Monday, August 28, 2006

In the Beginning

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.

8 comments:

Lacy said...

Leila,
we have so much in common. It's scary. My "attacks" started when my mom got sick when I was in grade school. She had every test under the sun, and she thought she was dying. For years she was sick in bed...turned out to by fibromyalgia, a bit of a mystery disease. So that's why I am the way I am. *sigh

Blessings Leila!
Lacy

dave said...

I can't tell you how much this sounds like me. When I was a kid I was obsessed with nuclear war. Then it was being shot by people in the car next to me. Now its heart attacks, cancer, you name it. I think we just pick any random thing that might kill us and latch on to it. When you're young its something external, when you're "old" its internal...

Anonymous said...

I am grateful for your honesty.

Leila V. said...

Dave:
I cannot believe you said that! That is one of my fears now, not nuclear war, which is probably more likely, but people in the lane over shooting me. I actually position my seat so that my head is hidden behind the metal divider that separates the front from the back door.

Lacy:
Wow, Fibromyalgia? I’ve read that’s a horribly painful disorder. I also read that a lot of people who have it, suffer for years without being diagnosed and get treated like hypochondriacs, (and we of all people know how frustrating that can be), but when you actually have a serious condition, that’s awful. I can see how that would have a negative effect on you, watching her be in pain and test constantly, especially being exposed to it at such a young age. It really gets to you after a while, in different ways for different people, I guess; although the same for us…

Kristen said...

Leila,

I've recently begun to realize the positive things about being so anxious, which is one reason people who are anxious find it so hard to change, I believe. I think identifying those positives is an important step in the right direction - so way to go! For me it is not having to do things I am uncomfortable with and also the belief that if I stop worrying then something really bad will happen. One way I've begun to work on the first positive reinforcer is forcing myself to do the very things that make me uncomfortable so that is no longer aiding in keeping me anxious. I think the second one is harder to address.....

Kudos,

Kristen

Anonymous said...

omg!! my mother used to tell me the exact same thing, she still does!! my parents all the time told me i was going to get kidnapped, murdered, something! i'm 24 yrs old now and i have a new boyfriend. i told my dad about it and he returns with a ridiculous obscene crime about a guy that killed his girlfriend with his other girlfriend and they cut off her head and hands and then shot the head afterwards and fled to mexico. apparently this guy was a stand up guy in the commeunity and my dad is like "you just never know anyone". i have serious, serious trust issues already. and then! omg!! the alien thing!! my mother was born in roswell, nm. she used to tell me and my older brother (who messed with me ALL the time) that we were half alien. she even had books showing the dissection of the alien. i was so young when i was first convinced of this, i don't even think i could read yet. how awful is that?? they'd say they were coming to get me and all this. and then the movie the exorcist. i think this is what did me over. i saw that movie when i was 5 or 6 years old. and OF COURSE it freaked me out, who lets a child watch that?? and i would run out of the room screaming and crying and my family would just laugh and laugh. and you know how mom got me to go to sleep at night, for years?! she'd say ur fine! here listen to debbie gibson. and still to this day, if i hear debbie gibson, i go into a panic! and as if that wasn't enough, my brother showed me on the back of the exorcist where it said that this was based on a true story about a 12 yr old boy in mass. and i was just a bit younger than that and in new jersey!! so i was convinced for, god, i don't know how long, that i was going to be possessed by the devil. i slept in my parents room, in the floor, everynight, until i was like 14! and still to this day, sometimes i sleep in the bed with them when i'm "real sick". i want someone to be around me in case i die. i never researched hypochondria before because i figured, well then again i may just be diagnosing myself with that! :) how does that work?! but yea...def a hypochondriac. i suffer from many things. heart attacks alot. aneurisms. blood clots. i'm convinced i have some underlying SERIOUS disease that's causing all of these ailments. oh, and i'm addicited to tylenol. apparently that's an actual addiction! wtf? :)ay yi yi. nice to know i'm not completely crazy and there are others. i really need to get some help about this tho. i didn't realize i was so bad!! :) endless vicious cycle it is!!

Beana said...

Everything you said happened to me (well not the specifics but you know) good blog. I feel better knowing I am not the only one! Thanks

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone!

Very interesting reading...my situation is very strange and frustrating. I'm almost positive that my mom is a hypochondriac and, having grown up with that, I wanted to be the opposite- tough, not complain, not be sick etc. Ironically, I've been diagnosed with fibromyalgia after, you guessed it, being called a hypochondriac by multiple doctors, who would rather say that the problem is in your head then that they actually don't know something. I found a specialist familiar with the disease who also found related infections such as strep in my blood, mycoplasma infection etc. During this time even my ex-fiance thought I was a hypochondriac because it took so long for them to find the cause. Eventually with positive lab results, 5 surgeries and even a minor form of skin cancer I'm assuming he doesn't still think that, although he's never apologized or admitted that he was wrong and still gives me the third degree whenever I don't feel well as though I'm somehow making it up. Needless to say this is one of the reasons for our break-up, since he used to say things to me because of my illness like "I want a real girlfriend who can do things" and "I want to marry someone who can keep up with me..." and that being with me was a "burden" because of my physical limitations even though I never asked him to miss anything or take care of me in any way. When they hadn't diagnosed me yet he said that I was trying to get attention which made no sense because I had only told him and 1 or 2 other people what was even going on because I didn't want them to worry.

I've been hoping to find another, curable, explanation for my health problems but everyday that I experience the FM symptoms I'm more scared that this will be a life-long battle which is a very depressing prospect - not knowing how I will be able to do the things I want with my life such as work, pursue my dreams etc. When I'm down with FM, which is about 60-70% of the time, I generally isolate myself in my apartment because I figure at least that way my sickness isn't making anyone ELSE miserable.

So you can imagine the frustration that I experienced visiting my mother over the holidays...she's complaining about everything from a paper cut to a soar throat, convinced these things are indicative of something catastrophic, while I do my best to keep from blowing a gasket at her because I'm the one with the actual diagnosed chronic debilitating condition that I don't indulge or even feel comfortable in talking about because it's so overwhelming...and if I DO bring up a symptom she automatically has the symptom and it's worse...I love her and at the same time want to scream at her and my life in general...she uses her complaints to put her wishes above everyone around her and the people around her, including myself, don't want to fight about it. So obnoxious and frustrating...then sometimes I think that maybe my illness is somehow payback for my being so judgmental of her...who knows? Maybe there is something wrong with her...maybe I got FM genetically through her, and I did the same thing by not believing her that my fiance did to me...the difference though is that my mom can't wait to tell everyone about her latest ache and pain whereas I tell hardly anyone, which is why, I suppose, I'm resorting to telling perfect strangers rather than my friends etc...I just don't think that it would be much fun for the people in my life to know the in and outs of my daily life with FM or the annoying behavior of my mother...