I think all moms are slight hypochondriacs. It’s part of our make-up as mothers. When our children become sick, we are supposed to keep vigil and act quickly should anything turn serious. A little uptick in anxiety seems normal. It’s never fun when our kids feel unwell, and we are programmed to want to protect them from any danger.
But some of us don’t manage those instincts as well as others. For some of us, the feelings of wanting to shield our kids from harm are intense, overwhelming, and crippling.
I never thought of myself as a hypochondriac…until I became a mother. I have an anxiety disorder, and one of the ways it manifests is that I am constantly afraid of losing my loved ones. When you have children, it’s easy to feel like any of the illnesses they bring home (which are many, especially when they are young) might very well send them to the ER—or, in some nightmare scenario—kill them.
Sometimes I can be cool as a cucumber when one of my kids are ill, and as they’ve gotten older and illness has become less frequent and severe, I have chilled out — somewhat.
But sometimes my anxiety over their physical health gets the better of me. I am often left with compulsive thoughts about it, and strange, obsessive behaviors around it.
I know I’m not the only one. I think hypochondria is a more prevalent problem among mothers (and fathers) than most of us realize. So, I’m going to share some of my “crazy” thoughts and behaviors I have surrounding my kids’ health, in the hopes of making those of you who are like me feel less alone.
As soon as one of my kids tells me someone was sent home sick, I grill them for details.
If my kindergartner says Suzie threw up in school today, or that Max was sent to the nurse, I “casually” cross-examine him for details. “Where do they sit in proximity to you?” “What were their symptoms?” Then I wait 48 hours for my kid to get symptoms of whatever virus it was. I obsess over it, sure it’s about to happen any time.
If I hear on Facebook that a child is sick, I take note of where they live, and wonder how soon that virus will reach my household.
I can’t be the only one who does this. Even if the person who posts does not live in my town, I worry that the illness is “going around,” and will reach us too. If I don’t know the person well, or don’t remember where they live, I will scroll over to their profile, note their location, and begin guessing what the chances are that virus is going around here, or when it will be.
If there was norovirus or another serious illness in someone’s house, I probably won’t visit for at least two weeks.
We hypochondriacs know that something like norovirus can live on surfaces for up to two weeks, that it’s almost impossible to disinfect norovirus properly, and that it can infect people for days or weeks after the sick person or people recover. So if I hear that norovirus swept through your family, it will be a long while before I come to visit.
As soon as my kid spikes a fever, I go to the “worst case scenario” in my mind.
I know that fevers in and of themselves are not dangerous. But they sometimes are. And so, because of my anxiety, I immediately assume that my child has a deadly disease. Same goes for belly aches, rashes, or other symptoms. It’s just how my brain works/obsesses.
I scrutinize every little symptom in my kids even when they are not sick.
Not all the time, but during cold and flu season in particular, I get panicky over little things. My kid barely touched his dinner? Better get the barf bucket. My kid is tired even after a good night’s sleep? Here comes the flu. I know all parents do this to some extent, but I go all out in this department.
If I sound a little extreme or “off” about all this, it’s because I am. My rational mind knows none of this makes sense. In fact, like many hypochondriacs, I know more than the average person about kids’ health. When I am not panicking, I can access my kids’ health quite rationally and with perhaps more know-how and level-headedness than most.
The problem is that if my anxiety is triggered, all bets are off and I go to that place of sheer and utter irrationality and terror. It’s awful. But it’s something I’ve been working on in therapy for the past year. The good news is that I’ve actually gotten better as recognizing when I am starting to panic about this, and I have developed some skills that are helping me from spiraling into a panic attack. It’s been amazing to see what it’s like to react normally to my kids’ illnesses. Truly: it’s a beautiful thing.
You don’t need to suffer either. If you feel that your hypochondria is making it difficult to function or parent your children calmly—or if you fear that it might be making your children anxious themselves—you owe it to yourself to seek help and feel better. Help is out there, and so is hope.