The Health Obsession Spiral

This blog is written by Lee Gale Gruen to help Baby Boomers and seniors find joy, excitement, and satisfaction in their lives after retirement whether from a job, career, parenting, etc. Her public lectures on this subject are titled, “Reinventing Yourself in Your Senior Years.” Her memoir, available on, is: Adventures with Dad: A Father and Daughter’s Journey Through a Senior Acting Class (Website:

Obsessing about IllnessAre you obsessed about your health or that of someone else such as your child, spouse, or parent? Do you always manage to work it into the conversation?  People spend so much time focusing on health issues: thinking about them, reading about them, discussing them, going to doctors, taking medicine, getting treatments, and on and on.

I’m not saying people don’t have legitimate conditions and concerns. Sometimes health issues totally interrupt our lives. I’m talking about becoming obsessive about it—making it into your whole life.

I don’t want to use the H word (that’s hypochondriac to you), but some people are or come pretty close. Maybe they learned that behavior as children from some influential adult in their lives who behaved that way.  Or, maybe they found that they got a lot of sympathy and attention when they had ailments, and now it has just become a lifestyle without their realizing it. Those who obsess about the health of another may get attention onto themselves that way, too (shades of Munchausen by Proxy).

People who engage in this obsessive behavior seem to think that subject is also fascinating to others. One day, as she waxed on about her husband’s latest health issue, a friend started discussing his bowel movements.

“Okay, stop right there,” I screamed.

That snapped her back to the moment. She hadn’t even realized how inappropriate her discussion had become, and that most people are simply not interested in hearing about other people’s elimination patterns.

It always amazes me how often sickly people rally when there’s something fun or interesting to do. They manage to get themselves dressed and to an event, and they don’t seem to think about their health issues until the event is over.

The constant discussion of health issues weighs on me, whether my own or the health of others. Does it on you? Or, are you the one who discusses it ad nauseam, totally ignoring those raised eyebrows or glazed looks in the eyes of anyone within the sound of your voice?

When I was a young mother, much of my conversation centered around my children including their health issues. I’d discuss with other mothers things like pediatricians, shots, and typical childhood illnesses. It often got to be a subtle pissing contest of “my pediatrician is better than your pediatrician.” I learned then that those types of discussions become tiresome, to me anyway. As people get older, many focus more on their own health and play a version of “my health problems are worse than your health problems.” Another popular game is “my therapist said” as I get often from a relative who uses it as her weapon of choice to beat any opponent into submission.  Therapy can be very beneficial.  However, used in that manner, it is counterproductive.

Then, there’s the crowd that focuses on the health of their pets.  I was at a luncheon recently, and some of the women there lapsed into discussing the size and consistency of their dogs’ poop. Although I love dogs and all animals for that matter, there are some issues about them I’m not interested in discussing.

In her final years, my mother’s only focus became her declining health. It was all she wanted to talk about, and she’d get angry if we didn’t want to discuss it constantly. On the other hand, there was my friend, Priscilla. She refused to give in to her cancer; she rarely discussed it. Four months before she died, I went on a trip to Alaska with her and another friend. Yes, Priscilla had to rest more than we did. Yes, she was sometimes quiet. However, she participated in activities to the best of her ability and got real joy from the beauty around her. I have another friend with serious Parkinson’s disease. She calls me to give me book recommendations. When I ask her how she is, her answer is usually, “fine.”

When my dog and I were a pet therapy team visiting patients at a local hospital, the patients usually perked up when we came in and forgot about their health issues for the five or ten minutes we were there. The diversion took their minds off their conditions.

If you have health issues, you don’t have to moan and dump on others as a regular practice. You can create your own diversionary activities and make yourself into someone people want to visit and be with rather than avoid.

I’m not implying that health issues aren’t important nor advocating ignoring them. What I’m saying is that there must be something else of value in life than just that. Certainly talk about your health briefly from time to time, but be sensitive to whether others want to hear long, detailed discussions about it. Consider the reverse: are you really interested in a constant diet of hearing that type of information from them?

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Filed under Baby boomers, gerontology, longevity, retirement, seniors, wellness

2 responses to “The Health Obsession Spiral

  1. Sheila Sauber

    Good observations, Lee Gale. My take is that Health of people and dogs IS included in most Sr. people’s talk, but then go on to Travel, politics or whatever. See you on Mar 12 and I’ll find out more Of what you’re doing. Sheila

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Right U R, LGG, My b-ball buddies and I discuss our b-ball related ailments all the time.

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