Linked to Your Past?
Martha Cranston* is a freelance writer who just completed a series of articles on the topic of fibromyalgia. Martha's particular focus on the subject consisted of personal accounts of fibromyalgia sufferers and to that end Martha worked up a list of eight questions such as: How old were you when you were diagnosed with the disease? And: Have you been treated by a rheumatologist?
Martha then posted to her local community list, asking for people with the disease to please contact her with the assurance that their anonymity would be protected. The respondents were almost all female, with only 2 male respondents. One respondent didn't have fibromyalgia at all; she was an alternative medicine practitioner named Holly Winston*. Holly insisted that Martha should explore the connection between fibromyalgia and a past history of sexual abuse. Martha thanked Holly, planning to ignore her input, but Holly kept writing back and insisting that Martha ask her interview subjects outright: Were you ever a victim of childhood sexual or physical abuse?
Martha liked her work, but she didn't have the newspaper reporter's capacity for asking very personal questions. Still, she decided to add the question for one of her respondents, though she offered him an 'out' by writing in parentheses: '(optional).'
"I sent the question to one of the two male respondents. For some reason, it felt easier to ask a man than to pry into the past of another woman.
I got goose bumps when he answered that he had, indeed, suffered from past abuse. He qualified this by saying that his parents had gotten help, had changed, and that while his younger siblings didn't have fibromyalgia, the older ones, do."
Ask the Women
"I told Holly about his response and she wrote back, 'I told you. Now, go ask the women. You'll see what I mean.'"
Martha proceeded to ask her "optional" question and was blown away in that every single respondent save one admitted to a history of past abuse.
"The only negative response I received was from a psychologist friend who had admitted to me that she suffers from fibromyalgia and said she'd be pleased to help me out in any way she could with my assignment. When I asked her my extra question—I did her interview by phone—the one about abuse, she became furious and insisted there was absolutely no connection and that if I were to imply a connection in my articles, I'd be doing a disservice to women with fibromyalgia who fight to be seen as having a medical, rather than a mental condition.
I couldn't help but think her protestations were over the top and I sensed that she wasn't being honest with me, though I can't prove it," said Martha.
"For me, as a writer, my integrity is on the line. If there is a connection between fibromyalgia and childhood abuse, this needs to be explored, no matter how painful the truth may seem."
* Names have been changed