I’ve been wanting to write something on hypochondria for a while now, because I think it’s one of the more misunderstood mental illness and is subjected to more jokes/misrepresentations. People have said before that I’m a hypochondriac, while it’s not something that I find to be insulting (as others some times do) I also know it’s not true. The problem with people assuming that I’m a hypochondriac is that it proves the amount of misunderstanding that surrounds hypochondria. What I have in a couple of different chronic illnesses and chronic pain, which means that I’ve often got what seems to be unconnected symptoms thus making people think I think I’ve got a million different illnesses that I don’t actually have.
I’m aware that this can be a very touchy topic because of the misunderstandings and often accusations. I mean no offense by this post, this is just my understanding of how it works. Hypochondria is characterised by a belief that you are sick with an illness and often that illness isn’t actually present, more often then not this belief is directed toward many illnesses but it can be directed toward just the one illness. Often someone who has hypochondria will not believe that they’re not sick, they won’t accept that the test results are negative/will ask that they’re done again. However it’s not as simple as everyone seems to think that it is, hypochondria is a serious mental illness and it comes with many of the same problems seen in other mental illnesses. The main similarity here is a lack of understanding from the basic community and even doctors, very few people can comprehend what it’s like for someone with hypochondria and in order to successfully help the person you need to at least give it your all to try.
Let’s attempt to see what it’s like to be a hypochondriac, this is of course easier said then done especially if you’ve never experienced any mental illness before. Think about a time when you where absolutely sure about something, say an answer on a test or solution to a difficult problem ect, but everyone else is telling you that you are wrong about this. This is similar on a much smaller level to what someone with hypochondria feels, to them every sneeze could be bird flu. The important thing to remember about people with hypochondria is that to them it is a very real possibility that their sneeze is bird flu, it is their own personal reality that they are very sick. The more often that people tell them they’re not sick the more it can cause a lot of hurt and damage to the person, they become frustrated because no one is validating the way they’re feeling. It’s pretty scary to think you’re dieing of some sort of awful illness and it’s even worse if people are dismissing you or labeling you a ‘crazy’.
Obviously medical tests will more often then not come back negative because often people with hypochondria are actually physically healthy (because they’re so scared that they’re sick) but because of the psychological stress associated with feeling sick, medical testing and being unable to find an answer to the illness they continue to feel very tried, irritable, weak and all the other symptoms associated with stress. It is very difficult to accept that you’ve got hypochondria or any other mental illness and it’s important that you support someone you know if they are currently seeing someone in order to help with their hypochondria. However I think the misunderstandings and the use of hypochondria as an insult/bullying tool doesn’t help those who do have it feel like they’re really people, plus at the end of the day someone with hypochondria is sick in a way and they should be treated with the same amount of respect you would treat anyone else who is sick with.
Always remember that to someone with hypochondria the sickness and the danger is real and you need to respect that in order to help, it might not be ‘real’ to you but it’s more then real for them.
Oh yes here comes one of the very classic philosophical questions…how do we know if we’re real? This question as well as other classics such as the chicken and the egg have kept me amused for years.
I firs thought about the are we real question when I was quite young and I must say that to this day I still don’t know, though I’d love to, how I arrived at this question no one had died and it’s not like I’d been watching anything more involved then Play School or the Wiggles at the time but I do remember I was roughly at that age when I first pondered this question(no wonder I was so good at it two years a go when we studied it in Philosophy!)
My end conclusion was basically it doesn’t matter, which isn’t me being lazy (I’ll go into the details of my thoughts in a second) but me accepting that no matter if I’m real or not I’m stuck here with my suffering until I finally die. So therefore there isn’t any point in driving myself crazy(er) with the idea unlike Descartes(pronounced day-carts) and as he famously said “I think therefore I am.”, I do know that to whatever extent I personally am in fact real. Now obviously all these types of statements flow onto more questions and I could quite easily go way off the path here so I’ll try my best not to, but for those who can keep up this is how I think:
It’s though chemical and electrical impulses that we experience the world, which makes the world very very different for all of us so for as long as my brain is producing electrical impulses I am experiencing. A general definition of ‘life’ could be experiencing the world, so I know that by experiencing I am in life this for me is a rather easy conclusion to come to(it’s what life is that I find so much more interesting, but that’s not the point!), whether or not my body is real is what I have no way of knowing and while fun to think about it doesn’t actually bother me.
Now in theory the brain could survive in the right conditions outside the body(just because we can’t currently do it doesn’t mean it can’t be done) and if there was some kind of nervous system attached in some manner it’s possible for it to then be tricked into feeling a body that isn’t there, we’ve all heard the stories of people who’ve had limbs cut off that then itch or feel heavy ect. so that provides proof to a degree that the physical doesn’t need to be there for the brain to think it feel’s it. This is the part that tends to give people a head ache or drives them crazy. So this indicates that it’s entirely possible that my brain could simply think that it feels the physical elements around me, including my body and because it’s my brain that is suppose to tell me what I’m experiencing is real or not I have no real way of telling if the physical things around me are real.
A good example of this would be any kind of hallucination, at the time it looks very real and you’ve got no real way of saying if it’s really there or not, another example which should be much easier for people to relate to would be a dream. Everything in a dream feels real, all your senses are telling you that this is really happening to the point that I woke up the other night with panic attacks because my dream felt that real and it’s not until you wake up from the dream(unless you’ve trained yourself to dream in a lucid manor) that you find it wasn’t real. All that dream was was chemical and electrical impulses from your brain telling you that you felt that slap on the face.
So there you have it, by my own reckoning it’s 100% possible that we could simply be a brain in a vat experiencing things that really don’t exist. But I ask you, if you can experience these things does that in fact make them real?(this too is something I’ve thought a lot on and might cover in another post.)