Chronic illnesses can be ever-present for the people who suffer from them, even if the disease is invisible to everyone else. Fibromyalgia is one such illness: debilitating but difficult to diagnose. The disease’s invisibility is two-fold, Sheana Ochoa argues in the winter 2008 issue of Loudmouth (article not available online), the zine of California State University, Los Angeles’ women’s resource center. Not only is fibromyalgia diagnosed purely through patients’ reports of pain and fatigue—it cannot be pinpointed with any diagnostic test—it also remains pigeonholed as “a women’s illness.”
Eighty to 90 percent of people diagnosed with FM are women. It is no coincidence that in the 1980s, when FM outbreaks appeared across the country, the disorder was dismissed as the “yuppie flu,” an ailment of bored, affluent suburban housewives. FM afflicts both genders, children, adults, and people of color. Still, the label remains that FM is a “female” problem which has deterred progress in understanding FM, treating it, and funding research for it.