Health Anxiety And The Ability To Identify When There IS Something Actually Wrong

Even though I have a massive health anxiety issue and spend most of my day counting the different ways I will contract cancer on Dr. Google, I rarely go to the doctor. 

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The good news about having a potentially broken finger means that I can give the old man the finger whenever he asks me to do anything.

 

 

Because what if I find out there IS actually something wrong with me?

 

There should be a point system that people like me can fill out with pertinent questions such as:

 

Could this disfigure you for life?

Does Dr Google refer to the C word at all?

Can you wipe your bum?

Do your children scream and run away when they see you?

Any sightings of the Grim Reaper or crows yet?

 

That way we could gauge the necessity of a very expensive visit to the doctor and blocking appointments for people that actually require them.

 

“Anxiety” is a crazy mind fuck, particularly when it’s related to your health. It’s the sort of condition that gives you helpful advice such as its OK to drink tons of wine each day because you’re dying anyway. It tells you to ignore surgery because of that one person in Peru that had a pre-existing heart condition and was operated on in a makeshift hospital in the jungle, that didn’t wake up.

 

So I tend to ignore the potentially serious, life-threatening stuff.

 

I had a “work-related” accident a couple of months ago – one that I should have reported in hindsight, because … workplace insurance? – so that inherited “you’ll be fine”, “there’s nothing wrong” attitude – handed down to me by my single, working mother, who never let us miss a day off school unless we needed hospitalization, could prove costly now.

 

The accident happened when I was with a client in her new home and I opened the door of a kitchen wall unit, which fell off its hinges and what felt like the weight of an entire Amazonian forest gravitated towards me. In my desperation, the designer in me put the aesthetic of the newly tiled floor before my own safety and I broke the fall of the door by shielding it, super-heroine-style, with my middle finger.

 

At the time, it wasn’t that painful. I was in shock, I imagine. But pretty quickly my finger swelled to double its size, rather like a penis (if you’re lucky), with this huge lump at the middle joint. While it was swollen – for weeks – I convinced myself it was sprained and that “it would be fine” and in the meantime, I milked my injury for everything it was worth and held up my finger any time the old man asked me to do anything, with a ‘sorry!’

 

I’d heard somewhere that, medically, there’s nothing you can do with broken fingers – if it was broken, (which I assured myself it wasn’t) – and as time passed and the swelling finally began to subside, I tried to ignore the fact that my finger was blatantly bent in the middle and that I still cannot form a fist without reaching for a medicinal glass of wine.

 

So today I am going to see a very expensive hand doctor, who I assume will tell me there’s nothing they can do about my physical dysmorphia and because I am right-handed (and it will affect my livelihood), he will write me out a disabled parking sticker for the Aldi car park, so that I don’t have to sit there for an hour waiting for women to finish their conversations about Masterchef, and more especially because I’m now unable to tap my finger on the steering wheel or beep the car horn in frustration.

 

Obviously, there is a valuable lesson to be learned from this story, which is: never go in the kitchen.

 

 

Midlife Mayhem – Am I A Hypochondriac Or Just Getting Old?

The subject matter of good dinner party chitchat has found a disturbing niche, now that we’ve hit our forties. Although ‘life was supposed to begin’ at this stage of our lives, we seem to be stuck at the ‘recognition of our own mortality’ roadblock far earlier than we anticipated. Whereas in my twenties we used to wax lyrical about alcohol consumption, sexual prowess and the female orgasm (apparently they were mutually compatible then), and in our thirties we circum-navigated career goals, marriage and babies, discussions these days seem to have stagnated around our health, or lack of it. I blame all those self-righteous health magazines and the Internet for our health obsession, but maybe it is just another symptom of the ‘midlife crisis’.

The ‘midlife’ alarm seems to resonate somewhere between your late thirties and mid forties, and serves as a reminder that you’ve reached the ‘half time’ point in your life and there’s not much time left to score some real goals. For some, those goals might be a new philosophy of life (Madonna and Kabbalah?) and for others they might involve a sea change. But at this stage in the game of life, sometimes your fitness doesn’t necessarily live up to your promise. It is a worrying indictment of our age group that in our circle of friends, more people take Statins these days, than drink alcohol.

Take my own health. Over the past six weeks, I have experienced debilitating lower back pain (I’m guessing it’s NOT a sports injury), the cold virus, severe toothache and the monthly peri-menopausal utopia caused by my female reproductive zone being forced into retirement. The old man’s sympathy has extended to ‘you’re getting old’ when I’ve sought comfort, whereas I suspect that I could be the first human, still walking, to suffer from cancer of every major organ. All other ailments aside, I am obviously suffering from mild hypochondriasis.

There’s no doubt in my mind that I have been assigned the ‘time-waster’ label by my GP, although, contrary to popular opinion, this hypochondriac is rarely spotted at the surgery. Consulting a doctor is a double-edged sword – if I go, she might tell me there’s nothing wrong with me (when I know that there is) and if I don’t go, and there is something wrong with me, I’m going to die anyway. A visit will have been precipitated by the ‘doom and gloom’ of self-diagnosis on the Internet, and the standard appointment time invariably stretches to double time as my telephone book of unrelated symptoms are analyzed. All roads lead to cancer when you pump a symptom into Google. 

There was a time, before cancer began ravaging acquaintances and freaking the rest of us out, and when it was fun to smoke, drink heavily and consume vats of any ‘type’ of fat, that conversation at the dinner table covered world politics, the career vs children conundrum or religion. But these days, world news has lost its x factor in comparison to the anguish caused by faulty bodily functions. ‘Man talk’ now encompasses ‘piles’, ‘wind’, and ‘bloating’, while ‘girl talk’ dissects issues of ‘bone density’, ‘vitamin supplements’, and ‘muscle mass’. Can someone explain to me how, scientifically, you can still put on weight when both your muscle mass and your bone density are decreasing? You might want to note that we’re saving ‘death’, ‘erectile dysfunction’ and ‘loss of sexual libido’ for our fifties and sixties.

So if I’m not really ill, why do I spend more on health than retail therapy and possess the energy levels of a dying battery? My svelte, septuagenarian next-door neighbour is still surfing, so maybe my physical well-being is being compromised by a poor mental outlook to aging, and my dwindling estrogen is not the culprit after all?

In one of his more lucid moments (Friday night; 2/3 of a bottle of Penfolds, Bin 28), the old man compared retirement to Buddhism. Apparently, once you retire you stop worrying about premature death because your philosophy of life changes and you finally appreciate that it is a positive state of mind that brings happiness, not wealth. Retirement, (and the reason our neighbor is a living advertisement for Viagra), provides the luxury of free time, time to focus on happiness and make yourself that ‘better’ person you always dreamed of being, physically and mentally, rather than focusing on what is missing, when you are a small cog in the large wheel of the rat race.

Hypochondriasis is ‘health anxiety’ in disguise and it’s pretty common for us midlifers. It is a bonafide illness and we can seek help for it; middle age is not, unfortunately.

Dinner Party from Flickr.com courtesy of Alastair R

The 7 Gals of Menopause (back) from Flickr.com courtesy of HA! Designs – Artbyheather