Faking It

Faking It

Many people with “invisible disabilities” have felt at one point or another that the severity of their condition is called into question. As it is possible to have severe rheumatoid arthritis and not show any outward signs of disease, it can be hard for people unfamiliar with chronic conditions to wrap their heads around the fact that someone can appear to be fine on the outside and simultaneously be experiencing acute medical issues on the inside. When adding the fluctuating nature of RA to the mix, it gets even more complicated. On a good day I can walk a couple of miles, but on a bad day it can hurt to walk to the mailbox. Therefore, someone who saw me being active just a few days earlier may not understand why I’m limping. I know that in this online community many people have expressed feeling like others question whether they’re making more of their symptoms than is necessary, that others think that to some extent they’re “faking it.” The surprising thing is, that I actually do fake it all the time. Yet, I’m not making my symptoms appear more severe than they are. When I fake it, I’m trying to minimize my symptoms to make it appear that I’m doing better than I actually am.

For example, if I am experiencing a lot of pain and fatigue, gearing up for a workday can be difficult. However, more often than not I will dress a little nicer than I would on a “good day.” When I’m in pain my face tends to become pale, so I’ll wear extra makeup to compensate for my pallor and for the circles under my eyes. I try to make my external appearance look as polished as possible to cover up the fact that inside I’m struggling.

Another way that I fake it is by verbally downplaying my symptoms. I typically answer “How are you today?” with the standard “I’m fine” regardless of how I’m actually doing. When I’m not feeling well, I usually don’t have the energy for the conversation about what rheumatoid arthritis is and how it works. In addition, I often worry that people will judge me if they know I have a chronic condition, unconsciously expecting less of my job performance. That could all be in my head, but nonetheless letting people know that I have RA can feel vulnerable. Interestingly, if I’m having a conversation in which it makes sense to bring up my RA, I’m much more likely to do so when I’m feeling well than when I’m in a lot of pain. I think I’m more willing to feel emotionally vulnerable when I’m feeling physically strong versus when I’m hurting.

This may seem ridiculous, but there are even times when I try to cover up a limp around people I don’t trust to be compassionate. Last year I had to invoke my rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act at my workplace, and on days when I am limping I try to take less frequented routes so that not as many people see me limp. On occasion I will even stifle a grimace and put my full weight on a tender joint to minimize the limp in front of certain people. I realize I’m not honoring my body’s needs when I do this, nor am I being honest about my condition. Yet it can just feel too hard to have my weakness on display for all too see, especially when I’m struggling to make it through the day. Just as an injured animal wants to hide away to nurse its wounds in isolation, I too want to hide away.

I know that I’m not behaving as an advocate for rheumatoid arthritis awareness when I try to minimize how badly the disease is affecting me. While I may not be furthering the cause at those moments, I am human, and when I hurt I’m just not in top form. Sometimes the best that I can do is fake my way through a day until I can get to the comfort of my home and give my body the rest that it needs. Ironically, I find that I’m a much better RA advocate on the days when my RA is held at bay.

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

Comments

View Comments (25)
  • Disney1962
    11 months ago

    This is such a true and timely and well written article. I’ll add my 2 cents.
    I was diagnosed in Jan. 2017. Though I’d had symptoms, it was mixed in with PMR and Osteoarthritis that I’d had been diagnosed years earlier by my Rheumatologist. I’ve been faking it, so as not to feel like I being a stick in the mud. Sometimes I JUST CAN’T DO IT! I JUST CAN’T! I feel embarrassed sometimes that I complain, which I’ve never done, having been active, athletic and in great shape up until I was 40. Knee ops (Meniscus).
    Today at 55 goin’ on 56 it’s difficult to explain how once I was dancing til dawn and enjoying every moment and now I’m just happy when I don’t have swelling in my feet and that allows me to walk without a limp. Or wearing a wrist/elbow brace and explaining why, again, or hand compression gloves and on and on. It’s tiresome and exhausting! BUT we march, slug, or hobble along…lol…making the best of it. 🙂
    Wishing everyone a good day today and a BETTER day tomorrow. Soft hugs to all!

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    11 months ago

    Hey Disney1962,

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences! I’m sorry to hear of your recent diagnosis, and congratulate you on making it through the first year post-diagnosis, as that can really be a doozie. Of course, life with RA usually isn’t easy, but coping with it does become the “new normal.”

    I relate so much to your all caps proclamation that sometimes we just can’t do it. It’s a hard thing to accept, but whenever I am able to honor my body I am glad I did (even though my brain is very pesky and often tells me to ignore my body’s signals). Here’s an article about that you may relate to: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/locating-our-lifeboats/. Also, as you mention braces, you may be interested in this article about when RA becomes visible: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/when-the-disability-becomes-visible/.

    I’m so glad you’ve found our site. Please continue to share with us any time you feel inclined, as I think many of us can really relate to your experiences.

    Wishing you all the best,
    Tamara

  • Deena
    3 years ago

    I feel as if you wrote this about me!!!..Thank you for putting my feelings into words. I’ve always been considered a Strong person by others and myself so like you wrote I FAKE IT ALOT!!!..

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi Deena, I’m so glad you found this article to be helpful. Thanks for sharing!

  • PC1959
    3 years ago

    Years ago, I entered a career where there were few women. I told myself then, I had to work twice as hard to be viewed as successful at my job. Thankfully, that era is gone (at least for me). Unfortunately, RA really threw me for a loop 5 years ago. Once again, I find myself overcompensating – worried that someone will view me as not competent to do my job. On the days I am really hurting, I too make sure I am dressed well and my make-up is perfect. It was great to see I am not the only one who does this. I have two friends at work who are very supportive. They asked me how are they supposed to know when I am having a bad day if I am working so hard to hide it? I told them to look at my shoes. There are only two pairs I can wear when I am in pain. That is our little signal that today, I may need a smile and a hug.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks so much for sharing this! I love that you have colleagues who are so supportive and with whom you can be so open with. This made me smile. Thank you!

  • jane
    3 years ago

    I was pleased to receive this on the net as i was trying to answer a friends email asking me if i had sore feet as she thought she might have arthritis. I was a bit stunned as i thought it was obvious as i sometimes limp and hobble and some terrain is just too hard. I have refused outings over the years because i weigh up how far will i have to walk and will i have to stand about etc, but i don’t always say why i am not coming.I don’t want to sound like moaning myrtle from Harry Potter. Perhaps i don’t complain enough but i gave up a good job because of RA finally and my inability to function well in a busy role at the age of 53, rheumatoid diagnosed at 40. Some people were surprised and said they didn’t realise that i was unwell or struggling physically, some totally understood like the friend who found me in the carpark unable to turn the key in my car to drive home. Yes faking it is something we do without realising it. Excellent perspective on the subject of getting through the day, dare i say faking it!

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, Jane, as well as the sacrifices you’ve had to make. It is true that many people have no idea how much we are struggling. Wishing you all the best, Tamara

  • Migslife
    3 years ago

    Thank you so very much for sharing your story…you wrote this as if you were writing it for me. I have been trying so hard to overcome the anxiety that I get from having to go daily with faking what I feel, not only with co-workers but sadly with my family as well. My daughters don’t take my disease seriously and I believe they think I am truly exaggerating what I am going through, to the point of responding as if I am not worthy of their comfort or compassion. It hurts that I speak of my children which are adults, but it’s my truth. I live my pain alone and at times the loneliness hurts more. It brings great comfort to know that I can share my feelings here with all of you. Mig

  • quiltlady
    3 years ago

    Both of my children (50 and 53) are now hurting from RA. They know what it is like now. Sometimes that is what it takes for them to see.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi Mig, I’m so sorry you don’t get the support you deserve at home, but I am glad that you find this online community a source of support. Thanks for sharing your experience and perspective! Wishing you all the best, Tamara

  • Anita
    3 years ago

    I fake it quite a lot myself, so I totally get it. I work as a software engineer, but on a contract/consulting basis. Projects are usually anywhere from 1 – 12 months, so I end up having to interview quite frequently. I usually use a cane to walk (though I’m on crutches at the moment due to recovering from spinal disk replacement surgery), so I will bring up the RA in my interviews. I try to make it known that the RA doesn’t affect my work that much, since what I do isn’t physically strenuous. I don’t consciously do it, but I have noticed that I tend to fake feeling better than I actually do for interviews, since I don’t want the employers to think I can’t do the job.

    RA hasn’t been too much of a stumbling block in my work life, for which I’m quite thankful. I’m fortunate to have chosen a career that isn’t overly-hindered by gimpy joints. People in the field also tend to be fairly open-minded. As long as you can do the work, they don’t really care about other issues, especially for someone working as a temp or contractor (because they don’t need to pay health insurance or other benefits). One quirk I’ve noticed is that technology folks, like most of those with whom I interview, are often fascinated when I mention the joint replacements in my hands. It must be a geek thing 🙂

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Anita!

  • donna hawman
    3 years ago

    Thank you for writing this article. I can relate to everything that you wrote. I “fake it” all the time. I am very lucky that I have a great support system, starting at home with my amazing husband and kids. My husbands works hard all day, yet he comes home and takes care of me,the house and the kids. When I talk to others about my RA, I usually get the ” well you look ok”. I am in pain almost everyday. I wish people didn’t judge others by the way they look. But it is great that I have finally found others that are going through the same things that I am and I can now talk to other dealing with RA. It has been so helpful, not just for me but for my whole family and friends, to be able to get correct information about RA and how to handle it on a day to day basis. My family has learned a lot from sites like this one and the great articles. Thank you again.!!!

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    I’m so glad that our site has been helpful! I know exactly what you mean about others not understanding. I too am blessed with a very supportive husband, and I feel that for the most part he does understand what I go through, but even he will read my articles and say, “Oh, so that’s what it’s like.” I think many of us don’t want to talk about RA all the time, and it’s especially hard to articulate what we’re feeling when we’re in pain. Thanks for sharing and being part of our online community!

  • Jules0705
    3 years ago

    Every single point of this story is familiar. I even laughed when you were talking about dressing a little nicer and adding extra makeup because that’s EXACTLY my M.O.

    Thank you for sharing- this is very much my way of handling my work life and RA and it’s good to know I am not alone. Feel well.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    I’m so glad you found this article relatable, as it does help to know we’re not alone with our struggles. Gentle hugs, Tamara

  • Illana
    3 years ago

    Excellent Article! I was never able to articulate in words what you wrote!
    In fact, I didn’t know I was doing this “faking it” until I read this.
    Thank you!!
    At work (I am a Physical Therapist Assistant) and work in a Sub-acute hospital, I find myself constantly “checking in” with myself to be sure I am not a “weak” employee. I feel the need to be sure I am confident to be able to help others.
    I fake it, until I get home, and crawl into my bed for an afternoon nap to recharge.
    Thanks again for your profound insight!

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    I’m so glad you found the article helpful! I’ve been struck by the number of times other members in our online community have voiced that other people in their lives thought they were faking how bad things were. My immediate thought was, “No, we’re faking to make it seem like our symptoms aren’t as bad as they really are!” Wishing you all the best, Tamara

  • Dena T.
    3 years ago

    Thank you for this article. I understand all to well how to “fake it” since I do it all the time….even at home. I don’t like my family to know how much pain I truly am in because of how much it can hurt them seeing me how much I’m hurting. Although I have THE most supportive, caring, and understanding husband and 3 kids about my disease, as a mom and wife, I feel most of the time that I should show more about how strong I am, than how weak I can get. They can tell sometimes when I’m trying my hardest to hide my struggle and pain and they tell me to take it easy and rest, but that’s always hard to do as a mom and I feel the guilt all the time of having to take it easy. Sometimes it does take more work to “fake it”, but for me, I’d rather my family not see my pain so that they don’t hurt seeing me.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks so much for sharing, Dena! It’s true that it’s so hard to balance being honest with being “strong” – even with ourselves! Sometimes I feel like I can muster through if I try not to focus too much on it, but of course that doesn’t always work. I’m so glad that you have a supportive family. I agree that it’s very difficult to take care of kids while struggling with RA, and I can’t imagine how much harder it would be if I didn’t have a supportive husband. Wishing you all the best, Tamara

  • Shannondeon
    3 years ago

    I completely understand this and thank you so much for writing this article. I have to minimize everyday. At work in hospitality with no sitting allowed and at home. I just had to face the fact that my family was tired of hearing that I am in pain so I just say I’m fine. It’s frustrating and it’s a lonely place to be.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    I’m glad you found the article helpful! Pain is indeed a lonely place. We welcome you to share in our online community via the website forums or Facebook page whenever you like, as WE all understand!

  • jj
    3 years ago

    I understand what you mean. I work in hospitality, so I have to smile through the pain. I just endured a difficult thanksgiving on my feet, then waited forever for the subway to get home. Not easy!

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    I hope you get some rest after working on the holiday! I feel for you, having to be on your feet and keep a smile on your face!

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