Anxiety Girl: Life with the World's Worst Superpower

Life In Hypochondria Land

For six terrifying hours, I was coming down with a bad case of croup. I could feel my throat getting tighter, and I suddenly felt tired and achy. I was already drafting emails in my head to let my professors know that I’d miss class. Normally in a situation like this, I would get on WebMD and see if my symptoms matched up with croup, but I was at work and couldn’t use the internet. Instead, I took my phone with me to the bathroom and quickly posted on social media and texted my mom to find out if I could have croup. No one answered. Once my shift ended, I looked up croup and found out that adults rarely get it. The internet said I was fine, so my symptoms instantly disappeared.

All of this started after I heard a rumor that a child I came in contact with had croup. (A rumor. I freaked out because of an unsubstantiated rumor.) I didn’t even know what croup was! But my mind heard “croup,” and my body ran with it because, like many other anxiety disorder sufferers, I am a bit of a hypochondriac. Any time I hear about an illness, I think I have it. And I don’t just think it, I experience the symptoms. I will be feeling perfectly fine, but the second I hear about a stomach bug going around, I am completely nauseated.

When it comes to hypochondria, I have a relatively mild case of it. In fact, I’m barely a hypochondriac. A true hypochondriac won’t just freak out because they heard about a disease. They live in constant fear that some sort of deadly illness is lurking in their body and they just don’t know what it is yet. Oftentimes, they see multiple doctors and agree to unnecessary medical testing to ease their fears. I don’t do that. I just read about illnesses and try to figure out if I have them, and I know I’m not the only person who does that.

Over the years, I have developed a sense of humor about my hypochondria, but joking around about it doesn’t make it any less of a nuisance. These are my four least favorite things about being a hypochondriac:

  1. Is it all in my head? Any time I feel sick, I never know if I’m actually sick or if my brain made it up. Because of that, I usually wait until I can barely move to take a sick day. Back in high school, I woke up feeling awful. My mom is very aware of my hypochondria, so she said I could stay home from school, but I had to go to the doctor. I wasn’t sure if I was actually sick, but I went to the doctor anyway. As it turns out, I was sick. My temperature was over 100 degrees, and the doctor was impressed that I was even standing. Sometimes it isn’t all in my head, but it can be hard for me to believe that.
  2. “It’s all in your head.” Since my family, friends and doctors all know that I’m a hypochondriac, they don’t always believe me when I say I’m sick. For three years, I complained about stomachaches. During that time, my anxiety was at its worst, so people were quick to assume that it was all in my head. Every once in a while, the doctors administered another blood test or sent me for an ultrasound to make sure my insides weren’t exploding or whatever, but they didn’t seem to think they would find anything. Fortunately, my mom believed my claims that it felt like little men were living inside me and pinching my organs, possibly because she is also a bit of a hypochondriac, so she continued taking me to see various doctors. Eventually they found something wrong with me, and now I like to rub it in my doctors’ faces that I have Celiac disease and my stomachaches weren’t all in my head.
  3. It’s never something small. I am convinced that every little ailment is going to be the thing that kills me. A couple years ago, I had a gross case of athlete’s foot, but I was fairly certain that it was diabetes. For as long as I can remember, a mole on my hip occasionally goes numb. I’ve had it biopsied, and it’s fine. It’s probably just nerve damage or some kind of muscle spasm causing the numbness, but according to the internet, it’s a rare spinal tumor. I make everything out to be much bigger than it actually is, and that causes me way more stress than is necessary. It’d be nice to someday just have a cold without wondering if I have West Nile virus.
  4. It’s a scary world out there. There’s always some sort of epidemic to fear, whether it’s bird flu, swine flu, SARs, MRSA or something new. We’ve all heard stories of someone thinking they just have a little cold and then learning they are dying of something rare. There are germs and bacteria everywhere, and no matter how many “Cover Your Cough” posters we hang up, we are never safe from illness. I’m sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but this is what is going through my mind every time I think about health. If I had it my way, annual check-ups would come with MRIs and we’d all have appendectomies at a young age. It’s a scary world out there!

Cold and flu season stresses me out more than finals week and big parties combined. It’s terrifying! Illness lurks around every corner, which is scary for everyone, but it’s worse for people whose biggest fear is getting sick. To all my fellow hypochondriacs, good luck this cold and flu season. I’m sure you’ll be fine!

  • Kayla Burgett

    Right there with you!
    I know these feels.
    It’s gotten to the point where I have to sneak peaks at WebMD because if anyone in my life catches me looking they’ll stop me from further research.
    Glad I’m not alone.

    • Chelsey Falco

      Thanks for reading Kayla! I’ve had friends try to ban me from WebMD, but I could never stay away. You are definitely not alone!

  • Sarah Williams

    WebMd is evil. Seriously, last week I thought I had some rare blood disease, an impending stroke, or just a headache. Then I had to study the worst ones the best I could and determined it must just be a stress headache. LOL

    • Chelsey Falco

      Thanks for reading, Sarah! I always start reading about all the worst-case scenarios on WebMD, and then I realize I have a common cold. It happens all the time!

  • Andrew Fullam

    I am actually currently seeing a counsellor for my health anxiety. I have visited A&E several times in the last 6 months with various bizarre symptoms.

    I too feel like every little illness will be the end of me and that I never get anything simple. It’s an absolute nightmare!

    • Chelsey Falco

      Thanks for reading, Andrew! I’m glad I’m not alone. It’s absolutely exhausting to think every little illness is something terrifying and tragic. Hopefully your counsellor is able to help you out!

  • Laura Elizabeth Donovan

    Thank you for writing this. I lost my dad in high school, so anytime I feel awful, I assume the worse. Glad to hear I’m not alone, but I hope you overcome this in any way you can! It’s not fun to always feel doom is near.

    • Laura Elizabeth Donovan


    • Chelsey Falco

      Thank you for reading, Laura! And thank you for the kind words! I hope you overcome this as well, because doom is not always near.

  • Amanda Dawn

    Thank you!! SO good to know I’m not the only crazy who does this!! But how do you stop it when you’re already so aware of it? I started taking cold FX so I convice the side of myself that is convincing me I’m sick, that I won’t get sick.

    • Chelsey Falco

      Thanks for reading, Amanda! Don’t worry, you’re definitely not the only crazy who does this. I wish I could answer your question, but I don’t know how to stop it yet! Being aware of it makes it so much harder, and I usually just load up on Vitamin C to try and trick myself into thinking my immune system is invincible. Sometimes it works. And if not, I just have my friends and family tell me I’m being absurd. That’s always a big help!

  • Beth Cook

    This is a great article. With so much information out there in today’s world, I’m surprised that more people don’t have at least a bit of hypochondria. When I was 19 I was sick for a while and my doctor was confused. It turned out that I had ovarian cysts and she even called me herself after getting results from my recent ultrasound. something that doctors within an HMO network rarely do-usually its their nurse that calls. About the same time that this was going on I was also recently diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. I remember distinctly my doctor saying on the phone “Well, ovarian cancer isn’t very common in people your age.” What??? That was not the right thing to say to someone in my current state of mind. Fortunately a round of hormone therapy took care of my cysts, but for a while there I was convinced that I was dying of ovarian cancer.

    • Chelsey Falco

      Thank you for reading, Beth! I’m glad you were okay, and I totally understand your panic. Hearing that something is uncommon does not make it comforting. Anytime I hear that, I’m convinced I’m the rare case. Doctors should find a better way to comfort patients when delivering news!

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