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A woman with a cane stands paralyzed with embarrassment in the middle of a crowd at a concert.

The Self-Esteem of a Chronically Ill Person

I’ve always dealt with self-esteem and confidence issues. The topic isn’t new to me, but ever since becoming chronically ill, it’s brought out new self-esteem issues I didn’t really know existed.

Self-esteem around family and friends

Since I’m literally always in pain, it’s kind of hard to avoid my friends and family seeing me in pain. I always find myself trying to minimize how bad it is around other people though, because I don’t want others to see me in a totally vulnerable state. I try my best to not complain and make a big deal out of whatever I’m going through, even if I’m in a lot of pain.

A reason I think I do this is that I don’t want to explain what’s going on to everyone all the time. It’s very hard to find people that understand that I’m always in pain, and sometimes explaining that to others is more of a lost cause.

I always feel like I’m not like everyone else, and the only way to feel that way is to keep most of my chronic illness issues to myself when around other people. In reality, that’s the opposite of what we should be doing as chronically ill people. The only way to make these diseases more “normal” is to raise awareness and talk about them all the time.

Confidence being sick in public

Something that I noticed pretty much right away when the symptoms first came on is the fact that I try to hide my illness when I’m out in public. I wasn’t doing it consciously, but I was still doing it. I don’t like extra attention being brought to me.

When I would go to the doctor’s office every week or two, I would catch myself not limping around as much as I did at home. I think I subconsciously wanted to pretend like nothing was wrong with me in the sight of other people. This is part of the reason why I still haven’t mustered up the courage to use my cane in public yet.

Using my cane

Sometimes when I’m out in public, I’ll see a younger person using a cane or mobility device. My instant reaction is that they’re so brave and strong for actually using them in public.

Something that I’m not confident enough to do yet. I was at a concert once during a particularly bad flare (not a great idea to be standing for hours during a flare), and I had wanted to bring my cane, but ultimately decided not to. While I was there, I saw a girl around my age that was using a cane, and I suddenly felt embarrassed for not having the guts to use mine.

Seeing people that do this gives me hope though, that someday, we can all just be ourselves, sick or healthy, and use whatever we feel comfortable with needing in public. Someday I hope to build the confidence that girl at the concert had.

I’m working on it

I’m not exactly close to being totally comfortable with being my sick, true self in front of everyone yet. What are some of the things that you do or have done to make this transition easier in your day to day life, and what has helped the most?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Auldyn Matthews-McGee moderator
    5 months ago

    Wow, reading this was like hearing my husband talk about going through extremely bad flare ups. We were in Disney World once and he felt so embarrassed I had to get him a wheelchair.

    What’s helped him is doing things that make him feel body positive outside of AS. He started taking charge and gaining weight (he’s very underweight), doing some limited yoga, and going on walks. Trying to find what makes him feel good about his body reinforces that AS is part of him, so own it just like anything else physically he may feel embarrassed about.

    I hope to read more from you soon!

  • Lyla
    5 months ago

    Only my close family and friends know. I can’t even get the truth of it all from my drs! Finally go to a spine specialist sept. 4th. I have a autoimmune disease on top of it. It’s alot to deal with and absorb. I just want the truth! I do however, finally use my cane as needed! It really helps with my gait and sturdiness. Good luck.🌷

  • Auldyn Matthews-McGee moderator
    5 months ago

    I hope your appointment goes well, Lyla! It’s crazy how difficult it is for those with chronic illnesses to try to get the truth. Hopefully you get answers soon and treatments that help.

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