The House of Hypochondriacs

I saw the advert for this Channel 4 programme a week ago and didn’t really think anything bad about it and decided to watch it. Last night it was on and I was extremely disappointed in it. It portrayed people with heath anxiety or HA (the term hypochondriac is a bit derogatory I believe) as a burden on the health care system and basically just a nuisance. Rather than highlighting the condition to people who don’t suffer it, it just led to people bashing them and calling them ‘selfish’ on social media. Dr Christian said that these people ‘visit the GP when they are well’. How dare he say that. They aren’t well, they just aren’t physically ill. People will mental illness should be treated exactly the same as someone with a physical illness.

It was also to my surprise that there was an Emetophobia sufferer on there. Ok so I can see how they said Emetophobia was similar to  HA in that it is a fear of getting ill – just a specific illness, but other than that, it isn’t the same at all. If anything it is more like OCD than HA. The Emetophobia sufferer never went to the doctor’s even if she was ill due to a fear of catching something that would make her sick. She had lots of rituals to stop herself catching something (like using gloves to open packing. (I still take something from the back of the shelf to make sure it hasn’t been touched)) and clearly spent her life doing these compulsions to stop the obsessions. I know this for a fact as that is what I was like. I was diagnosed with OCD before the word even recognised Emetophobia.

I had to stop looking at social media as the comments I saw were awful. One suggested that the Emetophobic lady should see what the factories were like that her food came when it was shown that she used gloves to open the packaging. What is that meant to achieve? Do they think that it is a laughing matter and that seeing that will make her better? I guess they think she was just being stupid. In an age where mental health charities are working hard to get rid of the stigma of mental illness, this belittling programme just put the fight back a few years by making it something to be laughed at – even the music that accompanied the show had a comical tone to it.

Someone on No More Panic asked why someone with OCD (or Emetophobia as she actually had) would be on the same programme as those with HA. That is a very good question. That would be like putting on a programme all about recovering from heart attacks and then adding a person who suffers with acid reflux disease. They both cause chest pain but they aren’t the same thing! This was just bad researching by the programme makers. They read that Emetophobia was about a fear of vomiting and put two and two together and assumed it was the same as HA.

Speaking of acid reflux, that was another small part of the show that really got to me. They suggested that people also go to the GP to ‘waste’ their time on simple things like acid reflux and constipation and that they should just see the pharmacist about that. I have suffered with gastroesophagus reflux disease (GORD) for 10 years and I also have IBS. These are another two disorders that have charities etc. trying to get people to understand better and to take away the stigma that it is ‘all in their head’ but this programme once again took away the work that they have been doing. Of course you should go to the GP with acid reflux or constipation! They could be a sign of something serious going on from a hiatus hernia, stomach ulcer, bowel obstruction to cancer.

This programme by channel 4, along with other similar titles like Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners, just adds to the stigma that people like me have to face each day. It is programmes like this that make me want to fight to get these real illnesses taken seriously and for sufferers to be given the same respect as those with physical illnesses.

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How I know that I am recovering….

On Saturday my husband was feeling unwell. I had been out for the afternoon and returned to find him suffering with a headache, nausea and his hands were shaking. Basically he hadn’t eaten all afternoon and his blood sugar had dropped. We sat down to dinner and I told him that eating would help him to feel better. He proceeded to have a panic attack as he thought he was going to be sick so I calmly got him a glass of water and felt his head to see if he had a temperature.

But what has this got to do with me recovering I hear you ask?

Well, for one thing I didn’t panic at all. Previously my initial thought would have been ‘oh god, he is going to be sick, how am I going to cope’. But this thought didn’t even cross my mind! I was just worried about him and wanted to make him feel better as quickly as I could. This is a big milestone for me as I would never have thought it would be possible. I still think that I would panic more if my nieces were to say it to me. There is something about a child saying they feel sick that is a lot worse than an adult saying it. I think it is because it is more likely for a child to catch a bug or eat something that doesn’t agree with their sensitive, growing stomach. But it is also because an adult is more likely to know exactly when it is about to happen and will make it to the toilet in time. So I guess I will see what I am like when (and it will be when – especially as she gets car sick), my niece turns round and tells me that!

The other reason it showed that I was recovering was because my husband had a panic attack. That sounds horrible but it showed to me that panicking about feeling sick is perfectly normal. Obviously it was not nice for him to panic but it really did prove that feeling anxious when you think you are about to be sick is a normal response. I, like most emets, believed that in order to be cured, I would have to have no anxiety about being sick at all. Thrive made me realise that wasn’t the case. As you will hear me say on my video testimonial for Cure Your Emetophobia and Thrive, I realised that I am getting over it as I don’t spend 90% of my day thinking about sick and I only really think about it when I feel sick myself.

I even walked passed sick several times when I was in London this week. Although I still did a safety seeking behaviour of ‘cleaning my nose’ I had thought of ‘why am I doing this. I know I won’t get sick’. So I see that as an improvement. It wasn’t that I feared it would make me sick, it was just that it was so disgusting I felt I needed a way to get that disgust off me, if that makes sense. This is a step in the right direction but there is still a long way to go.