Hypochondriasis or hypochondria refers to excessive preoccupancy or worry about having a serious illness. Hypochondriasis is often accompanied by other psychological disorders including a generalized anxiety disorder diagnosis at some point in life.
For a few years in my early 30s, I used to be a hypochondriac.
The reasons why anyone develops this illness are as many as they are varied, but mine principally came about because one day I thought I was having a heart attack. As you do.
Midway through a normal day as a journalist, I wandered into a hospital and pronounced: “I can’t breathe, I’m sweaty and I have a weird pain running down my arm.” If you ever need to be seen urgently at hospital, I would suggest you say that simple sentence because my feet barely touched the floor as I was hurtled into emergency, my top was wiped off, and I was hooked up to a variety of bleeping machines.
I learned that day that I didn’t have a heart attack but I did have an anxiety disorder. I was 32. The possibility had never crossed my mind before – even though now it certainly explains a number of my more interesting life choices.
For a few years after that, every time I got a cold, or a pain in my chest from smoking too many ciggies, or more bruises than “normal” after a big night on the piss, I would spend hours online trying to find the fatal disease which neatly fitted my symptoms.
I really must be the luckiest woman alive, because in my tortured mind I outwitted lung cancer, ovarian cancer, HIV and an aneurysm during those confusing few years.
My friends were relatively supportive but I was the butt of many jokes. Little did they understand that I didn’t know how to stop my brain from continually thinking that I was dying. It was exhausting. And it was terrifying.
Thankfully, I found a very good head-doctor, who taught me that just because someone was late for a get-together it didn’t mean they had been hit by an out-of-control train or repeatedly run over by a semi-trailer backing carelessly out of a milk factory.
Little by little, over the years, my worries became less and less imagined until it got to the point where today I never think that anything is wrong with me at all. I have become the opposite of a hypochondriac. I just Googled to try and find what that term would be but could only find stoic and resilient which sound like good solid words but not nearly medical enough for me.
Three months ago, I got one of my fingers wedged in my front door whilst completely sober. It hurt a lot and went green and swollen. A couple of weeks ago, I realised that while the colour was generally okay, it did go white on occasions and had grown a quite unattractive side-hump. And every time I bumped it – or made the bed – it hurt quite a bloody lot. Needless to say I stopped making the bed.
I never went to the doctor until last week where I was informed that I had broken it all those months before and I was admonished for not seeking medical treatment earlier. My how the tide had turned.
Over Christmas, I also developed a bit of cough, and then experienced a snot explosion so momentous that I sounded like my Great Uncle Darryl – if I had a great uncle and his name was Darryl.
A few days after dosing myself up with Sudafed and wandering gleefully around Sydney off my head on pseudoephedrine, I developed a cough so gurgley it sounded like I had swallowed a tornado. Instead of seeking medical assistance, I utilised my emergency Bali antibiotics – commonly referred to as medicinal napalm – for a couple of days and all my symptoms miraculously disappeared.
Then on Tuesday, the same symptoms returned and I started to worry. Only a little mind you. I Googled: “Can you get the same cold twice?”, found the answer was yes to a degree and was satisfied.
Within 24 hours, I was a feverish lump of lethargy. I spent a few days on my couch, coughing and sneezing up gallons of goo, and also learning the true meaning of cabin fever. I tried to go back to work even though I felt like my face had been trodden on by a Clydesdale horse.
On the fourth day, I went to the doctor. She gave me drugs to deal with a very nasty sinus infection. One that I had had since Christmas which strangely I had not been able to cure through my self-diagnosis and self-medication of dodgy drugs bought overseas.
So as I edge gingerly towards wellness, I’ve learned it’s a fine line between unwarranted anxiety and being cavalier about one’s health.
I don’t know why I’m surprised at that revelation. I’ve never been any good with moderation.