A season six episode of the NBC comedy Brooklyn Nine Nine (I’m binge watching on Hulu) featured a scene that talked about the social construct of (FOMO) or “fear of missing out.” This was the first time I’ve really seen the term used in pop culture and it really got me thinking about fibromyalgia and missing out.
Oxford dictionary defines FOMO as:
a feeling of intense worry that an interesting or exciting event is happening somewhere else
The fear of missing out refers to the feeling or perception that others are having more fun, living better lives, or experiencing better things than you are. It involves a deep sense of envy and affects self-esteem. It is often exacerbated by social media sites like Instagram and Facebook where everyone is “stunting” and showing only the best most curated aspects of their lives and travels. All of this missing action can be anxiety inducing for everyone but especially those of us living with a chronic illness that already have internalized guilt and shame for not being as active as we once were.
Fibromyalgia and Missing Out
It is well known that living with fibromyaglia means missing out on a lot of life. It is this perpetual missing out that makes managing the illness so challenging. If one is not missing out in order to rest up so as to not miss out on a commitment coming up later; you are missing out because of a fibro flare or your body crashing because you over did it earlier in the day or in general. All of this coupled with a society and culture that tells us to do more and rest less or institutions that do not truly value vacation, sick time, or mental health wellness. We are all bombarded everyday in media and by our peers to push through, do more, and say yes; usually at the expense of mental and physical health. Most people cannot keep up. For those of us living with fibromyalgia and related conditions trying to keep up can be a matter of life and death.
Years ago in my fibromyalgia journey, I went through periods of experiencing intense feelings of guilt, anger and shame for not being able to do the things I wanted and keep up with social and career commitments. The constant push and pull of my body eventually became too much and led me to a nine-month long period of being bed bound from September 2012 – March 2013. I had to reshape my outlook and perspective in order to climb out of a dark psychological and painful physical place.
How I learned to minimize guilt from FOMO (and still learning)
- Focusing on what I can do as opposed to what I cannot
- I started blogging and writing poetry
- I made real connections via online support groups where I could vent my frustrations but also took time to value the real life connections when I was able to make them.
Very Well Mind echos and expounds upon many of the strategies that have worked for me over the years:
- Change your focus. Rather than focusing on what you lack, try noticing what you have. This is easier said than done on social media, where we may be bombarded with images of things we do not have, but it can be done. Add more positive people to your feed; hide people who tend to brag too much or who are not supportive of you. You can change your feed to show you less of what triggers your FOMO and more of what makes you feel good about yourself. Work on identifying what may be sapping your joy online. Work to minimize these as you add more to your feed (and life) that makes you happy.
- Keep a journal. It is common to post on social media to keep a record of the fun things you do. However, you may find yourself noticing a little too much whether people are validating your experiences online. If this is the case, you may want to take some of your photos and memories offline and keep a personal journal of your best memories, either online or on paper. This can help you to shift your focus from public approval to private appreciation of the things that make your life great. This shift can sometimes help you to get out of the cycle of social media and FOMO.
- Seek out real connections. You may find yourself seeking greater connection when you are feeling depressed or anxious, and this is healthy. Feelings of loneliness or exclusion are actually our brain’s way of telling us that we need to seek out greater connections with others and increase our sense of belonging. Unfortunately, social media engagement is not always the way to accomplish this—you might be running from one bad situation right into an even worse one.
Living with fibromyalgia is journey not a destination
Of course, none of this is easy to do. As social media takes over more of our lives it can be easy to get sucked into the vortex of comparing ourselves to others. All the rest and care that is involved with living with fibromyalgia can be incredibly isolating. Trying to compare yourself to others makes is a recipe for disaster. Each of us manages the illness differently. Some are able to maintain a full-time job despite living with fibromyalgia; many others are not. What is important to keep in mind is that our individual talents and experiences are valuable and when we focus on our own abilities and less on what we cannot do and more on what we are doing, the fear and guilt of missing out lessens.
Living with fibromyalgia is journey not a destination and as long as we have to endure the challenges that this chronic illness brings into our lives there will always something that we are missing. Accepting this reality is not an admission of defeat but an act of strength and self-preservation.