Oct 21 2011

Deadly Disease

Published by at 5:37 pm under Just another day in Paradise

“There’s only one fatal disease, I’ve concluded.  It’s called hypochondria. And it is deadly”. Keith Richards

I was writing in my flat the other day, enjoying the beautiful warm sun shining through my big windows, listening to Neil Diamond, finally seeing a potential good day ahead of me, when the phone rang. “Hey grandma, how are you”? She exhaled. “Angeliki, be honest with me… Are you drinking enough pomegranate juice”? I held back from sharing all my thoughts with her. “No, grandma. I really am not”. It turned out I should have lied. “Angeliki, listen to me. This is not a joke. This is not something to write on your blog about. This is your health, this is your body. Do you know what I heard? I found out that pomegranate juice saves you from breast cancer, prostate cancer –“. “I think I’m safe in that area grandma”… “It protects the bones, the teeth, the heart. Do you know that if you drink two glasses of pomegranate juice a day you have 50% less chances of having a heart attack”? “Grandma, why would I ever have a heart attack? I’m 29 years old, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t drink coffee –” She immediately went crazy. “Yes Angeliki, but you don’t drink pomegranate juice either”! I sighed. “No, that’s true. I don’t”. “And I can’t help but worry”… I left her for a few seconds to calm down. “In any case, I went to the supermarket today and bought a few kilos of them. You see, I haven’t given up on myself completely”. “Ok, grandma”… “I don’t like playing around with my health, you see”…

We hung up and I was left staring at the void. My mood was spoiled, so I leaned to turn the music off. My neighbour knocked on the door and I told her it was open and she should let herself in. “Hey, how are you”? I nodded and forced a smile. “Listen, did you copy the front door’s key? ‘Cause I kinda need it”… “Yeah, wait, let me get it”, I said and grabbed my bag to look for the key inside it. “Have you been sitting in the sun all morning?”, she asked, slightly worried. I hesitated. “Yeah, I like sitting in the sun”. She shook her head and looked away. “Then I hope you like skin cancer too”… I gave her the key. “Yes, I do. Can’t wait”. She saw I wasn’t in a joking mood. “I’m sorry, I don’t want to be like that… It’s just that the sun is really dangerous nowadays. From moles and melanomas to severe sun damage and skin cancer”… I exhaled and shut my laptop down. I got up and moved to the shade. “Ok then, I’m out of the sun”. She nodded, seeing I was getting annoyed. An awkward silence followed until she realized she had to go. “Alright then… I guess I’ll see you later”. “If I’m alive”, I whispered, as she was closing my door behind her.

I talked to my sister yesterday and she informed me of the new obscure disease that only two other people in this planet have, and that of course, she has been diagnosed with too, by herself. “It’s a hormonal thing”, she informed me. “And what does it involve? What are the symptoms”? “I cough, I feel cold, I have headaches and sometimes I even get a bit of a temperature”. I thought about it for a few seconds. It all sounded very familiar. “Isn’t that what happens when you get a cold”? She humoured me. “I guess it’s kind of similar, I can see how you could get confused. But unfortunately, my case is much more serious”… “And this you decided yourself, right? I mean no actual doctor was involved in the decision making process”. “Well, no, but I know these things better than anyone. Plus, I have researched my condition online and I’ve really familiarized myself with it. I’m gonna do everything in my power to get through this”…

This reminded me of my mum who has always been convinced that she’s dying. Diabetes, cancer, heart problems, she’s tried it all. But the doctors keep telling her that she’s fine, so she always has to go back and start from scratch. Find a new disease, research it, convince herself that this is what she’s suffering from, announce everyone she’s dying and then go to the doctor to find out there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her. At times it feels like no one wants to play with her… It also reminded me of a really good friend of mine who washes her hands after everything she does, and reaches the extreme of washing her hands about 300 times a day. The last couple of years, her hands have started peeling and getting little wounds and blisters everywhere, but she insists that it’s not the washing-her-hands-5-times-per-second thing. Rather, it’s the fact that she didn’t wash them enough times one day a few years back, and germs got on them and they now refuse to leave, eating her hands slowly.

The best case, however, is Theo’s brother, who is always worried he is coming down with something very serious, always concerned that any day now something is going to get him really ill, perhaps even kill him. Being a constant worry in his head, Theo once tried to make him see things differently. “Dude, it’s not all these crazy diseases you think you are suffering from that are going to kill you. It’s all this worrying and obsessing that you have to be careful with. The stress is more of a problem than anything else”. His brother thought about it for a few seconds and then looked at him, panicking. “Oh, no!… It’s the worrying. That’s what’s going to kill me. Oh, God, the stress. That’s it. I finally found what it is that I’m suffering from, oh no… Where do I even go from here?”…

As the great philosopher, Keith, has said, hypochondria is the most severe disease of all and it looks like it’s more true than anyone would want to admit. Because doesn’t it look like obsessing over having the required amount of broccoli and pomegranate juice each day, refusing to enjoy the sun, washing our hands again and again all day, terrorizing ourselves by giving the simplest cold much more complicated and obscure names and living in a constant stress is enough of a disease to be suffering from? Doesn’t it look like there’s really no need to try any harder to make ourselves sick and we’re more ill than we could ever be, even if we had a proper document from a doctor clearly stating we are suffering from a rare condition? We might have preferred to be able to say that we suffer from something dark and unusual, and perhaps “I suffer from obsessing and worrying” isn’t really what is going to make us look cool, but at least it’ll have the same desired result. It’ll finally get us killed.

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