A 21st Century Hypochondriac

A doctor writing for The Times on Saturday raised an interesting point: medical awareness campaigns may not be good for the health; they may, in fact, make you more anxious.

It’s a pertinent topic. With the media flurry around swine flu, health awareness has certainly featured high on the public agenda – and the worldwide web hasn’t been immune. Mind you, the internet wasn’t around in the last flu pandemic; or, at least, it wasn’t around in every living room. Thanks to the internet, we’ve got the WHO sitting on our sofa, alongside an overstretched NHS and a whole host of swine flu scaremongers.

As a 21st century hypochondriac, I am a sitting duck.

Since backtracking on my decision to press the self destruct button, I’ve been slightly paranoid about the state of my health. There’s nothing like a few near death experiences to make you realise the value of life; nothing like a couple of gray hairs to highlight the inevitability of death.

So, I have become a closet medical freak. I have been making the most of the net doctor and undertaking a little online diagnostics, matching my symptoms to the appropriate illnesses. Although – according to google autotext – there appear to be a lot of people out there asking the same random questions I’m asking, I’m not convinced that the practice is particularly helpful. Or that it will make me particularly healthy.

The problem is, we’ve become scared of our bodies. We’ve managed to assert quite a lot of authority over quite a lot of things – but our health always comes back to remind us that we’re only human, we’re far from invincible. In fact, as my eating disorder taught me, there’s only a hairs breadth between life and the other side.

It’s a scary thought.

As a natural pessimist, I have been trying to keep this realisation in check. I have been trying to offset the fear and paranoia with an alternative interpretation: make the most of every moment. And, okay, there’s no denying that the shadow and the paranoia linger in the background – but it’s helped me put life into perspective, it’s made the desire to recover from my eating disorder a whole lot stronger.

And this adds another angle to the whole debate.

I’ll agree that health awareness and anxiety come hand in hand, that maybe we’ve got quite used to a quick fix cure all society; but, it’s not a bad thing to remember that you’re only human, and it’s not a bad thing to want to look after your body – providing that it helps you make the most out of living, rather than stopping you living all together.


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