Two evenings ago, I spent more than six hours alone in the emergency department of Toronto Western Hospital on my day off, alternately crying in panicky despair (very, VERY weird for my very socially-conscious and easily embarrassed self) and anxiously jiggling my leg while shooting terrified, beseeching stares at the triage and registration desks and attempting to maintain some semblance of composure as I greeted my surely and rapidly impending death. After switching to a new brand of birth control and experiencing pretty severe lower leg pain for the duration of the day, I’d convinced myself that I 100% had deep vein thrombosis, a.k.a. a blood clot in my leg, which is the most fatal side effect of the pill I’ve been on for 10 years and my greatest health fear – like all maladies that don’t make their presence explicitly, very visibly known. (Air embolism is my second-greatest, FYI).
At age 25, I’ve had three barium swallows, a head CT, a breast ultrasound, a Doppler ultrasound, rounds of EKG/ECG tests, a heart ultrasound, a colonoscopy, and self-diagnosed “suspicious” moles removed, presumably without cause; most of which took place in the past five years, and all of which were at the request not of a doctor, but of myself. (I actually don’t even have a family doctor, who would usually be the person to recommend these tests or to dispel the concerns of an unnecessarily wary patient).
My overbearing paranoia and anxiety married with my uncharacteristically vast knowledge of physical ailments – thanks to a childhood spent in the home of a doctor and a nurse and amid household literature like the CPS and Merck Manual – have rendered me a full-fledged hypochondriac. I’ve stayed up nights unable to sleep and sick to my stomach for months at a time fretting over my positively thriving brain tumour, which is likely a met of my pre-existing breast lump (as most brain tumours are secondary cancers, duh)… which may or may not be related to the esophageal cancer I have almost willingly acquired from years of throwing up daily, a poor diet, binge alcohol consumption, and bad genes… all of which are things that have contributed adversely to my already struggling liver, which is probably twice its size and full of cirrhosis, especially considering my acetaminophen overdose at 17…. etc. etc. Can you see where I’m going with this?
Meat prison is right, man, I hate this thing. I go all day in a perpetual state of physical discomfort wanting to rip my skin off because my pants are too tight or I can feel my stomach not being flat or my hair isn’t being co-operative or it seems as if I’m wearing some sort of fat suit. Or somebody else’s skin. What is this skin outfit, even? Ugh, it’s not “me”. And yet, I really, really care when I think it has something wrong with it.
This anxiety (for lack of a better word) also includes my general preoccupation with my physical self and appearance – hey girls, I know you feel me – and I’d like to add a quick nod to media and advertising culture for forcing me to see my body as a completely foreign and changeable object that I am CONSTANTLY aware of, and not something that is a part of me. This bodily dissociation is both a cause and a result of my (ironically self-diagnosed LOL) hypochondria and all of my other physical-based anxieties. Was I the only one who had to get off the bus before it even left for a class trip and go home because I was terrified I would have to pee and wouldn’t be able to stop somewhere? Or because my anticipatory anxiety made me a vomiting, out-of-control crying mess? Or the only one able to starve and abuse my body to no end because it is this… alien thing that I hate and feel at odds with? Anyone? Bueller?
My dad once, in a conversation about my weight obsession, told me a wonderful little anecdote about how when he gets ready in the mornings and looks in the mirror, he sometimes notices that he’s balding, or just how grey his hair has gotten in spots. “I acknowledge it for about five seconds and then carry on, and don’t think about it for the rest of the day,” he tells me… as if this way of thinking is even remotely comprehensible to me. How dad, how?! Is it because you’re a man? Because you’re stupid? (I know this one to be impossible.) Because you’re happy? Ignorant? What is your damn secret?!
Whatever the secret is, I must admit that I feel completely hopeless and crippled in my quest to find it. So I guess to anyone else out there crawling in their skin (cue Linkin Park song), just know that you’re not alone, and if anyone in the world understands where I’m coming from, maybe we can sort ourselves out, one day. I think the first step for me MAY be less trips to the emergency room (which, unsurprisingly, leave me feeling like a complete idiot the next day).