Hype and Hypochondria

Are you starting to wonder if every ache and pain is an indication of something more serious? I blame the evening news.

As if climate change, screeching political candidates, the ricocheting stock market, and dwindling honeybees aren’t troubling enough, within the space of an hour’s broadcast you’ll see at least a dozen dramatic commercials for symptoms you might have, symptoms you probably have, or diseases with cute initials you’d never heard of but are now sure you definitely have.

It’s enough to give anyone chronic constipation or diarrhea or at least a migraine.

I’m not really a hypochondriac; I’m more the Queen of De’Nile type, blindly optimistic that my test results will turn out fine. My husband, on the other hand, is easily persuaded that anything “off” is symptomatic of something dire and dangerous.

Bear in mind, he’s an empathetic guy. But these days he identifies a little too closely with the suffering actors on TV. When he wakes up with elbow pain does he think, “That’s because I slept with my arm sticking over the headboard” or “Too much time at the driving range”? Nope, he’s positive it’s elbow cancer. Could his back pain have any connection to lack of exercise or an overly-soft mattress? Nah. Can’t find his keys? Don’t blame his messy desk. Must be early onset Alzheimer’s.

I don’t mean to be flip; all too often, warning signs are ignored and illnesses that could have been caught early are allowed to progress. But maybe we’ve all become a little too educated and need to find a happy and healthy balance between sticking our heads in the sand (as in, ignoring a mole that’s changing) and paranoia that every minor ailment is life-threatening.

Here are the commercials that got him hyperventilating last night:

  • Macular degeneration
  • Toenail fungus
  • Laxatives
  • ED
  • RA
  • Circadian Rhythm Disorder (no, I did not make that up!)
  • Fibromyalgia
  • COPD
  • IBS
  • Joint pain
  • Psoriasis
  • Dry eyes
  • Memory loss
  • High BP
  • Depends

I swear, a Midol ad could probably convince him that his post-burrito bellyache was menstrual cramps.

Hypochondria must be a modern development. After all, ancient civilizations had bigger fish to fry– like worrying about pestilence, famine and rampant body odor.

Consider the original Paleo Diet. Who had time to fret about high cholesterol when your dinner might eat YOU first? Did cave mamas make sure everyone ate five servings a day of ferns and cattails to stay regular? I think not.

Fun fact: When ancient Vikings failed to attract the ladies they didn’t yammer on about erectile dysfunction; they bleached their hair and beards blonde with strong, lye-based soap so they’d look hot. As a bonus, this also helped kill off head lice. Win-win!

And I’ll bet that if you lived through the Inquisition, a little memory loss helped you sleep better at night.

My conclusion: Stay informed, watch the news if it doesn’t give you indigestion, and remember to toss your sweaty socks in the laundry bin so your toes don’t rot. But just in case you’re currently in good health (knock wood) keep your fingers crossed, say a kinehora to ward off the evil eye and turn to the right when you sneeze. You can never be too careful.

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