Being a Master of Disguise Has a Price

One of the toughest aspects of stigma is facing the accusation that you are faking symptoms to get attention or as an excuse to avoid responsibility. Trying to explain to someone that we actually fake being well can backfire.

“Well if you could fake it before, why can’t you do it all the time?”
“You seem to fake it only when it’s convenient for you.”

The answer is complicated, often requiring more time to explain than our accusers are willing to wait. I often fantasize about what I would say, should my skeptics actually take the time to listen…

“Sometimes I do try to hide my symptoms or push through them to accomplish a task. Because it takes a great deal of energy to pull this off, I can’t do it all the time. I really wish I could. Every time I fake it, I pay a terrible price. Most often, the symptoms are magnified when I finally relax and stop trying to hide them from the world. Faking it magnifies my suffering.”

The skeptic might counter, “If it hurts you so much, why do you do it?”

“Well, there are actually several reasons…

I fake it to avoid unwanted attention.
Contrary to what people might think, I don’t like it when people hover, ask questions, offer help when I am dealing with an attack. I’m happy to answer questions when I am symptom-free, but not in the middle of an attack. That’s when I need to focus on taking care of me.

I fake it to spare others the discomfort of watching me in pain.
It’s hard when someone you care about is hurting and you can’t do anything to help. I want to spare you that helpless feeling when I can.

I fake it to protect others from worry.
No matter how much I attempt to reassure people that I will be okay, I can’t stop them from worrying. When I can protect others from knowing that I am hurting, I will.

I fake it to accomplish a high-priority task.
There are occasions when an urgent matter must be addressed, migraine attack or not. In this situation, I will often quietly treat the attack without saying a word to anyone and keep on working to get the job done.

I fake it to keep a promise.
I’ve had to break more promises than I can remember because of migraine attacks. I hate that. So if I can manage to power through to keep a promise, I will do it.

I fake it to meet a deadline.
Some deadlines are so arbitrary, that there really is no choice but to meet it. Like it or not some deadlines are non-negotiable. Failing to meet them would result in consequences worse that suffering through a migraine attack.

I fake it to keep my job.
When I’ve used up the last of my vacation and sick days, but the attacks just keep coming, I may force myself to show up in order to save my job. I’m not okay and my performance will suffer. It’s not ideal, but what choice do I have?

I fake it to preserve a relationship.
Whether it’s my best friend’s wedding, baby shower, or other once-in-a-lifetime event, I might choose to push through and fake it for the sake of someone I love.

When all of these are combined, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for me to be authentic. I am sick. I do have an incurable disease. Many times, despite my best efforts, good intentions, and sheer will-power, my illness will take center stage. The symptoms will become too strong and too visible to hide. I’ve fought them back for too long. I’m worn out and my disease has gotten the better of me. That’s usually when you accuse me of “faking it” to get attention or avoid responsibility. Thanks a lot.”

What do you dream of saying to those who accuse you of faking symptoms?

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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.

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