The Hypo Within

Photo on 2010-04-01 at 11.59

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 it—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 zest—this desire for it to last forever—that drives my fears. I’m probably the least-likely suicide victim in the world. Hell, I’m the opposite—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 breaks—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 nonsense—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 friend—a very close friend—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? Ha—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.

6 thoughts on “The Hypo Within”

  1. I love my husband with all my heart and soul (oops, wrote soup first, but that too … he makes the best chicken matzoh ball soup) … but he is a HUGE hypochondriac and admits it (yeah, his tombstone really would read “I TOLD you I was sick”).

    We have, by the bed, what we call the “Blue Book Of Doom,” aka “The Complete Guide to Symptoms, Illness and Surgery” that is more dog-eared and flipped through than a 13-year-old boy’s copy of Playboy.

    At one point, slightly fed up, when he was especially whiny I read him all the symptoms of something and when he told me “That’s it, that’s what I have, what is it?” I had to break the news that he had smallpox.

  2. Nice post, man. Sorry you have to deal with that. Keep fighting it. The mind is powerful. Maybe one day it’ll leave. I know, young-minded and idealistic thoughts….but maybe one day it will. You imagine the worst often; imagine the best.

    Hope that didn’t sound too trite. It’s how I deal with my insecurities as a writer. I focus on the worst possible outcome of something and have to remind myself to think of the good things that will come out of what I’m doing and how I’m working.

    All the best, man.

  3. I wonder if hypos know that all the worry and accompanying stress of constantly thinking your fatally ill probably takes years off their lives?

  4. Best advice: fears are fears. They are like vapor – you can stick your hand through them if you’re brave enough. To quell the anxiety invite a thoughts that make you immediately smile to the party but do not avoid your hypo thoughts or beat yourself up because you’re having them. They’ll just get louder and stay longer. Having them doesn’t mean you don’t value your life. Accept thinking your arms feel heavy, a headache is a tumor, etc.. with the knowledge that they are most likely not true and they are what they are: vaporous fears that disappear the more you face them. There’s no way to avoid them when they come so ride ’em like waves in your face – jumping over them, into them or through them. The more you ride them the smaller and quieter they will be!

    peace out!

  5. Wonderful post. I try to read your blog a few times a week- as your a marvelous writer. An amazing role model for kids and adults alike. Keep spreading your cheer.

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