OPINION | A hypochondriac’s guide to Covid-19

How does a hypochondriac handle a pandemic?
How does a hypochondriac handle a pandemic?
Robin Utrecht/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Im

Pandemics are not for sissies. They are not easy for anyone. But, from experience, I can confirm that they are particularly difficult for hypochondriacs, writes Howard Feldman.

In the past week, I have suffered from Covid-19 a number of times. The exhaustion, sweats and shortness of breath have been particularly difficult to manage, but I have succeeded in getting them all under control by using the single malt technique. This is the one that doctors don't seem to think of mentioning, but assists in dealing with some of the more annoying symptoms of the virus.

My own observation has been that just one slowly sipped beverage (one can substitute a red wine in the case of the patient not being partial to whisky) works wonders to remove these debilitating afflictions. In my experience, it works best when one doesn't actually have Covid-19.

Which I thankfully do not. Not yet, in any event.

Photo taken in Wuhan, China
Avoid all human contact? For hypochondriacs, the Covid-19 pandemic is that bit more stressful.

I come from a long line of hypochondriacs. The affliction can be traced back at least three generations (all who lived to ripe old ages). It doesn't skip a generation, with my grandmother having been a life-long sufferer and my father, now 83, having received "the gift". I have been one ever since I could fear death, and, of my five children, there are at least two who will proudly carry the torch into the future.

Both are highly suggestible, in that a mere mention of a headache and they will experience one. Or think that they do. They are not making this up. They are not "faking" it. They genuinely feel the illness.

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It is for this reason I no longer read the insert that is included with medication. If there is a possibility of nausea and dizziness, any self-respecting hypochondriac will undoubtedly experience them, a mere seconds after swallowing the pill.

Along with the anxiety of possibly going into anaphylactic shock from a new drug - it's not as if there wasn't enough to worry about without the vertigo. Or nausea. Or seizures.

Anyone who hasn't suffered from health anxiety will struggle to relate. Those who do, and who are aware of the real dangers of this disease, will be able to appreciate the stress of a pandemic on our well-being.

It wasn't like it was simple before. But now, with this invisible and deadly enemy, we have reached a master's level. Whereas many people might die from this virus, there is a greater chance the hypochondriacs will perish from a hand sanitiser related affliction that is aggravated by the fact that we have not breathed in fresh, unmasked air, for the 70-something days of lockdown.

Considering that South Africa has been in lockdown for so long, the fact that I have only experienced three bouts of Covid-19 is fairly impressive. My wife, and my doctor (who has subsequently blocked me) are both impressed that it has taken me so long to become "infected".

It hasn't been easy, and I have had to consciously talk myself out of the need to cough a dry and inexplicable cough whenever I remember that it's a symptom.

I intentionally restrain myself from smelling anything just to check that I still can; I rationally explain to the child in me that I am feeling clammy because I am hysterical and not because I have a raised temperature. I do continue to wear a mask and have ruined countless electronic devices by drowning them in 70% alcohol. Which is better, apparently, than it is to drink it.

Pandemics are not for sissies. They are not easy for anyone. But, from experience, I can confirm that they are particularly difficult for hypochondriacs.  

- Howard Feldman is a keynote speaker and analyst. He is the author of three books and is the morning talk show host on ChaiFM.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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