Posted by: drrozkaplan | January 28, 2010

Hypochondriacs: Dabblers vs. Masters

I just finished reading an old post from a friend’s blog.  She’s a great writer- I met her in my writer’s workshop.  Her name is Rachel Kobin, and you can find her blog on  This particular post was called ‘How to be a hypochondriac.’  It had me laughing out loud.  It talked about finding a minimal pain (she used the example of a sensation in the pinky finger), then focusing on it and obsessing about it endlessly and imagining all the worst case scenarios, up to the point of imagining your own funeral…She made it clear that if you are to be successful at being a hypochondriac, you MUST NOT go to the doctor, because that may mess up the whole thing by putting a reality check on the process.

Rachel’s piece was the instructions on how to be a MASTER hypochondriac.  If you want to be really good at it, you will have to follow her directions.  But I must get in the act here and tell you that there are many other levels of hypochondriasis, and it’s okay to come into the whole thing at a lower level.  You don’t have to be a professional.  It can be a hobby, and it’s okay to just dabble, as many of us do.  In fact, it is the rare person who does not try this sport out, at least now and then.  There are those who raise it to an art form, but it’s not necessary.  All this perfectionism just makes us beat ourselves up.  As they say in yoga, come to it with a beginner’s mind, and you’ll feel much better….or worse.

Take me.  I’m not good at being a hypochondriac at all.  I am the classic Conflicted Hypochondriac.  Because of my education, I both catastrophize symptoms and minimize symptoms.  That pain in my belly?  It’s appendicitis!  It’s gas!  It’s intestinal blockage!  It’s a fleeting twinge that means nothing!  I should call the doctor.  I should go to the emergency room RIGHT NOW.  No, everyone will laugh at me because there is nothing wrong with me at all and I SHOULD KNOW THAT BECAUSE I AM A DOCTOR!  The good news is that by the time I am done with all these mental gymnastics, the symptom has usually gone away.

Except when it hasn’t, like the time I had E. Coli food poisoning and I walked all over New York City, having taken Pepto Bismol, thinking I should be able to tolerate a little dyspepsia, then I ate pizza, then the next day ran back and forth from bed to bathroom and told my husband I was drinking gatorade (I was so delusional that I thought I was, but the glass he poured stayed full all day) and then he came home from work and found me lying on the bathroom floor.  I spent 5 days in the hospital.

And then on the flip side, when my son was a year old (and weighed 25 pounds) and I used to carry him on my left hip, I went to my doctor telling him I was sure I had sarcoma (bone cancer) of the ribs on the left.  True diagnosis:  heavy baby chronically against ribs.  Thankfully, my doctor did not make me feel foolish.  He did not trivialize me or my complaint, even though the cause turned out to be trivial.

That was, in fact my doctor’s job.  And it is my job, every day.  Every day, I sort.  I sort out what is potentially life or health-threatening from what is just uncomfortable or painful or maybe just a worry.  Are the patients who worry a lot ‘hypochondriacs’?  Well, I don’t call them that.  Some of them are anxious.  For all kinds of reasons.  I haven’t met too many who are like Rachel Kobin’s Master Hypochondriacs.  Most people are just dabblers like me.  If I find any who really raise it to an art form, maybe I’ll refer them to Rachel’s blog to perfect their technique.



%d bloggers like this: