I read John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars after my friends and fellow book lovers were buzzing about it and demanded I experience what they were experiencing:
“I cried on the bus. Everyone was staring!”
I wanted to quote and be quoted. I wanted to be able to contribute my thoughts and “feels” in the discussion too, so I read it. I understood it as a story that needed to be told, and sure, I had some criticisms, but I liked it. I was also freaking out about cancerous threats to my body for the next two weeks.
Hypochondria or hypochondriasis: the preoccupation with ones health.
I traveled to the United States in 2014, to see my ailing grandfather. It was during the winter break and two months before he died. It would be the first time I saw him truly ill. I had been hearing about his deterioration through my mom’s daily updates and my exhausted aunt’s occasional phone calls. I heard. I listened. I felt bad and offered the “Get wells,” “Insha’Allahs,”* and the “Ameens”* in response to “Du’as,”* but I was still removed from it. It wasn’t until I got to the hospital that I saw: the gout, the weak slump, the in-and-out lucidness, and the constant pain. Not running away from the situation was like being repeatedly jabbed by a thousand needles in my heart and gut. The urge to cry was overwhelming, but I didn’t in that room. I kept it together until my parents and aunt returned, before I walked out and let out a tearful breath.
It’s a manifestation of anxiety.
I remember watching The Perks Of Being A Wallflower at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, but I didn’t revisit the film until two years later. After my second viewing, I decided to read the book for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The best way to describe the reading process and the days following is a roller coaster in my chest. It wasn’t the fun kind; it was more like the feeling you get the first moment you drop. The fear lifts from your belly and makes its way to your heart before you scream. Except you never make it to the scream. It travels up to your chest, but never really leaves the places it touched.
It’s like carrying around a sinking feeling that you know is there and are trying to shake off but can’t.
I don’t think I’m a hypochondriac.
The health freak-outs don’t always happen, and I don’t go to the doctor multiple times a month due to scares. I’m usually affected by the thought of illness depending on the context: how heavily featured it is in media and the severity and the closeness to me. I’m not a fan of hospitals, but a lot of us aren’t. I also realize that my extreme emotional responses aren’t limited to health, but to emotional and traumatic situations as well. I’m empathic I guess, and I’m sure anxiety plays as much a role as it does with those who are hypochondriacs. I feel strongly and sometimes take on other people’s emotions to be a better friend, listener, or better adapter in social situations. There’s also a guilt that comes with it. I feel awful that I immediately freak out about possibly having cancer when someone else actually lives with the disease. The story is about their experience. I felt bad about not being there for my grandfather the way I thought he needed me to be: “Focus on him and keep your feelings at bay.”
The thing is, I try to shut it off because that’s how I can survive emotionally, and I’ve been doing pretty well (mostly). I still get emotional (I’m a writer, it comes with the territory), but I’m learning not to apologize for it (work in progress). I feel how I feel because I’m reacting to the stimuli that the world is putting out. The best that I can do is make sure I’m emotionally healthy enough to help the people around me.
I can say that avoiding Web MD has helped A LOT.
*Insha’Allah in Arabic means “God willing.” A Du’a is an invocation, an act of supplication that Muslims do. Ameen is the Arabic equivalent to the Christian amen, and it’s said after a du’a.