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13 ways Fibromyalgia is like Downton Abbey

Sunday 24 February 2013


From Rebuilding Wellness with Sue Ingebretson:



February 12, 2013

Whether you’re an avid Downton Abbey watcher or haven’t the remotest of interests in the wildly popular PBS series, I suggest you read on with an open mind. The frenzied fibroworld and pastoral living at a Yorkshire country estate may have more in common than you think.

Because I live and breathe the world of chronic illness, I’m always exploring ways to share that world with others. I educate and articulate details for those who may not understand fibromyalgia, ME/chronic fatigue, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and various autoimmune conditions, etc. While I mention fibromyalgia comparisons throughout, feel free to insert the chronic condition of your choice.

I also happen to live and breathe the world of PBS Masterpiece Theater’s production of Downton Abbey. Pup and I are glued to the screen each week. I forced invited my hubby to watch season 1 (don’t bother asking him because he’ll deny it). But I’ve savored seasons 2 and 3 just for myself and my furry companion.

Of course, I’m happy to jump into Downton Abbey plot conversations on Twitter and Facebook as they arise. And who can pass up sharing delightful pictures of Violet and her witty sayings? (i.e. “Don’t be defeatist dear. It’s so middle class.”)

As I thought about connections between fibromyalgia and Downton Abbey, I found my fingers flying over the keyboard. There’s lots to say. I decided 13 was a good stopping point — a baker’s dozen. I’m giving a flour-fingered salute to our beloved Mrs. Patmore and her efficient and innocent scullery maid, Daisy.

But … just like Daisy, some things that look simple on the surface are quite another thing once you dig a little. Grab a shovel and read on …

1) They each begin with a crisis of titanic proportions

DOWNTON: For Downton Abbey, the beginning really was a titanic problem. The sinking of the Titanic created a scenario that sets the stage for continued drama. An heir to the Grantham family estate had been lost. Without a proper male heir (oh dash it all that Lord and Lady Grantham begat girls!), whatever would become of their humble home, Downton Abbey?

FIBROMYALGIA: To be clear, fibromyalgia has multiple causes. There is not ONE problem or event that brings on this condition, but rather a “perfect storm” of them. However, many causes (i.e. nutritional deficiencies, latent infections, genetics, toxic exposures, etc.) may exist undetected and it’s not until an accident, injury and/or an extremely stressful event does the condition – in its fullness – percolate to the surface. (Another clarification: for some, the percolating period is short, for others, it can be quite long – even years).

2) No one can spell them

DOWNTON: Please, do us all a favor and cut out 50% of your W’s from Downton. What it is not — DOWN-TOWN. What it is — DOWN-TON. Got it?

FIBROMYALGIA: Where do I even begin with the misspellings of fibromyalgia? When I was first writing about it, few had even heard it spoken much less tried to spell it. I’ve heard fibralga, fibromaglia, and my favorite, Fibromylasia (which sounds like a very painful country to visit). Think of the prefix “fibro” (meaning fibrous tissues or muscles) + “algia” (painful condition) which pretty much makes it easy to remember. Okay, if not easy to remember, then look it up on Wikipedia. It should be spelled right there … I think.

3) Everything looks “fine” … on the surface

DOWNTON: Upstairs on Downton Abbey everything is picture perfect. From the precisely measured place settings and the taller-than-me floral arrangements to the exquisite coiffures and baubles of the titled; life imitates art. Fine art. But if you mistakenly yawn at the elegant facade you’ll miss out on the undercurrent between the upstairs and downstairs residents. The realities of progress have the aristocracy in a collision course trajectory with the common folk. A “where worlds collide” theme runs amok throughout each episode.

FIBROMYALGIA: There’s a similar theme to those who deal with fibromyalgia: they may look “fine” but don’t feel fine. In fact, they may feel like something that’s been run over by a semi, put through a wood chipper, and then glued back together by graveyard shift assembly line workers. You get the picture. For fibrofolk, things are not always as they appear. It’s frustrating to field insincere compliments. What’s said – “You look fine.” What’s unsaid – “You look fine, so therefore if you say you don’t feel fine, you’re either fibbing, pretending, or trying to get out of something.”

4) A lot of people have no idea what they are – but they sure are talking about them

DOWNTON: After season 1, the PBS crowd was abuzz. Would Mary’s secret be leaked? Could Downton survive the ravaging effects of war? The compelling nature of the series drew attention, the finely woven plots kept them hooked. After season 2, it wasn’t just regular PBS viewers. The word was out. Then news of the unexpected popularity hit mainstream media. News reports, late-night mentions, and parodies (the ultimate in flattery) flourished. Downton Abbey had gone big-time. Even if you’re not glued to your TV on Sunday nights, admit it — you’ve heard of it.

FIBROMYALGIA: I’ve heard people give the strangest descriptions when asked what they know of fibromyalgia. Some are well-meaning, others just plain comical. A chiropractor (who should have known better) once asked me, “Oh come on, it can’t be that bad. Don’t you think everyone wakes up with aches and pains?” Comparing every day aches and pains to fibromyalgia is like comparing an organ grinder Capuchin monkey to King Kong. As far as popularity goes, fibromyalgia has yet (to my knowledge) to be parodied on late night TV. I have considered writing a stage adaptation of some of my work. But, the world may not yet be ready for Fibromyalgia the Musical.

And speaking of not ready, what’s with the portrayal of fibromyalgia in commercials? It’s so confusing! They depict fibromyalgia sufferers either malingering on a couch or rowing canoes and happily baking cakes. I don’t own a canoe. I’m not fond of cake. And, I don’t know what either has to do with fibromyalgia.

5) Each have long, dry, seasons of nothing eventful happening

DOWNTON: For the die-hard Downton Abbey fan, this is the bad part. The season is so emotional, so gripping, and so devastatingly brief. After a few short weeks in the New Year (for the US watchers) the world of Downton Abbey goes dark. All joy is sucked from life as we wait, sigh, and wait some more for the following year.

FIBROMYALGIA: For those with fibromyalgia, this is the good part. Symptoms of many chronic conditions multiply and worsen in what are called “flares” (NOT “flairs,” by the way). While symptoms may be bad for a season, there are times in between seasons where the symptoms seem to abate or at least minimize. Again, for fibrofolk, this isn’t just a good thing … it’s a VERY good thing.

6) It’s really the biggest pain that runs the show

DOWNTON: For Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, things are pretty simple. If it’s not done and needs to be, tell someone beneath you to do it. If it’s a task needing a little finesse, manipulation, or coercion, do it yourself. And, by all means, use your position (and your cane) to drive the point home. You are, after all, entitled to your opinion – as is everyone else.

FIBROMYALGIA: Pain, as an over-arching theme, is pretty overt. It may be dull, throbbing, or searing, but in every case, pain steals the attention. While other symptoms need focus too, they often get ignored, or pushed to the back burner. It’s sort of like housekeeping at the Big Top. Imagine trying to focus on exterminating bugs under the bleachers while in the center ring, a lion is eating the tamer.

Pain always takes center stage.


Due to the unusual length of this post, I’ve split in half. Stay tuned to next week for Part Deux of 13 Ways Fibromyalgia is Like Downton Abbey.

Can you think of other ways? Or do you just have some good Downton Abbey gossip and comments? Please share here!


The above, with comments, originally appeared here.


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