They say I’m a hypochondriac: my parents, The Olympian, my friends. They say it because it’s true.

There is no way to deny that I am hypersensitive to somatic sensations. I know I am. I’m the first to say it.

But even so, no one takes me seriously. Even in the face of structural changes in my hands, objective evidence that can be seen with anyone’s eye (as long as it isn’t a blind eye). But still, I’m firmly told by my pissed off mother, “You do not have rheumatoid arthritis”.

Pains in my knees, my ankles, my toes and my hands themselves. These are not real pains, these are imaginary. Make-believe men are inside my bones with their make-believe knives. None of this is real. Running and stopping because the pain in my ankle is so bad. Limping for several minutes while it works itself out. My hands cramping and seizing and giving way with too much weight. Low-grade fevers, quickly fluctuating from normal to abnormal and back again.

Even this objective evidence means nothing to anyone else. Perhaps I held the thermometer next to the light to get a higher reading. They wouldn’t be surprised. And anyway, even if it is a little high, I just have a cold/tummy bug/48 hour/week-long flu. I think this is meant to be reassuring. It isn’t.

I’m faking. I’m faking. I’m faking.

My father sees so many people who are faking or misattributing their symptoms that he never believes a word I say. It’s all “normal”. All my experiences are perfectly normal: entrapped nerves, muscle spasms and muscle twitching, pins and needles and loss of sensation, weak hands and arms, burning and tingling and swelling. Unpredictable and overwhelming fatigue. In fact, my father has just so happened to have every single one of these symptoms at some point in his life (usually when he was about my age).  He tells me this every time I say anything.

They say they believe me but that I’m just hypervigilant, overly sensitive. They say that all of these signs and symptoms mean nothing. They are indicative of nothing. There is nothing wrong with me. There never is.

There is no recognition, or compassion or concern. It’s all in my head, so why should there be?

He makes fun of me, my father, “just another illness you can have” he says. As if I actively seek out illnesses and want to have them. As if my goal in life is to be sick. My ambitions and passions and dreams reach far higher than his. I have the determination, the perseverance, the courage to follow them through. I am young and I am smart. Yet down every street I turn, I face a road block. One, they would say, is constructed by my mind (and maybe it is).

Or maybe the road blocks I face are unhelpful “support”, lectures and dismissals, eye rolling and sighs of frustration. Those are the barriers that stand in my way; strong and immovable. But I will slip quietly through them, because that is what I must do.

They say I’m a hypochondriac: my parents, The Olympian, my friends.

They say it because it’s true.


12 thoughts on “Hypochondriasis

  1. It is so good to hear that you have the same symptoms as I do! What would your Dad say to that? I have never had a straight answer as to why. In fact, people usually go all deer-in-the-headlights on me when I talk about this stuff. So I don’t talk about it because it makes me feel like a freak. Though I feel less like a freak because you experience the same.

    My most understanding therapist evaluated me as hyper sensitive and hypervigilent to mind and body (seems we have the same evaluation!) On top of that, I have a photographic memory that absorbs medical information like a sponge. So I have become quite good at diagnosing myself. Lately I have been thinking it’s MS and that’s distressing.

    I do find when I am really engrossed in something I do not notice my symptoms. Is it like that for you?

    Oh, my doc just gave me a diagnosis of fibromyalgia (sp?). Explains the tingling and referred pain. Not particularly conclusive but it did give me some info on how to exercise better for my sensitive muscles. What she did say that was interesting was that she wanted to drug me up with neuropathic pain killers.

    There we go–related to the nervous system–my thoughts exactly. I know I have a hyperactive nervous system. And according to 4 intuitives (so I didn’t even have to make this up because people keep telling me this), it will make me sicker and sicker and then I’ll die.

    Good times.

    So it has come to pass recently (like yesterday so your post is very timely) that I have decided I AM SO DONE WITH THIS SHIT. Fuck the intuitives that feed into my core belief I am dying of some unidentifiable terminal illness! No more! It is my life and I determine the quality of it through my perspective. Love, no-excuses-self-care, do what feels healing, be myself without apologies, live my life. If my body wants to do funky things then so be it–hypervigilence does have the odd perk. No more questioning why because that just sends me in a thither. And we’re all going to die sometime–I just plan to leave this earth without regrets.

    Man, I can really pontificate! I do hope there is something helpful in all this Sara because it has really helped me.

    Much love,

    • Thank you! Your comment was very helpful – especially because you know what this is like, you know how frustrating and distressing it can be. The new perspective I mentioned on twitter last night was basically what you meant when you said “if my body wants to do funky things then so be it” I have decided mine can do whatever it wants, but I am not going to let it stop me doing what I want anymore. I’m sick of molly-coddling myself, resting and trying to take it easy and not over do it. I’m sick of my back problem and it’s ridiculous limitations. I have been stuck in this rut because of all of these things and they can just fuck off. No more waiting around, no more not horse riding and not doing weights. I’m done! Life is going on, and my stamina can just catch up with me. (I should probably note I’m not going to be completely ridiculous and not take it easy if I really need to!)

  2. It’s very interesting, this topic. I know that being in serious distress can cause, what my PDoc refers to as being “psychosomatic”. It doesn’t mean that it is not real to you, but Docs can never figure out what is wrong so then it becomes a “mental thing. At one time I “KNEW” I had a lump in my throat and that I was going to die. I have also believed that if I fell asleep I would die because my body was breaking down on me.
    I feel for you. I know that we do have things wrong with us that are very real… I do not know how I broke free from that, but I did. I still have aches and pains but now I just chalk it up to stress.
    I believe you are suffering these things, as I had as well. Our minds are evil… Do you think that you may be psychosomatic??
    For myself, extreme stress brought it on and it just snowballed. I now have to take heart meds just because I have convinced myself something is wrong with my heart and once I was convinced of that, my blood pressure is always high.
    What are your thoughts??

    • I think what you have said is right (although, my mind keeps moving back to my fingers which do have observable changes in them, but there could be any number of relatively benign reasons for that). I think behind my hypochondriasis lies a fear of having something else wrong with me. I feel I have enough on my plate with the bipolar. I do not know how I would cope with any additional issues. In terms of being psychosomatic – yes, definitely. My symptoms of anxiety and depression are always physical – it is always the physical that comes first, the psychological comes later. Interestingly, my masters research topic is psychosomatic medicine. I just have this natural attraction to it…coincidence? I think not.

  3. I don’t necessarily believe in psychosomatic illness if it’s really that bad. I actually wrote a piece on a somatic illness I had masquerading around as symptoms of mental illness. It was in a post called, “Somatopsychic”. I walked around on walking pneumonia for four weeks before I finally couldn’t breathe anymore. Everyone around me told me I was having panic attacks and all of the such. By the time I got to the doctor, my airway was almost completely swollen shut, and I had a decent amount of fluid in my lungs. He had told me that if I had waited another few days to a week, I may have ended up hospitalized.

    So, that’s proof positive enough that somatic symptoms should not be ignored. My MIL continued to suffer with chronic pain that her doctors could not find a somatic source for. They insisted it was her anxiety and kept blowing her off. One day, she stormed into that office, in extreme pain, and demanded that they do something about it. They finally did a blood test to confirm the pain levels (the body sends off enzymes when it’s in pain), and sure enough, her blood was overloaded with them. It turns out, she has a disorder similar to fibromylagia, but worse. There isn’t too much they can do for it but give her some medication and have her check in regularly with a rheumatologist.

    Somatic illness can be very real. Despite what anyone else says, you know your body. If you think there is something wrong, get it looked it.

  4. Timing is a funny thing, I just rummaged through my pockets to find a small shred of paper on which I wrote a few days ago, “not a hypochondriac, just very aware of what my body is doing”. That was the best “excuse” that I could come up with for what I seem to experience.

    As far as I can tell, I too have felt everything you’ve described here. Though I do not dream up pains and lumps and twitches, I know I DO have a tendency to jump to the worst possible conclusion of what it might be. Then again, I do that with almost everything in my life, even everyday sorts of things, so in a sense I don’t think it is unusual (at least comparatively).

    I know that for myself at least, I’m very sensitive to sound and light and scents, to some extent I wouldn’t be surprised if I am also very sensitive to pain. Somewhat of an amusing theory though, considering the dozen piercings I acquired in my early 20’s.

    I can’t push myself too hard. When I do, I am in pain. Then, I stress out about it, which only drags me down further. I know for certain that 8 hours on my feet is too much, but 5 is tolerable. I’ve had to adjust work accordingly.

    I expect your father may just be too close to the “subject” here to have an unobstructed opinion. It is definitely unfortunate that your father treats you this way, my mother treated me similarly until she was diagnosed two years ago with fibromyalgia herself. It was a pity spending all that time just hoping I had a brain tumor to finally set her straight!

    • Thanks for your comment. I find it so interesting that you have experienced similar things (and so has another commenter). I don’t know what’s going on with my hands, but as far as everything else goes, I am pretty sure it’s psychosomatic. Like you, I do tend to jump to the worst possible conclusion; probably because I am so afraid of actually having something else to deal with. There’s only so much a person can take, and I don’t quite know where my “so much” is.

      As for stress, it is a cruel cruel thing, which I am certain is responsible for many of my symptoms (maybe not the physically changing hands though…still haven’t got that one sorted!)

  5. Five years ago, I remember looking at someone who told me that they had Fibromyalgia and thought to myself that she was nuts. It must all be in her head. Who gets pain for no reason? I suffer from bipolar II disorder and MDD. My life became more stressful than ever (as if it wasn’t stressful enough). I got pregnant in my mid 30’s by accident, went through another premature labor and birth, child was in intensive care, just opened a business then business begand to fail after one year due to the economy, strained relationship with my husband as we didn’t always see eye to eye on the business end of things. Working day and night, literally, for 4 years straight and only taking 2 days off at Christmas and 2 at New Years. We eventually closed the business and were so far in debt we didn’t have a pot to piss in.

    Six months before closing the business I started getting excrutiating pain in my shoulders, neck and arms. My hands would tingle and then go numb, sometimes for days. I couldn’t even sit on the sofa or a recliner and get comfortable. I hardly slept at all. I would get up at 1 am and start cleaning the bathroom. Anything to take my mind off the pain. I thought I was going insane. I started falling asleep whenever I sat down. I would fall asleep while talking to my doctor. During one visit I fell asleep 6 times. I started falling asleep while driving on the highway, or just around town. It was awful. I could NOT keep my eyes open. Nothing worked. I had to lie down and just go to sleep. I could sleep anywhere when I felt like this. There wasn’t a choice. I would sometimes have to pull over on the side of the road and take a nap. Now I just drive less and don’t drive far, or at least make sure there is someone in the car with me. After test after test, Xrays, MRI’s I was told that I had fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. There wasn’t such a thing, was there? There were some medications out htere believed to stop the pain but the one they did try made me more suicidal than usual. Then I started to get the steroid shots, which were like heaven but I gained 25 pounds in 2 months. Not good. The doctors told me that it was amazing what stress can do to your body. Stress can be debillitating. Depression can cause unknown amounts of pain. It’s not just mental pain but physical too.

    I’ve never had a doctor tell me it is “psychosomatic”. That word conjures up ideas of not being taken seriously. The doctors I have are very understanding and supportive. They never make me feel that I am imagining symptoms or that I am nuts. I’m not sure how it is in England these days but in the States, mental illness is taken seriously, including Fibromyalgia and CFS. The facts are: you are experiencing pain. Your neurons in your brain are not firing properly so your brain thinks it is experiencing pain even though it isn’t. What you have is real. Although I have finally acknowledged the facts about what I have and it was hard to do that on top of the bipolar II, at least I now knew what the heck was wrong with me. I wasn’t going crazy. I wasn’t imagining things. My pain and fatigue were real. Your’s is real too.

    I know it sucks to keep switching meds but if the ones you are taking now aren’t working, then you need to try to switch to something else. My doctor once said to me that there was no reason why I should live with these symptoms and suffer and that she would do what ever it took to get me on the right track, I am still switching around as sometimes after being on the meds for a while, your body starts to get used to them. Some meds may react with other meds you take and what may work for me may not work for you. I accept that and will switch to what I can in order to make my life easier. Hang in there. You can do it…it’s all real.

    • Thanks for your message. I appreciate you taking the time to share your story with me, and to provide me with encouragement and understanding. And you know, it is real. I’ve just found out I have an autoimmune disease, an arthritis that attacks my spine and other parts of my body. It pretty much explains everything. All the pain, fatigue, fevers, changes in my hands, pain. Everything. As for the bipolar, it is the least of my concerns. It’s the easiest thing in my life right now. A combination of a decent contraceptive pill (to prevent rapid cycling that occurs with my menstrual period), good diet and exercise help me to keep my mood mostly stable (and quetiapine, which is the mania-safety net, I guess). Thanks again for sharing 🙂

      • I am so sorry to hear about your autoimmune disease. They actually did a bunch of tests on me for something like that and they all came back normal. Even though I feel your frustration and understand your pain, I truly feel that you are inspiration. Thank you!

  6. I’ve been reading alot of your blogs , they are so good and well thought out! When I read them I feel like I know what your talking about and I can relate to my life. I feel like I’m not the only one out there , I feel not alone. Your helping a lot of people by writing all of this , telling them your thoughts and feelings. I cried reading this, I don’t know why but it just really touched me. Thank you.

  7. Pingback: My Experience with Food Intolerance Testing | The Lyons' Share Wellness

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