My teen is spiraling into hypochondria. Meanwhile, I am actually sick.

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Best Care and Nutrition,

My son is turning 18 soon and I know he’s worried about adulthood, but he’s become increasingly clingy and has spiraled into hypochondria. He’s determined to something “wrong” with him. He is rapidly going through self-diagnoses, from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Anemia to physically distressing epileptic “seizures” (which have been ruled out by three different doctors), and now it’s lymphoma. I have reached out to his physical and mental health team for advice but haven’t gotten much response. I try to be patient and reassuring but I am on the verge of losing my cool. My days are constantly being disrupted by his simulated behavior; one minute he is in pain, the next he is full of life. To make matters worse, I am currently working on a terrifying diagnosis of my own. It is neurodegenerative and my physical symptoms are causing me to shake and lose my balance. I haven’t shared much about this with my children and I am trying to be brave, but it is not only painful to watch my very healthy teenager pretend to have a seizure and everything, it is also making me angry. My partner tries to ignore it but I am beside myself.

—Actually sick

Dear Actually Sick,

If you’re not getting the cooperation you need from your son’s healthcare team, it may be time to make some substitutes. It sounds like he would benefit from a solid therapist, someone who communicates effectively with you. You’re not sure if his hypochondria is a real condition or something he just has because he’s nervous about growing up, so be careful not to take your frustrations out on him. Patiently remind him that his doctor has thoroughly examined him and that he’s not sick.

Your son is old enough to know about your own diagnosis; it may help him stop pretending to be seriously ill if he hears what you are going through. Explain to him what is happening (warning him not to share this information with his siblings) and emphasize how different your condition is from his own “sick one minute, well the next” behavior. Focus on finding a mental health professional who can adequately treat his problems; you need to know if he is really pretending or if he has reason to believe he is ill. Ask your son to be sensitive to what you are going through and to believe the doctors when they tell him he is fine.

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Best Care and Nutrition,

I am an African woman with a child from a Turkish man. We live together, although he initially denied impregnating me and would not acknowledge our child until he did a paternity test when he was 3. My son’s father has a 19 year old son from a previous marriage. He will not introduce our son to him and when I ask why, he becomes silent. I am thinking of moving out and starting my own life with our son and I am financially able to do so. Am I exaggerating?

-Being sick of it

Dear Fed Up,

I think the answer to your question lies in how he treats you in general. Based on the things you’ve shared, I suspect it’s not very good. It was cruel of him to deny your pregnancy; even if he had strong reasons to believe that someone else could have been the father of your child, he knew that he had had sex with you, which guaranteed that there was a chance that your son was his. Three years is a long time to not acknowledge your child. As for not introducing your son to his son, there is the possibility that his son isn’t a great kid. But if they seem to have a decent relationship, then there’s probably an even worse reason for him to keep the boys apart. I hate to say this, but I think it would be unwise to ignore the possibility that he’s ashamed of having a black child; there’s a long history of non-black people desiring black bodies but not respecting them enough to try to have healthy relationships with them. Who is this man when it comes to you? If he treats you with love and respect, then you might be able to look past those things. But if he makes you feel like you’re less than or otherwise doesn’t show you that he thinks highly of you, then I think it’s time to move on. If that’s the case, be prepared for him to be a less than enthusiastic co-parent, and don’t be afraid to use the courts to force him to provide the support you deserve.

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Best Care and Nutrition,

My daughter (who is a young teenager) is starting to eat less and less. A few weeks ago she was eating three full meals a day, plus a few snacks. Now she eats a few apple slices for breakfast and claims she is not hungry enough to eat more than a small portion of her dinner. She supposedly gets school meals at school, but I have not had any notifications in the past week that she has purchased anything (her school uses an app system that alerts parents when their child/children are getting something). She rarely eats snacks.

I’m worried about her. I checked her YouTube channel last night (she’s half-conscious that I’m checking her phone). Her watch history is chock full of “diet tips” and “weight loss goals.” For reference, she’s a healthy weight, but looks a little chubby because she’s very small for her age (although I’ve never told her about this). I don’t know how to start a conversation with her about this without making her defensive; I just want to help her.

—There is no need to lose weight, she is a teenager

Best Weight Loss is not necessary,

You should gently confront your daughter about the changes in her eating habits and the things you found in her search terms. Ask her why she thinks she needs to lose weight; did someone tell her something or is she just comparing herself to other girls? Let her know that it’s okay to want to be healthy, but she doesn’t have to skip meals or count calories. Encourage her to embrace a balanced diet and exercise regularly instead of depriving herself. Talk to her about eating disorders and how dangerous it is for young people to severely restrict themselves when they are still growing and need large amounts of food each day. Involve her in meal planning and help her identify tasty things that nourish her body without excess salt or sugar. Affirm her body and make sure she is exposed to media and books that feature characters with different body types. Make sure you don’t say negative things about your own body, or anyone else’s, in front of her. The Intuitive Eating Guide for Teens offers body positive tips for a healthy relationship with food. If she is unable to eat well instead of just not If she is struggling with eating, you may want to consider taking her to a therapist who treats adolescents with eating disorders. This doesn’t mean she has one, but you don’t want to wait until she does before you take action.

Best Care and Nutrition,

I am the father of a 16 year old daughter, “Bianca”. We have always gotten along well, but lately she seems to want to spend less and less time with me, and I am worried about her. Her mother (my wife) passed away a few months ago, and it has really affected Bianca. Since her mother passed, Bianca has become more and more withdrawn. She won’t talk to me, she won’t sit with me for meals, she doesn’t want to spend time with me at all, ever. When I ask her why, she says it’s because I “make things worse for her” (or something like that), but she won’t explain what that means, so I am confused. Every attempt to talk to her/spend time with her ends in her yelling at me for no apparent reason. I know she is upset about her mother (as am I) and I bought her a book about grief, but I don’t know what else to do.

—She won’t even look at me

Dear She Won’t,

Your daughter would benefit from some counselling. She is dealing with one of the most devastating things that can happen to a person, and at such a young age. It is clear that she is unable to express her feelings to you, and this may be because she does not fully understand them herself. Ideally, you would find a counsellor who will meet Bianca individually and with you. It would also be wise for you to seek some help yourself; you have suffered a great loss and you are being asked to help a child cope with that, which is incredibly difficult work. It is good that you have given Bianca a book on grief, but you should also read up on how teenagers cope with death. A Parent’s Guide to Grieving Children helps you better understand what your daughter is going through and also offers guidance on how to deal with it. Try to keep your wife’s memory alive in your daughter’s life. Talk to her about her mother, make sure there are pictures of her hanging in your home. It may be hard now, but in time she will benefit from keeping her close to her heart.


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