Should Morgan Freeman Speak Out About Fibromyalgia?

A fascinating and insightful article about Morgan Freeman (actor) was published in Esquire. Tom Chiarella, the author, recounts the day he spent with Freeman at his home in Mississippi in this article. Chiarella noticed that he was in pain, while they were moving around at Freeman’s property. Freeman exposes the cause of his pain in the following excerpt from the article.

After sometime, he grabs his left shoulder and winces. It hurts every single time when he walks, when he sits, when he stands up from his couch, and when he missteps in a damp meadow. More than hurts. Although he never mentions it, but it seems a kind of pain. At times, he cannot be able to stop showing it, years ago he fallout from a car accident, in which, the car he was driving flipped and rolled, leaving Freeman and a friend to be pulled from the car using the Jaws of Life. He was left with a useless left hand, despite of a surgery to repair nerve damage. It is stiffly gripped by a compression glove most of the time to ensure that blood doesn’t pool there. It is a clamp, his pain, an icy shot up a relatively useless limb. He doesn’t wants to show it, but sometimes he cannot help but lose himself to a world-ending grimace. It’s such a large gesture, so outside the general demeanor of the man, that it feels as if he’s acting.

To Speak Out or Not to Speak Out – That Is the Question

This means Morgan Freeman can’t enjoy his hobby that he took up when he was 65, and that was to pilot jets. There was a time when he used to sail himself to the Caribbean and at a time stays hide for two, three weeks. For him, it was a pure isolation. He says, “It was the best way for me to find quiet, how I found time to read.” But unfortunately, he can’t sail as well. How can he sail by trusting himself on one arm? He also can’t drive, the way he used to, not a stick anyway— which is to say rash, wide open, dedicated to what the car can do. Once he ride horses every day, but now he can’t ride horses even.

He never says that it’s a loss, if it’s not a loss, what could it be? He never let anyone show about the unfairness of it. “There is no point to regret on these changes. I have to move on to other things, to other conceptions of myself. Playing golf. And i still work. And I can be pretty happy just walking the land.”

Hey Wait. How can he play golf with one useless hand? When you can’t lift one of your arm then how can you swing a club?

He says, “I play one-handed, I swing with my right arm.”

How do you manage that?

He says, “See for yourself at 3:00 today”.

Freeman’s revelation that through the FM community, he has fibromyalgia spread like wildfire. But finally, here was an A-list celebrity acknowledging he had been diagnosed with FM. No one have had the super-star power of Morgan Freeman, but yes it was so grateful that other celebrities have had the courage to speak up about fibromyalgia.

FM patients and advocates started calling on Freeman to speak out on behalf of other fibromyalgia sufferers, almost immediately. There was also a rumor that an FM organization wanted him to be their spokesperson. Few people have the issue on the wisdom of Freeman being an FM spokesman, while most people in FM community were strongly in the favor of that idea.

From what I have read, people who don’t want Freeman to represent the FM community seem to have three concerns:

  1. He only mentioned pain in his left shoulder and arm, so does he really have fibromyalgia?
  2. He would present a wrong picture of how debilitating FM can be, because he is still very active.
  3. He would not be representative of the majority of patients as a man, since most people with FM are women.

Does he really have fibromyalgia? – I have to admit the first time I read the article I, too, wondered whether he had been diagnosed correctly.  But when I reread it, I noticed that he said, “Up and down the arm. That’s where it gets so bad. Excruciating.”  His statement, “That’s where it gets so bad” sounds like he probably has other pain but it’s the pain in his arm that is the worst.  For many years, I could have made a similar statement about my left hip.  Although I had body-wide pain almost all the time, it was the pain in my hip that was usually the worst.

We also have to remember that the purpose of this interview was not to discuss Freeman’s fibromyalgia.  The author simply noticed Freeman grimacing several times and asked him about it.  It’s logical that Freeman would only mention the pain he was experiencing at the time.  Or perhaps he did go into more detail but when composing the article, Chiarella chose to include only what he felt was most important.

So is whether or not Freeman really has fibromyalgia a valid concern? Absolutely.  When we’re talking about someone being a spokesperson for a disease, it’s legitimate to want to be sure they actually have the disease.  We just shouldn’t jump to any conclusions based on one isolated statement.

His activity level doesn’t paint an accurate picture of FM. –  People with FM fall into a wide range of functioning abilities.  Freeman appears to be fairly high-functioning since he continues to work and play golf.  The article did note, however, that he has had to give up several activities that he loved.  On the other hand, some people with FM are completely disabled, unable to handle even basic self-care tasks.  The rest of us fall somewhere in between.  While Freeman’s activity level should not preclude him from representing people with FM, I would hope that part of his message would be to describe just how debilitating FM can be and to explain that different patients have different levels of disability.

As a man, he is not representative of the average FM patient. – Frankly, I think the fact that he is a man with FM is a positive thing.  Whether we like it or not, when it comes to health issues, men are still given more credibility than women.  Studies have shown that health care professionals are more likely to take a man’s symptoms seriously, but attribute a woman’s symptoms to emotional causes.  Although the acceptance of FM has come a long way in recent years, there are still some people, including some medical professionals, who don’t believe it is real.  Therefore, having a well-known and highly respected man like Morgan Freeman speak out about FM might help improve our credibility among the doubters.

It’s a Personal Matter

Given the repeated urgings to step up and be a spokesperson for fibromyalgia, I sometimes wonder if Freeman wishes he had never mentioned it.  He probably never dreamed uttering that one word in the middle of a multi-hour interview would ever garner so much attention.

In our enthusiasm to have a prominent celebrity like Morgan Freeman speak out on our behalf, I think we need to keep in mind how doing so could impact his life.  Years ago celebrities did everything in their power to keep any health problems secret because revealing an illness could ruin their careers.  Although Hollywood seems to be a little more accepting these days, I suspect there is still some hesitation about casting an actor who has a known health issue.  And even if his career is not a major concern, Freeman strikes me as the kind of man who prefers not to dwell on his pain and what he can’t do but rather to push ahead and focus on what he can do.

Yes, it would be wonderful if Morgan Freeman would decide to become an advocate for fibromyalgia.  The entire FM community would welcome him with open arms.  His support could do wonders for increasing awareness and raising money for research.  But ultimately it’s a personal decision – each of us has to decide what is best for our lives at any given point in time.  While I hope he’ll choose to use his celebrity to help others with FM, I’ll respect his decision either way.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *