I think this is something that many of we ambulator chair users have heard at one point or another; things like “you must be faking because I’ve seen you walk”, “you walk around in the house for periods of time”, “you didn’t need a chair before”, and other such things, like the only reason people need a chair is from birth or from a spinal cord injury. This is such a false concept and can contribute to making this demographic struggle with imposter syndrome even as they’re trying to handle their own disability and navigate the world in a new way that can often be scary, or at a minimum, overwhelming. I know for myself, though I’m adjusting well, I am mourning the loss of my previous self and life, and it took a good while before I was ready to start finding joy and exploring this new body and a new world. And there is nothing wrong with that. A change in the level of disability to a more restrictive level IS something that can cause a lot of emotion and mental stress, anxiety, fear, and yes, sadness. I had to give up a lot of what I considered made me, me. So when someone who knows NOTHING about my conditions or their progression, or the fact that I just can’t hide them anymore, or the fact that I’ve finally gotten brave enough that I’m willing to share these conditions, for education, and because I shouldn’t have to hide or be ashamed of who I am.
I think that the hardest part of being called a faker is that it came from some of my closest friends. People I spent YEARS busting my butt for, from driving all over the country for, giving my love, my money, and my time, two of those that I had, and have, precious little of. The people you thought you could count on most are the ones who left the fastest and having to see them around when I am able to venture out hurts. But on the flip side, as my conditions have worsened so that they're not as invisible anymore, I’ve found out a lot about people, and who my friends really are. I’ve found true sisters in the community. I was in the hospital for FIVE months. Four people visited me. I was within a mile or two of dozens of my friends. Multiple highly risky surgeries, a 4” clot in my heart that almost killed me, and I didn’t hear from anyone. Just a few people, most of whom I barely knew, but they’re the ones that stepped up and kept me smiling and having a reason to fight, because in the ICU after my heart surgery, too malnourished to heal, per the doctors (I don’t remember that but the doctor gave him permission to video the conversation so I’d have it later) facing an emergent procedure to put in surgical feeding tubes via an open procedure, I wanted to give up. I’d lost everything except for my fiance and I didn’t think I could fight anymore. No family, no friends, and my service dog had passed away. But that precious PRECIOUS tiny group of people, as well as my amazing long-distance sisters from other misters kept me going on. And I’m so glad that I did because those friendships have grown and blossomed and I realize now how toxic my old friendships truly were. So maybe it was a good thing in the long run that I’ve been called a faker and lost all my friends because I gained some of the best in the world.
In the end, it’s not someone else’s place to judge someone else’s disability. If you think someone is faking, and they’re your friend, sit down with them. Talk to them. Maybe they were too scared to let things be visible before. Maybe things have progressed. Maybe their doctor changed treatment plans or prescribed new mobility aids. Give them the respect of talking to them before spreading painful and hurtful rumors or suspicions behind their backs. Don’t demand their medical records (yup. That’s happened.) or demand to speak with their specialists (yup. Also happened.). Friendships wax and wane, and that’s more than fine, but hurting someone deliberately is never ok, especially if you’re wrong and you’re putting someone already dealing with a huge loss and adjustment through something even worse because piling that much on is a reason a lot of us don’t make it through the mental aspect of dealing with chronic illness and disability.