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Single Middle-Aged Women Are Makin’ Stuff Up! June 5, 2013

Posted by Onely in As If!, Look What Google Barfed Up.
Tags: , , , , , ,

421px-Roman_-_Head_of_a_Woman_-_Walters_23143_-_BackI know I promised in my previous post to follow it up with The True Story of the World’s Bitterest Single Woman, but this news piece preempted it. Sorry. Next time.

Copious Readers, intermittently you may have heard me refer to the fact that I have a chronic illness. It is the terrible (if I may be so melodramatic) and controversial Lyme disease. I have been told numerous times that my pain is in my head. Which is why I was so upset about about this news article that our Copious Reader Beth O’Donnell flagged for me and Lisa. Have you ever been accused of making up symptoms, either on purpose or subconsciously?

This Science Blog post cites–practically sings about–one study in a series of studies by the University of Gothenburg. It followed 1,500 women since the late 1960’s. According to the article, the study “showed” that when middle-aged women are under stress, they manufacture pain in their heads (somatization). And single women apparently somaticized more, because they had the highest degrees of stress (they tied with smokers).

Problem: There was no word on how the study defined stress or determined that singles (and smokers) had more of it.

Problem: The study seems, according to the article, to have based itself on a notion that the researchers already had: that the women were somaticizing already, prior to being studied. The article describes the study thus:

 [It] focuses primarily on stress linked to psychosomatic symptoms.

Um. How did the researchers originally determine which symptoms (if any) were psychosomatic? Via some kind of Vulcan mind-meld? I hope so, because the researchers apparently used their belief that they could determine somatization as a baseline for their study of the effects of stress on somatization.

May Be Not As Problematic As It Appears: We at Onely hate what this article is saying both about sick women and sick single women, but we must acknowledge that all our information comes from the article itself. As you know if you read Dr. Bella DePaulo’s blog, many studies are flawed and don’t show what they claim to show. Even more often, the media misrepresents the results of a perfectly well-designed and valid study–which I think is what happened at Science Blog. So Because we have not read the original study ourselves, the only thing we can get foul-mouthed about is the writing in the actual article itself.

This (luckily anonymous) Science Blog author is a shitty science writer. He uses the word “showed”. I consider this word on a par with “proves”. And as any halfway-educated sciencey type person knows, you can never “prove” anything. You can only disprove. Studies can only “indicate that. . .” or “reveal that possibly. . .” or “possibly show. . .”

I have two Masters’ degrees in English/Writing, plus a Bachelor’s in Health Science. You can’t imagine how excited I am to have the opportunity to be a word snob across my educational spectrum! Even if the overall context is offensive as fuck:

Among those women who reported stress, 40 percent had psychosomatic symptoms in the form of aches and pain in their muscles and joints 28 percent suffered from headaches or migraines, and the same proportion reported gastrointestinal complaints.

I have had significant pain or discomfort in my muscles, joints, and nerves, plus weird gastrointestinal issues (which I shall withhold here; you’re welcome). I always assumed these very physical-feeling troubles were from the Lyme. If I had only I had known they were psychosomatic! Think how much money and time I could have saved on antibiotics and doctors!

I’m not crazy, but I will be because they–the mostly male medical establishment–are MAKING me crazy. Nice work, guys!


Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons


1. planetwaves09 - June 6, 2013

The place to dig in is METHODOLOGY section of the original study every study has one. If you get me the original I work with someone who will gladly tell you what was wrong with it, who knows what she’s talking about.


From: “Onely: Single and Happy” Reply-To: “Onely: Single and Happy” Date: Thu, 6 Jun 2013 03:51:22 +0000 To: Eric Francis Subject: [New post] 4091

WordPress.com Onely posted: ” Copious Readers, intermittently you may have heard me refer to the fact that I have a chronic illness. It is the terrible (if I may be so melodramatic) and controversial Lyme disease. I have been told numerous times that my pain is in my head. Which is w”

sneezypb - June 7, 2013

CC included a link to the Science Blog post. There was not a link to the actual study there.

I looked on Google Scholar for articles in 2013 referencing “Population Study of Women in Gothenburg” from 2013. This seems likely the study in question: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3640604/

2. tehomet - June 6, 2013

*narrows eyes suspiciously* I wouldn’t trust that study as far as I could skateboard on it.

3. Beth_odonnell - June 6, 2013

I have hypothyroidism and am peri-menopausal. I tried to “positive think” my way through the mood swings and insanity. I’m lucky I didn’t end up in jail. Finally got doctors to listen.

4. silvergirl3 - June 6, 2013

The whole psychosomatic thing really irritates me because no one can tell you what you are or are not feeling and if you are feeling pain, what difference does it make if there is an obvious physical cause or not. If it’s the pain part of your brain malfunctioning and telling you there’s pain when there’s no reason, isn’t that enough of a physical problem? This article is condescending and it directs its condescension towards women, especially single women. I’d say this article is a psychosocial statement about the way we still view “spinsters” and the false idea that their lives are so empty they must invent illnesses to get attention. God.

5. RachelAB - June 6, 2013

Ooph. This is really disconcerting since this study (assuming for a moment it actually “showed” what the science writer claimed it did) follows on the heels of a huge controversy around the DSM-5 that attempted (not sure if they were successful) to enshrine similar prejudice toward psychosomatic concerns.

Also, as someone who gets really tight shoulders when she’s stressed out, I am bugged by the dismissal of symptoms that are stress-related. I don’t have a degree in English/Writing, so maybe I am seeing this wrong but doesn’t the word “psychosomatic” suggest that these are physical (somatic) symptoms that are the result of psychological things? So, instead of telling these women it’s “just stress” how about doing something about this thing that manifests in our bodies?!? Oh, wait. That would require that men would start doing some housework or (“worse”) we’d need to rethink how society works…

RachelAB - June 6, 2013

Hmm. This is actually also what the article suggests: “The next stage will involve the researchers evaluating which methods can be used within healthcare, particularly within primary care, in order to help the individual to deal with stress-triggered complaints and illnesses, and to study how the individual and society can reduce the risk of exposure to stress at work.” This does not sound like the researchers are dismissing these symptoms as “in your head”… Am I missing something?

6. Sue Korlan - June 10, 2013

I had a friend whose male doctor told her her migraines were psychosomatic due to stress.

Luckily another friend knew of a good woman doctor, who changed the diagnosis from psychosomatic due to stress to physical due to spinal pressure on the nerves at the base of the skull. Her spine was causing the problems, and she would have been consigned to persistent pain if she had been helped to “deal with stress-triggered complaints and illnesses” instead of being helped to deal with the true cause.

Psychsomatic illness should only be used when ALL other possibilities have been proven not to be causing the problem.

RachelAB - June 10, 2013

Ugh. Good point! Slapping on a psychosomatic diagnosis instead of investigating further is unacceptable!

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