week in the life of a hypochondriac

The following semi-fictitious post is directly based on my true personal life experience.*

All diseases and health problems mentioned are actual true things that can actually happen to you. Probably even like a whole 1% chance, probably. All links provided for your reading pleasure. Some have pictures. Click at your own risk.

Warning: If you are yourself a hypochondriac, I strongly recommend not reading this post, as it will only give you further material to freak out about. Seriously.

Monday- Odd pain in my lower right abdomen. Definitely appendicitis. See the doctor at once to prevent instant death. Doctor says the appendix is fine? Well, it’s obviously the lesser known chronic appendicitis, which comes and goes, unlike the acute appendicitis everyone thinks of. Doctor clearly has no idea what’s going on here.

Tuesday- Strange throbbing sensation in the center of my chest along with a weird pain towards the bottom of my right side rib cage. No worries, a quick Google search will sort things out. Oh God, I have an aortic aneurysm just waiting to rupture AND it’s clearly comorbid with an infected gallbladder! Lie in bed clutching my phone, clinging to Dr. Google and awaiting certain death. Surprised relief when I survive the night.

Wednesday- A small bump on the side of my nose that wasn’t there before. Definitely not a pimple. A search for “small bump on nose” is warranted, which obviously narrows it down to basal cell carcinoma or angiofibroma (never mind that the latter usually affects teen males; there’s always an exception). Either way, I’m clearly going to lose my nose. Obviously they’ll have to chop the whole thing off. Try to reconcile myself with living like Voldemort in exchange for not dying.

My future.

Thursday- What’s this small pink bump on my arm? Look, there’s another one. And another. Three pink bumps. Kind of itchy, too. Must Google this in case it’s some infectious disease. Oh, oh my God. They’re bed bug bites. Bed bugs bite in threes. I have bed bugs. I can feel them crawling on me right now! Isn’t that another bite? Must scan every inch of every surface in my room. Must identify every bug I find. Must check my body every 3-5 minutes for new bites. They’re totally crawling all over me and biting me. Wait, do I have delusional parasitosis? Am I going crazy?

Friday- Drank some alcohol (not excessively, because no way am I going to risk throwing up because along with hypochondria comes emetophobia), and then noticed a weird tingly/exhausted sensation in my arm muscles. Clearly a sign of alcoholic myopathy, never mind that I don’t drink often, and before long all my muscles will atrophy and I will be a useless blob on the floor. And die.

Saturday- Really weird tingling shooting pains in my head. Well, now, this is definitely not temporary nerve pain due to my (actual, not imagined) TMJ. It’s far more likely that I have trigeminal neuralgia or brain cancer or something and will need surgery to survive.

Sunday- No pains or mysterious symptoms today. How odd. Go to bed. What if the fan starts an electrical fire if I leave it on while I’m sleeping? Turn it off and lie there in the heat. What if the room overheats without the fan and I die of being baked in an oven? What if a regular old fire starts in some other person’s apartment? What if someone climbs up three stories and crawls in my window if I leave it open for fresh air and kills me? My chest starts to feel tight. Maybe I’m having a heart attack. Maybe… maybe… maybe…**

*Hypochondria is a real anxiety disorder, now classified as “somatic symptom disorder” and/or “illness anxiety disorder” by psychologists. It’s characterized (similar to OCD) by obsessive thoughts (thinking you have an illness or health problem) and compulsive checking behaviors (checking Google, researching all kinds of diseases to rule them out, going to the doctor for reassurance) which continue in a vicious circle. The brain continuously seeks that temporary relief from its anxiety via the checking behaviors, but the relief never lasts as there is always a new symptom to cause anxiety and restart the cycle.

I have it, but it’s mild enough that I don’t need any professional treatment. It doesn’t interfere with my life or make me miserable (most of the time). Although this post details daily occurrences, for me it only happens a few times a month to a few times a week, depending on my overall stress levels and mental state. (However, all of the examples are actual things I have experienced and feared.) I typically handle it with humor (poking fun at my irrational fears, such as through this post) and/or telling my mom every single perceived symptom and the diseases I probably have (sorry, Mom!) and get reassurance from her. That’s usually enough to subside my fears in time.

I’ve definitely improved, since for example when I was 12 years old I had anxiety about vomiting to the point of developing psychosomatic stomachaches every single night (out of the fear/anxiety of throwing up – how ironic, right?). Only after multiple scans and being told there was absolutely nothing wrong with me did they subside. I’ve certainly learned to cope with the anxiety and recognize psychosomatic symptoms much better over the years.

Important (lengthy) note: I am very aware that there are people who actually suffer from these diseases and other serious diseases. To them, I’m sure hypochondria seems petty and ridiculous and even cruel and selfish towards those who have real health problems. In a way, that’s true, and I think that focusing on that can help someone with hypochondria to put things in perspective (by getting out of their own head and having empathy for another human being).

However, do keep in mind that (certainly in more severe cases than mine, anyway) hypochondria [just like any mental disorder] is a health problem in its own right. It’s caused by neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain. People with illness anxiety aren’t intentionally belittling the experiences of people with actual illnesses; they’re just overwhelmed with and trapped by fear.

And even though rationally speaking some of these fears might seem ridiculous, I assure you they can become very real at the time – and the increasing anxiety only serves to intensify the symptoms or even bring on new psychosomatic symptoms. That’s where the need to develop coping skills comes in (or possibly seek professional help if the anxiety becomes severe).

**Since hypochondria is a type of anxiety disorder, it can be comorbid with other anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety, OCD, panic disorder, etc. That’s why in the “Sunday” entry, I wrote about general anxiety (unrelated to illness) – which then leads to illness-related anxiety. It’s pretty typical.

Final note: My goal in writing this post is to somewhat humorously introduce the experiences of someone with mild hypochondria / illness anxiety and how I personally deal with it – nothing more! Please don’t take offense.

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