Help Me, I’m a Hypochondriac (Philip Martins, 2017)

3.5*

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If somebody described themselves or another person as a ‘hypochondriac’, we’d probably find it vaguely amusing. There is a certain comedic connotation to the word, which is likely why it’s been replaced by the simpler, more modern term ‘health anxiety’. And anybody who has ever experienced health anxiety will know that at its best, it can be greatly distressing, and at its worst, completely debilitating.

I decided to read this as a self-help measure, as a way to try to calm my own health anxiety. As a child, I remember having a somewhat morbid fascination with death and disease. At some point, this fascination evolved into sheer terror, and I became utterly obsessed with the myriad of illnesses and afflictions in existence, convinced by all means that it was only a matter of time until some serious, lifelong malady took hold of me. Working through this with an empathetic (if slightly bemused) therapist, I was able to identify some of the life events and experiences that may well have triggered this fear, which, if not an instant fix, at least allowed me to understand the reasons behind my perturbations. As a young person who has always been in relatively good health, the thought of having to continue living in such a state of disquiet ultimately became too much to bear. And so, alongside the therapy, I picked up this book (or my Kindle, rather), having read several favourable reviews online.

There aren’t a great many self-help books on health anxiety. There are many books on anxiety in general, of course, but health anxiety is a rather specific subset of anxiety disorders. This book provided me with a tailor-made toolkit to tackle some of my anxiety-induced symptoms, and to recognise that the majority of physical symptoms also have mental causes. Health anxiety is certainly a vicious circle of worry, and to an extent, a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you convince yourself you are unwell, chances are, you will become unwell. If you incessantly check your pulse, forever Google your symptoms, and obsessively monitor every freckle on your skin, it’s more likely than not that you’ll be pointed towards something being fatefully wrong (even if there isn’t).

For me, the best thing about this book was that it’s written not by a medical professional, psychologist or self-help guru, but by a regular 33-year-old guy who himself suffered from health anxiety, and self-published this to help others. It was relatable, funny, and readable in the space of about an hour. Definitely one to come back to as and when it might be required.

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