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Being a Master of Disguise Has a Price

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?

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.


  • Throbbin Noggin
    3 years ago

    Bingo, Tammy… Bingo!

    My mom has suffered w/ migraines for, um, 73 years. Both my wife and I get them (I have one now, which made it REALLY hard to come up with a user name… LOL). Last place I worked, three of the 6 of us on the team suffered from them. Much more prevalent than anyone realizes, I think. Neat thing about where I worked last, we all understood and gave space where/when needed.

  • Douglas
    3 years ago

    Tammy, I had to book mark this post and share it on Pinterest and Google+. Thank you.

  • menopausalmigraineur
    3 years ago

    Tammy, thank you so much! You always express so well what I want to say. LOL Trying to get it through to even MY DOCTORS that my primary disabling condition is CHRONIC DAILY CLUSTER HEADACHES and CHRONIC DAILY MIGRAINES not my fibromyalgia, or my chronic fatigue, or my two auto immune diseases… It’s the central nervous system disease of migraines that have been actually hitting me every day without fail for over 24 years at this point… Yeah, that is always the fun conversation. I think I actually had a headache free day this last week on my new set of treatments, but they are red letter days. So every day I “fake” being well and in a good mood. Because twenty years ago my toddler son asked my husband when I was going into the hospital for a medication detox before they officially had to disable me because they couldn’t get me out of pain enough to hold down any job…he asked if they were going to take the mean out of mommy? It still makes me cry. I had been subjected to escalating migraines since his birth and then clusters since his sister’s.
    But after making the effort to try to be cheerful as often as possible and hide my pain or stay away from people, I got so much flack from people outside my family and doctors and insurance investigators who made the assumption that since I wasn’t moaning and whining all the time that I must be faking.
    Most of them I told where to stick it! If I could have held down a job I sure would have had a much cleaner house and would have enjoyed putting my college degree to work for me instead of being bored out of my fricken mind counting throbbing pain cycles and making costly mistakes in my checkbook. But if I couldn’t balance MY checkbook, I sure couldn’t run multimillion dollar projects with multiple departments and due dates with my head in its current shape. I’ve raised my children for over twenty years now and felt like a failure as I’ve watched both of them succumb to migraines. Now I counsel both to balance their energy better than I did mine so they may avoid the “perfect storm” of health consequences that I had hit me all at once that toppled my activity levels. Faking it is very often times the only way to get through a day.

  • Macbeck
    3 years ago

    I wish I’d had this to help explain to my boss when I turned in my resignation. She knew I was sick, but I hid it so well she had no idea HOW sick I was.

    Very well written!

  • DonnaFA moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi, Macbeck. We’re glad you found us and so glad to hear that you enjoyed the article. We’re always here to share information and support. Thanks for being part of our community. -All Best, Donna ( team)

  • Sara Gudmundson
    3 years ago

    Yep! That’s me 🙂 Well written! I will use it to explain how I work for my friends and family.

  • Tammy Rome author
    3 years ago

    Excellent! That’s why I wrote it, so please, do share.

  • Jane O'Neill
    3 years ago

    I totally can relate. I often fake through a migraine when I have to work. To be honest I just hate even talking about this beast. I just want to be normal in my head like everyone else that has never had a migraine! They have no clue!

  • Tammy Rome author
    3 years ago

    Work is really tough and one of the least sympathetic places for migraine. Just remember – about 12% have migraine, so chances are good that you have colleagues who face it and understand.

  • Jani8
    3 years ago

    Yes, you did nail it! I wish I were so articulate. My fantasy would me being able to tell them, “Up yours (or words to that effect). And then promptly throw up all over their shoes.

  • Tammy Rome author
    3 years ago

    LOL…in the middle of an attack, my words are not so articulate. Colorful, yes. Articulate? Not a chance. 🙂

  • SouthernUtahGal
    3 years ago

    Thank you for writing this! I have been suffering from this horrible condition since I was 8. Of course, it wasn’t diagnosed until decades later. I don’t even like telling people I suffer from them, so many have a hard time relating. It’s wonderful having this resource available, at least we know there are others out there who CAN relate!

  • Tammy Rome author
    3 years ago

    Thank you. It took over 40 years for me to find a good treatment plan, so I understand that long, tiring frustration. Remember, there are over 38 million people in the US who understand exactly what you are going through.

  • Jess
    3 years ago

    I totally agree. You absolutely nailed it. Every. Single. Word. I’m afraid if I said out loud every time I had a migraine, from beginning to end of the symptoms, either no one would believe me or they would tire of it and soon not be around or perceive me as weak, something we are definitely not! Thank you for putting your voice out there for us so eloquently.

  • Tammy Rome author
    3 years ago

    Thanks! Your fear is exactly why I wrote this. It’s everything I ever wanted to say and didn’t. Hopefully now, others can just point their critics to this instead.

  • i1635n
    3 years ago

    YOU ARE AWESOME!! Youve nailed it! The whole thing! Everything you explained is so spot on its not even funny. I wish everyone on earth that never had a migraine &judges or doubts this invisible monster that is a part of our every day would be forced to try&jungle all that we do when just trying to “be normal” deal w/every day tasks and do it all w/the one thing that is responsible for you being capable of ANYTHING & EVERYTHING (your brain)in complete& total agonizing throbbing stabbing paralyzing blinding heart breaking merciless PAIN! Thank you so much for taking the time to express your feelings,because if you are anything like me any energy talking,explaining or dealing with anything migraine related feels almost like taboo. Its like any mention of it out of my mouth or even thought in my head feeds its energy. Idk..just me. Migraines have been in my life longer than they havent…25years. Makes me ill just typing it out. Thank you SO much again&God bless,good luck in your future fakes, your so not alone!

  • Tammy Rome author
    3 years ago

    Thank you for your kind words. Several years ago, I decided to stop faking it. I rarely hide my symptoms from anyone – especially my family. May you find at least one person with whom you never have to fake it again.

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