Helping a Hypochondriac

Fond Memories: Some of my earliest memories as a child are playing in the snow. My neighborhood was built next to a steep hill that leveled off into a field, and every year  snow would fall, covering the hill like a blanket . That’s when the sleds would come out. Families would gather from all around to race down the hill, and there was a real sense of community. One day, I decided that I was ready to do it myself. Before I realized it, I was head over heels – not in a good way. I rolled down the hill, my giant turtle shell shaped sled hitting me over the head. As I struggled to get up, I could only express my anger and frustration.

First Encounter with Altruism: That’s when this stranger pulled me aside and asked if I was all right. He did his best to calm me down. Then, he got my parents to help me out. Of course, I wasn’t hurt per say. I guess I was just fragile, and the adults around me recognized that. This was my first brush with altruism. It was something I’d never really seen before, but it was to be expected. If you see a child hurt in the snow, you’re first instinct would be to help that child., especially if you had children of your own. According to the Atlantic, having children has the potential to make you more emotionally aware of people around you. For years, psychologists have argued that “need to support helpless offspring drove the development of neural, chemical, and psychological sensitivity to others’ needs.”

Hypochondria: I can’t tell you how many diseases I’ve survived these past four years. Brain cancer, stomach cancer, lymphoma, melanoma, Tetanus, Appendicitis, Hantavirus, and Hypervitaminosis A. Then there’s that rare genetic disease I have. Trisomy 8. Ever heard of it? Well, let’s just say it’s really, really rare (MedScape is a great resource). At this point, you’ve probably realized that I’ve never had any of these diseases. Yet, I convinced myself I did. Hypochondria can be psychologically debilitating. Even when you think you’re fine, you know deep down in your gut that there’s a life threatening disease lurking just around the corner.

This can be difficult to deal with as a college student. I was working two jobs at the university, taking engineering courses, and trying to become a writer all at once. I suppose the stress I burdened myself with didn’t help; in fact, it might have been the catalyst for a series of hypochondria induced break downs. I once heard that the old residence halls still have asbestos in the walls in floors. After Boulder was hit with record flood waters, all of the floors had be stripped and replaced. My reaction: complete and utter panic. After the flood ended, I found myself wandering around campus, yelling at the local EPA to take my concerns seriously. I suspected that I had every asbestos related cancer imaginable and that it was only a matter of time. Suddenly, I was the little kid crying in the snow after tumbling over in his sled. Only, this time, I wouldn’t stop tumbling.


Professional Leadership: The person I can credit with helping me through the process was my hall director. He’s a great guy, not just because of his self-effacing air, his sense of humor, and his patience; he has an incredible capacity to listen to your concerns, no matter how frivolous or over-wrought. Now, going to my hall director for help wasn’t an easy decision. I was filled with trepidation, thinking he was going to laugh at me. It’s easy to empathize with a kid whose been hurt, but to empathize with an adult who keeps overreacting? That’s a little bit more difficult.

My hall director could have easily dismissed my concerns about asbestos. That’s what everybody else did. He could have easily placated my concerns, telling me that it was very possible that I was going to die. Instead, he listened to my concerns, validated what I had to say, and offered some real advice. He referred me to CAPS and other resources to help me psychologically process whatever I was going through. Then, he went ahead and called the local EPA just to give me a bit of solace that I wasn’t crazy. This was an important moment for me, because I learned that helping other people isn’t just a matter of altruism. It’s a cornerstone of professional leadership.




12 thoughts on “Helping a Hypochondriac

  1. This was an incredibly interesting post to me, as my roommate from freshman year is truly a hypochondriac as well. I remember when she warned me that I figured she was exaggerating, but I prepared myself anyways. Soon into the year, I saw how truly difficult it is. Her brain would promise her that she was sick, and even doctor’s visits couldn’t help. Being the complete opposite, I have extremely severe anxiety about doctors offices and hospitals, I had a very hard time trying to help her. But just being a support system for someone is so important, and we learned to be this way for each other. I am so glad you found someone as well

  2. Hey Stephen,
    I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a hypochondriac. I’m really weird about germs and cleaning, but I’m never too worried about diseases. My roommate on the other hand is a huge hypochondriac and it really gets to her! The other day she thought she ate a sausage that wasn’t cooked all the way through and started panicking and even cried because she was so worried about what would happen. People always think she is overreacting which is really hard. It’s nice to know that there are other people out there that feel the way you do.

  3. Hi!
    I think it was very brave of you to share this personal story with the class. I appreciate your honesty. I cannot even imagine waking up everyday and having to go through this battle alone between your body and your mind. It must and still be incredibly draining. I think it was really mature of you to go to your hall director to talk about what you had been going through. I also really like the conclusion you came to and the end by saying “helping other people is a cornerstone of professional leadership,” I believe that’s a strong statement and concludes the story very well.

  4. Hello Stephen,
    This was really awesome that you felt you could share this with the class. Realizing you have this at such a young age must of been really hard. The last paragraph is what spoke to me the most. The fact that you were aware that you are a hypochondriac and you had the strength to reach out to your hall director about it is a big step in leadership. This is about being brave and being confident in your issues and owning them, which you really did in the situation. Have things gotten better for you after getting involved with CAPS, have you learned how to better manage it or has it gotten better to where it is almost gone?

  5. Hi Stephen,

    Reading your story, all I could think about was “wow, that’s me!” I too suffer from hypochondria. One time, I was so convinced that something was seriously wrong with my heart that I called the ER. I’ve gotten many tests done. When a test comes out negative, I always convince myself that the test was wrong because it was interfered somehow. It’s a horrible feeling thinking that something is seriously wrong with yourself. It’s even worse when people say things like “stop overreacting” and “shut up, you’re fine.” Hypochondriacs are not saying these things about themselves for attention, we actually believe that we are suffering from serious diseases. You mentioned that your hall director referred you to the EPA? What is that? I would love to find some professional help for this problem as well. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    Adan Huang

  6. Stephen,
    Its really brave of you to write about these things. My heart goes out for you and the struggles that you have gone through in your life. I love that you allowed yourself to open up to your hall director, and let him help you. Its hard to let people step in and be a part of your life and know your deepest fears and insecurities. Im impressed with how accepting you are of who you are and I love your story.

  7. Hey Stephen,

    Thanks for sharing this, great read. I have a close family member that has dealt with similar issues, so I have seen how difficult it can be. To be able to step back and recognize these issues seems to be very beneficial. Feel free to reach out to me if you ever feel the need to talk more about this.


  8. Hi Stephen,

    It takes a lot of courage to be able to share this with the class and I would like to thank you for doing so. Your story is inspirational. To not only be able to recognize the issues you were having but being able to reach out to your hall director for help shows what a strong person you are. Thank you so much again for sharing this, it really touched my heart.


  9. Hi!
    It takes so much courage to share this story. To be able to recognise and address this type of issue is really admirable. I know that this is an issue that affects many people and to speak out about it is really powerful. It’s really awesome that you were able to find an ally in your hall director. So many times people can dismiss the things that matter to you. Finding anyone to help in trying times is really great.

  10. Hey Stephen,

    I applaud you for being strong and getting through your difficulties. I really hadn’t heard much about this disorder before, so I was intrigued by the interactions that you experienced with it. It sure does take a lot of courage to post about something like that in the public eye, and I really enjoyed reading your post. I can’t imagine the internal struggle that you must have been experiencing during these times. Is this something that effects you on a daily or weekly basis? Thank you for sharing your empathetic moments with our class. We are all with you!


  11. Hey Stephen,
    It definitely sounds like you’ve had a tough time of it. I think most people are blessed with ignorance about how much stuff there is out there in the world that could cause harm to you or the people important to you. I hit a faze like that where I was scared of the world around me. I usually get through the day with a “what happens, happens” attitude but I know that doesn’t work for everyone. Have you been able to find much solace since living in the dorms?

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s