First, Here is what I know for sure. My friend Chris is the divorced mother of 4 children, the oldest is 18 and a high school graduate, the youngest is about 7 or 8 now. Chris owns a blog called "Atheist in a Minivan", and was the recipient of an atheist donation drive to purchase sun-blocking film for her home's windows to alleviate some of the symptoms of Lupus, namely Systemic lupus erythematosus. Her husband filed for divorce in December of 2009, and fought for full possession of the kids. He was successful enough in this to move with them across country. Chris has been fighting for access to her kids since then.
On August 5th, 2008, my late wife and I met with Chris, her (then) husband, and their four kids, for a special outing for their youngest boy at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. Chris spent the day in a rental wheel chair being pushed by her husband, or by her oldest boy. She wore sun-blocking clothing that she had purchased from some of money donated. She also wore sun block, and reapplied it a couple of times during the outing.
During our time there, my wife and myself remarked that Chris seemed to be getting red, especially her face, but Chris said for us to not worry about it. She was there for her youngest child, and had prepared as much as possible for this event. She did try to stay in the shade.
At the end of the day, Chris returned the wheel chair, and we all stopped at the zoo gift shop. Her husband used my camera to take some photos of me and my late wife, and we got a gift for the youngest child from the gift shop. After that we went out to the parking lot to leave. Chris' husband helped Chris to the car - basically he gave her an arm to lean on.
This is the only time I've met Chris in person, and our conversation (when she wasn't talking to her husband or kids) was light and friendly. Her husband, and my wife were both religious, so I think our conversation was more about the zoo and about life than it was about atheism.
I have spoken to Chris since then on the phone, and somewhat often through email. Since this time at the zoo, we have both had major life changes, and have not stayed much in touch.
Here's what I can guess: Does Chris have Lupus? I'm not a doctor - so of course I cannot say for sure. But her actions during our visit were those of someone who does suffer Lupus. She did get pretty red - even with the sunblock.
Over the last week I took the time to browse through several Lupus support forums, and I have found people with Lupus who have hiked the Appalachian Trail, who have kayaked with whales, and who garden. I have learned that others cannot even stand fluorescent lighting - which will cause flare ups of symptoms. And although rashes are the most visible Lupus reaction, the least visible reaction to UV light is joint pain, headaches, and a general feeling of illness. Sometimes bad enough to require an ER visit.
As I've said before, the spoon theory of disease really seems to fit here. The week after their outing, Chris did complain of being sick.
Another thing I've learned from Lupus forums is that it can exhibit different subsets of Lupus symptoms in different people, it can fade or intensify, and that drugs can really help some people. Light sensitivity is not a steady-state phenomenon - and drugs, together with sun block and perhaps an umbrella will help someone with Lupus seem normal... for a while.
From my own wife, I've seen demonstrated a day of fun in San Francisco, followed by a couple of days of bed rest. The rest of the world saw my wife having fun and acting carefree. I saw the all-too-routine hospital visits, the drugs, and the pain afterward. Of course my wife did not have Lupus - she had a host of other problems. I know or have known people with chronic illnesses who are willing to "pay the price" to seem to function normally for a while.
Is Chris able to 'save up spoons'? Has her symptoms lessened? I honestly don't know. I'm not that close of a friend. Not surprising, after my wife's death I wasn't much of a friend to a lot of people. Could she pull the wool over my eyes? Yes, but then so could many of my friends and acquaintances. (My best friend tells me he paints buildings for a living, but I've never seen him paint anything!)
And here's what I won't tell you. Chris has provided evidence to me and a few others that She's been the victim of what I would now call "false flag" actions. I won't give details because they deal with people Chris trusted.
Of course I know that saying "false flag" sounds somewhat paranoid, but I am watching people put together two different identities on the Internet, and claim that they are the same people, merely because one identity has the same IP address of another. As an electrical engineer, I am quite familiar with how easy it is to spoof not only an ID, but an IP address or even a MAC address. And the tools required to do this can found in minutes with a Google search, and can be mastered by any determined 14 year old.
An IP address cannot be used as the sole method of identifying anyone. That's why it fails in the courts.
And last I will admit that I am unable to say for certain that my friend Chris is not imitating someone else for nefarious reasons. But it is not my burden to prove innocence.
I'm afraid that this is all I will be able or willing to offer in this. Chris is finally able to visit her kids - so I'm not about to insist that she talk to me about this. She can tell (or not) the world about her own problems in her own time.
On a completely unrelated note... if you are one of several people who have been calling my phone number listed in my blog, I'm sure you'll understand if I don't answer at midnight or 4am. Or if I'm driving. I am a little irked that the callers have not left a message. If I don't know your number, and I don't get a message, then the call was obviously not that important.