A year or so ago, Stockwell Day (a Conservative cabinet minister, in case you’ve forgotten) was defending a number of initiatives by the Harper Government to “strengthen” the criminal justice system. By “strengthen”, he meant “make people suffer more”. When a reporter asked what the reason for this was, considering that the crime rate was actually in decline, Day famously replied that “unreported crime” was on the increase.
I think Day should have set up a website first. “UnreportedCrimes.ca”. Then people could report their unreported crimes and we would have a better idea of the scale of the problem. He should have invented an acronym for it — UCD for “Unreported Crimes Disorder”. He would have sounded more authoritative if he had said, “of course, UCD is way up over last year, and URPCA is also on the increase. (Under Reported Perception of Criminal Activity). He might have added that if a citizen sees any activity take place which is not clearly a known legal activity then it should be treated as an unreported crime. And reported.
The problem is, if he had done this tens years ago, the numbers would still have declined. Because, after all, the rate of crime really is down, if you look at actual facts, so the amount of reported unreported crimes would also likely have declined. Do you see the problem?
Similarly, or not, there is a website for “The Invisible Disabilities Association of Canada”. It’s about two particular “syndromes”– I don’t know what to call it exactly– myofascial and fibromyalgia. Your first clue: myofascial is not in the dictionary. That is because it is not a real word. It is a made-up word. That means it was just discovered– or just invented.
Now before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I believe it is quite possible that some people in this world, particularly in the affluent developed countries, really do suffer from tiredness, sore muscles, aches, and pains. In fact, it is quite possible that all of us do, to some extent. In fact, it is quite possible that life, in general, sucks. I’m not being flippant– life generally sucks. You make the best of it if you can, but it sucks.
I don’t care about that. I do care about bad science and irrationality, because those things lead to trouble.
So when this website informs me that fibromyalgia is diagnosed when “other illnesses and conditions are ruled out”, I am astounded. Let’s say you meet a person. Are you French? No. Are you British? No. Then you must be Chinese.
Fibromyalgia, we are informed, affects either the upper half of the body, or the bottom half, and can affect the right side or the left side. I am not making this up– check out the website. [The website is out of business.]
Fibromyalgia consists of general aches and pains and tiredness. That’s good– because if it only affected specific parts of the body in a specific way, you would know when you didn’t have it.
Now, I have no idea how you would know if your aches and pains and tiredness are a syndrome or if they are just aches and pains and tiredness, or if your life sucks and you hate making the effort and you just want to veg out on the couch and you don’t have the courage to get out there and engage the world…. I don’t know. Nobody will ever know.
According to the website:
Generally people with Fibromyalgia state that they hurt all over, especially in the parts that are used the most. Stiffness, especially on waking, sleep disorders, irritable bowel syndrome (see separate sheet), irritable bladder syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, restless leg syndrome, headaches (especially migraines and tension headaches) (see separate sheet), muscle spasms, cold intolerance, TMJ, cognitive difficulties, numbness and tingling in the extremities are some of the symptoms. Other common symptoms include a decreased sense of energy, disturbances of sleep, and varying degrees of anxiety and depression related to patients’ changed physical status.
“Irritable bladder syndrome”? “Numbness and tingling”? “Cold intolerance”?.
Think about how it sounds if you say “I am cold”. Now say, “I have cold intolerance”. Different effect, isn’t it? Now try: “I have cold intolerance syndrome”. I will rush out and get you a blanket.
All of it sounds like the normal wane and flow of everyday physical life. It gets cold, it gets hot. If you move, you use energy, and if you use energy you feel tired, and if you feel tired you want to sleep, and if you feel restless, you have “restless leg syndrome”.
Why? Because a label is a label. Why did you stop going to work? Why do you sit on a couch all day watching TV and eating potato chips? Why are you fat?
If you think you have fibromyalgia, I’m not saying your symptoms are not real. I’m saying that you don’t have something that is left over if nothing else can be diagnosed. I’m saying that you have no way of knowing how tough it is supposed to be to get up in the morning or to get out of the house and engage with the world. You say, I don’t know how real your symptoms are. You don’t know how real my symptoms are. Neither of us knows where the line is between attitude and illness, but I know that any illness that can affect the upper half of the body, or the lower half of the body, or the right side, or the left side, and fails to produce any empirical manifestations, hasn’t earned the right to an acronym.
Your last refuge: you don’t know what it’s like to not want to make the effort. And I admit that we have something pure there.
Of course there is an acronym. Developing an acronym for mythical conditions is essential to selling these conditions to the public. So fibromyalgia becomes “FMS”. I think it is believed that the general public will be more easily convinced of the reality of any condition if it has an acronym, especially if it has the word “disorder” in it.
PTSD. SARS. ADHT. TMJ. MPS.