The Hidden Symptom


I’ve noticed a hidden symptom when people get seriously or even terminally ill. I am sure there is neuroscience out there to back this up but I’m just speaking of personal experience in this post. The symptom I’ve noticed is how the brain changes behavior patterns, often long before anyone knows there is an illness present.

The brain changes behavior in people. I assume it knows something is wrong and is trying to compensate, keep control. It can make the person more temperamental, turn them irritable, act in a sub-standard performance manner etc. This can be hard on the person trying to help them. If the ill person loses their temper for instance, your instinct is to snap back in defense. But the truth is, the person may not mean in their heart what they are saying, their brain is compelling them to act out in such a fashion. It may be hurtful but it is better to take their striking out and let it pass without reaction.

I have run across this several times. Before anyone even knew my mom was ill, there were instances of her acting oddly, losing her temper a couple of times over nothing. Looking back, it is easy to say, “Ah … so that is why she did that.” And when her illness became known, it happened with more frequency. I learned to ride with it although it wasn’t easy many days.

There was a teen I played ball with and he had been improving on his skills but then suddenly it was like he just got lazy. You could throw the ball right at him and his reaction time was almost nil. Guys – including me – began to razz him, give him a hard time because no one could figure out what was going on. He just shrugged off his mistakes and kept going. A few months later he was diagnosed with a life threatening tumor and everyone went, “Ah, so that is why he started acting that way.”

I’ve seen people, even knowing someone is ill, take the attitude, “well, I’m not going to let them speak to me that way” or “I’m not going to stand for that” and never stop to think that maybe the person really can’t help themselves. Despite all the crap about free will, we actually possess very little of it even when we are at our best. When we are ill, we possess even less.

The point I am trying to make is that if you know someone is ill, or just suspect it, and they snap at you, or behave in an unreasonable manner, you might want to pause before you retaliate. You might want to realize that as a friend or loved one, ‘taking it’ comes with the turf. It won’t be easy, many days you’ll slip up and yell back or something and then regret it but that is okay, we’re all human. And that is my point also. We’re all human and our brains drive us. If nothing else, remember, someday you’ll be in those shoes and how would you want a person to treat you?

Categories: Everyday Life, health, science | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “The Hidden Symptom

  1. Francis

    Hey there. Thanks for this post. It is true, people who are ill are often prone to get jumpy in heated conversations. However, as always in science, correlation doesn’t imply causation. It is an interesting thought, and it should be experimented further. I suppose it is a matter of hormonal imbalance, but take into though that this can happen not only during illnesses of any kind, but also during elongated periods of environmental or social distress. Again, very interesting thought.

    • Jett

      That is true, correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation but there is science out there – like with brain tumors being the obvious choice – that indicates the brain will change behavior. I don’t know what studies have been done and I am sure it varies from disease to disease. Good point about the environmental and social distress which I am sure seems amplified during a serious illness which would only compound the problem. The fact those two things can cause this would be an area for further research as well, I would think.

      Thanks for stopping by the blog and commenting on the post!

  2. Sandy

    Brilliant observation. Thanks for posting this. It is particularly meaningful.

  3. And those of us on steroids as part of our treatment, well….. Watch out. ; )
    warmly, marcy

    • Jett

      True. I think that is how it started for The Hulk 🙂 Thanks for visiting the blog!

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