When I talk about my anxiety, I’m fine.
OCD? Not a problem.
Depression? Sure thing.
But it’s hard for me to sit here and fess up to being a hypochondriac and that’s because being a hypochondriac carries a bad rep.
Over the years I’ve been called a “drama queen” and an “attention seeker” by my nearest and dearest. I’ve been told to “get a grip” and that I need to “stop worrying about nothing.” I think it’s hard for me to write this post because hypochondria is an anxiety disorder that’s hardly ever spoken about and therefore has a long way to go in fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness that we’re just starting to break.
In contrast to what has been said to me, my hypochondria is something that I live very quietly with, much more so than I live with my other mental health problems. Unlike common perceptions regarding hypochondria I rarely go to the doctor with my worries and I hardly ever discuss my fears with anyone for fear of being called silly.
For me, living with hypochondria is losing a whole night to googling symptoms and reading about various illnesses online spending hours trying to self-diagnose. It’s lying awake terrified that I’m ill or dying. It’s having intrusive thoughts about all of the big scary illnesses out there and the chances of me one day having them. It’s about worrying that even getting help for these illnesses, like having surgery, carry a risk of death. Truthfully, having hypochondria is terrifying and something that I often sit with alone.
In my experience, when people think of death they see it as a far off thing that won’t happen to them, or at the very least is something that they won’t have to face for a long time. I’m the complete opposite. I’m very aware that death is a part of life and that one day I will die and so will everybody that I’ve ever cared about. I know that death can sweep in and happen unexpectedly when you’re not looking and so I’ve made death my personal enemy.
I try as hard as I can to fortify myself and those I love from death by being a hypochondriac, by worrying and thinking of the worst possibility so that I can act quickly. I’m on constant high alert for the grim reaper knocking at my door.
There are so many health warnings these days, everywhere you look from posters to TV adverts. Now I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I’m sure these advertisements save lives. But when you’re a hypochondriac being reminded that 1 of 2 people in the UK will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime is not helpful. I look at those odds and I look around at the people I love and a wave of paralysing fear washes over me.
Every. Single. Freaking. Time.
And what’s worse is that I know that dying is inevitable and that for all of my worry and trying to protect myself and those I love against it ultimately there’s nothing I can do to stop it when it does finally decide to arrive.
Because as well as worrying about my own health I also am a hypochondriac when it comes to the people I love. My family get so annoyed with me when they’re ill. If they have an illness for longer than two weeks I’m certain that they’re going to die. I will nag at them to see a doctor and spend countless nights until the illness has passed crying myself to sleep and having panic attacks because I’m certain that something is seriously wrong with them.
In society hypochondria is a mental health condition that is still very much seen as a joke. It’s perceived as self-indulgent, dramatic and pathetic but in reality it is a terrifying condition to live with. On a regular basis I convince myself that I am ill and that I am going to die. I may not be physically ill but mentally I am there living it and experiencing it. I believe it deeply and wholly. To me, in my mind, I am sick and I am dying. Fact. And it’s not until my symptoms subside or I get a doctor's diagnosis that I believe otherwise. It’s petrifying and mentally exhausting.
Hypochondria is not a silly, frivolous or indulgent condition to have. It’s no fun to live with and is certainly no joke to be laughed off. I hope that one day it will be seen as the crippling anxiety disorder that it is and treated with the respect it deserves. But until that day I refuse to be ridiculed for a condition that I have as little control over as my OCD, PTSD and Depression. I refuse to be made fun of and refuse to believe that my very real fear is trivial, petty and insignificant.
My name is Jess. I am a hypochondriac and I will not be ashamed.