Hypochondria: obsession with the idea of having a serious but undiagnosed medical condition.
Hypochondria was once called “morbid melancholy.” It gets its name from the idea that the gut (liver, gall bladder, and spleen) was the cause of such a disposition. It was believed to be a true medical condition. Growing up, a hypochondriac was labeled a worrier and just dismissed. Now, it is often joked about. People kid about “web md-ing” symptoms and self-diagnosing cancer.
I’ve gone along with the joke my entire life, afraid to admit the truth: I’m a hypochondriac. I’ve seen people roll their eyes or crack a joke when you talk about it. Most will say that they are, too, or recount a funny story of their mother-in-law/cousin/next door neighbor who thought they were dying of a rare disease but it turned out they just had ________ (insert common malady here).
Sometimes there are those who really do have a rare, or misdiagnosed ailment like Lyme’s or Fibromyalgia who are accused of hypochondria until they find that one doctor who will listen and truly find what’s wrong with them. People like me are not a help to those. We make it more difficult for them to get the help they need and I am truly sorry for that. But it doesn’t take away from the belittling and brushing off that I have felt from those around me.
It’s hard when you know in your heart that there has to be a better way to live, but you can’t find any help because what is plaguing you is the punchline in so many jokes.
I have struggled with this for as long as I can remember. When my husband was in Iraq, I can remember talking to a friend and telling her about a weird bump I had on my hand. I had spent the last two hours thinking about this bump and stressing about it because, what if it was something really bad and I needed medical attention? What if I didn’t get the medical attention and I died right there in the living room? What would happen to my son and how would word get to my husband? Now, once I made an off-hand reference to my friend (because I’ve learned not to speak seriously about such things), the worry dissipated. I felt free.
That’s how it usually worked. I’d get myself spun up in a tizzy about something but once I’d say it out loud, usually to my husband, he’d reassure me it was nothing and I would feel better. Crisis averted. But lately, that just hasn’t been the case. I don’t know if it’s stress or just getting older and more aware of my mortality, but I have gotten much worse. To the point where I spent almost a week completely sure that I was going to drop dead at any moment. I was saying things like, “well, if I live to the weekend…”
It was trying to my family and it was trying to me. I was so burdened for my own physical well-being that I had become hyper-aware of everything that was going on with my body. I was also literally making myself sick. The stress was unbearable. What made things worse was that I know that I have some legitimate health problems, but I didn’t know how severe they were or what else may be wrong. Yet, I had convinced myself that I was dying. And that is no way to live.
With all these thoughts constantly on my mind, I could barely function. I could barely work or serve my family. I couldn’t maintain a relationship with anyone, even God, to whom I was praying constantly that He would heal me (from what, I didn’t really know).
I googled faith and hypochondria. I tried to talk to people, but most people don’t really think you’re serious. Or they just throw random Bible verses and platitudes at me. I know that there are answers in God’s Word and that it will work, but simply quoting Philippians 4:6-7 at me doesn’t really help that much.
And then one night I was driving to work and I was stressing out about… everything, really, and I had an epiphany. Philippians 1:21 came into my mind: To live is Christ, to die is gain. I realized that if I live then I need to spend my time glorifying Jesus. If I died, then I guess He was done with me and I get to be with Him. It was a beautiful thought. And it carried me through that evening and then next.
I wish I could say that that is the end and that I’m all better. No more worry. No more hypochondria. No more of the anxiety or depression that follow. No more fear or shame. However, it is all still there. I am constantly fighting it. I am constantly trying to overcome those thoughts in my head that lead me to those bad places. I’m fighting to renew my mind (Romans 12:2) daily.
It is difficult. I wish I had help. I wish that there was someone else who could shout, “Me, too!” I wish that I could just come out and explain to people that I am not merely telling a joke when I say that I’m struggling because I think I may have an aneurism. However, I know that I can still manage because I’m not really alone. Jesus has this one. I just have to work on the faith that allows me to see it.