It would be more unusual to hear of someone with a chronic illness who have never been accused of lying than it would those who have, and I think that’s a really scary thought.
The problem with many chronic illnesses is that there aren’t any truly specific tests that can prove whether you have one or not, and therefore it’s purely down to the judgement of the various doctors you have the pleasure (or not) of meeting. I’ve been accused multiple times of fabricating my illnesses, yet eventually it’s always proved that I do actually have a physical medical problem. However, the journey to this decision is a tough one, filled with angry tears and self-doubt. If you also have a history of past mental health problems, you may as well kiss that physical diagnosis goodbye and get used to being slapped with the label of malingering and psychosomatic disorder.
It’s often difficult for me to understand why doctors think that I’m lying about being ill. I can’t even begin to imagine why someone would lie about needing a wheelchair when using a wheelchair sometimes feels like it’s the biggest obstacle in the world, nor to lying about not being able to see when you get no personal gain whatsoever; in fact, all you seem to get is no help at all as you still don’t have a diagnosis 12 months down the line. Of course, I know that these things do happen in this world we live in. There’ll always be people out there who do have a psychological problem rather than a physical one. However, it seems to me that many doctors who can’t find a physical explanation for a symptom will label this as a psychological problem, as they don’t want to be seen as yet another doctor who’s failed to find the answer to explain your symptoms. Unfortunately for them, as a psychology student, I know that it’s both unethical and seriously wrong to diagnose someone with a psychological problem due to the absence of a physical problem (DSM fifth edition).
Despite this, no matter how prepared you feel that you are for a hospital appointment, there is no hiding the anger that you feel when you’re called a liar for the umpteenth time. You cry, which makes the doctor think that you’re upset because you’ve been found out- when really you’re crying because it’s the safest emotional output to use rather than flipping her desk over and walking out of there screaming all the obscenities under the sun (which trust me, I’ve been very tempted to do sometimes). The last time I was called a liar, I had to sit in the car afterwards for a good 10 minutes just trying to make sense of what had happened in that room. The doctor sat behind the desk with a smug look on her face and asked me and my mother in turn what we thought the problem was with me. We both looked at each other blankly, not having a clue what she meant- we’re not doctors after all. Then she proceeded to say that my problem was in my head, and that she knew I’d been faking this the whole time. To say I was stunned was an understatement. She also proceeded to say that I’d wasted a lot of NHS time and money, and then to go out with a bang, she in her opinion as an ophthalmologist, commented that she believed I was fabricating my rheumatological condition too as she’s witnessed me step from the waiting room to her office, and I din’t look like I was in pain. It’s safe to say, neither myself or my mum had a clue what to say at this point. I asked the doctor if she meant that my condition was psychological (rather than “in my head” as she’s described it) and she said “that’s what I think”, and then asked if I’d like to be referred to a psychologist. This part is what gets me the most. Had she looked at my notes, she’s have seen that I was seen by a psychologist in that same hospital three months prior due to another consultant (pain management) thinking that I also had a psychological problem. However, I spent half-an-hour of my life that I’ll never get back explaining about my past and what I’m like now, and was discharged there and then with no psychological problem whatsoever. See what I mean?
Long story short, what I’m trying to say is that as patients with chronic illnesses, sometimes all we need is someone to TRY. So many doctors give up when things get a bit complicated, and we get referred to the top consultants (who are most of the time, complete and utter arses) who then say it’s psychological. I’m not a qualified doctor, but I am a professional patient, and even I can put 2 and 2 together and say that high pressures in the eyes simply CAN’T be faked. Some of us spend so many years of our lives fighting to be believed by doctors, only to keep being labelled a liar, a drug seeker, a fraudulent benefit claimant.
Sometimes all we need is for someone to say “I believe you”. That would make the world of difference.