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Chronic illness – a disruption in life: identity-transformation among women with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia

Authors


Pia Asbring, Centre for Development of  Health Services, Box 4402, 102 68, Stockholm, Sweden. E-mail: pia.asbring@smd.sll.se

Abstract

Chronic illness – a disruption in life: identity-transformation among women with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia

Background. People with chronic illnesses often suffer from identity-loss. Empirical research concerning patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or fibromyalgia has not, however, adequately addressed the consequences of these illnesses for identity.

Aim. The aim of this article is to describe how women with CFS and fibromyalgia create new concepts of identity after the onset of illness, and how they come to terms with their newly arisen identities. I aim to illuminate the biographical work done by these individuals, which includes a re-evaluation of their former identity and life. This process is illustrated by the following themes: An earlier identity partly lost and Coming to terms with a new identity.

Method. The study is based on interviews with 25 women in Sweden, 12 with the diagnosis of CFS and 13 diagnosed with fibromyalgia. A grounded theory orientated approach was used when collecting and analysing the data.

Findings. The main findings are that: (1) the illnesses can involve a radical disruption in the women’s biography that has profound consequences for their identity, particularly in relation to work and social life, (2) biographical disruptions are partial rather than total, calling for different degrees of identity transformation, (3)␣many of the women also experience illness gains in relation to the new identity.

Conclusions. Thus, the biographical disruption and illness experience comprised both losses and illness gains that had consequences for identity.

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