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.
What Hypochondria Really Looks Like
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, hyponchondria led to emotional breakdown. I had to come clean about my problem, seek counseling, and embark on a long 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-hypochondriacs a view from the inside, here is an honest glimpse into my brain over a recent 24-hour period.
24 hours in the mind 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. [Rubs neck.] Geez, my neck is stiff. Was it like this earlier? I did have another headache today. How many is that this week? Three? Four?
[Yells at kids to hurry up.] Seriously, how long does it take to brush your teeth and pee? [Rubs neck again.] Holy cow, 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.] Ah, crap.
Kids in bed, now I can focus on my neck. Heating pad and ibuprofen for pain; Hawaii Five-O for mindless distraction. I will not obsess about this. It is a STIFF NECK. They happen.
Okay, neck check. [Rolls head.] Not any better, but not any worse, either. Good sign. Now, if only these heart palpitations would give it a rest. [Checks pulse.] What was it the cardiologist said last year? “Don’t come back unless you start passing out.” No passing out here. Hear that, heart? I’m not scared of you.
What is with the internet tonight. It’s slower than death. Except quick death, like from a blood clot or something. [Stretches legs.] What’s with that pain in my calf, just below my knee? Probably just a muscle. Definitely not a blood clot.
Thursday, 6:46 a.m.
[Yawns, sits up, and immediately checks pulse.] 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. I know they’re “harmless,” but why drink caffeine and have to “not worry about them” even more?
Busy day! At least I don’t have time to obsess about meningitis or heart failure. Anyway, I’ve had enough fake illnesses over the past few years to know I’m worrying about nothing. [Rotates wrist.] 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.
[Rubs arm.] 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?
Ouch, my head! That was a weird twinge. Like an ice pick to my brain. At least it only lasted a second.
There it is again! Seems like this happened a few years ago. I thought I was having an aneurysm. But I wasn’t. I’M NOT.
Still alive, despite the meningitis, heart failure, blood clot, and aneurysm. No TV for me tonight, I obviously need SLEEP! [Lies down on bed.] I am so tired. Like, ridiculously tired. Why am I so tired? I hope I’m not getting sick….
Taking Captives in the War on Anxiety
This account is not exaggerated, it’s just how I think during particularly stressful times. When I’m overly committed, run down, and fatigued, my brain defaults to anxiety—specifically, anxiety about my health.
(BTW, if you’re a hypochondriac, 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 one of the medical issues listed here. I PROMISE.)
Maybe you’re not a hypchondriac. Maybe you wrestle with other forms of anxiety. As with all wars waged on the battleground of the mind, to gain freedom we must discover harmful thought patterns and redirect them.
We can’t always control the thoughts that pop into our heads, but we can control whether or not we hold onto them.
This is a learned skill, not a natural impulse. Letting go of all the what-ifs can feel impossible at times, but as with everything else in life, practice really does make it easier.
I find it helpful to memorize Bible verses about God’s love for me, His power, and His goodness. I also have a handful of old hymns memorized that reinforce God’s character.
Sometimes focusing on Him, instead of my fear, helps me release the what-ifs. More often, when my emotions are haywire, it’s difficult to direct my focus to worship. In those times, the simple act of recalling memorized words is still helpful to force my brain out of its repetitive cycle of fear.
Your turn. How do you take your thoughts captive when they’re trying to run away with you?