February 19


13 Ways Fibromyalgia is Like Downton Abbey (2)

By Sue Ingebretson

February 19, 2013

Downton Abbey, fibromyalgia, handicap, Maggie Smith, money, symptoms


And, we’re back again with MORE ways Fibromyalgia is like Downton Abbey! It’s probably best to recap last week’s post HERE before jumping in.

Fibromyalgia is the Edith of Diseases

One thing we’ve definitely established so far in ways 1 through 6:

Fibromyalgia is the Edith of diseases…

Without further delay, let’s dive in to Part Deux of 13 Ways Fibromyalgia is Like Downton Abbey:

7) Social rules and mores are obvious to all, but followed by none

DOWNTON: For the rigid and reigning upper crust of Downton (both the Dowager Duchess and Mr. Carson come to mind), the unwritten rules of propriety may as well be hieroglyph-ed across the walls of the grand foyer. The phrase, “It’s just not done,” is repeated often but heeded never. In fact, the phrase usually precedes the action of someone doing the very thing that’s “not done.” Lady Sybil learned to boil an egg. Lady Edith learned to drive a car. Lady Mary learned to drag a dead body through the upper catacombs of the estate … but actually, that’s something that probably should stay on the “not done” list.

Fibromyalgia and Disability

FIBROMYALGIA: There are also unwritten rules about how to live with chronic conditions. One states that if you claim to be riddled with pain, then you shouldn’t be caught laughing, smiling, or – heaven forbid – having a good day at a theme park. And, speaking of parks (and parking lots) – let’s not get started about the stigma of handicap parking. While I have never used this system myself, I definitely understand the need and purpose of the placards for those who do.

8) Those in charge are late to the game to adapt to new trends, treatments, and ways to “deal”

DOWNTON: While Downton’s bell system is still using string pulls, Mr. Carson harrumphed his way through the blasted installation of that most evil device — a telephone. His ever-present disapproving looks remind me of Owl from Winnie the Pooh. Am, I right? See for yourself. Behold the resemblance (sans the tufty horns) to one very annoyed, very perturbed Mr. Carson!

Downton Abbey and Mr. Carson

But when it comes to new contraptions, the audacity of Mrs. Hughes beats all. She set the whole “house afire” (almost) with a new-fangled contraption to heat bread. The scorched wheat loaf experiment seems opportune, to me. Although unintentional, I applaud her efforts to rid the world of gluten one piece of toast at a time. This could later be referred to as the Smoking Toaster exposition.

FIBROMYALGIA: Unfortunately, late-adapter fibromyalgia “authorities” are a dime a dozen. I still hear old-school, misleading, and just plain inaccurate advice given to fibromyalgia patients. Here’s a quote from a friend’s doctor when she was first diagnosed. “You won’t die from fibromyalgia, although you’ll wish you would.” Seriously? That’s helpful? Did he complete his bedside manner training at the A.D.A. (Academy of Depressive Advice)?

The good thing is that there is hope, there are treatments, and there are ways to heal. This news should be trumpeted far and wide.  And, as long as I continue to hear ridiculously unhelpful platitudes, I’ll continue to sound the alarm with my own horn.

9) You never know what’s going to happen next!  

DOWNTON: The unpredictable story lines of Downton Abbey are tantalizing, mesmerizing, and full of allure. Thomas blatantly thumbed his (uppity) nose at the staff of Downton as he left to “move up the ranks” and fight in the war. Who would have ever predicted that he’d later (intentionally!) get his own hand shot off to return? And what about the babies who live – and those who don’t. The weddings that take place – and those that don’t. Prison sentences and exonerations. It’s enough to drive us crazy … or keep us tuned in.

FIBROMYALGIA: Yes, unpredictability is also the hallmark of chronic disease. But it’s not at all tantalizing or alluring. It’s not even entertaining. You may plan to attend a specific event, but your symptom-of-the-day (fatigue, pain, nausea, etc.) laughs at you and derails your plans. You think a small muscle pull will quickly wane and it instead turns into full-body rigamortis. Darn it all. Sadly, there’s no brilliant Julian Fellowes at the keyboard scripting our humdrum lives. But, if he were — it’d be a lot more interesting. Speaking of, I heard an interviewer ask Dame Maggie about her creative acting skills. Her response was something along the lines of, “It’s called a script.”

10) Doctors, legal advisers, estate managers and general authorities all claim to know best, but where’s the referee?

DOWNTON: What happens when authorities butt heads on Downton? Lord Grantham steps in and puts an end to the dispute with sovereign authority. He always makes the right call. Except when he makes the wrong call. Like when he has anything to do with bankers, lawyers, investors, his tenants, his neighbors, his daughters, their husbands, their husbands-to-be, their suitors, their employers, his wife, his mother, his mother-in-law, his chamber maids, his staff, his dog ….

Isis Downton Abbey and fibromyalgia

Wait. Certainly Isis has unwavering faith in Lord Grantham! After all, that nasty dog-napping incident wasn’t even her darling master’s fault. Although on second thought, if Lord Grantham had better handled the disgruntled Thomas, it never would have happened. Don’t tell Isis that. Someone has to stay loyally by his side (all right, I know a leash has a lot to do with that, but whatever).

FIBROMYALGIA: When medical professionals, legal professionals, and employment authorities disagree – who steps in to take charge? We do. Or, I should say — you do. I’m giving you permission – right here and now. Like the whole “poof you’ve been knighted thing.” I hereby grant you Team Captain-ship of your own life. You get to decide what’s best for you. Feel bullied by doctors? You get to choose your treatments. Feel at the mercy of the legal and financial systems? You get to use your own knowledge, creativity, and resourcefulness to set things back on track. I know you can. I have every confidence in you.

And, if you’re looking for an additional boost, you can create your own bevy of loyal subjects (the furry wagging kind). I suggest you visit a local rescue shelter. You’re sure to find loyalty, entertainment, and emotional support beyond measure.

11) Everyone in your midst is either a conspirator or confidant, but which is it?

DOWNTON: What would Lady Mary do without the constancy of Anna the Head House Maid? What would Cora, the Countess of Grantham do without the constancy of her lady’s maid, O’Brien – (of course there’s more conspiracy than constancy to that relationship). We get to cheer on the sidelines as pairs line up to support or undermine each other – sometimes both at the same time. Who among us has not groaned, sighed, or a shaken a fist at the TV screen while Thomas manipulated his way out of a tight spot? Of course, even the worst of us can have a good side. I’m willing to bet he’s asked Mrs. Patmore to refrain from serving fowl for the time being. He’s had a steady diet of crow this entire season.

FIBROMYALGIA: When first diagnosed, you can see those around you divide into clearly definable tribes – like the parting of the Red Sea of friends. There’s the

Twix and fibromyalgia

Supportive Tribe who’ll bring you homemade chicken soup even if it’s raining buckets outside. Then there’s the Pseudo Supportive Tribe who’ll bring you brownies, Twix, and a coke when you’re trying to stick to a healthy eating “no junk food” plan. In the spirit of the adage, keep your friends close and your enemies closer, keep an eye on your tribes. Keep an open eye to their motives and a closed eye to their faults (just tell them to keep the soup coming).

12) Nearly every conversation – polite or otherwise – is about money or the lack of it

DOWNTON: Will the Downton estate teeter on the brink of bankruptcy again or burble up from the ashes like a Bath stone phoenix? Countess Cora doesn’t even blink at the notion of discussing her own family fortune. Her mother, Martha Levinson (as a flamboyantly rich American), has more than enough dough to spare – but doesn’t. Mr. and Mrs. Bates are trying to scrape together enough to start a home. They’re all part of the familiar haves and have-nots. Those who have it fear losing it. And those who don’t have it, fear they never will.

FIBROMYALGIA: In contrast, if you’re living with fibromyalgia, it’s far more likely that you’re on the have-not side of the equation. If fibromyalgia (or chronic illness) hasn’t at least bled your bank account dry a time or two, you’re not doing it right. Between time off from work, co-pays, supplements, complementary treatments, and out-of-sight out-of-pocket costs, taking on the challenges of chronic illness isn’t for financial sissies. And how can it all be managed? We wish there were an app for that.

13) Bloodlines mean everything – and nothing

DOWNTON: For blue blood families – a pure bloodline means everything. I mean, really everything. You have blue blood or you don’t. In a way, it simplifies things. To Lady Mary, it’s ALL about the blood lines and keeping the status quo at Downton alive – literally. Lady Sybil went rogue on this subject by marrying the chauffeur. I’ll expect the Dowager Duchess some time next season to remark about the petrol running through the veins of baby Sybil.

FIBROMYALGIA: For us, there’s also an issue of blood – blood testing, actually. It’s the first thing the novice or lay person asks, “Is there a blood test for that? How do I know I have it?” What a kerfuffle! There’s no blood test. There’s no skin scratch test. There’s not even an algebra test to determine an official diagnosis. Because of its unknown etiology, it’s technically not a disease at all, but rather a condition or syndrome. That sounds like a big deal, but it isn’t. It’s actually quite common. Lupus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis are syndromes, too. Of course, they happen to be categorized as autoimmune conditions and fibromyalgia doesn’t fit there either (further underscoring the fibromyalgia/Edith connection). But, rest assured — there are plenty of ways to ascertain a true fibromyalgia diagnosis and a blood test isn’t one of them.

I’ve made many comments above about what fibromyalgia isn’t, but in clinical terms, here’s what it:

Fibromyalgia is a royal pain in the patootie.

Which brings me right back to Downton Abbey. What will go royally right and royally wrong in season 4? You can bet that I’ll be watching.


So there you have it. My take on ways in which fibromyalgia is like Downton Abbey. My post weighs heavily on the cons of living with a chronic condition and I’d like, now, to bring up the lesser discussed pros. Actually, I can only think of one. It’s good to have a condition that you can blame for memory and recall issues. The elusive and fleeting fibrofog is a common topic among those with chronic conditions and happens now and then to us all.

Case in point. As I wrote this post, I was trying to think of the last name of the Downton Abbey author, and I was too stubborn to Google it. I knew it would come to me. I had the Julian part in mind and could visualize clearly that his last name began with an F. I tried on all sorts of names for size. Fields? Fronds? Foes?

Suddenly, I thought of it. Fries! It rolled around in my brain sounding so right and so wrong at the same time.

Only later did I laugh at my own memory challenge. But maybe I wasn’t so far off? Whether written by Julian Fellowes or “Julienne Fries” – the tasty bits of Downton Abbey episodes are sure to delight.


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Tell me what you think! Be sure to leave your comments below.

  1. Hey Lady!
    I so enjoyed your article! There are many places where I laughed and some I wanted to cry. I appreciate you mentioning that many of us have a loyal dog, I have two. Other than them I live alone. I also own a kayak!! More wishful thinking than practice I’m sorry to admit.
    Let me preface what I wanted to say by saying this about me: I used to be hooked on soaps. That was when I was 14 and baby sat all summer. Since then I have a hard time stomaching the constant drama with little to no positive elements that survive even for a day.
    I can be friends with someone and tolerate and support them through their drama, but if it’s intense I need a break now and then to keep from shouting at them to get a grip!!
    I enjoyed most of the first season of Downton Abby, but in the second season it was just too much drama to endure with little positive input. I’m a person who likes to see the good-guy win! I like old movies!
    So for me the Downton comparison has another element in addition the the 13 you so eloquently wrote about. I hate the daily drama of my own pain and diminished existence! To continue watching was depressing in the same way any chronic illness is. I liked the writing, the acting the settings and props. But the way there is so little good that lasts was too much for me. i really would have liked to see Thomas get his comeuppance though!! LOL!!

    I’ve made a lifestyle of shunning all the negative that I can and dwelling on the positive. So I tend to not watch drama unless there is a lot of comedy with it. I don’t hang around or listen to negative persons or philosophies.
    Some might say I lead a sheltered life and they would be right, but let me ask this: If there is a bully terrorizing the neighborhood you live in would you send your child out to ‘play’ in the areas where this bully or his henchmen can add more stress and terror to your beloved child? I wouldn’t. And since moving to a new neighborhood seems to be taking a long time, I only expose this child to the necessary evils and leave the rest to the world to endure. I’m much happier and healthier not dwelling on the evil that I know is there, but choose to smile and be as pleasant as I can be. It’s for me I do this and if any of it rubs off on my family and friends and even acquaintances…. So much the better!!

    Thank you so much for letting me share!!
    And thank you for sharing so much with me on Facebook!!

    Donna Wiggins

    1. Donna — thanks so much for taking the time to comment! It’s important to share your feelings and I know that others – besides me – will benefit from your thoughts. I don’t watch soaps either, but I’ll definitely admit to my Downton habit. I’ll probably watch until they’re all geriatrics and worried about breaking a hip dancing to disco in the 70s. I’d like to address your point about being sheltered. There’s a big (and hairy) difference between CHOOSING to be sheltered and being just plain ignorant. You are definitely not the latter. I applaud the fact that you’re making choices to keep yourself safe and sane and wearing your Team Captain hat proudly. Again, thanks for sharing!

  2. Fabulous articles Sue. Very creative! I love your educational yet entertaining approach to sharing the world of Fibromyalgia with those of us less enlightened! All my best to you for many easy, pain-free days ahead!

  3. This was a lovely conclusion to your first post. I always feel so bad for Edith, and for my fellow-fibro sufferers. After all, we don’t “look” sick.

    As to season 4 of Downton, well my oldest son and I have a game we play while waiting for his school bus every morning: Things That Won’t Happen in the Next Season of Downton Abbey. ;o)

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