Proper Health

When I think of health, and what health means to me, I think immediately of fear. Health, rather than being a word that fills me with gratitude, relief, and thankfulness, feels fragile, delicate. I believe I am wrong for thinking like this.

I was born into a bloodline of hypochondriacs. Father’s side. His mother’s side. Too many times I have called my mother urgently, asking her if the pain in my leg was from blood clotting, if my horrible migraines were actually the result of a brain tumor. Unnecessary stress. I’d stay up all night feeling my neck glands; throat cancer. “Let’s just chop the whole leg off,” my mother learned to respond to me.

Of course, it isn’t completely genetic. When I was fifteen my body shut down. It started with headaches, moving my eyes a certain way brought pain. Then it was joint pain. And then one morning I woke up and couldn’t pee. I couldn’t do anything to fix it. My bladder was full, I had to use the bathroom, but once I sat down on the toilet… nothing. It was such a basic human function to have suddenly ripped away from me. This was followed by a twelve hour visit to the emergency room and a remarkable amount of prodding and poking over the subsequent weeks. I underwent MRIs, CT scans, ultrasounds, dozens of blood tests, a test examining my brain activity, and countless extremely–and I mean extremely–intrusive tests at the urologist that I do not wish to share the details of. The doctors were concerned. I remember sitting with my parents in these random offices awaiting more results, the doctors coming in throwing their hands up in the air, their brows furrowed. Nothing. I was in perfect health. “You’re stumping New York City’s entire medical community!” One doctor joked. I wanted to punch him in the face.

I had to learn how to use disposable catheters. I carried dozens of them everywhere I went. I was used to the fear of having a hidden tampon in my pocket when leaving my High School Spanish class to go the bathroom, but hiding a catheter was something else. I would take deep breaths in the stalls before using them, wincing but remaining silent, lest someone washing their hands would hear me. Soon I was able to do it without the deep breaths, numb to the pain, my routine taking under two minutes. My head hurt. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Outside my family, I only told two people.

The doctors never figured out why my body’s basic system shut down. All I was left with was a doctor saying, “Maybe it was anxiety.” Slowly, things started to go back to normal. Sitting on the toilet, I learned to count up and down from ten before I could pee. Deep breaths. My body healed all on its own.

I tried so hard to get something beautiful out of my months as a healthy sick person; I tried to feel gratitude or appreciation for my body’s resilience (it had resolved its ailments all on its own!). Impossible. I was simply left plagued with a wariness of doctors, a mistrust of my own body, and an incredibly annoying, and sometimes debilitating habit of torturing myself on WebMD. Hypochondria was the secret friend that would pull me away from my friends and family, sitting on the ground of a bathroom, recognizing the headache, the painful movement of the eye. The repeating voice in my head, it’s happening again. Hard to shake.

Over the years I’ve made visits to doctors and specialists who would shake their heads and ask me what exactly I was doing there. You seem fine. I’d shrug. Chest pain?

This year suddenly hypochondria became everyone’s friend – and no one was secretive about it. It has not made me feel less alone in my worries, it has not made my anxieties feel heard or seen in any way. Frankly, it was disturbing to see people I had known to be completely unfazed by a doctor’s visit now in daily duress. It made me feel worse to see my own neurosis manifest itself in everyone around me.

I am not sure if I will ever learn how to think of health properly. I am aware of the privilege I have to be speaking of health in such abstract terms, void of any urgency or real danger. I simply have to remind myself that my body is doing everything in its power to work for, and not against, me. I need to learn how to be kind to my body, to forgive my body. I am not made of stone.