‘I have Munchausen’s syndrome like Corrie’s Curtis and I hurt myself to feel loved’

As she suddenly fainted and hit her face full force on the pavement, Cindy Buckshon had the sympathy of everyone around her. Suffering from concussion and a cut nose she was rushed to hospital in an ambulance where she was treated by concerned medical staff.

But Cindy’s fall was not an accident at all. Instead she was suffering from factitious disorder – also known as Munchausen’s syndrome – and had collapsed on purpose.

The condition, which sees someone pretend to be ill, or actively try to make themselves ill, in order to receive care, sympathy and attention, has been a lifelong affliction for Cindy. She remembers faking flu when she was four and today at 45 still falls to deliberately hurt herself.

“One time I swallowed a whole tin of Tiger Balm, because camphor is known to cause seizures and I wanted to induce one,” she admits. “I’ve probably given myself about 20 concussions over the years and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been in ambulances. I face plant and don’t put my hands out to protect myself, so I land head first on the concrete. I do it in public places like a supermarket, a bus stop or a busy street.

“It’s about receiving attention and tenderness. When I’m being lifted into an ambulance there is that feeling of being carried and of being loved and looked after – I feel comforted and peaceful; it’s a very powerful feeling. If someone didn’t treat me with tenderness I didn’t bother doing it around them anymore. So it was unfortunate that the people who were kindest to me got the brunt of my bad behaviour.”

Cindy Buckshon would harm herself for attention



It’s a condition that is currently being highlighted on screen in Coronation Street. Medical student Curtis Delamere has spent months convincing concerned fiance Emma Brooker and her dad Steve McDonald that he is dying from an incurable heart complaint.

But shocked viewers this week saw Curtis’s doctor confirm, that as they’ve told him many times, there’s nothing wrong with his heart and that he’s suffering from factitious disorder.

Curtis is only 22 and it turns out he has had the condition for years.

Actor Sam Retford, who plays Curtis, says he hopes viewers won’t hate his character as his deception and manipulation are exposed.

Cindy in an injury-free photo


Daily Mirror)

As part of his factitious disorder, Curtis has lied that he has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, but Sam says: “I hope viewers will have sympathy. He’s not sitting there in the morning thinking: ‘what lies am I going to tell today?’ It’s not malicious. He’s just lonely.

“If we could all have a button we could press and it means that people love you, of course we would all day long, because it’s a nice thing that people care for you.”

For Cindy too the problems began in childhood.

“I actually can’t remember a time when I didn’t have the disorder,” she recalls. “As young as four I pretended I had flu, or didn’t feel very well.

“When I was six I would purposely try to fall off swings and hurt myself. I got a few bruises and I was always a bit disappointed it wasn’t more!”

Curtis, left, on Coronation Street

She is puzzled why it developed. “The only thing I’ve been able to think is that my Mum had really bad migraines,” she says. “She’d be in bed and couldn’t function and I remember being left to fend on my own quite a bit. Maybe it was a way of getting people’s attention so I had more support.”

As Cindy got older the disorder got worse and when she got to high school she began pretending to faint.

“I got attention for the fainting, so that turned into pretending I had seizures. I’d shake and people said I must have epilepsy,” she recalls. “At university it got so bad that even though my EEG tests were normal, they decided to put me onto medication.

“It spiralled out of control and I wound up in the hospital in a seizure monitoring unit. They were talking about brain surgery at one point to stop the seizures. That was pretty scary, but the problem with the disorder is that I’ve always wanted to be sick, so I was actually hoping that they would do surgery. That’s the crazy thing.

“Over the years I’ve also taken five overdoses and all except one were part of the factitious disorder. It was a way of getting attention.”

In one scene in Coronation Street, Curtis sinks to his knees, clutching his chest after helping push Steve McDonald’s car

Cindy, who lives in Alberta, Canada is one of the few people in the world to admit publicly to having the disorder.

Psychiatry professor Marc Feldman, the world authority on the illness, says that it is notoriously hard to detect. He explains: “Even physicians can miss a diagnosis and many patients continue their denial. Then, if the patient lies about what is going on, a therapist is not going to be able to address it, so you have to work slowly to build trust.”

So determined were Coronation Street to get the storyline right that they contacted Dr Marc Feldman who did Zoom interviews with researchers and writers and also spoke at length to actor Sam.

He says: “Afterwards they sent me pages of scripts with specific questions, such as: ‘does this ring true?’ They wanted to get it as accurate as possible.

“I’ve written so much about factitious disorder over the past 30 years and I was more than happy to help. It seemed a great opportunity to make the public more aware of the disorder.”

The most extreme case of factitious disorder was that of Wendy Scott who was admitted to hospital 700 times under false pretences and had 42 abdominal operations.

Born in Scotland she was known to hospitals throughout Europe. Sadly, when she suffered real pain nobody believed her. Eventually it was discovered that she had advanced abdominal cancer from which she died in 1999.

Curtis’ partner Emma worries for his health

Dr Feldman, who has interviewed hundreds of patients with the disorder, says: “I had one patient who instilled a caustic substance into her bladder, ultimately forcing the bladder to be removed. She now has a bag. Some of the cases are quite shocking.”

The syndrome was first identified in the 1950s and named Munchausen’s Syndrome after German aristocrat Baron Munchausen, who was known for his exaggerated story-telling.

Factitious disorder imposed on another, previously called Munchausen’s by proxy, is a variant of the syndrome, in which someone fakes or induces illness in someone under their care, usually a mother with their child.

The disorder has taken its toll on Cindy’s health. “There’s been a little bit of cognitive impairment, some memory issues. I notice after concussions that I haven’t been as sharp,” she admits.

“I’ve also damaged a nerve in my face, so I can’t lift my left eyebrow. I’ve had lots of black eyes, bloody noses and stitches.”

Cindy, who is single, has had boyfriends in the past, but kept them and all her friends and family in the dark about her condition.

It was only after being diagnosed as bipolar in her 20s that she first confessed to a doctor. Now she is on medication for her bipolar disorder she has fewer impulses to harm herself or fake illness.

Ten years ago she found religion which has also helped. “That was a lot of comfort to me – I could get attention from God,” she explains.

After writing her memoir Liar, Liar, Gown on Fire, she says those close to her now understand more about the disorder and whilst many were initially angry, they have forgiven her for the deceit,

Yet Cindy doubts she will ever properly recover. “I still do it sometimes; I did it as recently as this summer. It’s become a coping mechanism when I’m under stress,” she says.

“I don’t really think I’ll ever be cured. It’s been part of my life forever. It’s not just a matter of faking it, I actually want to be physically ill and that has never gone away. Still if I get a little bit of a cough, I’m hoping its Covid.”

For more information go to munchausen.com/

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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