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People With Chronic Illness Aren’t “Faking It” (And Science Proves It)

By August 31, 2015 March 27th, 2019 Autoimmune Disease, Chronic Pain

Julie McGovern has struggled with chronic illness for most of her life. After a bout with mononucleosis in childhood, her autonomic nervous system became irreversibly damaged, causing her to develop Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS).



This chronic and often unpredictable disease can cause a wide range of symptoms, including, but not in any way limited to:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Fainting spells
  • Disabling fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal complaints
  • Extremely low blood pressure


Due to her condition, Julie was given a handicapped placard to limit her time spent walking from her car to her destination.



Being a young, attractive woman who shows no outward signs of illness, Julie was concerned about using the placard. Even though she needed it, she feared that somebody would look at it, then her, and accuse her of abusing the system.



In July of 2015, that’s exactly what happened. While she was otherwise occupied, a total stranger left a note with the word “FAKER” on her car.



She posted a Facebook note explaining the incident, and it has since been shared by nearly 2,000 people.



It Is Called An ‘Invisible Illness’ for a Reason


Healthy people with little to no experience of chronic illness think “sick” has to look a certain way or it just can’t be real.



Yes, sick people are often bedridden, hooked to tubes, alarmingly thin, in a wheelchair, or limping along with a cane. But not all sick people look like this.



Millions of people who struggle with chronic illness look perfectly healthy on the outside.



Another common misconception about illness is that the person living with it must look and act the same way every day. For example, if Susie Smith is bedridden on Tuesday with a horrible flare-up but is seen walking and laughing with a friend on Friday, her entire illness must be made up!


That is not the case. Again, chronic illness is a kind of sick that mainstream society is not used to seeing. Unlike someone with an acute illness who suffers for a specific period of time and then gets better, a person with a chronic illness struggles in a different way every single day.




And the worst part about it is they have no idea what kind of day they are going to have. It’s like having an acute illness, being bedridden, getting better, and then being struck down again. Only instead of having to bear it once, the person with a chronic illness lives like this 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.



When they’re having a day where the pain isn’t so bad, you bet your butt they’re going to get up, get dressed, and get stuff done. Unlike you, they can’t afford to procrastinate. They know another bad day is right around the corner.



Looking Presentable Is a Way to Blend In


1. Pretending to be well

If there is one thing people with chronic illness are faking, it’s that they’re perfectly healthy.


A good night’s sleep, the right combination of medications, a nice outfit, and some makeup can do wonders in making the person with chronic illness appear to be ‘just like everyone else’ for a few hours.


Let’s think about this logically for a minute. If someone was faking a chronic disease for attention, don’t you think they’d try to make it more obvious?


I don’t know, say, by walking around in stained sweats, not bathing, complaining in public, sobbing and wringing their hands, and asking total strangers for help?



I don’t know about you, but if I wanted attention for my “fake” illness, that’s what I’d be doing.



2. Trying not to stand out

When you live with a chronic illness, you get tired more easily, have more emotional ups and downs, and aren’t as physically strong as you would like to be. In animal documentaries, who do the predators go after first? The sick, the lame, and the weak.



We may not like to admit it, but humans have the same type of ‘pack mentality’. People who look sick, weak, or different are likely to be targets of stares, suspicion, ridicule, name-calling, and other unwanted attentions.


If you don’t believe this is true, try dressing like a homeless person for a day, go out (somewhere other than Walmart, preferably), and pay attention to how people treat you.



It will be one of the most eye-opening experiences of your life.

Scientific Studies Have Proven Invisible Illnesses Are Real

I really don’t understand with the advent of the Internet how the average person can still boldly and proudly proclaim they “know” chronic illness is fake. There are countless clinical studies out there to prove that these diseases are real.



The information is everywhere!


Let’s take a look at what I believe to be the five most common chronic diseases people get accused of “faking”:


The Illness


Fibromyalgia – A chronic condition that causes widespread body pain, brain fog, gastrointestinal issues, and crippling fatigue.



Why It’s Real

A study was conducted on women diagnosed with fibromyalgia and women who did not have the condition. Each participant was given a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) test to see how their brains responded when an instrument applied different levels of pressure to their thumbnail.



Both groups reported the same amount of pressure, but unlike the control group, the brain scans of the fibromyalgia patients revealed increased blood flow in areas of the brain associated with pain.



Where You Can Do More Research



The Illness


Chronic fatigue syndrome – A chronic condition characterized by debilitating fatigue, lack of refreshing sleep, muscle pain, memory problems, joint pain, and tender lymph nodes.




Why It’s Real

A recent study revealed that patients with chronic fatigue syndrome have low levels of cytokines in their blood, especially in the early stages of the illness. Cytokines are proteins made by the cells of the immune system. They are responsible for blocking viral replication and driving inflammatory response.



Where You Can Do More Research






The Illness

Chronic Lyme disease – Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted by ticks. Chronic Lyme can occur if the infection is not eradicated at the very early stages of the disease.



Why It’s Real

Although this disease is tricky to diagnose, the ELISA and Western blot tests can help to confirm the condition.



Also, two studies on laboratory animals revealed that not only do antibiotics have a tough time eliminating the bacteria, but the bacteria themselves are not detectable on standard diagnostic tests.



How do you like that? The little buggers can hide! No wonder there is so much controversy surrounding this disease.



Furthermore, SPECT scans of the brain show that patients with Lyme disease have a marked decrease in their cognitive function before antibiotic treatment.



Where You Can Do More Research



The Illness

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity – An inability to digest the protein found in wheat, barley, or rye, called gluten, resulting in chronic digestive upset, muscle pain, rash, brain fog, and a general feeling of poor health.

(NCGS is often diagnosed when autoimmune celiac disease has been ruled out.)

Tired Man Sitting on Bed

Why It’s Real

In a clinical trial of individuals suspected to have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, there was a significant increase in symptoms with exposure to small amounts of gluten during a one-week period.



Where You Can Do More Research



The Illness

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity – A severe and often sudden intolerance to multiple chemicals ranging from cigarette smoke to house paint. This can cause symptoms ranging from sneezing, wheezing, and hives to gastrointestinal malfunction, extreme fatigue, and a diagnosis of one or more autoimmune disorders.



Why It’s Real

Allergist and immunologist, Claudia S. Miller, M.D., M.S., has done extensive research into chemical intolerance and has developed tools that can lead to proper diagnosis.



According to a 2012 study done on 400 primary care patients, 22 percent of people who struggled with chronic health issues also showed some degree of chemical intolerance. (That’s one in five people.) Multiple chemical sensitivity is also referred to as TILT (Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance).


A Chicago allergist by the name of Theron Randolph, who supported Miller in her work, explained experiments he conducted with patients he was convinced had multiple food and chemical sensitivities.




Patients would agree to stay in allergen-free units near his office for a few weeks. Thus confined, the symptoms that plagued the patients for years seemed to disappear like magic.


Then, without them being aware of it, Randolph would expose them to a possible allergen (an apple sprayed with pesticides, a whiff of copy paper in a jar), and the symptoms would inevitably return.



Where You Can Do More Research


Our Bodies Are Breaking Down for a Very Legitimate Reason


From Alternet.com:


“Nearly 24 million Americans are suffering from an autoimmune illness, yet nine out of ten Americans cannot name a single one of these diseases. It boggles the mind.”


Let’s take a closer look at why so many people are coming down with autoimmune diseases:


  • Synthetic Chemicals Everywhere

We are absolutely awash in synthetic chemicals. We’re exposed to air fresheners, cosmetics, hair care products, laundry detergents, carpet cleaners, spray cleaners, perfume, and industrial chemicals all day long.



From a 2010 study published in Chemical Research in Toxicity:


“There is ample evidence that exposure to a variety of drugs and chemicals can lead to autoimmunity. In many situations the drug or chemical-induced disease resembles idiopathic disease although the presence of disease is dependent upon exposure to the drug or chemical.”


  • A Diet to Die For

As if breathing and absorbing synthetic chemicals wasn’t enough to make our immune systems go haywire, we also eat them by the truckload. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is chock full of artificial sweeteners, food dyes, and other additives and preservatives the human body doesn’t recognize.



A 2013 German study revealed that junk food is at least partially responsible for the growing epidemic of autoimmune disorders.


Expressive man eating fast food



  • Excessive Antibiotic Use

Antibiotic use has been on the rise for the past 30 years, resulting in the destruction of healthy gut bacteria and subsequent immune system malfunction.



Furthermore, research published by Thomas Jefferson University revealed that a certain class of antibiotics produces proteins that may trigger an autoimmune response.



  • Compulsory Mass Vaccines

According to the CDC Vaccination Schedule, children from birth to six years of age were expected to get a total of 10 vaccines. In 2015, that number has more than tripled at 36 to 38 vaccines given in the same time frame!


Research has shown that early phases of the vaccine campaign significantly increased the risk for inflammatory bowel disease, Bell’s palsy, and paraesthesia. 


In 2001, a woman by the name of Tambra Harris died of an autoimmune disease called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), which was confirmed to be the direct result of receiving a hepatitis B vaccination. Her family received $475,000 in compensatory damages. 


The Bottom Line

Sure, you can probably make or buy a handicapped placard to stick on your car, but do you really think the average (or even not-so-average) person is going to do this?



You’d have to be both blindingly lazy and enthusiastically masochistic to expose yourself to that much potential doubt and ridicule just to shave 30 seconds off your walk from a parking lot to a store.



Also, getting on disability is hard! For some people, it’s just as tough a battle as the illness itself. Trained professionals go over every single document submitted to them with a fine-toothed comb, and if you don’t make the cut, too bad. Almost everybody gets denied the first time.


I personally know somebody who suffered debilitating PTSD and fibromyalgia and had to fight for six years to get the disability benefits he deserved. And this was from injuries he sustained in the Army!




So, I’ll say it once more with feeling: People with chronic illness are not faking it, nor are they crazy. They don’t need your judgment, doubt, or ridicule. They need your support. If you’re not sure how to treat a person with chronic illness, refer to my handy step-by-step guide.

Photo credits: 

Woman with face in her hands courtesy of Flickr/Stephanie Lapoint

Woman screaming courtesy of Flickr/Claus Rebler

Woman sleeping courtesy of Flickr/Parker Knight

Distressed man courtesy of Flickr/Mic445


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