Issue Upon Issue
At some point in our lives, we’ve all known someone who made every itch, pain and sniffle sound like it was the end of the world. They believed they were experiencing something unique. Everyone around them had to stop what they were doing and note the latest health issue. Never would they believe that people had dealt with, and survived, the same problem. People like this are found in every family and social group.
Why do certain people always think they’re dying while others wouldn’t admit they were in pain even if they were on fire? Coming from a family consisting of many people who live to die, I understand how frustrated people get with their hypochondriac loved ones. Try as you might to stay calm, we all get to a point where it’s hard to care for someone. After recovering from a cold, they believe the dry skin on their nose to be an early sign of cancer. It couldn’t be that their nose is just raw from being wiped and blown for the past week. They stubbed their toe and are positive it’s broken even though they can move it. The list is endless and, every day, another is added. Who has time (or energy) to care for their own health when they are kept hopping by their loved one?
So why do people act like this? Is it because they came from a family of hypochondriacs and see health complaints as a proper conversation piece? On that note, do they complain because it’s the only way they know how to get attention? Or could it be something a tad more grounded? After surviving a major health problem at an early age, they are traumatized and truly do see every health problem as serious and potentially life threatening. As every situation is different, it’s hard to say.
Yet, regardless of the reason, it still is frustrating. A serious conversation with your loved one where you express how you’re feeling is in order. The next time they say that such and such is aching and it’s aching because of an unknown, but deadly, illness, ask them how they know this is true. Tell them that you’re concerned about them and think that they should go see a doctor if they believe their situation to be so dire. (For my family, going to the doctor is like going to an amusement park. Another trip to the doctor means attention, validation and, possibly, confirmation.) Tell them that, with all of their symptoms in mind, the list is just getting longer and needs to be attended to. Politely, but firmly, tell them that, if they were as ill as they believe they are, they would be dead. Tell them that you are so happy they are alive and that they should be happy too. As so much of their self-identity seems to rely on their health problems, expect them to become defensive. They will accuse you of being insensitive and ask you how you would feel if the shoe was on the other foot. As they’ve used their health problems as a crutch for so much, they will, undoubtedly, use their crutch to get through this conversation too. You’re not expecting a dramatic shift in behavior from this conversation. Still, it may cause them to re-evaluate those problems and realize what they’ve been doing to you. At the least, it will have gotten things out into the open and relieved you of some of your burden.
From experience, every voiced health concern seems to stem from something else. You need to consider one thing. Do you give your loved one attention even without them complaining or do you wait until they complain to acknowledge that they are in the room? If their behavior is a cry for attention, get to them before they get to you. Do something kind for them when they least expect it. Tell them how good they look even if they could use some sprucing up. I understand that, being so frustrated, you don’t feel up to being nice. Yet, if this is all about attention, isn’t it easier to pay a compliment than run to the drugstore in the middle of the night? If you can gradually shift their attention from their health problems to being grateful for what they have in and with you, your stress level should diminish and your relationship should improve.
When it comes down to it, its you versus them. If your health is slipping because you’ve spent so much time making sure they’re okay, something needs to change. While it’s not easy to turn your hearing off, if you’re ready to blow, it might be the wisest choice. Who knows. Maybe in the time it takes for you to re-cooperate, they’ll have lightened up a bit.
callumr on December 10, 2012:
my mother strongly believes she has many physical problems that vary from month to month. Even if the doctor tells her she does not have that problem she will not believe it. She will always find a way to make it true. She also has some mental problems in that she has strange thoughts coming into her head but its hard to define her mental condition. However this makes it harder to confront her about her being a hypochondriac. its very draining and i dont see it stopping ever, its becoming increasing difficult to empathise with her. I cant find anyway to make her believe her mental condition confuses her about the physical problems she believes she has.
married21 on September 20, 2012:
I am so glad I found this site! I was beginning to think I was a mean person because I am so tired of listening to my husband's daily health complaints - runny nose, dry nose, couldn't sleep, headache, foot ache - constantly seeking a "cure" for something. It is to the point I don't even want to come home from work. He retired because he said he would be "better" without the stress at the job. He is worse now because he has more time to ponder his "illnesses"! He gets angry if I even hint that he should try to think "well" rather than focus on every little ache and pain. I work, I have aches, but I don't worry about them. It is driving me crazy and I am losing respect for my husband. Are there any meeting groups for "hypochondriacs anonymous"?
kirstythacker13 on August 23, 2012:
Please please help me!!! My mum has suffered with this condition for most of my adolescent and adult life. She thinks she's dying and she says that medical professionals won't tell her the truth, I try to explain that she is fine but she doesn't listen. She is absolutely suffocating me, she wants to be with me 24/7 and I just can't as I'm busy working as a teacher. I am at the end of my tether!!! So is my poor father who has to live with her daily, I moved away from my hometown so she is constantly complaining about how far away I live and how she never see's me!!! HELP!!!!
losingmymother from Los Alamitos on March 05, 2012:
I read Susan's post and felt like she was my twin. I have dealt with a hypochondriac mother, since I was ten. She was borderline, and could be a good mother when she was well. There were key times when she was not well, and her phrase would be "going off the deep end." I was not around when she experienced post-partum depression, but I know it was a really rough time. I was around when she went through menopause, and it was a living hell for me. I was manipulated, and abused verbally and physically. I have always been hard to control, and I have always fought back. My mother does not take well to people who set borders and she would scream, hit me, pull my hair, and has even thrown knives at me when she wasn't getting her way. She has always wanted me to save her to be her hero. A role I knew I could not fulfill even at an early age. I could not take away her pyscho-somatic cancers. I will not wipe her fanny. I will not come over every day. I will not feed her and bathe her, as she has nothing wrong with her, except she refuses to care for herself. I am willing to give her 10 hours a week and no more, and for this I get tremendous abuse. I am at the end of my rope. She is not 76 and is not aging well at all. She is so difficult now and I am so frustrated and hopeless. I went to two psychiatrists, who have both tried to treat her, they have both told me that I have a huge problem on my hands. They can not help me, because she is not willing to help herself. She would rather go down and take everyone with her. One told me to walk away when things were getting to be too much, and not let this take me down in her vortex of destruction. It is better to walk away and take good care of myself and my family. Several doctors, psychiatrists and every other doctor she has seen have told her she needs to be on anti-depressant meds, but she refuses because she believes nothing is wrong with her. Last week I went to see a psychiatrist she had seen in the past, hoping for some help, and I was shooed out of the office, and told that she was a physician and not a magician. If my mother wouldn't take the meds there was nothing that she could do for us, and she refused to take my mother on as a weekly talk therapy client, because she didn't believe my mother could get better, and she needed to see people who were willing to get better. I am angry and frustrated, but I still desperately want to seek help for my mother. This is so difficult.
jblair77 on February 12, 2012:
My wife for years and years, insists that she has something wrong, and doesn't visit a doctor unless there is something real. She pursues every vitamin and natural cure and stays on them for months and months insisting they've fixed whatever her diagnosis is, eventually she gives up....I never know what to do., and the hard thing is whatever she's taking she let's everyone know and insists they start on the same regiment, lately it's parasite cleanser.
jackinichole33 on January 27, 2012:
I struggle everyday with my boyfriend of 5 years. It's nice to know there are other people out there dealing with my same frustrations, but I just don't know what to do anymore. A couple of years ago, he was extremely concerned about a pain he felt in his groin area, and complained about it for months and months. We finally went to the doctor, who ran some tests and performed a CAT scan, all which showed he was perfectly fine. That was almost 3 years ago. Before that, he complained regularly about ailments that he thought he was experiencing, and when we first started dating at 17 years old, he was convinced he had heart disease. Now we are 22 and it has only gotten worse. Three years after the mysterious pain in his groin, he still claims the doctors are crazy and that he is still experiencing pain. He also claims he has swollen glands in his neck, he found a weird sore on the top of his leg, and now claims to have found the same sore on his inner thigh (I have yet to see this) and claims to be getting weird rashes all over his body. He looks all of these symptoms up online all the time and convinces himself he has something g serious and deadly. I don't know what to do anymore because we continuously fight about the fact that he can't get over these symptoms, and I am out of ideas....I guess ranting on an Internet article is the only answer I have left for this!
Totalhotty1 on January 24, 2012:
I don't know how to start. I have found you!! I am not the only one who has such sadness mixed with anger , frustration, regret, pity, and pain in having a munchaussen syndrome mother. Reading all these comments have been so great for me. I am 36 and my 72 year old mum has never had one day off from being chronically I'll with one illness or another. It has been the biggest heartbreak for me because fundamentally children hate to see, in fact cannot bare to see their parents suffer. That us our hardwiring. And I have so often tried to help my mum by suggesting different healthy eating and living options which I see would help her illnesses. And of course she doesn't really want to be helped and so has never once made any use of my advice. It's so hardcore when people continuously bleed their hearts out to you and yet don't want a solution. Ahhhhh. Now that I have two kids who need me so much. I really have had to tune her melodrama out. Poor lady. I have compassion. I know she is lonely and desperate for love and someone to wrap her up and breast feed her and Rick her to sleep but I have got to protect myself because she really can knock me around emotionally with all of her pain and new daily updates. Kids of hyperchondriacs totally suffer. It's the ultimate power trip. A very f"@&ed up wat to keep you around. But parents need to grow up and take responsibility for them selves. Not become our babies. And I gave up waiting for her to grow up first. I am giving up waiting because I have to do my own growing. I have to love and respect me first. If I don't I will let my little family down. So I sometimes laugh a little now she calls up or I call her and there's a new illness a new disease a new operation a new drug it's a joke. But it's very painful. I feel guilt a lot like its my fault. But it isn't. I have to cut her off emotionally. But still love her and have compassion knowing that it is very real for her. Be true to yourself. That's what my mum used to always say to me. She is wise. Just really screwd up. God love her. God love me. Xx
mandanu on August 04, 2011:
Glad I found this hub. I have long struggled with the guilt I feel when I have a blow out with my mother because she's doing the "I might have X, am gonna die, and the doctor said." thing. She is a hypochondriac, but it's really hard for my brother and I to tell when/if she really has true medical problems or manipulating us, trying to get attention or what. Plus at 70, well, things do get old. I genuinely feel pity for her but no amount of being reasonable works with her. She won't see a mental health doctor. Lots and lots on incidents have happened and I am really tired of being made to feel by society, and healthcare workers who have known her for an hour at the height of some episode, like I am not caring or some kind of bad daughter. Why does society seem to think that because someone is your parent, short of physical abuse, children somehow must put up with it? Even my good friends say things like, "oh but she's your mother. or You've only got one mother." They don't know because they haven't lived it.
I also do believe that my mother is very capable of manifesting serious physical effects because she believes it sooo strongly. She also does things like continuously pick at a spot on her arm and says it's malignant. Yet when it's suggested she refrain from picking at it, apply an ointment the doctor gave her, bandage it so she can't get at it, and then it starts to get better, she starts picking at it again and then declares it incurable and the whole thing starts again.
Also, healthcare professionals are often the least likely people who can help the long suffering loved ones. They rarely know the patient more than a few hours or minutes, so of course they take things at face value thinking something might be seriously wrong with the person. One doctor actually chastised me in front of her when she was describing her chest pains, and I said that I thought it was likely an anxiety attack. After a bunch of tests and a bunch of $$$, they found nothing. IT was NOT the first time, in fact the 3rd time in about 1.5 years. She had also been recently laid off and I know that was really, really hard for her. He NEVER came back to me to discuss the possibility of anxiety and need for a mental care professional. She likes the idea of having anxiety attacks now, because it's like saying you have a disease. But she gets really belligerent at the suggestion that she ought to see mental health care professional.
I did FINALLY get some healthcare workers to take me somewhat seriously when my mother had TIA's and stayed in the hospital 10 days. At first, they were very judgmental because I wasn't gushing with sympathy and seemed skeptical about some things. However after some things she did and said, they did ask me about her mental state and gave her a psychiatric evaluation. It turned out to be inconclusive, which I could have told them. Why? because when she was confronted with the fact that she might be "crazy",as she said, she put on her good face and was sane and reasonable with them. (After the doc ordered this eval, she stared to say nasty things about him even though she had previously liked him when he was the smart guy who was going to cure her brain.)Maybe it's not lying, but when her bluff gets close to being called, she's always got a wily strategy handy. Turns out the intern with the doc at the psyche eval was a friend's roommate-such a small world. I spoke with her about it and due to ethics she could not discuss much, but she did say that she found my conclusion of my mother being a hypochondriac to be "very reasonable".
My mother even said something very profound the other day without realizing it. I lived overseas for nearly a year and as in times past when I lived away from home, she was fine. She was lamenting her incurable vertigo and remarked, "last year when you were away I was fine. I was active, did all sorts of stuff with my friend's etc...Now that you're home, I'm so ill." I was like, "huh, imagine that".
My point about this is that I think a person can use hypochondria as a strategy towards CERTAIN people. And that unless there is a long-term, in depth knowledge of a patient-our healthcare system is geared for the EXACT opposite-family members often end up getting treated very poorly by doctors and other healthcare workers. It's very, very hard to stand up to these "authorities".
The other thing is that hypochondriacs often display other psychosis or persist in painful behaviors. My mother is at times extremely immature(like a 12 year old), narcissistic, manipulative, phobia prone (fears heights, bugs etc...) extremely negative too. She can also be fun-loving, kind, and is very intelligent but stubborn. So the situation can be far more complicated for most people than one diagnosis.
Personally, today, I have gotten to a point where it's my sanity or....well there really is no other choice. I know I'm going to struggle with the guilt thing, but there is just no more that I can do for her without utterly breaking down myself. So I've decide that that's it for me. I'm cutting her out of my life. I might write to her two doctors with my thoughts about helping her seek more mental care services, but I am past the point of letting societal judgment condemn me. When I have had some time, I might even write her too and tell her that-not sure at this point. BUT I'm not willing to sacrifice myself for her anymore and some may think that's cold, but I'll let them walk in my shoes for 40 years and ask for their opinion after. In the meantime, I got to get healthy myself and frankly a narcissistic, manipulative, mean, hypochondriac is toxic. One person called her a vampire and another said being around her was like drinking hemlock.
There is another choice if being as compassionate as you possibly can hasn't worked. that choice is to remember you're only human, and as such deserve every bit of love and care as anyone else and at some point self preservation is the ONLY sane thing to do.
bluegrassmann777 on March 13, 2011:
guys my father was in vietnam. and grew up without a father. i love him ,but he is driving me and my mom nuts. hes dying , his chest hurts. every symptom of this disease he has. i don't know what to do anymore.
OhKyKid on February 20, 2011:
I greatly appreciate the comments that have been posted here. My siblings and I have been coming to terms with the realization that our mother demonstrates signs of hypochondria. It was something I didn't realize until I became and adult...however, in retropect the elements were there when we were youths as well. The additional issue that we are also dealing with is that our Father is a text book enabler. And although we are extremely blessed to have parents that passionately love one another after over 40 years of marriage - Mom's "illnesses" have been their identity for years now. I struggle with whether to confront and be honest or just accept that it is what it is and with Mom in her 60's I won't be able to change her. She's been a wonderful Mom and is this issue worth a confrontation? It's obvious at this point that Dad is oblibious to the truth so if her kids are not honest...who will be? My sister has actually been with her at the hospital to hear my Mom ask questions like "could it be my heart" in which the Dr. replies, "we found nothing wrong with your heart". After which Mom will ask several more times, the Dr. will break down and say "We can't find anything wrong, but there is always a "chance"..." At which point Mom will begin making calls saying "The Dr. says it could be my heart". Every phone call, email, text, etc from my folks end up focusing on Mom's latest symdrom, ailment or episode. And of course as she ages, we are concerned that there will be real things she will face that we should be concerned about. But all the "wolf crying" has made us very jaded. Well...if nothing else, this is a little therapudic - just being able to read others comments and being able to type out my thoughts and frustrations. At some point I will likely need to have a loving discussion with my folks. Perhaps I will document the results of that diolg here afterwards in hopes that it is helpful to others. My sincere prayers to each of you...both those struggling with hypochondria or those whom love others with this condition.
Irene74 on February 07, 2011:
I have been readding on how people are dealing with this issue and just have some general questions hoping that someone can help. My mother I believe is a hypochondriac. No this has not been confirmed but the signs are definitely there. I do understand that while this is a mental illness there are repurcusions from it. My mother always believes that she has severe illnesses and unfortunately always wants to go the emergency room for them. I do not believe she is a "shopper" before anyone assumes it. My mother does have some health issues, such as gout, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia. She has had numerous surgeries so I do believe while some of the things may be exaggerated that there is "sometimes" validity to her stories. She always hurts, and yes I can empathize for her, but most of her issues have even been dismissed by Doctors. She goes about once a month to the emergency room with every little ache or sniffle. Most of the times the Doctors dismiss it as her arthritis is kicking in. The negativity she portays has started to impose on the whole family's everyday routines. The worst that I believe has happened is she called an ambulance for what she believed was the most pain she has ever experienced. Come to find out she was having a muscle spazm. I do not discuss this with people at work but when I had to leave due to my mother being taken to the hospital via ambulance they all showed concern. At first I was worried that there was a situation that needed to be addressed, but when I found out the diagnosis, to much dismay I was furious. I do not know how to handle "The talk" with her. She has gone through a lot in her life and with even losing her son at a young age. Any advice on how to talk to her would be greatly appreciated. I do not want to hurt my mother but I do believe that it is getting to the point of an intervention.
ziggymiller77 on January 01, 2011:
vegas897, I know exactly how you feel. My boyfriend has been "sick" for the past 2 years. I also don't know how to deal with it. For the most part, I gave in and trusted everything he said about his illness. He always complained of feeling weak, dizzy, and a stiff neck. He would always go online and check different things online, but then I realized, how can this be an everyday thing? Everytime he found out about a new illness he was sure he had it. He once even told me that he thought he had mono and I wanted to smack him. It really does feel like it puts a strain on our relationship. I don't know what to do either. He always says that he needs to go to the doctor, but to be honest I think his issue is that he wakes up in the morning and he is tired, then he goes to work and sits at a desk all day still tired, then he comes home and sits at a desk again even more tired, and on more then one occasion I've said, "why not try going for a walk?" his answer is that, he is tired and does not feel well... I wonder why. Its really upsetting because when he "doesn't feel well," he can be a royal pain in the ass. I feel like a lot of the time he only thinks of himself, and he even once said, "You know, I'd understand if you don't want to be with me." And I just wanted to say, "Well, if you wanted to be with me, why don't you try to make yourself feel better." But I didn't. I need just as much helf as he does, maybe even more. If anyone wants to give me advice... I need it, if you wish to vent, I'm here for that too.
qemtu on December 17, 2010:
My wife and I both believe that my mom is a hypochondriac. But no one else is the family believes it and they fall hook, line and sinker for everything she says. She faked a stroke (I overheard the doctor talking at the hospital), she used to have rheumatoid arthritis and emphysema (non-smoker) that seemed to cure itself. Now on top all of all the physical problems she claims she has even though she has no symptoms of any of them (fibromyalgia, macular degeneration (she wears the same glasses she had before the claimed diagnosis), osteoporosis, diabetes) just a few, I believe she uses this as a way to be waited on hand in foot. One of the medications she was given was Paxil, an anti-depressant used for people who suffer from hypochondria. She treats people horribly and uses these illnesses to step on the ones around her. What can I do to convince my family that this is going on and get her the actual psychological help she needs? I think the physical problems she has is due to the lack of activity. She also forces herself to stay up all night so that she looks drained during the day.
vegas897 on December 10, 2010:
I'm wondering whether my husband is a hypochodriac or not. His father died at a young age, and he seems to think he's going to die young as well. I know he doesn't make up illnesses, what happens is that when he's feeling sick he seems to think of the worst. His favorite site is webmd.com, and he spends alot of time researching 'what' may be wrong with him.. and it's always the worst. Everytime he gets sick, it's like he has a unique thing going on. For instance at the moment I believe he has a stomach bug.. BUT he feels pain in places that aren't his stomach, and he talks about it constantly and he's already been on the internet non-stop. Last week he was at the doctor because of dizziness, and pain in his shoulder.. he believed he was going to have a heart attack soon. Doctor checked him, he was fine but I heard about this ALL weekend long. Anyhow he's not depressed though, and it doesn't seem to take over his life until he gets sick. My main problem is my patience with it. I just don't know how to handle it. I want to be compassionate but sometimes it just downright gets on my nerves and drives me crazy. When he gets sick or doesn't feel well, I'm very understanding until it starts going to the 'crazy' side of serious illness. I love him to death, but I worry this could ruin our relationship if it gets worse. I certainly couldn't deal with this if it became a monthly thing. What to do?
Sleeplezdonni on August 18, 2010:
My mother is a hypochondriac. She is so self centered. If I have a medical problem she will let me tell her and then start talking about her pains, etc. She is always talking to relatives about me, how I don't help her, etc. and that she is so sick. She will actually lie about things I say or do. I am so hurt over this. Recently she was in a nursing home due to a broken hip. I visited her almost daily. I did her laundry and went to her house 30 miles away to clean, working on it during a three month period. My husband and I had to declutter so she would not fall again. She just went home and told everyone we lied about how much time we'd spent on her house, that she had to pay money to have things done, that we did not offer to let her live with us, and a lot of other things that were not true. I was so hurt. My husband had been telling me she wouldn't appreciate anything we did, but we did it because we felt it was the right thing to do. My younger brother is slightly autistic and she has always doted on him. She has always put me down. I have a husband, 7 children and grandchildren. She wants me to put her first. I feel so bad, like I'm disappointing her. I finally went to a pastor who told me I need to back off from her because she is manipulating me. I have been on an emotional roller coaster. It is affecting my health. I know I need to help care for my mother, but I can't continue in this pattern with her. So I am going to try to back away and I hope it helps. And I hope I don't feel guilty for doing what I think I must do.
L.A. Walsh (author) from Lowell, MA on August 15, 2010:
Lyndem, I can't thank you enough for your comment. After receiving numerous bits of hate e-mail from readers who didn't like my point of view, your comment was beyond gratifying. You don't know how liberated you have made me feel. That having been said, I'm so sorry to hear about your mother and the abuse (Yes, I'd definitely call it that.)you've received from her through the years. I hope that one day she'll realize the damage she's done to your relationship and to your health and will change her ways. I admire you for the constant love and patience that you've shown your mother. I wish you only the best. :)
lyndem on July 20, 2010:
I want to thank Lowell for writing this and providing a place where people can talk about it.
I am quite disturbed and annoyed by the few people here who have suggested in any way that the family members of hypochondriacs are selfish or uncaring. I take it very personally and how dare anyone accuse me of anything when they have no clue what I've been through.
Living with a hypochondriac is hell-daily hell. My mom has been one ever since I can remember and I'm her only child. The first time she thought she might be dying I was about 10 and she called me to her bed where I was told what her wishes were for her funeral, how she wanted me to go on and be successful even if I miss her etc. Flash forward 15 years and I still hear often how she needs to get her insurance in order-you know just in case she dies! When I would go to doctor's appointments she would find a way to begin discussing her illnesses with them. My mom is a disabled veteran so she actually does have some physical ailments which makes it alot worse when you don't believe the crazy illnesses that you know she doesn't have.
She got a strange black bruise on her thigh she was convinced was cancer, early onset alzheimers (she's 46), vertigo, heart attack, liver disease, ulcerative colitis, gastrointestinal bleeding, constant pain through her chest and vomitting that she's convinced means she's dying.
Yes I know its a real disease and how does that make it any easier on others? She's at the point where she gets angry if we suggest she goes to a doctor because she knows they rarely find anything wrong. She'll ask questions like if I would drop everything and come back home to take care of her when she's sick. If you were to answer no she would go into a rage-not just be angry or upset-my mom is one of those people you don't want to be around when she blows up! My dad's been taking care of her for years and she calls it just something a man would have to understand and deal with if he really loved her. I mentioned to her one time that she's been "dying" for 10 years and a light seemed to turn on in her head but she just dismissed it.
My dad and I get worried because she's in the house alone right now and she'll go for days without calling only to call and say that she thought she was going to die or was passed out for days. She completely disrupts my life and no I shouldn't deal with it. I've been dealing with it all my life. I love my mom more than anything but I have my own life too.
I have my own mental illnesses from being raised by her by I admit them and seek out help. If a family member has a mental illness and they can't admit it and don't get help for it there is nothing you can do. Do NOT suggest that other people just allow their lives to be ruined by someone else's mental illness. Sometimes families do all they can and sometimes its not enough and no one should feel guilty about that. If my mother doesn't get help I may have to cut her out of my life-I don't ever want to have kids who are dealing with her issues too. It just repeats the cycle.
L.A. Walsh (author) from Lowell, MA on May 10, 2010:
Jenny, I never assume anything and neither should you. I feel like I should write a disclaimer on my article for people who seem to think that this is an article for a medical journal not just an opinion piece written to help a spouse at the end of their rope. However, I'm not going to add such a disclaimer as I believe it would hinder overburdened caretakers from having a chance to share their stories with like-minded people. While I know you believe my article to be misinformed as you've taken it out of context, I know there are others who have found comfort in it. I never thought my article would help people as much as it has, but I'm deeply moved that it has. I'm sorry that some of my readers have taken offense at what I've written as that was never my intention. Nevertheless, I will not change my stance or update my article to include scientific theories. As you said, Jenny, this is life. In life, we all are entitled to our own opinions. We are welcome to interpret articles differently and take from them what we care to. Indeed, "Education is key, and ignorance is poison." Thank you for reading my article and reminding me that words can easily be misread and messages can easily be tampered with. Ignorance is in the eye of the beholder.
Jennifer on May 06, 2010:
Are you assuming that this is a personal attack on the people around the hypochondriac? My loved one has had this problem for years. This is a serious disease; not a choice. I understand your anger and frustration as I have been the sacrificing caretaker and a martyr at the expensive of him. There is nothing you or I can do to make it stop, so being angry at them or ignoring them to starve them of attention will solve nothing. In a sense, that is like ignoring a crying infant. What they are experiencing is very real to them and they cannot just snap out of it because you want them to. Humans show their humanity or "souls" through their brains. Your thoughts are an amazing organization of electrical impulses regulated by protein chemicals. If a hypochondriac has a specific brain makeup then that is and will always be who they are. All you can do is try to encourage them to take medicine or go to behavioral therapy. If they won't, then guess what? This is life. It is not fair, but there is beauty in it too. Everyone will have their day of death, why spend it angry? In the short time we have we should all cherish our loved ones, not outcast them. If it is not someone you love, then at least try to do some research. Education is key, and ignorance is poison.
L.A. Walsh (author) from Lowell, MA on April 25, 2010:
Do not feel guilty. You do your best as her child and that's what matters the most. It's unfortunate that she can't be a more positive part of your life. I hope one day she'll realize the damage she's done to your relationship and change her ways. Don't forget to take frequent deep breaths and take time for you. Thank you for writing to me. I wish you (and your mother) only the best.
KR on April 25, 2010:
My mother's illness began in 1996. Several times over the years, she has lied in bed and swore that she was dying. It's 2010 and she's still here. For the last ten years, she thought she had AIDS. Now she agrees that it isn't AIDS, but she insists her doctors know what she does have but they're keeping it from her. I tell her it wouldn't make sense for ALL of them to withhold such a huge secret from her.
She will call me up and talk for two hours at a time. A couple minutes of chit-chat and then the inevitable "I'm in baaaaaad shape. My platelets are low...In 2002, my leukocytes were..." She blew up my phone bill to $180 at least four times last year. Many times, I will lay the phone down, go to the bathroom, go drop off some clothes in the laundry room, etc, pick up the phone, and she's still talking, as if in a trance, not even realizing that I was gone. She has alienated herself from all friends and family who just got tired of hearing about it.
I finally got in a fight with her a couple years ago on the phone about one of her doctors...and she had a heart attack during the conversation. Then, last year she was diagnosed with uterine cancer, and had a hysterectomy. I felt guilty for not believing her, but after 14 years of this, I don't know what to believe anymore. When I point out that she has every symptom of hypochondria, she screams at me for not believing her.
L.A. Walsh (author) from Lowell, MA on April 16, 2010:
I'm glad I could help you. Thank you for telling me I did as it has made my day. I hope your mindset continues to improve. Don't forget that your own happiness and welfare matters just as much as your mother's.
L.A. Walsh (author) from Lowell, MA on April 16, 2010:
I believe that the difference between being a liar and being a hypochondriac is that, with the latter, you firmly believe that you are susceptible to any and all illnesses and, when you voice your health concerns to others, you do believe on some level that you could have the illness. As this person, you want the listener to give you all of their attention and to find ways to help you cope with your illness (ex.: take you to the doctor, get you something from the drug store, make you food, etc.). When you're a liar, you are simply seeking attention and not a solution. I've found that when people are lying about their health, they seem to quickly change the subject to something else after you've suggested doing something to help them. In all honesty, you can tell just by watching their reaction whether or not they are lying or if they do firmly believe they are ill.
Chances are you're not a heartless daughter. In my experience, people are usually called heartless for not giving others the attention they feel they deserve. It sounds like you have given everything to your mom and she still isn't satisfied. I suggest that you take a break from your mom for your own mental health. For example, if you see her weekly, try seeing her biweekly. If that turns out to be too much for you, I think you should keep your visits to once a month or only when she calls you in desperate need. It's up to though to be able to tell the difference between need and a desire for her to manipulate you.
Speaking personally, I know that illnesses tend to flair up in my family after someone has died or is in the process of dying. Relative A has been given 6 months to live due to a disease. Suddenly, Relatives B, F, & K are experiencing some of the early symptoms that A exhibited. All three refuse to go to their respective doctors because they don't want to have their fears confirmed. That and they can't milk an illness for all its worth if they find they don't have it. I believe that this behavior is common for attention seekers, but it also does come from a place of true fear. Seeing someone who is truly ill reminds us that we're mortal and can be taken at any time. Sometimes it's easier to be hysterical about a possible illness than have to deal with the fear of how ones life will change once their dying loved one dies. Simply put, it's a coping mechanism and a frustrating one at that.
About your Facebook message, I don't quite know how to approach it. As a daughter, I would feel offended if I received this message about my mom as it would mean that this relative didn't give me a chance to make arrangements for my mom. You didn't say who the ill relative was so I won't continue with my offended daughter rant. Clearly, this relative has overstepped bounds and some daughter(s) deserves to be told why. While I'm sure this person meant well by posting this message, I believe it was the wrong way to go about it. If the family member in need is that much in need, why hasn't she asked for help? Furthermore, if she's in this much need wouldn't her close family members i.e. her daughters already know this and be working on getting her care? It just seems like a melodramatic message sent by a melodramatic person with a Superman complex ("A Superman Complex is an unhealthy sense of responsibility, or the belief that everyone else lacks the capacity to successfully perform one or more tasks. Such a person may feel a constant need to "save" others."-Wikipedia) to a bunch of people who have had it up to their foreheads with this kind of behavior. Thankfully, I've never had to deal with a relative like that. However, if I did and wanted to help, I would call them to find out what's going on and to politely tell them that their message was unnecessary because I'm only a phone call away and am always ready to help. If you have no interest in helping, I would message this person back and tell them that while you're plate is too full to help out, the ill person is in your thoughts. I think unless you're going to help out, you should wait on schooling your relative. While their message is unwanted, unfair and uncouth, they will undoubtedly lash out at you for not helping and turn the situation into more of a mess than it already is.
Jen, it sounds like you're overwhelmed with your family as a whole. Might I suggest you take a break from all modes of family communication (Don't answer the phone if the caller id is a family member who will cause you stress. Don't check your facebook account unless a friend or safe family member has sent you something you want to see.) for a week or two? I think that this break will give you some time to take some much needed deep breaths and help you put things back into a healthy perspective.
Hope that helps. :)
Jen on April 15, 2010:
Here's another question, how do you deal with extended family members like this:
My sister is extremely sick and needs a female family member to come help her for a couple of hours a day for the next few days (without kids). If any of her daughters, nieces, cousins, etc. are available, please call her immediately. Please let me know, because if no one's available, I can fly down. Please help if you can. It would mean a lot to me.14 minutes ago
This was via facebook. Do we try and educate this family member or keep silent knowing we will be met with criticism and disbelief?
Susan on April 15, 2010:
Hi Lowell, thanking you for your good thoughts, for your understanding and care. Having a forum in which to offload was most helpful. I felt lighter within afterwards and more able to deal with this difficult situation that is developing. Interestingly enough, my mother's hypochondria significantly lessened when I distanced myself from her for over 10 years when I was in my late twenties and thirties. It is easy to feed such patterns of thinking with misplaced compassion. Now I need to find caring ways of relating to her that are informed by wisdom, strength, rectitude and discernment. Not an easy mix! Again, heartfelt thanks for your candid reply!
Jennifer on April 15, 2010:
So what is the difference between a hypochondriac and a liar? I am not asking that to be cheeky, just trying to understand my mother better. My story reads much like Susans, and I am the oldest of four children. I am the accused "heartless" child in the family, for not catering to the whims of my parents (my father has other issues as well) and disregarding any of the frivolous statements made by my mother regarding her health. I am 34 years old, a stay at home mom to three small children and my husband is a firefighter. I don't have enough time or energy to dedicate to my mother even if I did have the desire to "help" her. What I am wondering is how to respond to her at this point. I have already tried all of your above suggestions and her responses were always by the book. She accuses me of not caring about her or accusing her of being a liar. As much as my mother does not offer me any friendship, support, consistent love or companionship at this point in my life, I do not have a problem visiting with her. Would that just perpetuate her hypochondriac behaviors? These episodes seem to be exacerbated by any other family members terminal illnesses or death. My great-uncle just passed away last week. She is claiming to have fibromyalgia, diabetes and diverticulitis.
L.A. Walsh (author) from Lowell, MA on April 14, 2010:
Susan, after hearing from someone like Rose, I had believed that I was alone in feeling the way I do about my hypochondriac loved ones. I'm so sorry that your mother has made you feel this way. One would like to think that she'd change if she knew how much pain she's caused you, but, if she's like people I know, this knowledge would only give her more to complain about. My mother and I often discuss our frustration concerning my 81 year old grandmother. Though we both love her dearly, it would nice to have just one ailment that she has never had or believed herself to have had. It also would be nice to get through one day without her feeling she has to garner attention by way of moaning about an ache or berating us for not giving her concerns enough attention. I hope Rose and others like her can read your comment and know that while their plight is indeed horrible, our plight as their loved ones is just as bad. Thank you for writing to me. You are in my thoughts. :)
Susan on April 14, 2010:
I am the daughter of a hypochondriac. It has been going on all my life and my mother's behaviour has destroyed my life, to the point that I didn't have a life of my own, but had her life, taking care of her, as a child, because I didn't know any better and had no choice. Every ailment was blown into something enormous, life threatening - all this to get attention, to dominate and control - to get me to do what she wouldn't, couldn't, didn't want to do.
During adolescence I became rebellious. She would constantly lament that she was dying. I would reply, 'You will outlive me.' I still believe that and I am over 50 now.
It's started up again recently. She is approaching 80 and had a minor fall recently - and now she can't cope - and I am utterly terrified that she will insist that I visit her daily and feed her and look to her every need, as I did when I was little. This is such an insidious behaviour, so destructive of good will and care. I can't bear being near her, because her selfishness drives me up the wall. She is the only person in the world who has ever suffered and the only suffering that matters is her suffering. It so ugly, this personal fascination and obsession with self-suffering.
I know beyond doubt that hypochondria is a serious mental problem but like all such problems it can affect those who live with it in the most terrible ways. It is difficult for someone like me to show empathy and care to someone such as my mother whose selfishness and complete disregard for anybody else's feelings has destroyed lives. I think it's wonderful that there are people out there who can admit that they have a problem and wish to learn to deal with it. But when there is total and fundamental denial, as is the case with my mother, then it is very difficult to know what to do, to say, and how to be strong and wise, and not be undone by anger, resentment and frustration.
I would appreciate hearing from others in a similar situation, or about support groups that help those who have to deal with such difficult situations.
Rose on April 13, 2010:
I am a hypochondriac and I found your article offensive. None of my family are hypochondriacs and they waive my concerns off as silly all the time. Me and my family get on fine and I don't need more attention. I panic that I am seriously ill approximately 5 times a month, yet talk to my family about it less than once every few months.
I have never had any major health problems either. Could it be that I have a mental health problem, which has a biological basis?
Being a hypochondriac has destroyed my life, I can't go anywhere near anything medical or hear about any illnesses without upsetting myself. I know that I am panicing over something when there is a 99% probability that it is in my head. I hear about a disease. Suddenly I am having some of the symptoms, I can't go to work because I can't stop shaking and crying because I think I am seriously ill. I know that it is stupid to think that, but I can't help but think it. Sometimes, I have even felt like killing myself to make me stop worrying about things.
You seem to miss the fact that hypochondriasis is a serious mental problem and you should be relieving their anxiety instead of relieving your own burdan.
L.A. Walsh (author) from Lowell, MA on April 06, 2010:
I appreciate hearing from you, Jackie. Thank you for your cooperation and for sharing your story with me! :)
Jackie on March 30, 2010:
I got your message and took down the thread containing your article from our online support group.
So glad you had contacted me. I thought it was a very good article, so was equally puzzled by the sales pitch from the inbedded links. Turned out someone else had used it to sell some kind of product. Were you able to locate the 'salesman' and take some legal actions?
I've been labelled a hypochondriac for many, many years. I would really love to be a real 'hypochondriac' except that I did have a huge brain tumor that was surgically removed 20 years ago. And then a Gamma-knife to controlled the three new growths 11 years later. Two years after that procedure, I had breast cancer. Another four years later, I had to have double mastectomy for the recurrence. In every case, the medical professionals missed the sign and I had to be the one pursue the cause and fight for my survival...
My husband has taught me an expression: "Just because you are paranoid doesn't mean there's no one out to get you!"
We always laugh at that...
NateSean from Salem, MA on January 27, 2010:
I would go with that except in her eyes her son can do no wrong. Since before the diagnosis if anyone ever disciplined him they answered to her. Then when they handed her the diagnosis it was like a magical shield that she used to defend his actions all through his teen years. He never had to take responsibility because, ooops, he's bi-polar.
Now he's eighteen, a high school drop out with no plans to get his GED or get a job, who plays video games all day and doesn't leave the house unless she's driving somewhere.
L.A. Walsh (author) from Lowell, MA on January 27, 2010:
I understand your frustration, NS. However, I do wonder if you've ever considered that your aunt's behavior might be her way of coping with her son's mental illness? Perhaps she thinks that if she can spot it in others it will make his disease more common place thus casting off some of the stigma that unfortunately surfaces when one's mental illness is made known to others. Just a thought. Thank you for your comment! :)
NateSean from Salem, MA on January 24, 2010:
Oh, you've met my aunt?
Only my aunt takes it up a notch and diagnosis everyone else and she has done this ever since her son, Casey was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.
This person is Bi-polar. Oh she's so Bi-polar. That actress has bi-polar disorder because she's angry in the movie and though I've never read her biography I know she's bipolar because my son is bipolar and I'm the expert on bipolar disorder.
I can deal with hypochondriacs it's the ones with projectionist tenancies that annoy me.
L.A. Walsh (author) from Lowell, MA on September 24, 2009:
Your coworker sounds like a real pain in the butt. You could lie and tell her that her many health concerns worry you and that until she goes to a doctor and gets them all resolved you dont know if you can handle the worry and ask her to keep her concerns to herself. Another suggestion is to change the subject as quickly as possible to something else when she begins complaining. Yes, she may see you as rude, but what shes doing is rude too. Just because you work together doesn't mean you have to be friends or her sounding board. Hope these tips help. Thanks for your comment and the read! :)
stephanie on September 24, 2009:
I'm not a hypochondriac myself but I work with a girl who is. I'm forced by my work habitat to be around her and it's driving me insane to hear about her crazy diagnosis. She told me she thought she could feel her brain bleeding. She had a canker sore on her tongue and swore it was abscessed.She asked me if it meant her kidney was messed up because her right side had shooting pains in it. I told her no and that she had a kidney on each side. Anyway you get the point she is a hypochondriac. I just don't know how to tell her she is and needs to get help without making her mad.