again for your very informative post, ?? Sissy

    11. Sophiejean says:

      Wow…. Even Morgan Freeman is questioned whether or not it is actually fibromyalgia he has…. Gross!!! Do we believe him?? He works…. He looks well….. And can do a hell of an Oscar deserved performance….. Makes it even more so… Regardless who you are people disbelieve what you live through. Much love Morgan x keep keeping on xx

    12. BROTCHIE says:

      The Article — Should Morgan be a spokes person for FM:
      We all have different levels of FM and should understand that it not the same every day we have good days and really BAD days.

      Having Morgan as as spokes Person will help us all, He is the most down to earth actor I am comfortableHe will be the best person for OUR spokes Person


    13. Caroline10 says:

      A POSITIVE reason for a male to be the spokesperson is that men would be more likely to be interested in reading about a man’s medical issue. Then some men might realize that they have fibromyalgia, too. A NEGATIVE reason for any wealthy celebrities to be spokespersons is that they do not have the peripheral issue that many people have: lack of money for concentrated treatment for concentrated medical treatments and prescriptions, lack of money to pay for decent child care in order to go to doctor, and lack of the ability to take time off from work.

  5. musmage says:

    As others have said, it is not for us to decide but his decision alone. I used to volunteer for many charities but fibro has over time made me have to reduce how much and what I can do. Instead of doing walk-a-thons, I now volunteer to sit the check-in tables, or do post and pre event office type work. We all understand the sacrifices we each have to make, and that Fibro varies from person to person.

    As to his specific case of Fibro; that is between him and his doctor to determine. Have we as the Fibro community forgot that our “definitive” diagnosis is less than a decade old and that many of us had to fight with Doctors who said it “was our imagination” or a psychiatric disorder. I have dealt with it since the mid-90’s and had to fight with MD’s who thought I needed anti-depressants, and was only seeking narcotics. It wasn’t until a friend of a friend (who was a MD) observed me dealing with Fibro without any meds at a weekend re-enactment event that I finally got the aid I needed.

    So let’s not forget that any good help IS help. There are still many myths out there to dispel about Fibro, and if Mr. Freeman is up to the task and wants to, as much or as little as he can, more power to him.

  6. Sportstergyrl1 says:

    I enjoyed the article, and I too believe it is a personal matter for the actor, Morgan Freeman. Having suffered in silence with this chronic illness for many years – putting on the smiles when I had tears of pain inside, and trying to get through each day when people did not understand or want to believe what I was suffering was real. As an actor and still active person, I understand him wanting to not become an advocate at this time, and pursue the things that he can, and continue to enjoy his life to the fullest extent that his symptoms will allow! Way to go Morgan. And may he someday consider becoming the outspoken advocate that all of us fibro fighters, both men and women need. Thank you, Fight The Invisible! To All my fellow Warriors with Fibro, MS, Lupus, PTSD, and HSP’s out there. For inspiration, encouragement, and education – find me. Stay Strong!!

  7. Linda Anne Landers says:

    Sometimes the pain is focused in my neck, one arm, and into one foot, so I can understand that thing happening, however, the pain is widespread and the focus sometimes moves to different areas: down my back, head, jaw, neck, or then my hips are extremely painful. I also have light sensitivity with it which developed to a pre-malignant condition (called cancer in the USA) which is quite limiting as far as going outside. I was told I’ve had FM for more than 20 years but the extreme fatigue started 10-15 years ago, so FM does seem to change into more expressions of itself. I know from my own experience that distraction from thinking about FM pain is good too, to focus the brain away from the pain. If Morgan Freeman does have FM then it’d be up to him if he decides to talk about it more but I’d understand if he never wanted to talk about it too because FM is a challenging illness.

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