Keeping Secrets

Keeping illnesses and concerns to yourself, particularly if you are older, if you live alone, or if you live with children or elders that you provide care for is...stupid. I could think of other words that demonstrate the wrongness of that kind of secrecy as well, but they all boil down to the same definition: stupid.

What’s wrong with having a private life?

Sick? Talk to your loved ones about it.

When someone asks you how you’re doing, what’s wrong with just saying, “Fine”, even if you’re really not? If you’re on the phone with a family member, or even spending some time together and you’re asked about the state of your health (and mind), do you answer truthfully?

You’ve met those people.


You know the ones I’m talking about. You drop a socially acceptable, but otherwise meaningless, “How’re you doing?” on them, anticipating a brief, “Fine.”, and a quick getaway…and they start to tell you how they’re doing…in detail. By the time the conversation’s over, you seriously regret having asked the question and determine that if you see them again…you’ll pretend you don’t.

…and my bursitis is acting up something fierce…


You’ve spoken to those people in the past. You know more about their medical histories than you do your own. When you see their numbers on the caller ID, you think twice and take a deep breath before you answer, if you answer at all. You try to avoid those people. You definitely don’t want to be one! It’s better to just say, “Fine”, and get off the phone or change the subject. You can pick up any internal organs that may have somehow fallen out and figure out how to replace them later, right? You are fine, or at least you will be soon. Why bother your friends and loved ones with something silly like that?

Nobody really wants to know anyway…not really.


We tend to believe that we should take care of ourselves and mind our own business. It’s easy to say that other people should come clean with their friends and relatives and make sure people know about their medical, mental, and emotional conditions. It’s not so easy to apply that knowledge to our own lives. After all, other people need to be taken care of so it’s important that they tell you they’re having problems, right? You, on the other hand, are perfectly capable of taking care of yourself – as well as them. Nobody needs or wants to know your issues.

I’m fine, too. Thanks for asking.


You may wonder where I’m going with this bit of speech. Well, I have been guilty of a little hypocrisy in recent months and the fact was brought to my attention. If you read my post, “Help, I Have Fallen,” you know that I was sick not too long ago. If you didn’t read the post, but read the last sentence, you’re pretty much caught up, too.

That post was the first most people knew of my illness.


My son knew. First because he lives with me, second because we had to time road trips around my “dizzy” spells, and lastly because it’s kind of hard to hide the need to sleep and the inability to stand up. Of course, it didn’t look too bad so he didn’t worry too much. Everything was fine. So as far as my, “Are Your Children Prepared to Take Care of You?” post, I think I did okay…not well, but okay…well, at least my child knew.

“…and why are we just hearing about this now?”

In discussing something else with my brother a week or so after posting “Help, I Have Fallen”, I somehow ended up mentioning that I had been sick before. He waited for the details and then asked a seemingly reasonable question, “Why are we just hearing about this now?” The fact is, even as an advocate of checking in on friends and loved ones and making sure they’re safe, eating, and otherwise healthy, I don’t like giving up that kind of information about myself. I’ve even found myself trying to change the subject when the friend I call regularly to ask, “What did you eat today?” asks me the same thing (sometimes I forget to eat, too).

Your definition of reasonable may not be the same as mine.


In truth, I don’t have a reasonable explanation for my behavior – not even reasonable by some standard of my own creation. I could easily have picked up the phone and called my brother – who only lives 10 minutes away – and said, “I haven’t fallen down, but I can’t stand up.”, or “Can you feed your nephew? I don’t know what’s in the fridge and I can’t bring myself to care.” My first thought, though, was that there wasn’t anything he could do about my illness anyway. There was no need to worry him unnecessarily when all I had to do was wait for the…whatever it was…to pass. There’d always be time to call for help if it got worse.

The first thought is always the strongest.


Even on multiple choice tests, when we look at the answer that jumps up and screams, “I’m right, pick me!” before we even finish reading the rest of the answers, we know that one’s the right choice. Even if we later decide to choose another answer, we regret the decision. That first answer…it might very well be the right answer, even if another answer also seems likely. We may even go back and forth between the two, and make a last minute change before turning the test in for correction. It’s a tough call.

Are you choosing because it was your first thought or because it really seems right?


Again, it’s a tough call. I decided to mind my own business and not involve anyone else unless it became necessary. Once I made that decision, I stuck with it. I never thought of changing my mind, well, not seriously. After all, I reasoned, “What could anyone really do about it that I wasn’t already doing?”

If you’re a more open type of person, my reasoning may not seem very reasonable at all. In hindsight, it’s not really reasonable to me, either. I like to keep my private life…private. You know, I “mind mine and leave yours alone”, unless I feel that you need someone to check in on you. I’m the caregiver, not the one who needs care.

Just because I was stupid doesn’t mean that you have to be.

That’s the take-away for this message. Keeping illnesses and concerns to yourself, particularly if you are older, if you live alone, or if you live with children or elders that you provide care for is…stupid. I could think of other words that demonstrate the wrongness of that kind of secrecy as well, but they all boil down to the same definition: stupid.

There’s nothing wrong with keeping secrets or having a private life.


There are just some pieces of information that need to be shared with people who care about you. If you’ve got a mild cold, let your loved ones know, preferably before the hospital calls to notify them that you’ve been admitted with pneumonia. It may seem like nothing. It may, in fact, be nothing. It would be really sad, though, if it turned out that you had a fatal condition that your loved ones only learned about in the corridor outside your hospital room. How would they feel knowing that you didn’t trust them enough to tell them that you had a problem? How would you feel in the same situation?

A quick aside to those people…


People you know casually or who ask, “How are you doing?” in a social setting may not really care what you answer. The same cannot be said of your real friends and loved ones. We do care, and we want you to answer truthfully. We would really appreciate it, however, if you limit your responses to illnesses and conditions that have been affecting you recently. How about something that’s bothered you within, say, the last six months (see, we can be generous) or sooner? Also, if you’ve already been treated and you’re recovering, please don’t describe the details of the treatment unless we ask…especially if it was really gross.

So, how am I doing?


I am actually better than I’ve been in a long time. My health is good and I’m actually making headway at catching up on all the things I’ve let slide. I’m looking forward to my son’s birthday and Christmas in the next few weeks. I’ve got a lot to do, but my outlook’s good. Thanks for asking. How are you doing?

[get-post tag=”about_us”]

Originally posted 2009-12-02 17:35:27.

Tim Colling
Tim Colling

Tim Colling is the founder and President of A Servant's Heart In-Home Care, which provided in-home caregiving services in San Diego County, and also of A Servant's Heart Geriatric Care Management, which provided
professional geriatric care management services and long term care placement services in San Diego County. Tim has more than 30 years of experience in management in a variety of industries. He held a Certified Care Manager credential from the National Academy of Certified Care Managers. Tim is also a Certified Public Accountant (retired), and received his Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting from California State University at San Diego. In addition to writing blog posts here for the Servant’s Heart blog, Tim also is a regular contributor to and to as well as blogs of other eldercare services provider companies. Finally, Tim is also the president of A Servant's Heart Web Design and Marketing, which provides home care marketing as well as website design and online marketing for those who serve the elderly and their families.

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