Why I Pretend to Be Healthy, Even When I’m Sick

Columnist Lara Govendo might not look sick, but appearances can be deceiving

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by Lara Govendo |

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More often than not, I act healthy when I’m actually sick. Many people with chronic illness will pretend like everything is fine, even when it’s not, due to societal pressure to present an appearance of perfect health. I struggle to be honest about how I’m feeling because the answer is rarely “awesome.”

It doesn’t help that I’ve never looked sick. I was born with cystic fibrosis, but because it’s an invisible illness, no one knew unless I told them. People have always said I look great.

Appearances can be deceiving, though. Prior to my double-lung transplant five years ago, I didn’t look sick, even though I was in respiratory failure. The same is true today as I continue to manage several health conditions.

I used to pride myself on being able to hide my symptoms. Before my transplant, I’d silence my booming cough, mask my constant infection-induced fever, and keep going despite extreme breathlessness. I wanted to keep showing up for my job and my loved ones. On the outside, it looked like I was successfully juggling my health, job, and responsibilities. But on the inside, I was crumbling under pressure I couldn’t handle while my health was failing.

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Post-transplant, the battle continues. My health will never be perfect. I struggle daily with medication side effects and a suppressed immune system. I’m driven to keep going, and I don’t always listen to my body when it’s screaming for a break. Even though I’m no longer struggling to breathe, I still need to pay attention. That’s a tough pill to swallow because I want to do everything uninhibited.

Part of me wants to live a normal life. I don’t want to draw attention to my illness; I want people to see who I am as a person. I want to be known for my contribution to the world. And I want to function outside the confines of my health (even though that’s not always the best choice).

I also want to protect the people I love. I know how much pain, worry, and angst my loved ones felt when I danced with death. Naturally, I want to bring them comfort rather than stress, so I often downplay how I’m feeling. It’s the only way I can control their experience with the roller coaster of my chronic illness.

Mostly, I’ve grown accustomed to pretending I’m healthy because I’ve been sick my whole life. It may sound strange, but being sick isn’t a big deal to me because it’s all I’ve ever known. So I power through the pain, the brain fog, the endless list of symptoms I experience on a daily basis. I’m used to living with them, so I just keep going.

Plus, I don’t have to explain myself to others when I pretend I’m healthy. In my experience, people often ask illogical questions when they don’t understand health matters. Some have made hurtful comments, and I’m so tired of the emotional jabs. I don’t see the point in disclosing my health conditions to people who refuse to understand, empathize, or accommodate my needs. It’s not worth my time or energy.

I’m not pretending when I say I’m tired of explaining myself and sacrificing my comfort to alleviate others’ discomfort.

Maybe I’m also tired of pretending I’m healthy.

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


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