The other day I read an interesting story on Arthritis.net about “faking symptoms”. Truth be told, at first I was a little annoyed that it sounded like someone was talking about exaggerating their symptoms because I feel like I face the stigma of that every day. People that I come into contact with are constantly second guessing what I tell them, not understanding the severity of my disease because of how I look on the outside. The constant annoyance of having an ‘invisible illness’, it’s exhausting. Everyday, even if I’m having a terrible, terrible pain flare, I look completely normal (besides the obvious Prednisone weight gain that is). The only way you could truly see if I was very ill is if I show you the pain on my face, or if I’m limping, or if you caught me during a bout of nausea.
Back to the online article.
So as I started to read this article on ‘faking it’s I realised my initial thoughts on it were wrong. The woman writing the story was indeed talking about something I find myself doing all the time, faking symptoms to make people thing I’m better than I am. I guess it stems from my pride, from not wanting to appear weak, or vulnerable, or small. But the woman was right, I do in fact fake it with family and friends all the time, just not in the way they’d think.
A good example of this is just the day before yesterday, Thanksgiving Day. I woke up that morning around 5am already crying. My pillow was wet with tears, and the second I tried to move I knew why. I was having an excruciating flare. I couldn’t even keep from crying out as I moved from my bed to the bathroom. Every step felt like my feet had been bashed in by a sledge hammer, Kathy Bates of Misery style. My shoulders felt dislocated, my hands crushed into a thousand pieces, my rib cage heavy and pained, as if the very bones were a cage for 50lbs weights that were tossed around as I attempted to move. I worried about how I was going to accomplish helping my sisters cook the big thanksgiving feast.
That’s when the faking it started. I cried while making myself a pot of tea, everything taking longer as it was agony to move at all. Then it occurred to me to make breakfast for my family since we had to get up so early. And sure, it took me quite a while to accomplish it as the pain was brutal, but an hour later Apple Croissants were packaged into Tupperware to take to my dad’s house. The mere act of that alone was agonisingly painful, and I’m not sure why I even put my body through it. The ordeal of trying to open the crescent roll tube was a sobbing matter. So why? Why didn’t I just stay in bed for an extra hour and rest and not aggravate my pained body?
Pride. I didn’t want to be seen as vulnerable or weak or pathetic. I wanted to be seen as strong and capable, someone who can overcome the odds of a severe and debilitating disease, someone who was winning.
Later at my family’s house I continued to push myself despite the pain. Swearing I could do the work even though every step, every movement, was agony. They asked how I was and I’d shrug it off with comments like “I’m fine” or “Don’t worry, I can push through”.
I took a nap in the early afternoon to regain composure for the coming evening celebration. As soon as the door was closed and locked I could be the real me again. Wipe the plastic smile from my face, let the exhaustion and pain show. I lay on the bed and slowly registered every pain, every feeling of brokenness, and continued to do so until the exhaustion took over and I passed out. But not even two hours of rest can expel the pain. Eventually I had to rise again, shower, change, and paint my face with a look that I hoped would convey “Everything is fine”.
It was only much much later, when I was home again and in bed, staring at the ceiling as silent tears slid down the curve of my cheeks, did I wonder why on earth I had put myself through that.
I’m not helping anyone, including myself, when I “fake it”. If anything, I am the cause of people thinking I’m faking it for real all those other times. My pride is damaging my credibility as a person with a severe illness. If people always see me smiling and saying everything is fine, well of course they will be suspicious of any real pain I experience. They won’t understand why I’m fine one minute and in pain the next. Because I’m showing them that it’s painful sometimes and other times it not. But that’s a lie. It’s always pain. I’m always in agony. I always hurt.
If I saw someone walking normally one day, and the very next I saw them limping and asked ‘hey what happened?’ and they told me that in fact both days they were in pain, but they were only showing the limp today, well I’d assume something fishy was going on. And that’s basically what I’ve been doing.
In my pride, I’ve not wanted people to see how truly sick I am. Last night as my mom and I discussed it, I came to the root of my problem. Yes, it does have to do with pride, and not wanting to constantly be seen as ‘sick’, but it’s also something else entirely. Something I hadn’t realized before, but was so painfully obvious.
I don’t want to be seen as the ‘sick person’ not just because it makes me weak, but also because it excludes me. Being labeled as ill automatically puts me into this group where I don’t get included anymore. Don’t fight me on this, because it’s totally true. I’ve received less invitations for group activities like beach days, bbqs, dinner parties etc. I rarely get asked out on dates anymore, which was never a problem in the past. I’m not the friend that people automatically turn to for a fun addition to an activity. And that always used to be me.
Once I realised this phenomena was taking place, I think that’s when my bout of ‘faking it’ really came to life. It was to counteract boredom. If I showed everyone I was better than I was then I would be included again. Sure enough, I was part of the laughs and stories and jokes in the kitchen on Thanksgiving. I’d been invited recently to more group social activities. I’ve even had a date recently. All because I tucked away my illness for no one to see. In a sense I hid the present me to bring back past me for everyone’s enjoyment. Everyone’s enjoyment but my own that is. Because it is exhausting hiding my pain. It’s painful hiding pain. What the hell Christine? What are you doing?
So now that I have come to terms with the stupidity of my actions… I’m stopping them. It’s time to just be me, pain and suffering and all. And if it’s confusing suddenly seeing me in a bad state all the time you can just tell yourself I was like this all along, that I hid it for your comfort but that those days have ended. I only work for myself now.
My exhaustion, my pain, my agony, will show on my face as I live it. As I experience it, so shall everyone experience me. The days of faking it have ended. I am thankful to that woman who wrote the article and brought my silly actions to light. The case of the Fake Christine has ended. Now what you see is what you get. Sorry if that’s depressing or hard to handle, but feel better in knowing it’s far less than what I deal with every minute of every day.
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