My name is Robyn and I am currently 53 years old. I was 9 1/2 when my little sister was born. That day, my life changed forever. Not just because I was no longer the baby, but because my sister was born two months early and was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. She needed a lot of care and attention than the typical bay and that’s when I became the invisible girl. I was emotionally abandoned by my mom and emotionally and verbally abused by my father. A couple years after her birth, I began faking things to get the attention I was missing out on. It was something that went deeper than just getting attention. It was something deeper. It was seeing how my sister received love, care, affection, attention and nurturing and wanting to be like her. It started with faking an eye exam in elementary school so I could get glasses like my sister (but didn’t work) and grew to seizures in high school and cancer in college to a stroke in my late 40’s and many other things throughout the years. It wasn’t until the late 1990’s when I began faking illness online, now known as MBI, or Munchausen By Internet. It was around 2006 when I reached out for help from professionals. I saw several therapists and psychiatrists but it wasn’t until 2011 when I started with my last therapist that I worked on recovery. I spent about 6 years with this therapist and now I no longer participate in Munchausen behavior in any way and have not for many years now. My message is that recovery is possible. There is hope.
I think for recovery to begin, you need to be honest with yourself if no one else. You need to stop being obsessed about how to fulfill your emotional needs and admit you have a problem and seek help. That is the hardest part – admitting it and getting help because it is embarrassing and shameful. But you cannot start the recovery process if you do not begin there.
You have to have a non-judgmental therapist who won’t fire you if you relapse. And go into it knowing there’s a good possibility that might happen and prearrange with your therapist what you will do if that happens so you can reset and restart. Look at it as a learning opportunity instead of a failure. If your therapist fires you because you relapsed then they were not the right therapist to begin with. Don’t give up. Find another one.
You may not completely understand why you do it so start working on why you do it and work through those feelings that may bring up. You have to be tough on yourself and have compassion for yourself at the same time. Know that you didn’t know a better way, but now that you do, there are better and more appropriate ways of getting those emotional needs and voids filled. It takes commitment to yourself and your healthcare team, honesty and a strong desire to want to change. It will Probably be a long process so stick to it and know recovery is possible.
You need insight, empathy and sympathy into other people’s feelings and perspectives beyond your own needs and feelings. Seek to understand someone else’s plight or dilemma. This can be practiced in a group therapy setting where you can offer emotional support to others rather than trying to fill your own needs. It also gives you the chance to communicate emotions verbally rather than through behavior so you will receive appropriately sought out support as well.
In the end, having adult friendships without deception of illness is a lot more satisfying than pretending to be sick. Take opportunities to develop friendships through activities outside of the internet. Something that worked for me was joining the group “Meetup” and finding hobbies and interests I had in common with others and then “meetup” with them to do the activities. Transition from online deception to fill your emotional needs to real life activities and authenticity. You will be happier and feel more fulfilled by living your authentic self.
You may be worried that people might not like who you are in real life. So, you have to have good self-esteem. You have to like and love who you are and know you are worthy of love and friendship just the way you are. It isn’t necessary to be ill. You can work on this with your therapist.
It might be helpful to make a list of things that make you feel better when you feel emotionally fragile or distressed. Sometimes it’s hard to think when you feel that way so having a list handy will be helpful. Be kind to yourself and find things that are soothing. For me that was adult coloring books, listening to music, candles, essential oils, cuddling and petting my dogs. These sensory type activities also ground you.
Another thing that worked for me is role playing. Role playing and fantasy behavior within my own head and house have helped me and I still do it occasionally today. I felt weird and embarrassed about this and wondered if it was ok. One day, a little embarrassed, I told my therapist that I role play and she said it was ok because I wasn’t hurting anyone. If it helped stop the MBI behavior and no one else was involved than it was ok. You just need to be careful that your fantasies don’t go from your mind back onto the internet or real world. If you feel like that might happen then don’t do it.
All in all, know that there are people willing to work with you if you are willing to work hard and make the commitment to get better. There is hope. Recovery from MBI is possible.