I have defeated near and certain death at least 20 times, maybe more. In each instance, an incurable disease ambushed me without warning. My life – my otherwise comfortable, predictable, wonderful life – looked as if it would abruptly end decades before the actuarial tables said it should.
So, how have I managed to escape the Grim Reaper’s clutches so many times? Well, the diseases that I was convinced I’d contracted never appeared in my medical file – just in my head.
According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, hypochondria is a consuming worry or obsession about having a very serious or deadly disease. Most everyone worries a little about their health, but hypochondriacs worry so much and for so long that it interferes with work and relationships. I haven’t reached that point yet, but I'm clearly on deck.
Any slight change in or on my body – say, a pimple on my earlobe – is liable to send me spinning. I will assume that pimple is a symptom of a serious ailment rather than the result of too many fried wings the night before. If I hear an unfamiliar word that ends in -ism or -ia, or otherwise sounds Latin-y and medical, then I’m inclined to assume that it’s a disease, and that I have it. Lots of it.
Fortunately, most of the time I can talk myself out of my instant diagnoses and ignore the urge to double-check that my health and life insurance policies are current. But now and then, I just obsess and worry, worry and obsess, making hourly trips to the bathroom where I inspect and re-inspect the pimple, the barely visible rash or the seemingly larger pupil in one eye. Each time I do this, I have the “it’s nothing…you’ll be dead in a week” debate in my head. It can get rather contentious, like two politicians sparring on stage, but without a moderator.
I can’t remember exactly when my hypochondria began, though I do recall that in college I had chats with doctors about my supposed diabetes, heart disease and oral cancer. I had none of the above, of course, but needed a physician to tell me so. And, once I was given a clean bill of health, whatever alleged symptoms I was experiencing went away immediately. So did whatever corrective measures I was taking on my own—such as drinking unnatural volumes of carrot juice because beta-carotene has been shown to help fight certain oral cancers. This freed up some time to obsess over a new ailment that I didn't have.