Hypochondriasis & the Human Condition

It is convenient for the hypochondriac types amongst us that the early symptoms for nearly every deadly disease are exactly the same, and that those symptoms closely resemble the symptoms of human existence. It is also convenient that the Internet is full of generalized information aimed at everyone and no one in particular, with a seemingly endless supply of contradictory claims.

Do you have headaches? Well, it’s probably nothing but you never know you might have multiple sclerosis, and really the safe thing to do is to ask your doctor. Lots of that. “Ask your doctor.” Yes, agreed, but since I asked her last week if I had the beginnings of a very rare, degenerative facial deformity and she laughed at me (isn’t there an oath they take, and shouldn’t it include something about not laughing at your patients’ self-inflicted misery?) I think instead I’ll Google my symptoms until the search results are grim enough that I feel the urge to draw up a will.

“My aunt’s aunt,” says the always-sage message board contributor, “thought she had a cold but actually she died three days later. That’s probably really different from your situation, though.”

Thank you, message board contributor.

I thank you.

The world thanks you.

(But sorry about your aunt. That’s rough.)

***

If, let us say (hypothetically, you understand), your mother dies when you are a young person, you might develop (theoretically, of course) concerns about the general heartiness of the human body.

And if, let us say, the indirect cause of her death was (for the sake of argument) a brain tumor, which for the average person is an excessively unlikely event—well, you might think to yourself that anything could happen at any moment, really.

Everything could come to an end at any moment.

And you could be left, quite improbably but nonetheless realistically, with nothing.

***

           I long for my mother in a place that is deep, deep in my bones. And, maybe, it’s that I long for a mother. Maybe humans long for mothers; maybe it’s a hereditary condition. There is this sense we have that a mother can’t help but love her child, and who doesn’t want to feel that? Who doesn’t want to feel that there is one person out there who, however badly you fucked it all up (and, let’s face it, you fucked it all up pretty badly), cannot help but love you with a reckless and abandoned love—an irrational mother-love that would rather die a thousand deaths than see you come to harm?

There’s not a doubt in my mind that the woman who died all those years ago would suffer it all again and more if it could somehow spare me pain.

But, of course, her pain—it’s also my pain. Chalk it up to daughter-love.

And the circle goes round and round.

***

When my mother was ill, I was young. Young and uncommonly dense. We all are, when we’re young, but I was especially so. I held out hope for the longest time that my mother would get better, that she would marry, that I would have younger siblings and we’d live in a big house with an even bigger pool (giant, giant pool—water slides everywhere). This, in spite of every fact that pointed to just the opposite—that she would be unwell and we would be alone, just us and the cockroaches sharing a room in our tiny HUD apartment. But, relax, this is America so our shitty apartment complex had a decent pool, at least. Half a happy ending.

***

The word anxiety is used a lot nowadays. “I struggle with anxiety” is a phrase I hear from my own mouth at times. Hi, mouth. You say some interesting things.

Anxiety: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.

Uncertain outcomes are a certainty.

And what of the outcomes that are certainly certain—we will all die, somewhere, somehow. The scan clearly showed a brain tumor. Your mother will never be able to care for you again. And now she is dead.

They’re horrific and definite, but somehow easier to set aside than the daily small uncertainties of our even smaller lives. They are loads too heavy for frail shoulders of mere bone and sinew, and so we lay them down. We have no other choice. And in their place we amass tiny, insignificant burdens. We wear them, Aeneas-like, on our backs. We carry them with us like precious treasure. I’m anxious, we say. I have anxieties, we say. Would you like to see them? Like trading cards, we collect and display our minute troubles.

***

I’ll die, you say? Certainly by the year 2300 I will be well-decayed in the ground. Everyone I ever knew will be dead, and there we will all be in our graves. Some of us will have died alone in agony, and death will have been the respite we craved from the imprisonment of traitorous bodies.

I’m sorry, I’ll say. I have too many tiny burdens on my back. I have no room for that burden. Let me show you my other burdens—they are rare and special indeed.

But those burdens are so small, you’ll say. Compared to this one looming certainty they shrink and contract to nothingness.

Yes, yes. I see. That is interesting. I do understand that. But, meanwhile, can you tell me if this spot on my arm is just a dry patch or could it possibly be leprosy?

“Well, it’s funny you should mention that because my aunt’s aunt thought she had dandruff, but in the end—well, her head fell off, actually.”

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