Have You Been Accused of Faking Your Arthritis?

The Accusation Can Hurt More Than the Disease

Couple having a disagreement about faking illness.
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Would you be surprised if a family member, friend, or co-worker accused you of faking your arthritis? Would the insinuation that you are lying about your health offend you? It's hard to believe this could happen, isn't it? Why would you fake having arthritis and why would someone think that you would?

Believe it or not, this is not uncommon. People write about it on social media and on arthritis message boards.

The first time I saw someone post that they had been accused of faking arthritis, I thought they must have misinterpreted what someone said to them. I thought they were being hypersensitive. Then, after some time passed, I saw it again and again -- posted by more than one person. I saw it enough times to realize, people were not simply being hypersensitive. This was a real problem and relationships were being affected.

Why Someone Might Think You Are Faking

It's hurtful if someone close to you thinks that you are faking illness. If we examine this logically rather than emotionally, we may better understand what provokes someone to think the worst of you.

  • Misconceptions About Arthritis - We know there are several misconceptions about arthritis and the misconceptions live on. Despite the fact that information about arthritis is more readily available than ever before, many people still believe it is only an old person's disease. Not true. Anyone can get arthritis, including the very young. If you are a younger person with arthritis, this one misconception alone could cause someone to think you are faking.
    • Pain Is Variable - Arthritis is considered a chronic pain condition. While that is true, less attention is paid to the short-term, intense fluctuations that also occur with arthritis. Pain levels can vary -- not only from one week to the next, but from one day to the next, and sometimes hour to hour. The variability of pain is difficult for patients to accept and adjust to, likewise for family and friends. How can you be unable to get out of bed in the morning and ready to go shopping later in the day? To someone who doesn't understand the variability of arthritis pain, that doesn't fit.
      • Pain Is Invisible - Pain is not always associated with visible cues. People can't just look at you and know how you are feeling. Consequences of pain, such as limping, may be visible. But, this is not the case for everyone. Pain scales were developed for this very reason. Your doctor may use a pain scale to determine your pain level. Unless you communicate your pain level to family and friends, you shouldn't expect them to know how you feel.
      • Full Impact of Arthritis - Another misconception about arthritis is that it only affects the joints. Many people are unaware of the systemic effects which are associated with certain types of arthritis. People tend to think of arthritis as simply aches and pains, without realizing the extent of fatigue, malaise, anemia, and other systemic effects that can occur.
      • Expectations of Treatment - Some people don't fully understand the limitations of arthritis treatment. It can be hard for patients to understand -- and even more confusing for others. While there are treatment options for relieving pain, reducing inflammation, and controlling disease progression -- there is no cure. The effectiveness of treatment varies. Even with treatment, symptoms and complications of arthritis remain for many patients.

        Attack on Your Character

        These factors, in part, explain why someone might think you are faking. But, there is a bigger problem at hand. Being accused of faking illness is actually an attack on your character. Even if we rationalize, by pointing out common misconceptions about arthritis, it doesn't justify the accusation. If the accuser is not a major player in your life, learn to ignore their comments. But, if the accusations come from someone who is important to you -- the issue cannot be easily ignored.

        It may be a good idea to have the accuser (especially, if it is a close family member or close friend) tag along when you go to see your doctor. They can listen in, plus your doctor can answer any questions they have and offer an overview of what to expect. When I had a consultation with my first rheumatologist, many years ago, the rheumatologist inquired about my relationships and how people close to me were reacting to my newly-diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis. The doctor asked me if he needed to speak to my husband or my mother. An old-fashioned approach for sure. But, even today, it may be necessary in some cases. Don't be afraid to suggest it or to request it.

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