The other day I was talking to my mother about one of my closest friends who I had recently fallen out with.
A few weeks back, I had been suffering from a prolonged period of suffocation. I later found out that this was asthma, but it could as well have been exacerbated by anxiety. As anyone who has suffered from severe anxiety will know, it’s that crushing band around the chest, a weight on your lungs, not getting the full range from a breath.
This night I was suffering particularly badly and was struggling to breath so much that I messaged my friend (at the time we lived in the same house together). I told her that I couldn’t breathe properly and that I didn’t know what to do. And her response was ‘It’ll be fine’ and then she went to bed.
It struck me as an odd reaction and hurt my feelings. A bit of a betrayal if anything. I was terrified and I thought I was going to pass out. One of my closest friends couldn’t even raise an eyebrow about it. I would have liked to think, put in the reverse situation, I would have come down the steep stairs to the lower levels, passing the dusty kitchen and shadowy pot plants on twisted shelves, and comforted her. In fact, I have done in the past.
My mother is not one to provide comfort, so she immediately replied: ‘It’s like the boy who cried wolf, she probably knows what you are like and reacted like that as if it’s not a big deal.’
‘But I would have come to comfort her, if she were struggling’, I replied.
As usual, she brushed off a response that she didn’t want to hear or could not make sense of. She has an enraging habit of only hearing what she likes at the expense of the whole picture. She cannot be said to be motherly sort of mother, so her responses do not come from that soft-centred feminine place. They are entirely pragmatic.
But, it did make a twisted sort of sense. My friend has known me for a long time. I have been a hypochondriac for a long time too. I can understand how ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ factors into how people interact with me.
But, I can tell you this for a fact. Being a hypochondriac is a misery beyond all miseries. I BELIEVE I am ill. I don’t just think it. I am perpetually disturbed by thoughts about how illnesses that I cannot really confirm I have are slowly sapping my essence and dragging me closer to the cliff of death, to be tipped.
Hypochondria is a neurotic expression of the psyche’s search for many things. A prevailing sense that there is something wrong with the individual, manifesting not in a search in the subconscious, but in an obsession with the body and disease. It is also a manifestation of a need for attention and love which was not well fostered as a child. As I mentioned earlier, my mother is not much of one to give motherly feelings, even less so when I was a child. Hypochondria is a manifestation of a need for attention, for treatment, for care. On top of this, is the feverish attempts made to escape the authoritarian gaze of the care giver, be that a doctor or parent. We cannot bear the eye of those we wish to look upon us. It is a perfect storm of misery, often made worse, not better, by a simple doctor’s visit.
So, I beg you, when you deal with a hypochondriac, please, deal with them as if you imagined that they were suffering from a threefold need to be cared for, to seek their inner failings and to escape the gaze of the carer. This is distressing to say the least, but not something which comes across on the surface when dealing with a hypochondriac.
I cannot lie, I still feel justified in viewing betrayal in my friend’s actions, and unswayed by the discussion I had with my mother. I am a hypochondriac, but my suffering is real, and I am searching, perhaps often in the wrong place, for a way out. I want to be better, but like the boy who cried wolf, the more often I call out for help, the less compassion I receive.
All the while, the hypochondria churns and boils, and my mind is on fire with terrifying thoughts of death, disease and helplessness.
If you give us nothing else, give us love.
[Let us know in the comments if you suffer with health anxiety and how your relationships have been affected]