Learning how to trust your immune system
June 23, 2010 1:24 PM Subscribe
How do you cure a hypochondriac?
posted by anonymous to health & fitness (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A close relative of mine is a hypochondriac. Every itch on her leg must be a blood clot. Every pain in her gut must be appendicitis. Every mole or freckle must be skin cancer. Seems like she's in some sort of pain nearly all the time, and I honestly believe that usually, it's because she's looking for it that she finds it (it's psychosomatic). Sometimes she has phantom pain that moves from place to place, which suggests to me it's all in her mind. Of course, I'm not her so I can't be sure. I trust her but she is a chronic worrier and that frequently clouds her judgment.
Whenever she starts feeling bad she demands that we drop whatever we're doing and look it up online. I can't blame her for wanting answers but it seems like doing this only makes her more paranoid. She finds some rare, obscure disease that matches her vague symptoms and convinces herself that she has it. She can't relax until she's found some sort of assurance online that she's fine. I feel that this behavior itself is the most unhealthy thing about her (and the constant worrying may in fact be shortening her lifespan), plus I'm annoyed at constantly pulling up WebMD at all hours of the day and night.
The funny thing is, when she gets really worked up she decides she has to go to the E.R... but she's deathly afraid of doctors and refuses to make the trip. Then she gets locked into a cycle of fear, where she believes she must choose between dying a horrible death, and getting stuck by needles (a fate worse than death).
How can I help her relax? What should I do when I try to calm her down and tell her she's fine, and she accuses me of not caring or taking her health seriously? I am in a position of caretaker for this family member; I'm responsible for her wellbeing.
Also, is my "don't worry, be happy" approach too nonchalant? When I personally get hurt I tough it out and wait for my body to heal itself. If I've been sick for several days and still show no signs of improvement, then I'll go to the doctor, but not before then. I shrug off every unusual thing my body does, like it's nothing, and I'm usually right. I seem to have great metabolism, a strong immune system, and I bounce back from things quickly. But maybe I'm projecting those traits onto others who are not so resilient. I tend to think my relative overreacts to every little sneeze, but she thinks I UNDERreact. Maybe she's right. There are diseases out there that kill in just 24 hours and my approach wouldn't do anything until it was too late. My relative is deathly afraid that she'll be the victim of one because of my negligence, and I guess on some level I have the same fear (though statistics say there's probably nothing to be worried about). What should I do, for both of us?