Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hypochondria or no?

Part of what I heard the neurologist say, even before reflecting on her words later, is that my symptoms aren't real or real enough. I felt reassured for a minute, everything would be fine. I just needed a second opinion. And later when everything wasn't fine? I felt guilty, that I'm bringing medical problems on myself because of a lack of character, a lack of psychological willpower, a moral failing. Other people do well and don't have bladder problems or neurological lesions, why can't I? I hear myself, even if this was not her intention, being called a faker, the same way I was called a faker when I was 12 and using crutches after using a wheelchair and walker. I could use the crutches quickly, swinging my body wide in front of them, but move without them I could not. I still feel guilty for not conforming to what other people's perceptions of my disability should be and have to recognize that when I don't, sometimes I'm going to be called a faker...because I get better, because I don't get better, because I do too much or too little about it.

Since the neck pain was better for a few days and the bladder issues better, I started wondering if I was a hypochondriac or if everything was all my fault. These questions were of course compounded by the neurologist's insistence that I did not need surgery. It's amazing when the pain diminishes how difficult it is to remember how everything is at its worst. So Google led me into the seamy underworld of hypochondria, and from there I slid down the slippery slope of neuroticism, learning about conversion disorder and histrionics (the equivalent of 19th century hysteria, I guess), Munchausen's, in which people do themselves harm or make up symptoms for attention, etc. And I started wondering if I had brought illness or pain upon myself since apparently people with histrionics can exhibit physical symptoms without consciously trying to do so, etc. Does thinking you have hypochondria if you don't make you a hypochondriac?

A reality check as I read through symptoms reminded me that I can't fake an outrageous bladder pressure of 200, intense pain under anesthesia, or odd neurological reflexes. Similarly, I can't fake infections that won't go away, nor would I wish to. I absolutely hate being sick and am demanding and whiny when acutely ill. I don't want attention. I just want whatever it is to go away. I routinely cancel medical appointments because I don't want to deal with them if the immediate issue is resolved. I have a phobia of doctors and medical procedures such that I had to switch from a physician to a midwife during my first pregnancy and used to take my husband to every doctor appointment, even routine, out of fear. I try to weasel my way out of suggested medical procedures and often manage to do so, taking the least invasive route, the least pharmaceutical route. I understate my symptoms so I don't get overtreated. Nevertheless, I always wonder whether I will be believed.


moplans said...

I do what you do and I read recently that some hypochondriacs avoid going to the doctor fearing we won't be believed or that they won't catch it anyway.
so maybe we are hypochondriacs?

FridaWrites said...

Maybe--I'm going to bring it up with the spine doctor at least. I don't want to receive unnecessary treatment for anything that's not a physical problem.

If the neurologist was doubtful, then it seems to me it should be her responsibility to be more direct about it--maybe she was, as much as she could be.

Can someone be a hypochondriac and ill? Maybe. A lot does show up on test results that I couldn't invent.