Objective: understand the meanings attributed and self-reported feelings about falling ill by people living with leprosy. Method: qualitative research, developed in a municipality in the northern region of Bahia. Semi-structured interviews and systematic observation were carried out, which originated three analytical categories, through Bardin's categorical thematic analysis. Results: the participants revealed feelings of fear, inferiority and sadness that coexist with discrimination and the lack of information about illness. These feelings experienced daily removed them from family and close people, reinforcing suffering and psychic illness. Conclusion: the daily confrontation of prejudice can interfere in the prognosis of the disease, in adherence to treatment and quality of life, which requires professional conduct based on welcoming, qualified listening and constant dialogue.