When you hear the word “hypochondriac,” you probably imagine an irrational, obsessive nail-biter cowering in a corner at the doctor’s office. Or maybe you think of the common sitcom version: caffeinated Eeyore with health anxiety.
Either way, the hypochondriac’s defining trait is Doom-and-Gloom, for all the world to see.
Contrary to this popular depiction, hypochondriacs don’t always wear imaginary illnesses on their sleeves. Most people would never guess I suffer from hypochondria. I rarely visit the doctor, try not to talk about my physical discomforts, and in general come across as a sane, well-balanced human being.
Rewind a decade, and that wasn’t the case. There were months, if not years, when hypochondria rendered me nonfunctional. Irrational fears hijacked my conversations, stole my joy, and consumed my attention. I spent hours on WebMD trying to rule out potential diseases, only to walk away with new, terrifying diagnoses. Ultimately, my hyponchondria led to major emotional breakdown. I had to come clean about my problem, seek counseling, and embark on a long spiritual journey toward hope and healing.
Seven years later, I’m a different person. I don’t obsess (most of the time), I’m more rational, and I never, ever, ever visit WebMD. EVER.
But, I’m still a hypochondriac. And although acute hypochondria is no laughing matter, I’ve gained enough perspective to find some humor in my own ridiculousness. In the spirit of laughing at myself, and giving non-hypos a view from the inside, here is an honest glimpse into my brain over a 24-hour period last week.
A Day in the Life of a Hypochondriac
Wednesday, 7:00 p.m.
Man, I’m exhausted. I can’t wait to get these kids into bed so I can crash. Maybe I’ll skip reading tonight and watch Hawaii Five-O instead.
Geez, my neck is stiff. Was it like this earlier? I did have another headache today.
What did I do to make my neck so stiff?
And how many headaches have I had this week? Three? Four?
[Yells at kids to hurry up.]
Seriously, how long does it take to put on your PJs, brush your teeth, and pee?
[Rubs neck again.]
Holy cow, it feels like someone took my head off and put it back on sideways. It’s freakish how stiff my neck is, so suddenly, with no explanation. Just like that book I read where the lady gets a stiff neck and then dies from meningitis days later.
[Stops rubbing neck.]
One more chapter of Black Beauty and I can send these kids to bed and focus on my neck. Heating pad and ibuprofen for pain; Hawaii Five-O for mindless distraction. That’s the plan.
I will not obsess about this.
It is a STIFF NECK.
Okay, neck check.
Not any better, but not any worse, either. Good sign.
Now, if only these heart palpitations would give it a rest.
At least I don’t have to worry about them anymore. What was it the cardiologist said? “They’re harmless. Don’t come back unless you start passing out.”
Yeah, not passing out.
Hear that, heart? I’m not scared of you, so quit it.
Why did I choose tonight to upload all of my photos to Flickr? It’s slower than death.
(Except quick death, like with a blood clot or something).
Okay, one more episode of Hawaii Five-O while I wait. At least my neck feels better. That heating pad helped.
What’s with that pain in my calf, just below my knee? On the right, as usual.
Probably just a muscle. Definitely not a blood clot.
Nope, no reason to worry about that. I’ve been taking garlic. It’s a blood thinner.
Thursday, 6:46 a.m.
That night was way too short. Wish I could drink coffee, but that would make my heart palpitations worse, and there they are again, still fluttering away.
Don’t need to worry about them, though. Nope, not at all. They’re “harmless.”
Still, why drink caffeine and have to “not worry about them” even more? I’ll skip the coffee.
At least my neck feels better. Now, if I could just get this stiff calf muscle to loosen up…
Okay, the leg pain keeps moving.
What was the route the ultrasound tech took that time she checked me for a blood clot? Yeah, it was all those places I’m feeling pain.
But, really, why would I have a blood clot? I’ve done absolutely nothing to put myself at risk…
…except binge-watch Hawaii Five-O on the couch last night.
How many times did I get up to move around? Were my legs crossed? Did I have decent circulation?
STOP IT, ALISON! YOU DO NOT HAVE A BLOOD CLOT!
[Grabs bottle of garlic supplements.]
But if I do, will taking blood thinner help, or put me at risk for pulmonary embolism?
Hmm, haven’t noticed that pain in a while.
Probably sciatica again, anyway.
(BTW, Thanks for that, broken tailbone.)
Now, there’s an injury you can feel good about; slip in the shower, break your tailbone. Nothing sinister about that. Give me a good broken bone any day.
Busy, busy, day! At least I don’t have time to obsess about my health. Anyway, I’ve had enough “blood clots” and “heart attacks” over the past few years to know I’m worrying about nothing.
This unexplained joint and tendon pain will probably end up being the same way. In a few months I’ll look back and say, “I can’t believe I was worried about that.”
I mean, it’s not like I have bone cancer, or something. It’s just inflammation.
True, I can’t see any reason for it, but it’ll go away.
Unless it’s systemic. I have heard of people whose immune systems turned on them.
When did I get that bruise? It wasn’t there yesterday.
Who gets bruises for no reason?
HEY! That happened in the book, too—the one with the meningitis. Stiff neck, unexplained bruises, death.
Is my neck still stiff?
[In a meeting.]
Ouch! There goes my head. I hate these twinges! It feels like somebody’s driving an ice pick into my brain.
At least this type only ever lasts a few seconds. It’ll stop.
[Head twinges again.]
Okay, that one was worse. What’s with the headaches this week?
Ouch! This is getting old. I’ve never had this many twinges so close together.
I remember the first one, years ago. I thought I was having an aneurysm!
But I wasn’t.
Dishes done, kids in bed. No Flickr for me tonight, I need SLEEP!
[Lays down on bed.]
Hmm. Why am I so tired?
I hope I’m not getting sick…
For the record, this account is not fictionalized or exaggerated, it’s just how I am during particularly stressful times. When I’m overly committed, run down, and fatigued, my brain defaults to hypochondria.
As with all wars waged on the battleground of the mind, fighting hypochondria requires intensive mental and emotional effort. There’s a constant need to recognize harmful thought patterns and redirect them, or shut them down. This is a learned skill, without which I would be pulled into a vortex of fear. (Been there, done that. Not going back.)
If there’s one thing I’ve learned through my struggle, it’s this: I can’t always control the thoughts that pop into my head, but I can control whether or not I hold onto them.
Have you found this to be true? Maybe you’re not a hypchondriac, but we all have battles with our thought life. How do you take your thoughts captive?
(P.S. If you’re a raging hypochondriac, like me, I hope this post doesn’t give you more fuel for the fire. You know what I’m talking about. This is NOT a prophetic message that you have meningitis, a blood clot, an aneurysm, heart disease, or cancer. LET IT GO, and try to laugh at yourself!)