My Teenage Hypochondriac

Hypochondriac defines the word hypochondriac as someone who is excessively preoccupied with and worried about their health. But really I didn’t have to look up the definition. I could have told you what that meant without even turning on the computer. You see I grew up hearing that word over and over again. One of my grandmothers was afflicted with this disorder. I distinctly remember the phone ringing at all hours of the day and night, my grandmother on the other end needing to speak to my father—right away—lest she die while waiting for him to get out of his easy chair. I often listened to conversation after conversation between my mother and father about these phone calls and the imagined diseases and maladies that always came with them. The first time I heard the word, “hypochondriac,” I immediately ran upstairs to our shelves of books to pull out ol’ Webster’s and looked it up, and although the definition wasn’t comprehendible for such a young mind, I knew that the connotation of the word was not a good thing.

And so, it was no surprise to me when one of my sons started displaying the same signs and symptoms of my grandmother at a very young age. (Dear geneticists, if you are looking for your next gig perhaps locating the hypochondria gene would be a worthwhile venture. Trust me, the people who endure the drama would forever be in your debt.) And because of my experience with good old Grandma…I was prepared. I knew the remedy to such nonsense. Ignore it. Plain and simple. Put no credence in any ramblings of a neurotic son.

I have to tell you that most of the time, pretending that I didn’t hear statements like, “Mom, I think I have MERSA.” Or “Mom? Could I be dying of a heart attack? My chest is really tight.” Or “Mom, I’m pretty sure that I have some kind of cancer. Feel this lump! Am I going to die?” worked for the most part. And if ignoring didn’t stop it, usually a simple, “No you don’t have cancer.” Or “No you aren’t having a heart attack.” Or “No, you do NOT have MERSA” coupled with an “I promise” did the trick. For years I fended off affliction after affliction after affliction by using just these strategies, and for years that simple promise worked because…well…it was a promise that was really never broken. He never did have cancer or a heart attack or even MERSA and so those promises held enough credence to calm the obsessive compulsive consistent and constant health related panics. That is until… 

Two months ago, my sweet and now grown up hypochondriac came to me with the familiar panicked look in his eye. He clutched at his neck and fingered the glands on his throat and said the now familiar phrase, “Mom, I am worried that I have cancer. I mean feel this lump on my neck.” I immediately shifted into anti-hypo mode and ignored the statement. He stepped in front of me, (blocking the television by the way) and repeated his concern. To shut him up and (if truth be told) in order to continue watching Glee, I quickly made my move to plan b and said, “You are not dying of cancer. You must be coming down with a little cold or something. Your glands swell when fighting off infection. You’ll be fine…I promise.” Luckily that did the trick and I therefore was able to settle back in my chair to watch that cute Mathew Morrison sing and dance.

But the next night and the next and the next..and okay…the next, he continued to complain looking a little more pathetic, a little droopier each time. Each time he approached, I got a LOT tenser and a LOT more irritated. My shoulders seemed to climb into my ears. My eyes rolled. My tone dripped with sarcasm. I mean sheesh…how persistent could one hypochondriac be??

My answer to this question came the on the fifth morning of “hypo-watch”. He entered my bedroom stricken with fear. “Mom! There is something really wrong with me!” Having heard this phrase more times than a dog barks at the mailman during his lifetime, I rolled over and said, “You’re fine…I promise.”

But instead of going away, he flipped my light on and said firmly, “Does THIS look fine to you????” At his urgent tone I sat up straight, adjusted my eyes to the light and looked upon a son covered…and I mean covered…with a deep burgundy purple rash like nothing I had ever seen. He was frozen with fear. “Am I dying???” he asked.

“No you aren’t dying.” I said a little squeamishly purposely leaving the word “promise” out of my answer.

After a frantic trip to the doctor that morning, a careful analysis of that rash that the doctor had never seen before and a blood test, it turned out that my grown up hypochondriac hit the health jackpot with a diagnosis of Mononucleosis. Having it so bad that it manifested itself not only in the usual way, swollen glands, sore throat, exhaustion, but also in a purple slithering rash that still faintly stains my child’s skin to this day.

And so…and so…there must be a lesson to be learned in all of this. There must be. I suppose I could talk about the old “Boy who cried wolf” thing. Had he complained less, perhaps…perhaps I would have believed him earlier. Or reluctantly I could admit that I might want to take his complaints at least a tad bit more seriously. Perhaps…perhaps. It’s something to at least think about, and I will…tomorrow…I promise.


Logan Fisher

Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s MotherhoodEye on EducationFaces, and Appleseed.

[Photo credit: (ccl) slworking2]

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