NPR. National Public Radio is my new love. I listen to it (via Stitcher) every chance I get. As I mentioned in a recent Facebook post, I feel more thoughtful and connected to my world as a result, especially when listening to This American Life.
The stories, no matter the subject, are always fascinating. For example, the Wife and I were listening to an episode the other day about mapping. Boring? Never. The stories were about mapping our world using the five senses – sight, sound, touch, taste and hearing. I figured that the story about touch would be a blind person’s account of how they map their neighborhood with the touch of their guide stick or a friend’s face with their hands. Boy was I wrong.
A woman narrated. She shared an account of a breast self-exam. Then another. And another. She was mapping her body through touch because she was obsessed with performing breast self-exams. She was convinced she had breast cancer. And brain cancer before that. And perhaps stomach cancer before that. She was a hypochondriac.
Like I said, fascinating. But then the fascinating came terrifyingly close to being familiar.
“Ah, fear and anxiety. They are so ’90s. It’s all so self-absorbed. And it’s this part of hypochondria– the self-absorption– that I hate the most. I feel enormously guilty having such thoughts when millions of people are suffering from real problems.”
— Deb Monroe
I am not a hypochondriac. Something very real is going on with my body. But because I am still without a diagnosis 21 months later, that’s not an easy thing to remember.
At times, I too feel incredibly self-absorbed. Take today, for example. From the moment I woke, I was achy. Joints from my neck to my knees creeked and cracked from my shower till now, 15 hours later. That pain, while not excruciating, is enough to constantly return my mind to me, no matter what or who it is I intend to think about. The self-absorption is a by-product of these little pains that remind me daily that this body I’m living in isn’t whole.
I am not a hypochondriac. I have very real physical limitations. But because I am without a diagnosis 21 months later, that’s not an easy thing to make other people understand.
I love to volunteer. I do it without thinking and with abandon, taking on the big jobs because I love the sense of big accomplishment that comes at the end. But when those big jobs leave you exhausted and riddled with pain, what do you say the next time you’re asked? “I’m sorry, I can’t help. I’m limited by my illness. What illness you ask? Oh, well I don’t know. You see, I haven’t been diagnosed.” Yeah…
Just a few days after hearing this episode, I got a letter in the mail from my doctor. I knew that it held the results of the latest round of blood tests. For a fleeting moment, I was hopeful and ready to tear the envelope open. But then I remembered the other tests, the other appointments, the questions that have been left unanswered. I placed the envelope on the counter, all at once uneasy about the contents. Please, don’t be that word, I pleaded. Something, anything, other than that word.
Who knew it could be such an ominous word?
But normal I was, yet again. I poured over each page of results, trying desperately to find something that medically trained professionals had missed. But there was nothing. No clues or hints or patterns left to explore.
Maybe I’m a hypochondriac…
As you can probably tell, the greatest thing that this illness has tried to steal from me is my peace of mind. I do wonder if I’m suffering from a mental disease instead of a physical one. I’m not always sure what’s real anymore. And if I am honest, I must admit that I have become afraid of my own body. I feel as if I do not know it and cannot trust it. Nothing is as it was. Everything is in question. In my mind, I see my physical self crumbling, like a decaying building that teeters precipitously close to collapse.
Then, the other day, I looked up and saw this:
He who loses wealth loses much; he loses a friend loses more; but he who loses his courage loses all.
— Miguel de Cervantes
I decided then and there that I’m not ready to lose it all. My health, my wealth, maybe a few friends – those things can be lost. But I am not willing to lose this life that I have fought so hard to build. I will not let fear of this unknown illness or its unknown toll on my body erode my sense of self and self worth.
Or fear of being (called) a hypochondriac.