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Raerae009's avatar

How can I help a friend who is constantly "ill?"?

Asked by Raerae009 (151points) March 7th, 2014 from iPhone

I have a good friend and roommate that I am concerned for. She is, like me, in her mid twenties, and is CONSTANTLY claiming she is Ill. I’ve known her a little over a year, and I’m now convinced she may just be a hypochondriac or may have munchausen’s (sp?) syndrome. Now I’m not very familiar with either of these diseases, so I may be totally incorrect- feel free to correct me if I am.

Here’s the deal: since the very beginning she has always expressed how she is concerned for her health. She told me right off the bat how she used to be quite over weight, and lost 100 lbs a few years back. She tells me how she still has an unhealthy relationship with food and is struggling with loosing the extra weight. She constantly thinks about food. She is concerned about her vitamin levels always being low, but she won’t take supplements, and doesn’t eat vitamin rich foods. She says she’s anemic, but I’ve seen the blood work from the last two times she went to the ER, and everything was normal. She’s constantly “feeling faint” weak, and tired/sleepy. She sleeps a good 7 hours at night and takes a 3 hour nap after work.

Basically what I am most concerned about is that she doesn’t see doctor regularly. If she ever feels bad enough she just goes to the ER, but won’t follow up with a doctor afterwards.

I guess what I’m asking is how I can talk with her and help her? She told me before she would like my assistance in eating healthy and encouraging her to take vitamins, work out, do yoga with me,etc… But she’ll always have some excuse for me.
If someone was so sick, why wouldn’t they see a regular doctor? And also, I’m rather sick of always hearing about her health problems… I can’t go a day without hearing how she is sick again.

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11 Answers

Raerae009's avatar

Oh my, sorry for the novel! If you do manage to read through all of that, bless your soul!

pleiades's avatar

She won’t follow up with a doctor… Well there’s not much you an do for her I suppose…

gailcalled's avatar

My sister and I have a deal; we each have five minutes daily to whinge about our health, and then that is it.

Decide what your ground rules are with this woman, tell her and then stick to it. One rule that I would strongly suggest is not to buy into being her enabler. Tell her that there are many resources out there for her issues, but that you cannot be both her friend and doctor/therapist. (Unless, of course, you want to continue to get sucked up in her neurotic behavior.)

If she breaks the deal, you say calmly and simply, “Let’s talk abut something else.” You may be giving her a real gift.

Keep it simple and keep it brief.

Read the definition of Munchausen’s once, please. That she admits to that is really weird.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Your friend is likely a hypochondriac. Unlike the comic stereotype it’s quite awful for the person afflicted (constant, unyielding fear and anxiety about health). it’s not “just” hypochondria, hypochondria is serious and your friend is probably suffering in ways most people do when they think they are about to die. She’ll need support from friends and family but most of all she needs to see a counselor. It’s not something people can get over easily. If this has been going on for a long time she is probably depressed on top of all that. Not fun for her. The plus side is that she probably is healthy aside from that.

Raerae009's avatar

@gailcalled, I certainly wish that would work for us! I have many times tries to change the subject, but it always ends up back on her. I work from home and she is always around, it’s hard for me to escape these conversations.
She’s never admitted to munchausen’s or hypochondria, I’ve never brought it up, and don’t have any plans to. I feel that may offend her or hurt her feelings/ certainly don’t want that. I just don’t quite understand what is going on in her life to cause all these problems. I don’t wan to be rude or give her the impression that I don’t care how she feels, I do. I just don’t want to hear about it 24/7. I’d love to have a conversation about something else once in a while. Oh, geez, if I could just say that to her…

Raerae009's avatar

@ARE_you_kidding_me, I do believe she may be depressed. I struggle with depression from time to time, and we have talked about it breifly. She has confided in me that she is much sadder than she appears. I’m not quite sure what to take from that.

creative1's avatar

If she had weight loss surgery then there is a great possibility that she is in fact anemic espeically if she isn’t taking the necessary vitamins to keep her iron levels up. Weightloss surgery bypasses over 3 feet of intestine which reduces the amount of calories you asorb but it also make it so you don’t get as much asobtion of the necessary vitamins to survive, so you need to take your supplements. I need to take iron twice a day as well as a multi vitamin, b12, and calcium everyday and still have issues with drops in my iron levels. Being anemic can cause extreme fatigued and tired all the time since you don’t have enough red blood cells. A person can die from not having enough iron in their blood so she certainly could be very sick if she isn’t taking what her body needs.

Cruiser's avatar

Do not feel that you have to solve her problems and be her Florence Nightingale. You are in an environment that is stressful enough for your own personal demands and you need to protect yourself first and foremost. Do what you can to help her find the help you need but do not do so at your own personal expense. Tough situation!

Seaofclouds's avatar

You need to decide what you want your level of involvement in this to be. In your question you ask about how to help her, but then in the answers, you say you’d like to be less involved with her health.

If you want to be less involved, be straight forward with her. Tell her you are not her doctor and she really needs to see a doctor to get recommendations for her long term health goals (not the ER doctor). Then you need to set boundaries and stick to them. If she starts to go past the boundaries you set, you need to direct the conversation away from her health or stop talking to her altogether (at that time).

If you want to help her, you can try to encourage her to see her doctor. Really, that sounds like it’s the best thing for her initially. She needs to have a plan for her health and nutrition for the long term and that is something rarely given by an ER doctor. She needs to know if she even needs to take vitamins/supplements before worrying about remembering to take them every day. She needs to know if she is getting enough sleep or too much sleep (yes that’s possible). She needs to know if she has something else going on causing the faint feeling. You can’t make her do any of those things though, so if she doesn’t really want it, it isn’t going to happen.

Buttonstc's avatar

From what you describe, it sounds as if you’ve been unknowingly sucked into an unhealthy mind game known as “Yes, but…”

She may not be consciously aware of this either but simply repeating a pattern she has become accustomed to.

Every suggestion you make is shot down with a “reason” why it won’t work.

If this is the first you’ve heard about it, this may sound rather strange to you so I’ll put in a few links which describes this dynamic more fully. Its a pretty dysfunctional pattern and it can really sap the energy right out of the helper (that would be you.)

You asked how you can help her. The blunt truth is that you can’t. She needs a competent medical professional to help her distinguish imagination from reality. But if she refuses to see one, there’s not much else to say. If you don’t have MD after your name then you aren’t qualified.

If you are getting worn down from sincerely trying to give her advice she just keeps shooting down, you need to figure out how to disengage.

Since she is also a roommate as well as friend, this may be a challenge. But its an unhealthy dynamic and the longer you participate the more it will wear you down and it won’t really help her.

In order to “win” the game, she has to prove why your suggestions won’t work. You need to realize that you can’t win. She started the game and has far more experience at it. Do you think you’re the first person to have all your suggestions rebuffed by her? Not by a long shot.

If you’re tired of this constant repeat pattern, you need to opt out; not necessarily in a hostile way but in a firm and consistent way. But that’s up to you.
BTW You can also get the book by Eric Berne for 2 bucks on Amazon. Its one of those oldies but goodies. Don’t be put off by its age.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

@Raerae009 She is suffering and may need counseling. I suffer from hypochondria on and off. It’s not so bad because I accepted it for what it is and did so early on. I’ll go years without any problems and then it comes back with a vengeance for a few months or so. Needless to say I know my Doc pretty well. It does not help if you are a details and (trust but verify) person like me. A rational process of being cautious and looking into things can break down into a cycle of anxiety if you are not careful. What you are describing sounds text book to me. It’s more common and also more serious than most people realize.

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