Faking it: a ramble.

I honestly don’t intend or expect to steal any chick lit web traffic with my post title, nor do I intend to talk about orgasms or grad school midterm papers in this entry. I don’t mean “Fake it till you make it,” a phrase that’s become one of my least favorite bureaucratic BS terms I’ve encountered in my post-graduate school work life, right up there with “it is what is, you know?”

No, by faking it, I mean what I do every day to people who don’t know my medical history. Primarily, I fake health, or rather, pass for healthy*, for the people I work with at the library. They have no idea that I’ve got a chronic disease of any kind.

To say “faking it” makes it sound a little overly dramatic. At work, I don’t go into the lounge and say something like, “Hey guys, want to go out for baked beans and beers tonight? I’ve inherited a strong healthy colon and damn it, I’m going to work. It. Out!”

No. It’s more that I omit my disease from discussion rather than actively lie about it. But I feel that health in this country, at least in my view, resides somewhere up alongside the concept of beauty. They’re lovers, health and beauty – and when they’re not lovers, they survive pretty well on their own. The beautiful fragile consumptive and the athlete (drug free, of course!) are fine. But if you’re considered ugly and unhealthy by societal and medical standards, well. Don’t expect anything, all right?

So in my not necessarily original opinion, health is a commodity as much as beauty in every aspect of our lives. I’ve never told a potential employer about my disease, in case they do a little research and decide that the possibility of me calling in sick with a flare-up or needing to use the bathroom more often than the average Jill makes me a less-reliable candidate. Maybe it does. But maybe not. I probably spend less time on the toilet than I do checking my email every day.

Maybe the love for health all goes back to choosing a viable mate for the propagation of the species. That would make sense. God knows I’ve lain awake nights and workdays wondering if I should consider adoption my first and only option.

Back to the main point. So I fake health. Big deal. Technically, your health is your own, and it’s no one’s business except yours and your doctor’s. (Until you’re unemployed and you have to talk to insurance reps about why you’d like them to pay for a couple dozen lab and doctor visits, ha ha! Then it becomes a big party. But anyway.)

So I’m not going to tell potential employers about my health. No one needs to know how often I see the doctor, or what kind of treatment I need or how many pills I take in the morning. Even if I have to call in sick. Even if I get sick MORE than other people. We’ve got some antidiscrimination rules in place to support the disabled, no matter how much good health matters or is rewarded on a cultural level.

But the idea of faking health is creepy for a couple of reasons.

First, not everyone can pass. People with visible disabilities don’t get to fake it like I do. It’s easier to hide pills or the thin clear tube of an insulin pump snaking out of your pocket than say, your cane or your wheelchair, but if someone sees it, they will see you differently. If I can fake it long enough, and I can see the difference in reaction to me as opposed to someone who uses a cane, does this ability to pass start to affect me?

Second. Yes to the above. It’s possible that passing can have a detrimental, misleading effect on how I see myself. I forget that I have the disease. That sounds like a good thing, right? But I forget – and I push myself in ways I shouldn’t, like having those beans and beers, or like when I forget to take my medication and my body swiftly reminds me that hey bitch, not healthy, remember?

Aside: I play the desert island game with my friends and I talk about water and bananas and how to make a fire with wet matches. I don’t say, “But I’ll be dead in at least three weeks, anyway, unless there’s naturally occurring azathioprine or mesalamine. Or maybe a chem lab abandoned by hippies. That’d work.” End aside.

It creates a dual person – the fake healthy me, and the real me. The fake healthy me attracts less attention (and certainly much less unsolicited advice, which is a post for another day) and there are no awkward pauses or stilted questions about my disease. I think that people feel more comfortable around the fake healthy me. And I find it serves to separate myself from others with visible disabilities; I think I’m Healthy compared to someone in a wheelchair. I think in ableist terms. I forget that just because I’m walking around today doesn’t mean a flare-up won’t keep me cemented to a toilet or on my back on the couch for as long as it will.

Third and last, if I spend my time passing, I create a suspension of disbelief that might be hard to break. People might think I’m faking it when I finally decide to tell them you’re not healthy. They might think I just want attention and are willing to get it by detracting from those with actual (read: visible) disabilities. They also might think I’m delusional, unless I bring them into the bathroom and make them watch. They might think I’m a dirty liar who misrepresented something that’s a part of me and obviously there’s something wrong with me if I’m not going to be upfront about my disease.

Hmm. Hello there, psyche!

Ultimately, it’s silly to think this way. After all, I can’t know everyone’s health history just by looking at them, unless for some reason they’d choose to share it with me. My problem could be that I dwell way too much on how people view me, rather than how we view each other. And seeing someone differently doesn’t mean seeing negatively or judgmentally; it can mean that when someone sees or hears proof of your disability, they might just file it away as a fuller picture of the person you are. And then they’re off thinking about how they’re going to eat beans AND drink beers and then have riotous sex with their husband/wife/significant other/thingie and maybe have a piece of cake after lunch if they can finish whatever they’re working on. As always, people worry about their own problems.

(That’s certainly a more positive way to look at it, and I’m very proud I came up with that, since positivity is not my general standard for dealing with or thinking about ulcerative colitis.)

I can’t decide whether I’ve spent a whole post waxing melodic about my own duality and exposing how good health is a valuable commodity in our crappy society, or just reiterating one of the most basic truths of human interaction: everyone wears a different face in public.

Yeah, probably the latter. Shh! Faking now, can’t be disturbed. It takes a lot of willful self-deception.

What do you all think about this?

*Yes, I am aware of the other uses for “passing.”


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