On Hypochondria


I’m a hypochondriac, and, like most things, this is something that I self-diagnosed on Web M.D. while freaking out at two in the morning.

I can only speak for myself and my experiences, but I hope that this resonates for people who have similar issues, and, equally important, for the people that love them and can’t figure out why [insert name] is always talking about two dots on their arm.

Hypochondria is a psychological issue, not a logical one. It’s obsessional anxiety, and the obsessional part is a big, big deal. Look; I know the two minuscule dots on my arm are no big deal. You wouldn’t notice it. I barely notice it. But to my brain, this is a clue. I am Sherlock Holmes, and everything on my body is a clue with life and death stakes, namely: whatever this is, it is going to kill me, and I cannot rest until I solve this lethal mystery.

Life and death stakes sounds dramatic, but that’s my endorphins talking, and they take no prisoners. “Basically nothing” is not “nothing” and my mind works on a binary. If I am not perfectly healthy, I am, by default, sick. I am diseased. And I get depressed, anxious, moody and deeply distracted and stressed over the inevitabilities of human flesh. It’s almost a moral issue. If I’m sick — either invented, or heaven forbid, in reality — I self-impose a stark, terrible panic.

I have cancelled an entire weekend over a pimple I deemed suspicious.

Again, the obsessional part: deep down, there’s something deeper than a suspicion there is a certainty that I am unwell. And, if I can’t find the symptoms, I will invent them. Things I have had serious, anxious panic attacks about include, and in no way limited to: a paper-cut, a mosquito bite, a hangover, and getting out of a long hot shower to find my skin kind of reddish.

This is a recent sort of stress for me, and I hope to get through it. But I thought it was important to share this, partially because it’s so shameful. It’s illogical. I know this is an inappropriate response, I know I’m fine and even that what I’m worried about isn’t a big deal, but it’s bigger than what it is. It’s a binary which I feel my life and worth rests on, and I know that’s crazy. It is crazy. But it’s true, and it’s how it works, and that alone makes it worth sharing.

If you know a hypochondriac, listen. We talk about our symptoms to be calmed down, reminded, and brought back to ourselves. We know it’s annoying. You know what else is annoying? Being a hypochondriac. It’s a roller-coaster of terror that you’re embarrassed for having. Sigh, roll your eyes, and be a friend. Nod. Tell them they’re fine. Because they are, and you help them more than you know, even when they come back four days later with a new concern.

For the hypochondriacs:

I know.

I know, I know, I know. Trust me.

And also you’re fine.

First, don’t Google anything, ever again. The internet will take you on a bad trip, and that’s because the internet is a robot. It’s knowledge without humanity, so reading up on how you’re sick in that void removes the soul, and it makes you forget that you’re more than that. The internet can remove perspective, and allow you to obsesses about large latin words and estimate bumps as though that’s all you are. It isn’t.

And also you’re fine.

Do you have a dog? Does your dog bark? Is every person your dog barks at a burglar? That is the metaphor for your health. Because, like a dog, you’re adorable but almost always wrong (for the better) on these sorts of things. And, like a burglar, real medical problems are blessedly less common than your imagination would insist.

And also, you’re fine.

The human body is a weird, squishy thing, with hair follicles, bumps and gurgles and oils and glands. That is the deal. There is an enormous range of “ok” that gets wider by the day. Make your peace with your imperfections. Address the root cores of your anxieties. Focus on mental health the way you would on other symptoms. Because life is long, especially yours, especially in the year 2014 where medicine is basically from the future, and where even your nightmares have cures or, at worst — worst!- have drugs to help.

And also you’re fine.

Because I know that it can be triggering to think about health, get out of your head. There is a narcissism in self-obsession, even when that self-obsession has turned to anxiety. Call a friend. Talk about them. Volunteer. Keep busy, and keep mindful of all the ways you matter, and all the things that matter to you that are there forever, regardless. The world isn’t as shaky as your nerves.

And also, you’re fine.

image –Wonderlane