The incidence of chronic illness in today’s society is increasing. Living with a chronic illness is often described as a life involving many hardships and struggles to meet the needs of societal norms. This paper explores the concept of stigma as a significant factor in three chronic illnesses: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Fibromyalgia (FM), and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). Stigmatization is simply defined as the process where society bestows a negative meaning to individual signs or attributes (Joachim & Acorn, 2000).
In addition, this paper will critically analyze the relationship of stigma by applying it to stereotyping, labeling, social identity and normalization to the case study An “Average” Day. Analysis of Concept Having a chronic illness and being different from the general population subjects a person to possible stigmatization and stereotypes by those who do not have the illness. As a result, societal norms are what teaches its members to categorize persons and defines their attributes and characteristics (Lubkin & Larsen, 2006). Stereotypes are a negative type of category.
They are a social reaction that allows us to react to group expectations (Lubkin & Larsen, 2006). The case study author often compared herself to what norms were expected of her, “everyone else is up by now so I should make like I’m ready to start my day too. ” CFS and FM are illnesses that are characterized by a significant widespread pain syndrome associated with a high frequency of sleep and cognitive disturbances. They are diagnosed by pain and fatigue lasting for six months or longer with no identifiable cause and an absence of physiological marker (Hammond, 2002).
MCS is often used to describe people with symptoms attributed to environmental factors and acute hypersensitivity to low levels of chemicals found in common substances (Glinton, 2005). MCS continues to remain somewhat of a mystery where no accepted test of physiologic function can correlate with symptoms (Glinton, 2005). Chronic conditions that do not have visible manifestations and has an unclear etiology, may easily contribute to stigma (Lubkin & Larsen, 2006).
These three chronic illnesses falls into the stigmatization lens by health care providers, family and friends, the public at large, government and insurance companies, and even from other chronic pain sufferers. Such chronic illnesses as the above listed are believed to be a psychosomatic illness that is brought on by unconscious conflicts manifesting themselves as physical symptoms (Stahl, n. d. ). A chronic illness experience is a dynamic state with numerous aspects not limited to physical or psychological problems caused by the condition (Joachim & Acorn, 2000).
Moreover, psychological stress and problems around diagnosis leads to patients being viewed as deviant which brings stigma with it (Hammond, 2002). Discussion of Concept Research literature on the experience of chronic illness pointed out that the pain component in CFS and FM markedly influences the participants’ activities and daily routines of performing everyday chores (Peolsson, Hyden & Larsson, 2000). The case study author implies, “It’s not that I’m lazy mind you, it’s that everything seems to take so much energy and I have so little of it I have to prioritize things a lot. People with CFS, FM and MCS do not fit easily into the “sick role” because of problems around diagnosis (Hammond, 2002).
They are labeled as weak, slackers, lazy, complainers, malingerers and attention seekers due to the unclear pathophysiology of the disorders. The case study author on two occasions uses the labels “lazy” and “slacker” when trying to explain a situation, for example, “healthy folks would never understand and assume I’m just a slacker. The concept of stigma in relation to chronic illness can take on two major aspects in society: the role it plays in social identity and the role of normalization. The case study author gave implication of trying to have a social life when she stated “the computer and the internet has been my lifesaver in many ways. ” These two stigma changes the way an individual may live; one by becoming withdrawn and isolated and on the other hand, adapting to changes produced by the chronic condition (Joachim & Acorn, 2000).
The case study author stated that “we live in a world which values above all else, productivity. ” The roles of normalization is viewed by many researchers as enabling individuals with such chronic illnesses to resume their pre-illness responsibilities and roles; to finding such ways of living or pretend to live a normal life while managing everyday symptoms (Joachim & Acorn, 2000). Goffman’s views, “the more that individuals present themselves as normal, the less likely they are to be discredited and stigmatized (Joachim & Acorn, 2000).
In An “Average” Day, the case study author presented to the readers that even with such illnesses as CFS, FM and MCS she herself valued productivity and managed ways around her pain by learning her triggers: to support her family, work a little and prioritize household duties. Retaining the social aspect of life such as work is often seen as a way of living normally (Asbring & Narvanen, 2002). Conclusion Chronic illnesses such as CFS, FM and MCS present deviations from what many people expect in daily social interchanges. The issue of stigma has a long history with chronic pain sufferers.
Stigma, a “mark of shame or discredit” arises from commonly held social beliefs about a person’s behaviour, attributes, personality and illness (Lubkin & Larsen, 2006). As discussed the concepts of stereotyping, labeling, social identity and normalization played a major role within the case study An “Average” Day. Societal values contribute to the perception of chronic illnesses as a stigmatizing, meaning; that in today’s society, such things as personal accomplishment, productivity and physical health is emphasized and valued. If these behaviours are not met, you as an individual become liable to be judge by society.