The Hypo Within (aka: attack of health anxiety)

We always tend to think others have it better.

I look at Michael Lewis and think, “Man, what a life.”

Michael Lewis looks at Walter Isaacson and thinks, “Man, what a life.”

Walter Isaacson looks at David McCullough and thinks, “Man, what a life.”

Truth is, life is limited. It can only be so great, because we are trapped by the boundaries of possibilities. As humans, we are unable to fly with a cape. We can’t shoot webs from our wrists, or blow bubbles from our eyes, or poop easter eggs. There are myriad amazing experiences but, come day’s end, there’s also a limit. Anyone who looks at, oh, Katy Perry and thinks, “I wish I were her!” is falling in love with an image, not reality. Katy Perry goes to the bathroom, pops zits, is getting divorced and spends most of her days singing the same songs over and over and over again. Today, Portland. Tomorrow, Seattle. The day after, San Jose. It must get old because, frankly, everything in life gets old.

I digress.

By nearly all measures, I have a tremendous life. I am blessed with an amazing wife, and two marvelous, happy, healthy kids. I live in a cool house, always have food on the table, take sweet trips and write books for a living. Were I a 21-year-old aspiring sports writer, I’d look at Jeff Pearlman and think, “I hope that’s me one day.” (I can say this because, at 21, I did hope I’d be doing this.).

And yet … I have a huge flaw; one that, at its worst, can damn my days and bring me endless sleepless nights. Simply put, I am a hypochondriac.

Not merely a hypochondriac. A bad hypochondriac. I suffer from genuine health anxiety, so much so that, were you to visit my Wikipedia page, you’d find the phrase “finding blood in his feces after using the toilet.” That’s a direct line from this blog post, which I wrote 2 1/2 years ago. At the time, I pledged to change my life and seek therapy and refuse to drown my blessed existence in the pathetic wallowing that accompanies mystery ailments.

Alas, I have failed.

Like 2 1/2 years ago, I’ve been shitting blood. Like 2 1/2 years ago, I’ve been freaking out about shitting blood. I did the one thing no hypochondriac should do—I Googled “blood in feces” and symptoms. This, inevitably, led me to the absolute worst (and, in the mind of a hypo, obvious) conclusion: That I’m dying of colon cancer. For the past two weeks, I’ve convinced myself of my plight. I’ve imagined sitting in a hospital bed, a la Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment, saying farewell to my daughter and son. I’ve thought about friends visiting me; about hospital visits; about losing 50 pounds and going through chemo. I’ve thought about my funeral, and my wife marrying someone else, and about my kids calling him, “Dad.” This has all run through my head, and through my head, and through my head—because I’m fucked up.

So today, at long last, I visited the doctor. I made an appointment with a gastroenterologist, and arrived at 9:30 for my inevitable death sentence. As soon as I walked in the doors, I thought to myself, “Uh, I’ve been here.” Which is really, really telling, in that I’ve been to enough doctors that I didn’t even recall seeing him before. He walked in and said, “So, are you a new patient?” Embarrassed, I mumbled, “Yes.”

He asked about my symptoms—bleeding, some nausea—then asked a bunch of questions. I tend to think of these of the hypo’s list of shame:

“Do you drink?”

No.

“Smoke?”

No.

“Do you take any medication?”

No.

“Have you ever had any surgeries?”

No.

“Do you have any family history of colon problems?”

No.

“Heart disease?”

No.

“Stomach issues?”

No.

He proceeded to do his examination—not fun, for the record. I expected him to tell me he’d need to conduct a colonoscopy. He didn’t. “Honestly, I think it’s probably hemorrhoids,” he said, before prescribing me some basic meds. “Come back in two weeks and we’ll see if anything’s changed.”

Initially, I was filled with joy. I’m (probably) not on my death bed! I’m alive! I’m healthy! But then, midway through, I stopped. It was the same ol’ same ol’ pattern: Convince self of death, see doctor, cured, happiness, repeat in four months. I can’t be this way anymore; can’t continue to live in such a pathetic and unhealthy manner.

Hence, I’m coming strong with my New Year’s resolution: 2012 will be the year of the hypochondriac.

Or, to be more precise, of killing him once and for all.

3 thoughts on “The Hypo Within (aka: attack of health anxiety)”

  1. Really appreciate your openness on this. There is angst with life period – because we are all going to die; and death is no respecter of persons. FInding out what the problems are that we fear can help us. But, ultimately, we are going to fear something else in some way … unless we have something else beyond the “here and now” that has a rational basis … we’re not going to find ultimate happiness if we think rationally. Albert Camus and others have made this point emphatically. But, there are rational reasons for hope that reach beyond death, imho; as well as a means to find grace in times of need while here. If we have those, we can live with peace (but certainly not “perfect peace”). That’s not the reason to seek those directly – but the hopes are there if we pursue with honesty and integrity.

  2. I don’t know your insurance situation, so forgive me if I presume too much. Why not do the colonoscopy and find out for sure? How much is your peace of mind worth? Congratulations on taking the initiative and going to the doctor. I’m very aware of how difficult that can be for some people.

  3. Hey Jeff. Once again, I see why you are my favorite writer. You have more in common with me than our sports interests and the details we enjoy that complete a story.

    I too, am a hypochondriac (I think). I drive my wife completely nuts. I am 29 years old. I do have some puzzling symptoms at times, none of which are life threatening for the most part. I too partake in Google searches, and I’ve learned a lot about health in doing this. With all the good info I’ve learned, I’ve also read some that is poor.

    I don’t have an answer for you, and I don’t know how to stop suffering from this. Other than this, I’m a completely normal guy with a normal life. Okay, almost. The only thing that ever made me stop was Paxil, and that made me generally not give a shit about anything. I don’t know man. I’m glad there’s someone else out there like me who is not too ashamed to admit it.

    All the best. Your friend Clint.

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