According to a recently released research study (Mortality in fibromyalgia: An 8,186 Patient Study Over 35 Years,) having fibromyalgia increases the chance that someone will commit suicide. I don’t understand exactly how much the risk increases, since the study provides an odds ratio rather than relative risk, but the simple fact that suicide is more likely is frightening enough. (The risk of accidental death was also higher in the fibromyalgia patients, which I’m guessing is at least partially related to “fibro fog” issues like forgetting whether you’ve taken your meds and accidentally taking an overdose.)
I totally understand why this is true, since my fibro has frequently triggered suicidal depressions for me, for various reasons. When I was first diagnosed, the total lack of understanding and support from my then-husband, combined with the lack of anyone in my life who DID understand and the terror of facing a life of pain and disability; threw me into a months long depression that only grew deeper as I dealt with the losses that came with the illness. I spent hours every day wishing I could die, and knowing that the fibromyalgia wouldn’t kill me.
There have been many more depressions since then, most related to the fibromyalgia in some way, even when it wasn’t the direct cause. The most recent one started 3 YEARS ago, and it’s still very unusual for me to have a day when I don’t think, “I wish I could die,” at least once during the day.
The really horrifying thing for me is that so many of the suicidal depressions that those of us with chronic illness deal with are NOT caused by the illness itself, but by the inability to get ANY kind of help. When the pain and fatigue are so bad that you can barely crawl out of bed, and the fog and confusion prevent you from being able to remember how to do something you’ve been doing for years; and then the insurance you’ve been paying on for years says that you’re still capable of working, the government says you’re not disabled, and you’re facing starvation or taking a job that makes your symptoms worse, depression and wishing for death are a natural reaction.
Back when I had a good job; when I could afford doctors, and good food, and medications; when I could afford to fix things when they broke, and eat out every now and then without someone else paying for it; I didn’t understand why people took drugs they didn’t HAVE to take, why so many were willing to risk their lives to sell drugs on the street, or risk their freedom to steal from others; but I understand it now.
I understand the desperation you feel when you work full-time and barely bring home enough to eat, let alone pay the bills and have anything decent, I understand what it’s like to have to decide whether to buy a bottle of ibuprofen so that you can move, or a loaf of bread and a jar of peanutbutter so you can eat. I know what it’s like to have to get up and go to work when I have a migraine so bad it’s making me puke, but calling in sick means that next week my husband will have to take peanutbutter sandwiches to work instead of having lunchmeat and cheese, or that I will have to ask our roommates to let me keep part of the rent to buy groceries with when they need the money too.
I understand WHY people break the law to get the money to survive, and there are days I wish I was brave enough to do it myself. On days when the pain is at its worst, I wish I was brave enough to go buy a pain pill from the local drug dealer (after all, it will cost you more, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than trying to get it from a doctor now.) On days when one more thing that I can’t afford to fix or replace breaks, I wish I was brave enough, could get past my morals enough, to steal from someone who CAN afford to replace what I took.
Doing those things is not an option for me, they’re WRONG. Just because I understand why others make those choices doesn’t mean it’s possible for me to make those choices for myself, which leaves me the choices of continuing to struggle and fight or dying.
But death is not a choice that I can make either; there are too many who depend on me, too many who would be hurt by my death; and so I am left with the struggle and the understanding of why so many who suffer make the choice to end their pain. I am also left with the knowledge that I was once one of the blind, unknowing people who allow that pain to continue because they are not willing to share the bounty and richness they have. I used to be one of the ones that believe that they can’t survive without the $100,000 homes and two cars in the garage; who think that $200 purses and spending $50 for one meal at a restaurant are necessities, not luxuries that the majority of our society will NEVER experience.
The fact that fibromyalgia makes suicide more likely is frightening, but not surprising. The surprise is that so many of us find the strength NOT to die; and some, like my friend Jolene at Graceful Agony, and all the other chronic illness bloggers I’ve met, find the strength to reach out and make things BETTER.
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- Bits and Pieces About Fibromyalgia (ohmyachesandpains.info)
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- Fibromyalgia: 7 Ways to Ease Symptoms (lifescript.com)
- National Invisible Illness Awareness Week (retrohousewifegoesgreen.com)