Even as a child, I was obsessive.
At age four, I was preoccupied with being kidnapped, convinced my eye doctor would be the perpetrator. I eventually became so consumed that my mom forced me to confront him
Next, was a four-year infatuation with alien abduction, where I would lay in bed at night hallucinating and check myself for puncture wounds in the morning.
Then, I became fixated with my foot getting stuck to the filter at the bottom of the pool and drowning. I also imagined a baby shark would find its way into the deep end and maul me when swimming at night. Sadly, the list goes on and on.
But, while I was always obsessive and somewhat neurotic, the hypochondria didn’t start until after my 8-year old brother was diagnosed with cancer in the beginning of my junior year in high school. Even though it wasn’t my first exposure to terminal illness, it was after his surgery that I remember the attacks starting.
In the beginning, they were all brain tumors like Tony’s. We had researched his condition relentlessly and spent endless hours at the hospital speaking with doctors. I became familiar with the symptoms and statistical outcomes. Shortly thereafter, I began experiencing severe head pains, loss of vision, confusion and blackouts.
Convinced that terminal sickness could strike anyone no matter the age, I embraced the idea that I was especially susceptible since it ran in my family, (even though the doctors alleged that that put me at a decreased risk).
I became a frequent user of the Kaiser Nurse Line, and made frantic trips to the hospital, eventually receiving an MRI and CAT scan. The brain tumor became played out quickly and instead of being relieved, I found myself moving on to blood clots, strokes and aneurisms.
Looking back, I wonder why I refused to accept my good health at that point. Was it a ploy for attention? A defense against death? A way to manipulate?
All of the above. I definitely used Tony’s sickness and my own attacks as a tool - at home and in school. I would approach my teachers teary eyed, and explain to them my little brother’s tragic diagnosis of cancer and how hard I was taking it; later to find myself magically excused from assignments and privileged to easier grades. I would also use my own attacks to leave class early or not go to school at all.
At home, I would use the “stress” of the whole situation to stay out late, do badly in school and get away with things I otherwise wouldn’t. My own attacks would bring sympathy from other family members and more lenient rules from my mom. So, manipulation is definitely a key here, as horrible as it sounds.
(For the record - I wasn’t a conniving, heartless girl who only used the sickness of her brother and weakness of others for her own benefit. It was on a sub-conscious level that I rationalized my behavior. It was a painful time for me and I didn’t receive emotional guidance, which is why I’m still working through these negative feelings.)
While I used Tony’s illness to my advantage, it also embarrassed me. I would become very uncomfortable when people would ask questions about my brother’s condition or tell me how “sorry they were.” Those encounters made me confront the reality that I wasn’t the “normal” teenager I used to be, or wanted to be. It fueled the insecurities that I still have today; even though I’m starting to realize there is no such thing as “normal.” Maybe, I thought that by constructing my own illness, I could escape my brother’s.
I’ve used my hypochondria to manipulate for so long, that my mind views it as a pathway to pleasure. I definitely realize that the attacks and insecurities only bring me pain; pain I experience on day-to-day basis, but it’s still hard to shake the behavior.
My hypochondria wasn’t developed over night and isn’t going to magically disappear. I still have issues with my brother’s illness and haven’t fully accepted who I am versus who I want to be. I also realize that my hypochondria doesn’t stand alone; my obsessive-compulsive personality, tendency for the extremes and judgmental behavior are all one knot that need to be untied.