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Hypochondria, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

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I’ve tried to trace the roots of my hypochondria, but don’t really know if I hit the nail on the head, or if I ever will, or if it really matters. The fact is, I am a hypochondriac and it is taking a toll on me.

Somewhere along the line I started developing an obsessive compulsive disorder related to the hypochondria. This has probably been the most difficult part of the whole hypochondriac scenario. An obsessive compulsive disorder involves obsessive thoughts which force you to perform actions.

For example, let’s say I see a spot on my chest and it looks like a freckle. At first glance I know it’s a freckle, but then the obsession kicks in, telling me that maybe it’s not. So I have to examine it again, and again and again. My anxiety level goes through the roof. Finally, I reach the decision that it really was just a freckle. If I really suspect that it is something more, I make an appointment with a doctor. Most of the time, I do not suspect that.

It sounds simple, but it isn’t because the anxiety level can almost make you feel sick. The more you check, the more anxious you feel. The only thing that calms you down is a distraction, and the longer the distraction, the better. Say, you have to be at a certain place at a certain time, or someone calls you and starts a long conversation – those are good distractions. And like I said, the longer they last, the better. You might return to examine that freckle later on in a few weeks or a month, but for now, you have kept that uncontrollable part of your brain from flaring up.

You seek reassurance from people that you are alright. Not all of the time of course. Most of us are rational people who function well in society. If people know you suffer from hypochondria, they are sympathetic, but even they may act puzzled. None of them really understand obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), even if you are a hypochondriac who has it.

If you are wondering if I diagnosed myself, the answer is yes. Later on when I began seeing a shrink, she confirmed it. It was pretty obvious.

Add a Comment8 Comments

Hi Expwoman,
Boy, do I know that feeling of "maybe something is wrong." And yes, only certain areas of the body are up for obsessing and compulsing. I don't think much about the rest. How I envy people who don't have this disorder. I told my shrink about the envy (soon I will discuss the therapy sessions) and she said, "Don't you think they have problems too?" I said well yes of course, but I don't think about that when I'm busy envying them.
Working in a hospital must be hard on you at times.

February 20, 2010 - 4:06pm
(reply to Zelda Borges)

I hear you on the envy! Yeah, working at a hospital is a really ironic position to be in with health anxiety, although my exposure therapist thinks it's brilliant, and a perfect opportunity to face my fears.

February 22, 2010 - 6:12am

There are times when our culture colludes with my OCD, like ads for WebMD on television or Public Health screening campaigns, which tend to rile up my obsessional thinking, and it's very frustrating. Not to mention that I work in a hospital. But my OCD found ways to thrive even without the internet, or any real knowledge about illness when I was little--like you said Zelda, it's pretty immune to rational thought. . .The specific concentrations of OCD is a fascinating thing. I call them my "Hot Zones"-- Some parts of my body never seem to be up for OCD'ing, but moles or lymph nodes or my bladder, or drug effects, and it just takes one thought of "maybe something is wrong" even in the absence of a physical symptom, to make me vulnerable to obsessing and compulsing.

February 20, 2010 - 1:02pm

I too agree with you about adopting the holistic approach to health. I also agree that there is too much focus on illness and disease out there. Many big corporations stand to profit with this huge concentration on ill health. Unfortunately obsessive compulsive disorder doesn't respond very well to rational thoughts; other remedies have to be sought. But the whole hypochondriacal scene is in part, a result of our society's focus on sickness. Unlike you, I just glance at the side effects on medication; we all have our own specific concentrations. Your comments are very motivating.

February 19, 2010 - 8:23am

I too struggle with hypochondria. It's hard, because I'm a cautious person by nature, especially when it comes to health, and I think that's a good thing. But like anything in life, too much of a good thing can be a terrible thing!

I think one thing that makes it a lot tougher is that in our society, the healthcare profession and the internet both make it very easy to worry, and hard not to. For example, if you get a prescription drug, and if you're like me, you want to read all the fine print because you want to make sure you follow the right directions and don't do something dangerous or stupid, like an obvious drug interaction. But once you've read the long list of side-effects, even if you just read the more serious warnings and ignore the rarer ones, it's pretty scary to actually take the damn thing...and then you're going to be worried when you get some sort of harmless side effect like getting a little bit sick at your stomach or maybe a bit tired or...any number of things that you might have totally ignored if it had happened on any other day.

It's hard, because from a psychological perspective, the way the mind/body connection works, all the warnings are actually priming you to be more likely to be paranoid and actually have a bad experience. And yet...in a sense the medical profession wants you to respond this way, because they're trying to cover their rear end from a liability standpoint.


I think for me, one thing that has really helped has been, instead of adopting the "problem-focused" approach that western medicine seems to take, to focus on the "holistic health" thing. If you're spending a lot of time thinking about health problems, you're going to end up with health problems.

On the other hand, if you spend a lot of time thinking about eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, getting plenty of exercise, and being overall healthy, you're probably going to end up being a lot better off...you're no longer worrying and stressing (which harms your health) but rather, directing your mental energy towards motivating yourself to do positive things that will improve your health.

February 18, 2010 - 1:11pm

I've really not been in contact with people who share this. Thanks for your words of comfort. I hope everything goes well with you.

February 18, 2010 - 9:37am
(reply to Zelda Borges)

Yes, I went for many years without ever meeting someone with similar anxieties! I remember the first time I found a book, Hypochondria by Susan Baur, and being amazed that there was a whole book and others like me!

February 20, 2010 - 12:54pm

It's uncanny how much this sounds like my own health anxiety and ocd experience. My heart goes out to you! I've struggled with moles in particular, checking them, feeling a hurricane of anxiety and dread, and wanting complete certainty that it's not cancer. I just wrote a post on this on my blog: http://exposingocd.blogspot.com/2010/02/seeking-reassurance-from-others-for-my.html

February 18, 2010 - 6:20am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.