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Pretending to Feel Fine

“Pretending to be happy when you’re in pain is just an example of how strong you are as a person.” From time to time, this statement shows up on Facebook, usually with a pretty picture in the background.

It summarizes my approach to migraine for the first 20 years they were chronic. I didn’t want anyone to pity me, think I was weak or to question the severity of my illness. I didn’t want migraine to dictate what I could and couldn’t do. I didn’t want migraine to win.

It seemed to work. I did well in school and at work, I made new friends. My friends, co-workers, bosses and even family didn’t pity me when I increasingly canceled plans, didn’t follow through on promises, or didn’t return phone calls. They merely thought I was flaky, unreliable, self-centered and uncaring. No one understood my behavior as a consequence of debilitating illness. How could they when they didn’t know how sick I was?

Pretending wasn’t preserving my relationships or the image I wanted to project, nor was it preserving my mental health. Instead, it left me feeling completely alone and misunderstood by even the people who love me most. Eventually, I saw that sugarcoating my life was more harmful than it was helpful.

Telling the truth about how I felt took far more strength than it ever took to pretend I was OK. My illness felt like a personal failing and I was deeply ashamed of it. Revealing that to others required making myself massively vulnerable, which is never a comfortable place to be.

But I was rewarded for this courage. No one pitied me. They were awed by how I could survive such physical and emotional turmoil. No one called me weak. They were impressed by the strength it took for me to face each new day. Telling the truth didn’t let migraine win, it helped me understand that my life was my own, even if it includes debilitating chronic migraine.

Hiding my illness saved me some emotional strife, but it ultimately brought more anguish than it protected me from. I’ve discovered that my strength is not in pretending I’m happy when I’m not, it’s in acknowledging the ugly truth and continuing to try to make the best life possible in the face of it.

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


  • Marsha
    6 years ago

    So well put. What a lovely post.

  • Nola
    6 years ago

    My students have come to understand when I’m not quitwe “all there” which is fortunate. I’m seriously considering looking into disability, I’ve been on fMLA for a couple of years….it’s certainly getting worse

  • Diana-Lee
    6 years ago

    We give up so much when we pretend beyond whatever extent is comfortable as a way of avoiding discussing our situations with people who don’t need or want to know.

    I so wholeheartedly agree that it takes real strength AND courage to be in tune with whatever is at any given moment, positive or negative.

  • Leslie
    6 years ago

    Even though my husband says he can tell exactly how I’m feeling, I try very hard to hide just how much pain I’m in. I’ve always been the “strong” one in my family and since these migraines have started I feel like the ‘weak’ one. I can’t let that show to the outside. My husband and daughter see this side and are very supportive, and so is my best friend but those are the only ones that see this side.

    From everyone else I get the ‘pity look’ when they find out I’m having a migraine day or the ‘oh I’m glad to see you out today’ when they see me out. (like I live in a cave and never come out or something) So instead of putting myself in those situations I just hide my pain from the rest of the world.

    This may be selfish of me but it’s just less depressing and easier for me. I wish it could be different and everyone I knew wouldn’t either pity me or treat me like I couldn’t possibly be in that much pain!

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