Living With a Contested, Stigmatized Illness: Experiences of Managing Relationships Among Women With Fibromyalgia

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Abstract

This study focuses on the negotiation of relationships among women living with the chronic illness fibromyalgia. Twenty in-depth, semistructured interviews were conducted with women diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Drawing from interactional and constructionist perspectives, the analysis focuses on participants’ approaches to communicating with others about their illness, the reactions of others to their experiences, and participants’ strategies to manage stigma. Participants attempted to describe their illness experience to others through direct and educational approaches. Often, in the management of their relationships with close family and friends, there was an unspoken awareness of illness effects, and social support was offered. However, disbelief and a lack of understanding often led participants to avoid social interactions in the attempt to hide from the stigma associated with an invisible and contested illness.

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