Sick note: Faking illness online

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Sick note: Faking illness online
Why would someone fake a serious illness online? Jenny Kleeman on the strange world of Münchausen by internet

Jenny Kleeman

Keyboard abuse: 'It made me feel so good, spending time with people who cared for me, even if they didn’t know I was a fake.' Photograph: Liz McBurney

Anyone following her updates online could see that Mandy Wilson had been having a terrible few years. She was diagnosed with leukaemia at 37, shortly after her husband abandoned her to bring up their five-year-old daughter and baby son on her own. Chemotherapy damaged her immune system, liver and heart so badly she eventually had a stroke and went into a coma. She spent weeks recovering in intensive care where nurses treated her roughly, leaving her covered in bruises.

Mandy was frightened and vulnerable, but she wasn't alone. As she suffered at home in Australia, women offered their support throughout America, Britain, New Zealand and Canada. She'd been posting on a website called Connected Moms, a paid online community for mothers, and its members were following every detail of her progress – through updates posted by Mandy herself, and also by Gemma, Sophie, Pete and Janet, Mandy's real-life friends, who'd pass on news whenever she was too weak. The virtual community rallied round through three painful years of surgeries, seizures and life-threatening infections. Until March this year, when one of them discovered Mandy wasn't sick at all. Gemma, Sophie, Pete and Janet had never existed. Mandy had made up the whole story.

Mandy is one of a growing number of people who pretend to suffer illness and trauma to get sympathy from online support groups. Think of Tyler Durden and Marla Singer in Fight Club, only these support groups are virtual, and the people deceived are real. From cancer forums to anorexia websites, LiveJournal to Mumsnet, trusting communities are falling victim to a new kind of online fraud, one in which people are scammed out of their time and emotion instead of their money. The fakers have nothing to gain from their lies – except attention.

These aren't just people with a sick sense of humour. Jokers want a quicker payoff than this kind of hoax could ever provide. It requires months of sophisticated research to develop and sustain a convincing story, as well as a team of fictitious personas to back up the web of deceit. Psychiatrists say the lengths to which people like Mandy are prepared to go mean their behaviour is pathological, a disorder rather than simply an act of spite. The irony is these people might actually be classed as ill – just not in the way they claim to be.

Some psychiatrists have started using the term Münchausen by internet (MBI) to describe this behaviour. Whereas Münchausen syndrome requires physically acting out symptoms to get attention from doctors, online scammers just have to be able to describe them convincingly. There's a potentially limitless audience of sympathetic ears, and success can be quantified by the number of concerned emails and message board posts generated by your lies. Some even go so far as to fake their own deaths, reading their own obituaries and observing the torrent of grief from the comfort of their living room. If they are rumbled – and they rarely are, conclusively – they just go to another support group, and to a fresh batch of trusting victims. The people they've fooled rarely find it so easy to move on.

No one suffered more from Mandy's lies than Dawn Mitchell, the 42-year-old Canadian who eventually exposed her. She became aware of Mandy's plight in 2007, when other mothers on the site signed off their posts urging for prayers and positive thoughts for their critically ill Australian member. "When you've got young children of your own, hearing about another mother who might leave her children motherless makes you more emotional."

She began providing the round-the-clock emotional support that Mandy craved. "I could spend an hour with her in the morning, a couple of hours in the afternoon, then I'd be up at night after the kids went to bed, sometimes until one o'clock. Instead of having a glass of wine with my husband in the evening, I was on the computer listening to Mandy talk about her latest infection," she says. "She was always on the verge of death. If I denied her and she died, then how would I feel?"

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It still blows my mind that people do this! Its terrible and heartbreaking that they need that much attention. I would love to kick all those people on youtube who fake seizures.

More specifically one girl who posts videos of her seizures and they look totally fake and acted out. Or you can tell she pauses the video to make it look like an absent or loop the video of a tc so it lasts longer
People with Munchausen will do anything to get sympathy, and I bet the Internet is a great place to get it, because no one can see the satisfied smile on their face when someone sends them a letter of concern. It's kind of pathetic to think about the people who crave attention that badly, but it's frustrating to people who actually have the disorders they claim to have.

The human brain is an amazing and often scary thing. It's so frustrating to see people faking serious disorders.
That is just so sick..couldn't beleive what I was reading just now..
I don't even know what to think. On the one hand, there's some issues going on there, on the other, it's cruel to the people who become emotionally wrapped up in this.

Blech. I hate this stuff.
This "syndrome" or "illness" or however it is classified seems to me more related to an addiction.

For me, it does feel good when things are tough and you receive kind words, encouragement, and prayers from others. This was especially true when I first joined and my epilepsy was flaring up. This helped me through a rough time.

I think some of these people may actually get addicted to that feeling; similar to any other 'feel good' drug. Our brains naturally seek pleasure and if these people do not have another source, the internet may be their supplier.

Just my humble thoughts.:twocents:
Caring people are 'e-nabling' them, so to speak? :lol:
You know, I somehow doubt theres anything malicious behind this behavior. They're not coming online and thinking "Who can I distress today?" As you may notice if you've gone on a lot of message boards, not a lot of people connect the name on the screen with a real person, and things are said on boards and chats that no one would think of saying to someone's face. I suspect (though I am not a doctor) that the motivation may be less of a childish fit of "Pay attention to meee!" and more of "Somebody care about me!" If you feel nobody gives a darn about your real life problems (and everyone has them) the internet must look like a pretty safe place to get somebody to say they care about you, even if it feels like you have to make something up to get it.

(I will admit here that when I was a kid, pre internet, I used to do things like this. I made up elaborate worlds of terrible things happening to me because it was the only thing that made people notice or care. After all, a six year old showing up with a broken nose is not that interesting if gotten in any of the mundane ways, such as getting punched. However, if the kid has a harrowing account of nearly getting killed by a car on the way home from school, well, suddenly people care that your face really hurts)

(and yes, I grew out of it by around age 9)
that's sad
if anyone wants to fake epilepsy, I recommend some research first of all to get the symptoms correct
***(edited by RobinN)
if no tables are available, simply prop yourself onto the bathroom stall toilet and lower your pants before blacking out
about 5 hours later or so when you wake up in the alley having almost zero recollection of the preceding several hours, feeling like you've been run over several times by a car, bloody... congratulations!
you're on your way toward understanding epilepsy
now, simply live the rest of your life with the realization that these same events (except for the preparation part) can and will happen, unprovoked, at any time of day or night
then congratulations!
you're further on your way to understanding epilepsy!
now, try to understand what reality must be like for those who likely experienced these unprovoked events throughout their life prior to diagnosis, and now try to contemplate what realm of reality they exist in, and what "normal" must be like
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It still blows my mind that people do this! Its terrible and heartbreaking that they need that much attention. I would love to kick all those people on youtube who fake seizures.

I know what you mean.
It makes me sick that people do that and think it's funny.

I would actually love for them to experience a seizure and see how funny it is then.

I would also love to know why people fake illnesses online,from physical to mental.
I really would like to know.
is there a way to move this thread from off the top of this forum list?
it frankly makes me want to * seeing this about people faking epilepsy or whatever
when I'm suffering I myself think someone is faking on ME, making ME go through this * I'm really sick of seeing this thread
it's hard enough coping with a mental illness that's not really "there" anywhere and trying to figure out what "it" is without having to see this garbage about seeing people making * up

how can I remove this thread?
I am SICK of seeing this * thing
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I know it can be frustrating seeing this, but I think that it being at the top here it to warn others on this site that it is a very real possibility that someone you are talking to, could actually be here simply to garner attention.

Its also at the top of the page to deter anyone who may come by to know that we are aware that this happens and we will not be made easy targets.

Its a difficult topic when it happens in real life. But its CWE life here, and we don't want anyone coming in here pretending to be something they are not. It can really suck the energy out of people.
Also if you have issues with this thread to the extreme, its probably best to pm a moderator.
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I appreciate the clarification
I think I understood the intended accusatory tone of the post
it can be a real bummer to see it all of the time though
I thought eventually it would "bump down" from inactivity buy I guess it is intended not to
relatively new to seizures and learning to cope (and having had another last night through this morning.. and still after-shocking a tad..) with something I in part still don't believe is "there", because I'm not "there" when they happen - I'm sure you know what I mean, can be a bummer to see the post
I'm planning too, but have not yet, talked with a counsellor about E, so this site has been important to me - you included
I did get a ModPM I'm going to check...

Just out of curiosity, what time was your seizure? Did you notice yourself get really angry? or are you on keppra? I ask because you are usually level headed, and i dont see you swear often on here (as the above post was laced with profanity) and was wondering if that could have been a pre-ictal warning for you?

You should keep track of that. Hope you are feeling better.
okay , i will only repeat what i said on another thread about the fake seizure videos , SICK ! SICK ! SICK ! oh and grrrrrr!
I think I had a series of seizures from later in the evening on Wednesday through all day Thursday on and off - worst was a disturbed night and waking up in a bad jabberwoky state where I couldn't ..TALK I guess, couldn't formulate words, but I could understand my dad on the phone - or at least at that point it was most obvious
and NO longer on Keppra - I think that stuff had a very bad effect on me
I was on it for a couple months along with my phenytoin
I did find it particularly frustrating at that time when I was in dire need and got again what seems to be an accusatory post in my face
it's like the post is titled "You're here again poser?" every time I see this website and it makes me sick and worsened my mood definitely the other day.. yesterday, I guess it was o_O
I try to keep track on an app I have on my phone, as well as I can

Seizures stink. How are you feeling now? Are you all wiped out and tired or back to your old self?

Hope you are doing better.

Seizures stink. How are you feeling now? Are you all wiped out and tired or back to your old self?

Hope you are doing better.

I've had NO caffeine today... ack
and have eaten better at work - munched all day pretty much on and off

yeah they stink but I am glad to see you all (non-munchausers) on here for some support and in order for me to learn
I suppose some people will always do this kind of thing. In a way, any of us who have, as a child, faked illness to stay home from school has done the same. I know that many of you will think that it was done just to avoid school in general or because there was a test coming, or because there was a paper due, or something like that. But, didn't that extra attention from Mom also feel kind of special? I know this wasn't always the case, but sometimes...

However, this stuff coming from a grown person takes it to a much more serious realm, and frankly I truly feel bad for someone so needy that they'll lie for the attention and sympathy. They need help, not scorn or anger. It's a form of narcicism, which is a mental/emotional illness. Of course, we here can do nothing to help them, but eventually we, being in the "know" about this illness, will eventually figure them out. Then, if one chooses, they can simply ignore such a poster, though even that is sad, because they really DO need attention.

But I bet I know one way that the majority of these folks who are just plain fakers trying to screw around with us like a prank phone call would ould be cured of this particular phonieness, and it's to bad it can't be safely done. That would be for them to experience a genuine full blown tonic clonic tongue biting, fall down a smack your head, arm thrashing Monster Mal, as I call my own. When they woke into that rotten half concious post ictal state and experienced that feeling that they'd just run three Iron Man marathons and were depressed and scared, I bet they'd think twice about claiming to have the real thing. I sometimes would just love to give them that "thrill", though I never would and know it's a tad angry to even contemplate it. The habitual ones though, really need help every bit as much as you or I.
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