There's an up-side to being a hypochondriac, and I have the good fortune of enjoying it at a perfect time.
I do not claim to be the Voice of Hypochondria, so I do not speak for hypochondriacs at large; however, I have found that the nature of the beast seems to run in waves.
Typically a "flare up" is put into motion with the advent of some disturbing or strange symptom. Depending on the nature and/or severity of the triggering symptom, a corresponding investigation/panic/general unrest ensues.
For instance, the time an ENT informed me that the sensation of fullness I felt in my right ear could be could be "a tumor, cancer, or worse", I plummeted quickly.
Worse than brain cancer? No web page anywhere on the trail I'd blazed through the worldwide web had mentioned possibilities that could stack up against such a prognosis. This was exactly the kind of situation I feared: an ongoing investigation in search of unknown and potentially terrifying horrors.
Without a doubt, I’d end up like the faceless patients I’d just read about in newspaper article on new advancements in facial reconstruction. I would be hideous, if I even lived, and would I want to, anyway?
My husband, the poor man, isn’t a lot of help at times like this. Having seen me through other tumors, gynecological uncertainties, and numerous suspicious moles, he’s become a bit hardened to medical drama.
“Your symptoms aren’t any different from the 20,000 other patients he’s seen,” he has said, resorting to factual statistics to back up his unnerving calm. “How many people have you seen walking around Hampton without a face?” he demanded.
“Maybe one,” I said, determined not to lose ground. There was the facial reconstruction article. Truthfully, I didn’t know where the woman featured in the piece actually lived, but she was in my local paper and that was certainly good enough for the purposes of this argument.
“One?” my husband raised his eyebrows in challenge. “And the newspaper doesn’t count.”
Transactional analysis, I remembered from my undergraduate psychology studies, purports the idea that we all live by a set of life scripts, or predetermined ways of responding to life events. TA- based therapy focuses on examining the predictable patterns, the scripts, by which we live by and changing or erasing those that are destructive or that we’ve outgrown.
As the author of scripts, director of productions, and small time actor, the concept of living by a psychological script intrigues me. On one hand, I don’t like the idea that I might interact with the world according to a limited range of predetermined responses. On the other hand, I am the author of the script, so the responses are mine.
Which brings me to the Dark Place. Over the past couple years, I have become much better at managing my spirals into this dim realm, but it's always a danger when I'm confronted with any type of medical uncertainty.
In the Dark Place, I shuffle around listlessly. I fall into inactivity. After all, with a host of disfiguring treatments and the grim reaper looming, there's no point in working on my novel. Ditto for working out.
Instead, I wonder if Brad and the kids will decorate for Christmas, and if they know the recipe for pasta fagoli. I burst into tears at the mere sight of any book from the Series of Unfortunate Events, because I’m certain I can’t hold on for enough family readings to see the Baudelaire’s through to The End.
I could go on, but you get the picture. Images of the Dark Place don’t quickly fade and I don’t want to burden you with them.
But the Dark Place isn't the only setting in which the Medical Drama script unfolds.
It was during the episode with the ENT that I realised that the promise of euphoria drives me to the Dark Place. I totally get off on the moment when the whole tawdry affair is laid to rest by whatever negative x-ray, lab result or simple a reassuring office visit the situation requires.
I’d get the good news and realize that I was going to live. After which the sky would seem bluer, the air would smell cleaner and life’s little trials would roll off my shoulders with ease. After all, I just last week I was dying. Reveling in life, I called it. It was a tremendous high that can only be achieved by going very, very low.
Once I identified this trend, I became better able to manage it. Now I don't often travel deep into the heart of the Dark Place, I just skirt the neighborhood periodically, get roughed up by a thug or two, and meander back home.
Consequently, the euphoria isn't quite as grand, either, but just as I'm still familiar with the outskirts of the Dark Place, I'm also pretty glad when I get to visit the suburbs of euphoria, and that's where I am today.
After my "look around" test was derailed by twists and turns in my internal terrain, I was sent for a CAT scan of my entire abdominal area. Evidently, things look pretty normal, and I get to be just a person who experiences occasional stomach aches, not a person with looming masses or chronic diseases.
It feels pretty good, especially since I'm headed out the door to spend the weekend at one of my favorite places. School starts Monday. Life is good.