I can turn anything into cancer.
I’m like the world’s saddest magician.
Most people see a mole change a little and think, “Uh-oh. Could be cancer.”
That is rookie bullshit.
I can have a pain in the second-to biggest toe on my right foot, and think, “Bone cancer. It’s probably bone cancer. Yes, the chance of bone cancer is significantly lessened in adults without other cancers but I probably have a wily one like tooth or earlobe cancer that they never look for so they didn’t look for it in me and here it is, in my toe that weirdly hurts FOR NO REASON.”
The thing about hypochondria is that unlike the physical things that become harder as you age, convincing yourself you have some sort of infirmity gets significantly easier once you hit 40.
Now there are so many new pains and unexplained marks and bruises on my body that the list of diseases I could have has skyrocketed. That means I no longer need to create new-and-undiscovered illnesses like “healthy-feeling-fever” or “latent death.”
In my 30’s I mostly worried about cancer and schizophrenia or that might be a sociopath, but now I’ve had shingles and herpes and the plague and a heart attack, all in my head.
That’s the funny thing about hypochondria—the human brain can’t really tell the difference between when we’re imagining something or actually experiencing it—it reacts almost identically, so when I’m talking to someone who had a heart attack, my impulse is to say, “Oh, I did too,” because of that time when I had gall stones and I was sure I was dying. In my head, I was going through the exact same thing he did, I was just wrong.
And now, hypochondria has an assist in the internet, to the point that there’s now a colloquial term for people whose hypochondria is escalated by looking up their symptoms on the web: it’s called Cyberchondria.
WebMD is essentially Pinterest for hypochondriacs—all they need to add is the ability to create boards of your favorite disease families, like “Dermatological disorders I probably have,” “New viruses that are definitely going around my office” and “Cute cats that just gave me the first human case of feline leukemia.”
There are about 25 million searches for the word “cancer” on Google per month. About a million people worldwide are diagnosed with cancer in a month, so that’s approximately 24 million people searching for cancer who probably don’t have it. (I’d like to apologize to all the hypochondriacs out there for that cancer statistic. That’s just the type of thing to send them into a tailspin, so you have to remember that there are 7.3 billion people in the world, so only .0001% of them are getting diagnosed each month. I hope that makes you feel better. It made me feel better.)
As for me, it turned out that I’m not a hypochondriac, I’ve just had generalized anxiety disorder my whole life, which I just discovered recently. But for all the hypochondriacs out there: I know it’s frustrating when you keep thinking you have something and it turns out you don’t. It may be comforting to find out that even if you don’t have anything else, hypochondria is a bonafide mental illness listed in the DSM-5. So you were right. You DO have something. Congratulations?