Healthy Living

This Is What "Downsizing" Got Right (and Wrong) About Fibromyalgia

This Is What "Downsizing" Got Right (and Wrong) About Fibromyalgia

Photo: Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig in "Downsizing". Source: Apple Trailers.

As is the case with most Hollywood flicks, there is often a gap in what is accurately portrayed and what is not.  Whether it be an account of a true story, or a science fiction thriller, the degree of accuracy always remains a question.  "Downsizing" is just one example of this.

"Downsizing" is a science fiction film that came out in 2017. It stars Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig, and it follows a couple who wants to live in an experimental community, where they have to shrink themselves, in order to escape the stresses of their day-to-day life. While Kristen Wiig's character (Audrey) backs out of the process last minute, Matt Damon's character, Paul, goes through with it, but it comes with some life-altering decisions.

In her article on Mighty,  Crystal Hodges sought to analyze a moment where Paul and his mother were talking about her fibromyalgia pain. She gives an outline of the specific scene when she says, “Safranek was talking with his mother, whom he began caring for when she became ill, and his mother seemed baffled by the whole thing. In frustration, she asked, 'Scientists can shrink people, but they can’t cure my fibromyalgia? I can’t breathe. I’m in pain. Doesn’t that matter?' While helping his mother, Paul reflected, 'A lot of people are in pain, mom, in a lot of different ways.’"

A point that Hodges, who suffers from a diagnosis of fibromyalgia herself, wanted to make was that Paul’s response appeared to be fairly dismissive, as if he was not fully taking into account the pain his mother was feeling.  This can often be a recurring theme for those in the world today that are diagnosed with fibromyalgia.  As many already know about the disease, the symptoms associated with the struggles are often unseen. 

From joint pain to excessive fatigue, a variety of symptoms can exist within a patient, but others may not fully understand what the person goes through every day.  People without fibromyalgia may view those with the condition as lazy or unmotivated.

In addition to a misunderstanding of what fibromyalgia entails, another point that was discussed in terms of how well the movie handled this scene included Paul’s mention of the fact that many people experience pain in a variety of ways.  This idea is rather universal, as a multitude of health conditions can cause pain.  The mother in the movie however, does discuss an interesting point.  In the world today, there are a massive amount of research efforts that go into things such as defense systems or cellular technology, while many individuals struggle with pain each day. 

This idea, as touched on in the movie, as well as Hodge’s article about it, does well in highlighting a very real problem that exists today.  While various studies have taken place over time, much is still in need of more focus in the realm of treating fibromyalgia.

What can be learned from the movie?

There are many lessons to be learned just from the single scene mentioned above.  One of them includes how in which individuals view fibromyalgia.  The condition is one that is very misunderstood, which can be seen from how Paul responds to his mother, as maybe he did not completely harness what the condition can entail.  Adding on to this, much of what the general population understands of fibromyalgia can in fact be improved.  In order to do this, it is necessary that various techniques are utilized in order to best educate the population as a whole.  One approach can simply include a support group.  Doing so is an example of an inside out approach, as those suffering from fibromyalgia can all discuss what they are experiencing themselves. 

Building on this, the support and discussion groups could very well make it a focus to educate those who are not diagnosed with fibromyalgia.  This very well could have been the case in the movie “Downsizing.”  If Paul was more educated on the intricacies of fibromyalgia and how it affects patients, it is possible that he could have responded in a very different way.  This scene can be a lesson for everyone in today’s world, a sort of call to action.  Making an effort to fully understand a disease or other type of health condition can mean the world to the patients that struggle from them. 

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is defined by an experience of widespread pain, commonly felt in patients' joints.  The constant pain affects both sides of the body, and can subsequently cause other adverse effects.  Fibromyalgia currently does not have a finite cure, and is said to affect nearly 10 million people worldwide.  This statistic however, could be even more, as fibromyalgia is prone to misdiagnosis, or can simply go unrecognized by patients altogether who have mild symptoms. 

The most common symptoms associated with fibromyalgia include widespread pain, overtiredness, as well as struggles focusing.  There are also a variety of other pain-filled conditions that coexist with fibromyalgia, of which can include what is known as interstitial cystitis (also referred to as painful bladder syndrome), temporomandibular joint disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, and migraine and other types of headaches.

As alluded to above, fibromyalgia is commonly misdiagnosed, due to the fact that the symptoms are very similar to other chronic conditions that patients can experience.  This being said, doctors strive to utilize different methods for diagnosing the condition in order to best pinpoint what the patient may or may not have.  The most common of these approaches include different types of blood tests, namely a complete blood count, rheumatoid factor, cyclic citrullinated peptide test, thyroid function tests, and erythrocyte sedimentation rate. 

There are currently no specific tests tied to assessing the possibility of fibromyalgia, so these blood tests are doctors' best bet in terms of ruling out any other potential health problems.  Without the series of tests, doctors themselves could very well misdiagnose a patient’s condition, causing a world of difficulties, especially in the realm of pursuing the many possible treatment options.

As symptoms can differ from one patient to another, so can the potential treatment options for fibromyalgia.  Doctors will often recommend a combination of medications and therapy to combat the fibromyalgia symptoms.  Medications can include pain relievers, antidepressants, and anti-seizure drugs.  On the other side of the spectrum, therapy will include both occupational and physical therapy, in addition to counseling. 

In doing so, fibromyalgia patients are better able to cope with their painful symptoms.  Other approaches can include techniques that are easily done while at home. This is said to mean that patients can best treat their diagnosis with regular exercise, healthy dieting, and methods that focus on reducing day to day stress.

The future for fibromyalgia patients

Support is among the best approaches for the well-being of patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia.  This was apparent in the “Downsizing” scene, as the mother in the movie was experiencing pain but felt as if it was not being recognized and appreciated.  In providing support for struggling patients, both positive mental and physical results can come.  These improvements can make a world of a difference when patients must tolerate their pain every day. 

In addition to support, simply recognizing and understanding what fibromyalgia is can be a necessary step in helping patients combat their condition.  The general population can very well use the knowledge they obtain to provide the necessary support that is always welcomed with a difficult, chronic disorder like fibromyalgia.