Why Don't People Understand Hypochondriacs?
Being a hypochondriac (a person diagnosed with hypochondria AKA hypochondriasis) can be an everyday struggle and can make a person's life a living hell when they're afflicted with it.
Constantly worrying about whether you have a terminal disease or whether you're going to die or something bad is going to happen to you is one of the most horrible feelings a person can live with.
What makes things even tougher for a person living with hypochondria is how hypochondriacs are not well-understood by the rest of society who do not have this problem. A lot of people think that hypochondriacs are just attention seekers looking for pity.
Many people also assume that because something is "all in your head" that it must be an easy thing to overcome and not really as bad as having the diseases or other illnesses you constantly worry about. The latter is true, that hypochondria is not as bad as having cancer, or HIV/AIDS, or some of the things we commonly worry about.
If it were as bad, then we wouldn't be worried about those other things, we'd be just as worried about the hypochondria itself. But the former assumption is untrue. It is not easy to overcome a mental illness that completely disrupts your life and your ability to enjoy it.
It is a mental illness, but because it's considered an "invisible illness" it can't be diagnosed by tests or things that can actually prove a person has it. Psychological tests are the only way for a doctor to diagnose a person, and these types of tests can often be faked by people who do not actually have hypochondria but pretend they do, for whatever reasons.
They may be trying to make others feel sorry for them, or to use it as an excuse to not work a job or carry out day-to-day responsibilities. So because of people like this, those who genuinely do have hypochondria are often not taken seriously by friends, family, and sometimes even doctors themselves.
What people don't understand about this illness is that it's usually entirely focused on a person's health. Since our health and body constantly changes and fluctuates day by day or year by year, this makes it even more difficult for a person to overcome hypchondria, because there will always be changes or things that arise that a person will think are "signs" that something is seriously wrong.
Sometimes our bodies do give signs and sometimes symptoms are related to something serious. People die every day and many of them die because they ignore these signs or symptoms.
So for a person suffering from this illness, it can be impossible for them to just tell themselves that each sign is nothing serious. They have an overwhelming feeling of "impending doom", and this feeling could best be compared to the type of feeling one would probably have if they actually were dying.
A common belief is that many animals instinctively know when they are about to die and that they will leave home and die out in the woods or go somewhere that they feel safe to die.
It's believed that they have a type of feeling or vibe (possibly natural instincts or some other type of sensation) that arises when they know things just aren't right.
Well this is how things feel for a hypochondriac and it can feel as if you have to take this feeling seriously because if you don't it's equivalent to ignoring nature and ignoring your own body and what it may have been designed to do (warn you when things just aren't right).
Now many friends, family, or other people may say "well you were wrong all the other times that you were worried, so why don't you just stop worrying and assume you're wrong the next time you start to panic".
This is easier said than done and anybody who says obviously does not know what it's like to have these types of feelings. This scenario can best be compared to the little boy who cried wolf.
The boy who kept lying about seeing wolf, and when a wolf finally showed up nobody believed him or came to save him and he was killed and eaten by the wolf. Point is, we all know we'll die one day but none of us know when that's going to happen. While it may be unlikely for people to die at a young age or for healthy people to drop dead unexpectedly, it does happen. Anybody who reads a newspaper or has had a close family member or friend die knows this.
So when hypochondriacs try to tell themselves that they were wrong in the past and are most likely wrong this time, there's another voice that kicks in and says "But people do die. So what if ignoring things this time because of the other times is the wrong thing to do, because this time it really may be a wolf".
We all know that wolf will come one day for us, meaning, we all know we'll die. So to a person dealng with this mental illness, any time could be that wolf so every time needs to be taken seriously.
Others read the story of the little boy who cried wolf, and they walk away thinking the lesson was that you shouldn't lie. But for a hypochondriac, they can often walk away thinking it was about a different lesson; That everybody should have taken the boy seriously despite all the lies, because it eventually did turn out to be a wolf.
So this main difference in the way regular people think and interpret things and how many hypochondriacs think is probaby why the latter have a hard time brushing off things and seem to take everything so much more seriously.
The Word "Hypochondriac"
Another reason why many people don't understand people with hypochondrias or take them seriously, is because the word itself has lost a lot of it's meaning over the years through the overuse of it.
If somebody normally doesn't worry but gets a scratch on their arm and worries about it turning into something deadly or fatal, for example, then other people may call this person a hypochondriac.
They may say "stop being a hypochondriac, it's nothing serious". But this person does not actually fit the medical definition of a hypochondriac. In order to be diagnosed as such, these types of worries would usually have to be an ongoing problem and usually persists for longer than 6 months.
This form of worrying can come and go throughout this time frame and doesn't have to be constant, but if a person rarely worries about things like this in their life, they are not actually a hypochondria. Not until it has turned into a more severe form of this type of worrying and by then it will usually be a major disruption or problem in a person's life.
So many people have heard others say things such as "don't be a hypochondriac" to other people who actually don't fit the description, and so the word has almost been redefined for many people to mean a person who may worry about something that isn't a big deal.
This type of definition or what people often think the word means does not even touch on the seriousness or mental suffering that a real person with hypochondria has to face on an almost daily basis. So if someone who really does have hypochondria admits it to other person and says "Hey you know what, I'm a hypochondriac", the person who hears this may just automatically associate that word with something that really isn't too serious and is just something to laugh at or brush off.
Their mind recalls all the times they've heard that word in real life or in movies or other scenarios, where it was used as a joke or a punchline, and so it's almost as if they are programmed to take this type of thing very lightly and not seriously. So this is another reason why many people don't understand those who suffer from it.
They just assume it's not a big deal because the word is often inappropriately used to describe people who may have an easy time overcoming their worries after someone simply tells the they have nothing to worry about.
Real hypochondriacs have a much harder time simply brushing off their fears and worries, as well as their doubts when it comes to reassuring words from others that they have nothing physically wrong with them.
People who misunderstood this disorder will often criticize a person and say they are weak minded for being unable to overcome their fears, or they will call them immature.
One thing that hypochondriacs commonly hear from others is "why don't you just get it together", referring to how a person's worries are affecting their lives and making it hard to attain or keep a job or socialize with others or manage money well.
The people who say things like this are often the same people who will watch a movie like The Aviator about Howard Hughes and sympathize with him when the movie shows him in a room crippled with fear and paranoid about catching germs or infections.
When the life of a hypochondriac is shown in a dramatic way like this, the people watching the movie can get a better understanding because they finally see the big picture. But these same people can walk out of the theater, go home, and then criticize a family member or friend for having a similar mental illness though it may not be as severe. What these people don't understand is that there are different forms and different intensities and levels when it comes to health anxiety.
So they often assume that since you aren't cowering in a corner in a dark room like Leonardo Dicaprio did in The Aviator, then you must not be too bad and this must mean that your average person would be able to easily overcome this.
This couldn't be further from the truth. Not everybody has similar symptoms or signs, but the intensity and worrying inside a person can be very severe, even though this may not translate to the same manifestations that are apparent in other people such as Howard Hughes.
In fact, many famous people have suffered from hypochondria, though they aren't talked about as much as Mr. Hughes because it wasn't quite as apparent in them as it was in him. Andy Warhol, Glen Gould, Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, and Tennessee Williams are all people who showed classic symptoms of hypochondria.
Many of these sufferers are known for being smart and brilliant people, and majority of them probably had very strong character which helped them to become famous and become as successful as they are.
If hypochondria were so easy to overcome, then these people should have had no problems overcoming and curing it in themselves, due to the strong mental character they must have possessed in order to become as successful as they did.
Many of them became bedridden or so obsessed with their health, that the stress of it eventually took it's toll on their bodies or minds. So if they can't overcome their hypochondria with the snap of their fingers, then your average person will probably struggle with it as well.
comments powered by Disqus