There are a number of problems I have with my hypochondria, especially while living through a pandemic. Other than the obvious fear I have Covid all the time, it’s hard to admit to being a hypochondriac when I could have the actual virus.
I have a textbook case of hypochondria which is defined by the Mayo Clinic as an illness anxiety disorder — “worrying excessively that you are or may become seriously ill”. Some sources say it could be a result of childhood trauma, some say it may be related to other mental illnesses like depression or anxiety, and some helpfully suggest that you may just have a personality ‘that tends to make everything worse than it is’. Mine is caused by that last one. And by the other two.
When I was a young child I feared the measles. I blame Enid Blyton because she wrote a fair few times about kids stuck in bed with measles. She also wrote about consumption and I would have caught that for sure if it hadn’t sounded so much like constipation. I was also constantly terrified that I had Scarlet Fever, which is actually not nearly as bad as it sounds. But Scarlet is a very dramatic word.
I worried for years about bilharzia, also known as Schistosmiasis, a disease caused by parasitic flatworm. Parents in South Africa routinely told their children not to swim in still waters because they could catch bilharzia. Maybe it wasn’t all parents which could explain a lot…
In the 80’s I was convinced I had Aids and after many, many blood tests I accepted it was just a blood disorder. It actually wasn’t because, other than my health anxiety, I have been exceptionally healthy, the irony of which is not wasted on me.
I thought I had cancer so many times I could almost recite the literature I managed to source from my doctor.
As I grew up my hypochondria became something of a personality quirk — friends who know me well often ask which disease I have at the moment. I always have an answer.
I am sick when the rest of the world is well. So you can only imagine how I am when the rest of the world is sick.
So far I seem to be one of the very few people in my orbit who has not caught Covid. I say this while spitting three times, touching wood and looking up any other ways to repel the curse of saying something out loud and thus making it untrue.
But, because I haven’t actually had Covid it doesn’t mean I don’t have all the symptoms. After all I have health anxiety, I have Covid symptoms all the time. And when I say all the time I only mean when I breathe.
Every time I feel my throat (or remember that it exists) I wonder if it’s an itch I feel. I sneeze and think a cold’s coming on. I cough, because I eat too fast, and I’m sure that’s it. Sometimes I get a headache just thinking about getting a headache and next thing I am picturing myself with long Covid.
It’s not an easy time for hypochondriacs or overly sensitive people like me who worry about the people who really are suffering from Covid while simultaneously worrying about all the people who don’t have Covid but have other illnesses and are suffering as a result of a health system that is overworked and understaffed. It can make you feel quite exhausted… and when you’re exhausted isn’t that a symptom of Covid?
What if it’s not hypochondria?
Which leads me right back to the problem I have with my hypochondria…