Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Dear Mike

I charge twenty dollars for five page essays and forty dollars for seven and up.

But seriously, Mike left an important comment that I want to address with a full post because it poses some interesting questions that others might want to address as well.

Here’s the crux of his comment:

I am writing an essay on how Hypochondria has progressed due to the Advantages of the Internet, what is your take on this, understanding the notions of ease of accessibility, stigmatization of hypochondria and the Internet as a source of media.

Being twenty-two, my hypochondria and the internet have always gone hand-in-hand. I can’t personally touch on the topic of pre-internet hypochondria, but maybe Barbora or Trish can provide some insight into that area. For me, the internet has been a major problem because the symptoms of thousands of diseases are always at my fingertips. Every twinge sends me bolting to the computer. Sharp pain in the hip? Cancerous bone tumor. Numbness in the limbs? Multiple sclerosis. I often set out searching with one set of symptoms and leave with a completely new set; WebMD is a dangerous place.

As far as the stigma goes, it definitely exists. I’m still a closet hypochondriac after seven years of suffering. The blog is my outlet, but in my personal life, only my boyfriend knows my dirty little secret. So in this aspect, the internet has been a positive. Not only does it provide an outlet, but it connects me with other individuals who have and are experiencing the same feelings. Hopefully, it will be this connectedness that leads to hypochondriacs coming out of the closet, which in turn will lead to destigmatization.

As a source of media, the internet allows for extreme irresponsibility. The flow of information is enormous, but there are no safe guards to keep it out of the hands of amateurs. However, that is precisely what makes it a superior medium, it allows amateurs to seek and organize information without a gatekeeper. It’s a double edged sword!

Hope that helps. I accept PayPal, checks and money orders.


Trish said...


Thanks for the opportunity to weigh in on this. Actually, information overload was becoming a problem even before the internet was an everyday resource. Lots of magazine articles, TV stories, etc. At that time we were at the mercy of their editors; they could easily leave out the one reassuring piece of information because it seemed minor or they didn’t have time or it didn’t fit the story line, etc. At least on the web, you can find another page with more/better information.

On the internet I find simple explanations for symptoms almost as often as scary ones (it does require some self-restraint not to keep looking for the scariest story, though). And if I do end up terrified, I can usually point to a page that clearly says, “see your doctor”. I try to find reputable websites so as to have some credibility in case the doctor asks what I’m reading (this is rare).

Often, though, the doctor will have a totally different approach to diagnosing something than seems to be the case on whatever websites I’m reading, and that can be very disturbing and doubt-inducing. (This happens with magazine articles and TV shows too). I’ve been tempted to hand the page to the doctor and say “read this and then try again.” Maybe someday, in an alternate universe, they will welcome the input.

I like the weird alternative pages, too, that give advice your doctor won’t. Again, a mixed blessing. It can give you the reassurance and advice you need to cope on your own, or it can be harmful either in itself or by postponing real treatment. Same old story: it all comes back to using intelligence and judgment and all those other things that are difficult for anyone in the throes of symptom and information overload, not to mention hypochondriacs, who are nearly always in that state.;)

I guess for me the short answer is: The internet has been more good than bad.

In particular, it's the only place with good, in-depth information (and some great blogging!) on hypochondria. It's been a long time coming, and it's a big help.

Barbora said...

I agree with Trish’s above comment. I was a hypochondriac long before the dawn of WebMD. There’s never been any shortage of information on diseases and their symptoms.

I think my very worst bout of hypochondria occurred after I received a “lovely”, thank you gift in the mail from my insurance provider – a book of diseases and their symptoms. The book ended up in the trash, but only after I ended up in the emergency ward. “Are you a medical school student?” the ER doctor asked.

On the Internet, information is simply information.

All sources, reputable or not have equal time. A search engine will give a result with a link to WebMD and a link to a website dedicated to stopping aliens from infecting us with space-lizard prions (but offers no distinction between the two).

As Trish mentioned though, more information is both a curse and a blessing. With the Internet I am able to see a range of causes for a particular symptom. The Internet also clarifies cause and affect better that a hard-copy list. For example, last week I was searching for information on dry-mouth. I read that it can be associated with cancer (the bad news). I went on reading and discovered (the good news) that it’s cancer TREAMENT (chemo and radiation) that cause dry-mouth…and in my case, it is most likely caused by the antidepressants I am taking. Whew!

As for stigmatization, I think the Internet is helping rather than hurting hypochondriacs. I only began self-identifying as a hypochondriac since blogging with others like myself. I would even tell my past psychiatrists that I had OCD and anxiety, although I’m pretty sure they figured out I was a hypochondriac on their own.

Best of luck with your essay, Mike!

Heck, I'll take food stamps ;)

Trish said...


“Are you a medical school student?” the ER doctor asked.

I've been asked the same question. In fact, I gave up a medical office job because it gave me too much material. My doctor at the time was very pleased with that decision ;).

Lacy said...

Hee Hee! You girls have given me a delightful chuckle for the day. I think our combined knowledge would rival the best docs out there.

Leila V. said...

I like the way you think, Lacy. The four of us should go into business! Hypochondriac consulting, maybe?