Living in the fish bowl

A lot of people live in what is essentially a fish bowl; but usually that has been their
choice. By fish bowl I mean a situation where you are being selectively
observed by other people. So called Movie Stars are often in this position, but
typically, they invite the public and media to watch out for them when they are
out and about. With Stage 4 you don’t have lot of choice about being in the
fish bowl. Medical people, friends, family, colleagues etc., are always looking
at you to check out your current medical and/or psychological status.

In fact, it is possibly more like living in a panopticon (see:,
where you know you are being selectively observed, but you don’t always know by
who and/or when it is happening.

Psychologically, accepting this situation can be difficult – particularly if this is a new
experience. Eventually, I suspect, most people with stage 4 get used to it and
get on with their lives, but the panopticon effect means that you can never
quite put it aside.

I have managed this phenomenon by accepting that it happens, that I can’t change it
(even if I asked people to stop “fish bowling” me the panopticon effect means I
could never know whether they have or haven’t changed their behaviour) and that
it really just goes with the territory. That doesn’t necessarily make it OK,
but it reminds me that I do after all live in a social world with a lot of
people who care about me.


About Denys Yeo

I am an educational psychologist. My work is primarily in the area of special education. I live with stage 4 cancer. This blog aims to comment on the psychological impact of living in a stage 4 state.
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3 Responses to Living in the fish bowl

  1. Toni says:

    You do indeed have a lot of people that date about you and your well being 😉

  2. Toni says:

    That was supposed to be *care*

  3. Julie Cummins says:

    The other side of this equation are those who are concerned, who care, who love, who are curious, surprised, scared,and sad and feeling acutely inadequate about how to communicate appropriately with someone who is potentially dying. There doesn’t seem to be a ‘right’ way to express that range of emotions appropriately, and each individual wants and needs something different. So what exactly do we do on the ‘other side’? Say nothing, say something, be sensitive, be crass, be funny, be sad? This is a really wierd place to be in, and nobody has told us the rules of the game.

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