Faking It: Another take.

Why I Quit Faking It

With friends, at work, at the doctor’s office, in casual interactions in public… every situation Katie mentioned in Faking It is a situation in which I have faked it. I was so adept at faking it that I didn’t even know I was doing it. This is partly because it was all I knew how to do. I had chronic migraine for 14 years before it was diagnosed. It started as a constant headache with pain that was severe occasionally, but not regularly. All I knew was that my head hurt all the time and my doctors, school nurses, parents, teachers, and peers didn’t think a headache was a big deal. I learned quickly to suck it up and pretend like everything was OK.

Faking it served me well for a long time. I was active in theater and journalism in high school. I got good grades in college, ran student organizations, worked, and volunteered. I got my master’s degree and a job. All this time, I popped Advil like crazy and rarely said a word about how I felt. I didn’t want to sound like a complainer and didn’t want people to think I was looking for pity or attention.

Those concerns—that people would think I was complaining or seeking attention—persisted even after the migraine attacks became so severe I could hardly function. I also worried that people would think I was weak for not being able to overcome my symptoms. After all, people had told me my entire life that headaches were no big deal. So I put on masks whenever I interacted with someone else. I faked it without making a conscious decision to do so.

My husband was the first person to point out the masks I wore. On the way home from a party, he mentioned that my personality and demeanor changed as soon as we got in the car. He said this happened every time we left a social gathering. I saw immediately what he meant. Not long after that, he told me it was OK to moan in pain even when he was in the room. This startled me. I didn’t even realize I ever moaned in pain or that I was hiding it from him. He said that he could hear me moaning when I thought he was out of earshot. I thought I was totally myself with my husband, but it turns out I was putting on a happy (or at least happier) face for him, too.

After I had to quit working because of migraine, I talked with a childhood friend for the first time in about 10 years. He said he’d always admired that I marched to the beat of my own drum. That person he described seemed lost to me. I was so afraid of people seeing that I was sick and thinking I was complaining, weak, or malingering, that I became obsessed with how I presented myself. In my perpetual attempt to hide my illness, I was constantly pretending to be someone I wasn’t. The fiercely authentic person my old friend remembered seemed to no longer exist.

I’d like to say that I chose to take off my masks, that I made a conscious decision to change my behavior. What really happened is that I got too sick to pretend I was OK when I wasn’t. My husband and I were visiting Seattle for Thanksgiving and our hosts held a party so all our friends there could visit with us. I spent the party in bed. Everyone knew I was very sick and they wanted to see me. My husband knew I needed all the support I could get, so he stopped pushing people away for me. Friend by friend, each person came into the bedroom and talked quietly with me. Some held my hand, some told me they loved me. Everyone made it clear they knew I was terribly ill and told me they would do everything they could to help me get better. A couple weeks later, my husband sent an email to pretty much everyone we knew, telling them I was very sick and that I needed love. We were thousands of miles away from almost all of our loved ones, but some came to visit and help out, others sent cards or flowers or cookbooks. Someone who had a newborn was unable to come, but offered to pay for a plane ticket for another visitor.

Things changed after that. I stopped feeling so alone. I stopped feeling like migraine had turned me into a person I didn’t recognize. I began to remember who I was underneath migraine and see that migraine had an outsized role in my life, but that it wasn’t all there is to me. I stopped leaving social interactions thinking, “I can’t believe I said that,” and cringing at what I’d done or said that didn’t feel true to myself. When my cognitive dysfunction reared up around other people, I could tell them what was happening, rather than assuming they thought I was dumb. When I canceled plans, I didn’t have to make up excuses that made me sound flighty or selfish.

I do not fault anyone who fakes it. As Katie said, we’re often just trying to make it through the day. But for me, faking it made me someone I’m not. That didn’t mean I was a bad person, which Katie wondered about herself, but that I wasn’t true to myself. I thought migraine had stolen my identity. It had in some ways, but in other, larger ways, I was giving my identity away by faking it. I faked it to pretend like migraine had less of a hold on my life than it really did. Ironically, faking it gave migraine even more power, letting it take charge of my core sense of self as well as my body.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (14)
  • wendy
    2 years ago

    Thank you – hopefully this will help others, and while I don’t like misery or want other to feel it…I found myself even doing that when I was asked by a nurse or doctor saying the customary “good” or “fine” until teaching myself to speak up or they can’t help me. (And yes, I was accused of drug seeking behavior for complaining about an ankle injury getting worse, but when my demanded MRI showed I was right and the doctor was not – the doc even told me he “thought I was faking it,” I got a copy of my test results and got a new, much better doctor.) Part of the faking it is survival, as I fear possible repercussions at work if they knew how much medication I took, and how often (less than my prescription limit on my pain med, but still often). Also, I had a Mom who didn’t like even taking a vitamin, and took as little medication as she could through her death from cancer. Also, while pain most of the time with chronic migraine is like any day that “ends with a y” in my mind, my “normal”, I forget it’s not normal.

  • DonnaFA moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Wendy! Thanks for sharing your story and for being part of this wonderful community. We’re glad you’re here! -All Best, Donna (Migraine.com team)

  • Moom
    4 years ago

    WOW. So amazing that you have put into words what I have experienced since the age of 12 – I am now 65.
    Thank you!

  • aellis
    4 years ago

    “I didn’t want to sound like a complainer and didn’t want people to think I was looking for pity or attention.”

    Oh wow.
    That’s me most of the time with people who don’t really want to understand.

    I have become more honest about them as I have gotten older – it only took 30 years – but better late than never.

    Thanks for this article and for sharing.
    – amy

  • Ljsmum
    4 years ago

    Hi, I live in the U.K.and I have never found a website like this. Every contribution I read rings so true for me. My life feels like a constant battle to ‘explain myself’. My husband, thank goodness , is the only one who ‘gets it’. I feel I’m being judged by people- doctors for taking too many tablets( when actually I constantly strive to keep the triptans to a minimum), friends for cancelling events or for not joining in the social eating and drinking that is expected ( I find myself having a small glass of wine , just to please, in the full knowledge that My head will be throbbing before I’ve even finished it. How silly. ) All the writers’ contributions are really helpful and make me feel less alone but Kerrie’s Faking entry has made me realise that, yes, I do that too. I was a nurse and never took a day off sick- no one knew I was ill most days because I covered it up , until I finally took retirement because I couldn’t do it any more. I’m very proud of that achievement though. I don’t want my life to be wasted so I do things for myself and my husband because I can’t commit to anything useful in life.( Too weak willed to fake it any more! ) I’d love to be a volunteer but that means commitment , and the likelihood of letting people down. I like to set challenges to maintain some self esteem. These are just for my husband and me so that cancelling has less impact. People will no doubt say “well you can’t be so ill” when I tell them I hiked the Grand Canyon last year. I don’t tell them how dreadful I felt and how many triptans I needed to get me through. I did a bit of faking there but I can’t tell you how proud of that achievement I am. I know this is all a bit self indulgent but it feels good to get it “off my chest”. I suppose what I’m saying is that I do fake but I do it selectively. At least I’m more aware that I’m doing it now. I sincerely thank all the contributors to this website. It’s turning out to be quite a lifeline to me. I wish all your members the very best. Thank you so very much.

  • MargoW
    4 years ago

    I too try to “fake” it and get through events as if nothing is wrong. It works with those that don’t know me very well, but doesn’t fool anyone else. My friends are sympathetic and want to help, but after 34 years, I’ve noticed the invitations have become fewer and fewer. My family knows what I go through almost daily and yet, except for my kids, they are the worst. They’re done with me canceling or declining because I can’t stop vomiting or I’m so weak from being awake 2 or 3 days straight with a pounding headache and not able to keep anything down. It’s getting better, but explaining chronic migraines to someone who’s never had a migraine and getting them to understand what I go through 20-25 days a month is nearly a hopeless task. My closest family think I’m a junkie addicted to painkillers when that couldn’t be further from the truth. I hate that drugs feeling and it does nothing more than dull the pain to a temporary manageable level for an hour or two, leaving you feeling even worse after. I can’t spend my life in the ER – I have two kids I’m responsibilities for and they don’t drive. I build up a tolerance to my meds so fast that I’m constantly having to change them or exceed the max dosage… How are we supposed to function in a world where we are forced to fake it, hide when the pain is really awful, try to work through it, raise kids (did I mention I’m a single mother) all the while lacking family support because I’m “faking” the migraines?

  • seeclear64
    4 years ago

    I am so glad I found this site. I have been dealing with daily headaches for over 30 years. I thought I was the only one who tried so hard to hide my pain. All though I am sad to hear you all have these horrible headaches I am happy to know I am not alone. Sometimes I feel like I am going to lose my mind. Some people know I have headaches but I don’t think any of them know how bad they are and that they are constant.

    The “Bad ones” have been coming more and more often. I finally decided to try one more doctor. I have an appointment on the 27th. I am trying not to get my hopes to high. Maybe this new doc can help or by reading some of your posts I will find the answers to finally be able to find some kind of relief.

    I would love to have at least one day….just one little day without pain.

  • MargoW
    4 years ago

    Best wishes to you. I hope the new doctor can help you out. It’s sad that we’re looking for one day without pain instead of one day of happiness… But I guess for us, maybe it’s the same thing.

  • mermadelove
    4 years ago

    For me faking it is about not wanting to seem weak, too. I’m a nurse and work in a doctor’s office. There are plenty of people in the office that get migraines, but many of them are how I was when I was in my 20’s: treating with over the counter meds and bouncing back after a few hours. I feel like because that’s not me, I might end up looking like I’m making a big deal out of nothing. Truth is if I don’t take the two different preventive s I take, I have 3 weeks of migraine every month, with one “normal” week. I make up for the negative impact of faking it by being extra supportive to my migraine patients. 🙁

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    4 years ago

    Beautiful.

  • Sandy
    4 years ago

    Yes, I faked feeling ok until like Robert said the meds no longer worked and I could no longer function. Faking it caused me more health problems and have to stop working. I am working to help my husband understand that you can’t just take meds and “get back to work”. Great article Kerrie.

  • RobertCan
    4 years ago

    I know some don’t believe that you can actually fake it while in the throws of a migraine. The reality for some of us is that we can treat our migraines and reduce pain levels to a point where we’re still fighting pain, but it becomes somewhat manageable. Imitrex used to reduce my pain to perhaps a 3 or 4 on the pain scale – enough to provide some level of function. Enough to allow us to pretend we’re not in pain. Just enough to put on the mask.

    “Faking it” becomes part of living a life with chronic migraines. I used to be really adept at faking it, but no more. I no longer have the energy required to pretend I can function when I clearly cannot. I used to fake it so that I could participate in life with my friends and family but so many times I would lose the “faking it” mask and they all would feel bad that I was in so much pain. Then I felt bad that my pain brought a dark cloud over the moment. That I had somehow failed in faking it.

    I made a choice to stop faking it, more out of love for my friends and family and for myself. It takes so much out of me to pretend and I think the added stress of pretending ends up prolonging the pain. We must live our lives genuinely and with integrity. For me, that means no more faking it. It means staying home and fighting my pain privately and honestly. The dark cloud of pain still exists, but it no longer hovers over those social moments that I used to attend. While I know I am missed, I also know friends and family are able to enjoy life’s moments more because I am not with them, pretending all is well when it clearly is not.

    Thanks for a great article, Kerrie!

    Wishing you all a pain-free day – robert

  • Lynn Marie
    4 years ago

    I tried to hide my migraines for several years. My mother always had migraines and I can remember her telling us as children to be quiet because she had a headache. I swore I would never inflict my pain on everyone around me.

    When I was in my 40’s I had a very stressful job and was having migraines almost every weekend. I tried to hide them and wouldn’t tell anyone. It took my husband a long time to figure it out, but he learned that when I got real quiet I wasn’t okay. On the other hand, my teenage daughter and foster daughter always knew instantly when I had a migraine.

    Now I admit when I’m migrainey, but I still struggle with asking people to make accommodations for me. I tend to withdraw instead of admitting that I can’t tolerate being around lights. Flourescent lights are a huge problem for me, and I hate to ask people to turn their lights off.

    Lynn

  • RobertCan
    4 years ago

    Hi Lynn, I can totally relate to your experience. We try so hard not to be a burden on our loved ones but in the end, we’re better off just admitting to our pain. I too find it difficult to request that others remove triggers such as lights, smoking, etc. It feels like I’m shining a light on my weaknesses in handling something that most have no issue with. We often suffer in silence out of fear of being perceived as weak. At least thats how it feels from my male perspective 🙂

    Wishing you a pain-free day – robert

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