Understanding how sickle cell disease has shaped my personality

Avoiding a sickle cell pain crisis was top priority for this columnist

Dunstan Nicol-Wilson avatar

by Dunstan Nicol-Wilson |

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Reserved, calm, and quiet are adjectives that have been used to describe me at some point, and I’d say they’re pretty accurate. I usually step out of my shell only when I’m around people I’m comfortable with or in a one-on-one situation. In group settings, I tend to be more reserved and take a back seat to others.

It’s understandable why people would describe me this way. I can think of countless examples when I’ve displayed these characteristics. However, I’ve always wondered how much of it is because of who I am and how much is due to my chronic condition. Physical, emotional, and mental stress influence how I manage my life with sickle cell disease.

Why I’m reserved

I’ve mentioned before how a young version of me believed that excitement always leads to pain. This trauma meant that I always tried to contain my excitement to prevent a sickle cell crisis. The young kid jumping around at exciting news grew up to be an adult who would wait until an event actually happened before showing any excitement.

As an adult, I’m learning to vocalize my excitement more, even if what I physically display on the outside is often nonchalant. I’ve discovered things I’m passionate about and responsibilities that push me out of my comfort zone. These passions have helped me push back against the limits I had placed on my excitement.

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Why I’m calm

I tend to be calm about things because I have strong emotions. I realize this statement sounds like a contradiction. But I am a tranquil person, and it’s difficult for me to appear overwhelmed or stressed, because neither of these emotions is beneficial when managing sickle cell disease. When I have strong negative emotions, I can feel my body responding negatively.

It’s impossible to never be overwhelmed or stressed. Growing up, I didn’t manage these situations in a healthy way, so my emotions would always build to explosive levels, which often would lead to a crisis. Now I’m trying to learn how to process these emotions in a healthy manner to avoid the potential repercussions for my health.

Why I’m quiet

I am soft-spoken, sometimes annoyingly so. As a result, I’m often asked to repeat things and project my voice more. I always thought that this is just how I am, but I regress even further after a crisis. It takes a lot of energy to project my voice and be loud, so it is part of the emotional defense mechanism I’ve developed to maintain a calm status quo.

Thankfully, I am more conscious of this now and do my best to speak up. As an advocate, mentor, and leader, it’s impossible to be quiet. Using these roles to help pull me out of my quietness has allowed me to be more open and share my personality.

Being reserved, calm, and quiet are aspects of my personality. It’s undeniable that my chronic condition has played a part in this. However, I can be different at this stage in life, as I am more aware of how my chronic illness affects me. I can continue to push the emotional limits I have placed on myself due to pain.

Embracing all of these parts of me will allow my true personality to shine through.

Note: Sickle Cell Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sickle Cell Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell disease.


John avatar


Thank you for giving me some insight into an approach on managing stress. My son has SS & your column reminded me that for much of my son’s life he has had crisis just prior to planned events & had to miss out or go on despite his pain.

Princess avatar


I feel like you’ve read my mind. My exact feelings, thoughts and experiences as a Sickle Cell Warrior. Thank you! Thank you for putting the words on paper and creating a beautifully expressive portrait/outlet for our community. A way to vocalize how we feel and cope with our disorder in an ever-changing society. We continue to adapt our coping skills while challenging ourselves to speak out and educate others. To advocate for the unseen and many times unheard voices of those living with Sickle Cell. I pray that I can be as vocal even in writing. I thank you for this article!


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