DEAR ABBY: I have an older sister I’ll call “Vicky,” who has been a hypochondriac for as long as I can remember. Every sniffle, cough or sneeze is always a dayslong or weekslong complain-a-thon about how sick she is, and sometimes these illnesses or injuries are simply invented for attention.
While this has always been annoying, it was fairly easy to brush it off — until after I married. My husband, “Jay,” a wonderful man, is chronically ill. Like many chronically ill individuals, his life is filled with doctors’ appointments, various treatment plans, trying new medications and a lot of financial stress around how to pay for it all.
Through it all, Jay perseveres. He goes to work, cares for me and our animals and does his best to live a full, joyous life. Watching my husband suffer has been one of the biggest challenges of my life. He is strong and brave, and now that I see how chronically ill people struggle to live a normal day, my sister and her fake issues have gone from bothersome to infuriating.
The truth is, she has no idea what these wonderful, strong humans endure on a day-to-day basis, and the fact that she hijacks that struggle for her own purposes makes my blood boil. I know hypochondria is an issue on its own, but she refuses to acknowledge it, let alone seek treatment for it.
How can I maintain a relationship with someone whose behavior, in my opinion, is extremely selfish? She has been confronted, but she just won’t stop. — SEES REAL ILLNESS IN MICHIGAN
DEAR SEES: According to the DSM-5, published by the American Psychiatric Association, your sister may suffer from “illness ANXIETY disorder.” (The caps are mine.) She may not be seeking attention or trying to divert it away from your husband and his daily struggles; she may be genuinely fearful and distressed.
If interacting with her as often as you do is as upsetting as you indicate, for your own mental health, consider talking to or seeing her less often. Confronting her is not the answer; a licensed psychotherapist may be — if she would admit she may need one.
DEAR ABBY: Recently, I started a group dinner for the wives of my husband’s poker buddies. It started out well. However, a newer member of the group has instigated praying in the restaurant, including holding hands while we do it. This is not my style, nor is it for some of the others.
We feel we are being held hostage to her request, and we’re not sure how to put a stop to this display. I’m private about my spiritual life, and another group member is agnostic. Can you please advise me on a tactful way to address this dear woman? — UNCOMFORTABLE IN CALIFORNIA
DEAR UNCOMFORTABLE: Tell the dear, deeply religious woman that you are very private about your spirituality, and at least one other member of the group is agnostic. Then suggest it would be appreciated if she kept her devotions silent and contactless when you are in a public place. (Could she be praying for her husband to win?)
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at http://www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.