Not knowing when to mention a minor symptom…

Big decisions are bad enough, but the small ones cause conflicts too.

Do you tell your nearest and dearest every time you get a stiffness in the leg, a minor pain, a problem with your hand?  Or do you keep it to yourself?  Do you risk ‘making a fuss about nothing’?  Or will you be blamed for ‘ keeping people in the dark’?  How will they react if you do tell them?  Once you have told, you lose control of the information – it make take on a life of its own.  Do the people around you want to know?  Have you asked them?  If you don’t tell, there are consequences too.  The meaning of the symptom matters too: if you have a long-term illness of any kind, or are afraid you might get one, there may be dormant anxieties you are afraid to wake.

Having to make these small decisions can take time and energy.  Relationships are affected.  Partners or adult children can feel ‘cut out’ when they want to be more involved; they can feel kept in the dark or expected to know without being told; or not to notice when it is obvious to them that something is wrong.  Finding out how friends and family feel about being told or not told may be worth it, but it takes time and effort and it may easily be put off for later…

Timing, when to tell, makes a difference.  Telling a football fan in the middle of the match is probably not helpful  (unless you want an excuse not to tell in the future); telling the mother of small children when she’s already multitasking may produce a predictable response.  People can also change their minds, or feel differently about different minor symptoms … 

 Not telling, or being stoical has advantages – perhaps. 

  • It may go away before anyone has to take any notice.
  • Other people don’t have to worry for you or about you.
  • People can treat you as if there was nothing wrong.
  • You can pretend or hope that it will go away before you have to worry about it
  • Nobody will tell you to go to the doctor/take a pill/do your exercises…
  • Looking after yourself may feel more ‘independent’ and more virtuous.
  • Getting other people involved means you have to take notice of their opinions, which may challenge or disturb yours.


  • You may not be able to help showing some sign of the problem
  • Other people may misinterpret your gritted teeth, your withdrawn silence, your lack of attention to them.
  • You may stop doing important things in order not to let people see something is wrong  (‘I won’t come out today…)  
  • Other people make their own interpretations of your excuses.
  • They may think there is something else wrong, which may be much worse.
  • They may think you are angry with them when you are not
  • You may get more impatient or irritated and become more angry with them – and they will not know why
  • Other people may think they have done something wrong – they may feel bad;  they may punish you in some subtle way.
  • You may end up being forced to tell at a bad time or in a bad way

‘Telling’ has advantages – perhaps.

  • People know where they are – perhaps
  • Everyone can make simple, necessary adjustments
  • People know you are suffering – they can share it a bit – people can feel better when they share. 
  • Other people may be able to take away some of the anxieties.
  • Some people are glad to be confidantes, to offer emotional support, to feel useful.
  • A small problem may give warning of a later larger problem;  other people may have time to adjust their expectations and their thoughts as well as you,  while it is still only hypothetical, an ‘if..’ which may never happen; there may be things which could be done now which would make a big difference in the future..
  • Other people may have a really helpful suggestion for how to make things better.
  • You may be able to choose when and how to tell.


  • Each ‘telling’ changes the world a little – and it may not be for the better.
  • You don’t want to worry people unnecessarily.
  • You (or they) may have to do something about it.
  • You don’t want to make a fuss – or to be told you are making a fuss.
  • Drawing attention to yourself may not be a good thing to do – you’d rather keep the attention somewhere else.
  • Some people react badly to being told about any minor symptom  – sharing anything with them can make a situation worse.
  • Being given other people’s  ‘cures’ – and expected to follow them – can be a problem:  perhaps a minor irritation, but perhaps a potential cause of deep offence.

Giving a confidence, asking for a little emotional support from someone, may mean they feel they can ask for your support later – this may be a basis for a good friendship, or it may be a trial or a problem. 

Other people may or may not care about your minor symptoms; they may care as much as you do, but they may care a lot more or a lot less..   You may think you know how they will react, but be surprised – in a good way or a  bad way.  Comparing the ‘people in your mind’ (when you think about telling them) with the ‘people out there’  (when you actually tell them) may be painful – but may also be reassuring. They may react as you think you would, if you were them, or they may react quite differently.   And you may not be able to predict in advance which it will be.


About thetroublewithillness

I've been a counsellor for people with physical illnesses for a long time now, and learnt a lot about what it's like living with your own or someone else's illness. I want to pass some of this on.
This entry was posted in carers, children with ill parents, counselling, emotions related to illness, health, identification, illness, talking about feelings. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s