A couple of months ago I wrote a first-person account of my hypochondriacy that appeared in Psychology Today. I talked about what it’s like to be plagued by death; to always have the threat of that next life-terminating disease looming around the corner. You name it, I’ve probably thought I’ve had itâ€”cancer, Gehrigs, heart attack, etc. I’m not sure when I officially became a hypo, but it’s been many years, and it s-u-c-k-s.
Thing is, in the aftermath of the piece I received a large handful of letters and e-mails from people thanking me for coming clean. The general take: “I’m also a hypo, and it’s nice to know I’m not alone.” To me, as a writer, that’s incredibly meaningful.
Anyhow, for the past few months I’ve been seeing a social worker once per week, trying to figure this thing out. I love life. I mean, I truly, truly, truly, truly love it. I wake up each day excited for the possibilities. Can’t wait to see my wife. Can’t wait to see my kids. Can’t wait to write and eat and run and listen to music and walk the dog. It’s this zestâ€”this desire for it to last foreverâ€”that drives my fears. I’m probably the least-likely suicide victim in the world. Hell, I’m the oppositeâ€”wanna live forever.
I’m babbling. Therapy has been great, and I highly recommend it for others suffering from hypochonriacy. Does it eradicate the fear of death? No. But I’ve picked up a number of seemingly simple coping methods that have carried me a long way. For example …
A. When I start thinking of death-related thoughts, I slam on the breaksâ€”hard. I immediately get my brain to look elsewhere. Disney with my kids. Playing hoops in college. Book release. Amazing concert. Things that symbolize the direct opposite of death … blissful living.
B. I constantly remind myself that I am, factually, a hypochondriac, and I’ve been down this road 1,000 times before. Headache might be a tumor? Well, Jeff, you thought that 100 times before. Stomach pains? Same as last week. Arms seem heavy? It’s nonsenseâ€”you’re a hypo! Your arms always feel heavy! Sure, hypos get sick, too. But not every week. Not all the time. It’s silly.
C. I have a friendâ€”a very close friendâ€”who reads this blog and inspires me more than anyone I’ve ever met. He is battling a very serious disease, and his glow is blinding. He fights and fights and fights, and refuses to let a rough situation wipe him out. I think about this person every … single … day, and here’s what crosses my mind: Who the fuck do you (me) think you are? You are blessed with health, and you have the nerve to take it for granted? To seek out pity? Have some perspective.
I don’t think therapy offers miracles. But it does offer the chance to unload; to express oneself, to wrestle with his/her issues and to gradually find a solution. Am I cured of being a hypo? Haâ€”I only wish. But I’ve come a long way, and I’m thankful for that.
I’m also not embarrassed to share this. We all have our issues; our burdens.
This is mine.