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The Unspoken 'Tells' That Give Me Away When I'm Sick

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The phrase “everyone has a tell” goes far beyond the world of poker. In the chronic community, we have mastered ways of hiding how we are really feeling so that we don’t bring our illness to the center of attention, but those who know us best have learned we all have “tells” that give us away. Granted, everyone has different symptoms and may use different methods to cover them up, but I’ve come up with my own list with some additions from the chronic community to help give some insight into how we operate so that maybe you can offer support to your chronic loved one without them having to ask.



I could be sitting on the couch watching television and all of a sudden I feel like I’m going to fall down or pass out. I press my back against the seat to ground myself until the feeling passes. Most people don’t realize I’m doing this so whenever there are people over I can wait for my moment to pass secretly and nobody is the wiser. A more obvious example of this is when I will be out without my cane and will need to lean on anything nearby – a wall, a chair, etc. Even patterns can mess with me, such as venetian blinds or a checkered tile. For this to be put at ease I will need to reach out and touch it to ground me.

Pull Out All the Stops 

Whenever I need to be somewhere on a day that is particularly awful, I will do everything I can to draw attention to myself – but only in a positive way. I will curl my hair, put on a full face of makeup, wear a dress and I’ve even worn flowers in my hair all to give the illusion that all is right in the world. Another way of doing this is planning something big, i.e. a party or barbecue, so you can distract everyone else while you hide in the shadows, only popping out to show yourself when necessary.


When you’re just not having it and the whole world seems to be caving in, you may seclude yourself from the rest of society. This isn’t great to do all the time, but it is often necessary for your mental health. This is a very important sign for people to pick up on. If you notice your chronically ill friend has just dropped off the face of the Earth, check on them and keep at it. It’s one thing to hear someone complain 24/7 but it’s an entirely different animal when they’ve gone into hiding. You don’t know their state of mind, you don’t know how they’re feeling, and they could feel like they’re drowning. It’s not unusual to want to hide from the world – with chronic illness, it can be easy to feel like a burden on everyone around you. It is very hard to see the light when you’ve spent so much time in the darkness, but it will get better, and those who are secluded may need help seeing that.

Eating Habits

Pay attention to how they’re eating. If they normally eat a certain amount of food and suddenly their appetite changes without explanation, you could be seeing another sign. Medications may make us nauseous and even throw up, so food might not be on our list all the time. There’s also binge eating disorder, which could be a sign of depression. Whatever the change is, it could be nothing or it could be something – the important part is finding out what’s going on and seeing which ways, if any, there are to support them.

There are so many more ways to tell your loved one is struggling. Reach out to them and help in any way you can. The smallest assistance can have the biggest impact.

What are some of the ways others can tell you are sick?

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Thinkstock photo via berdsigns.

Originally published: July 3, 2017
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