I fake it all the time. We’ve all done it. Does that make me a bad person? Or am I just trying to get through my day like everyone else? People who are closest to me know when I’m faking it, but I can also convince those who aren’t familiar with my body language that everything is fine.
I’m talking about acting like I’m perfectly fine when inside my head is screaming at me. When someone asks, “are you ok?” I fake it probably 75% of the time. I don’t remember the last time I truly felt ok. Sometimes I come up with short answers so I don’t have to explain myself. “I just took some medicine so I should be better soon.” Or, “I’m just a little tired.” When in reality my pain is off the charts and I really need to be in bed.
I distinctly remember years ago, my boss took one look at me and knew I was having a Migraine attack. My skin was gray, I couldn’t speak in complete sentences and I had turned the lights off in my office. When the phone rang, my boss told me to ignore it and go home. But it was a call we had both been waiting for all day so I answered it.
Instantly, my voice changed from incoherent garble to focused and happy when I answered the phone with a smile on my face. I channeled my inner actor to get through the call and received the positive news we were hoping to get. When I hung up the phone, my boss marveled at how quickly I turned on the charm without the client ever realizing I was in so much pain. My boss knew that I was faking it for the client and not faking the true pain I was feeling.
On the flip side, some people fake being sick to get out of obligations. Last year, it was discovered that the popular website Wikihow had an entire article devoted to “How to Fake a Headache.” Geared towards kids trying to get out of school, steps include complaining of pain in your temples, going to bed early, using a hair dryer to make your forehead hot, waking parents up twice in the middle of the night to reinforce the pain, faking a deep sleep when the alarm goes off and using blue eye shadow to create bags under the eyes. Even after a huge online effort in the Migraine community to get this post deleted, it was only modified to acknowledge that “faking illness… contributes to society’s view that the symptoms suffered by people with migraines are not serious, since there is still a great stigma attached to this chronic neurological disorder. For these reasons, think twice before you try to fake any symptom of illness, and consider your alternatives first.” Not cool, Wikihow, not cool. This type of faking it further hurts advocacy efforts for Migraineurs. If you are interested in signing a petition to have this article deleted from Wikihow go here
Those with Migraines don’t fake their pain. We fake being well. We want to have a normal day. We don’t want anyone to make a fuss over us. We don’t want to open up the floor for insensitive comments of well-meaning friends and co-workers. We don’t want to get unfairly labeled as lazy. Faking being well is a coping mechanism.
For me, this carried into the doctor’s office. Pushing through the pain and putting on a happy face is second nature to most of us. It’s an automatic reaction. I didn’t even realize I was faking being well for the doctor until my boyfriend pointed it out to me during a trip to the ER a few years ago. When the doctor came in, I went into “faking it” mode. I answered questions honestly, but didn’t let the doctor truly see how the pain was affecting me. As soon as he walked out, I went back into a fetal position and begged for the light to be turned off.
Why did I do that? Maybe I wanted the doctor to see me as a reasonable, smart patient who was not there only to score drugs. But this approach did not help me in the long run. The treatment plan began with a series of meds I knew would do nothing to break this Migraine cycle. Only after hours of unsuccessful treatments did the doctor understand how bad my pain was as he caught me crying. Because I faked being well, it took longer to get the heavier drugs I needed to find relief. Faking it was an old habit, hard to break.
Eventually I let my guard down with doctors. I knew they needed to see the pain, however ugly it was. They couldn’t be expected to know what’s going on in my brain if they couldn’t see the physical affects. I rehearsed a speech that defined my condition and listed the drugs that had helped in the past. If sitting up in the bed was too hard, the doctor could sit by the bedside and listen to me. I could demand that the lights not be turned on. This was me in all my Migraine glory and it’s not a pretty sight, but that’s the point. Hiding it only prolonged my stay. Faking it for the doctor doesn’t prove effective for anyone.
Have you ever faked it? When do you find it to be useful and when is it detrimental to your treatment?