It’s true. I’ve denied it for years, not because I was ashamed of being a hypochondriac, but because I didn’t think the word applied to me. Why? Miss Snarky Pants, with all of her books, her degrees, her 4-year reign as FCS’s Spelling Bee Champion – don’t be a hater! – never bothered to look up the friggin’ word in a dictionary. Nope, I determined its meaning from overhearing its usage in every day speech. My parents, for example, used the word a lot, and, come to think of it, slewed their eyes towards me whenever they uttered it. For all these years, I’d been operating under the delusion that a hypochondriac was a person who believed they had many illnesses, when, in fact, they did not.
Color me red when I discovered the error of my ways. The cornerstone upon which the entire foundation of who I am and what I believe was crushed when I Googled hypochondriac, only to discover that Dictionary.com defines it as “an excessive preoccupation with one’s health, usually focusing on some particular symptom, [sic] as cardiac or gastric problems.” For a moment, I thought, That’s not me. I usually think I have cancer. I’m not worried about my heart…except for when I can feel its beat pulsing in my temples, and then I’m certain I’m suffering an aneurysm. Hey, it could happen. And my gastric problems are real. You can’t fake diarrhea.
I scrolled down to the second definition: a person who worries or talks excessively about his or her health. Crap! I couldn’t deny it. My health sneaks its way into every conversation I have these days. I get asked, “How are you feeling?” more often than Taylor Swift gets asked, “Who are you
going to write a nasty song about next week dating?” For example, today while I was warning my outdoorsy neighbor about the recent mosquito-borne pathogen outbreak in Florida, she blurted out, ”What the hell is dengue fever?” However, her next question was “How’s your stomach feeling?” This woman has never even used my bathroom, but she’s knows that my bowel has been distressed lately.
And yes, I’m terrified that I’m going to contract dengue fever. Why?
(1) Eight cases have been reported in Florida in the last few weeks, in two counties: Martin and Miami-Dade. Granted, I don’t live in either of those counties, but mosquitoes can fly. Fly! They aren’t constrained by the nightmarish gridlock on I-4 as families squeeze in a pre-Labor Day Disney visit. No, mosquitoes view that arterial roadway as, well, an actual artery. Moreover, the Aedes aegypti, the species of mosquito that typically carries the virus, prefers human blood to that of other mammalians. Did I mention that only the breeding females transmit the disease? Mothersuckers!
(2) I know someone who contracted dengue fever while in Central America. Obviously, the disease isn’t all that rare. His case was so severe, he prayed to God for death. And he’s an atheist.
(3) When it comes to mosquitoes, my blood is a bottle of 1945 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild Jeroboam. No, make that a FREE bottle of 1945 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild Jeroboam. Yeah, I had to Google that, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Their lust for my blood culminates almost daily in a feeding frenzy that’s convinced me that no vampire could ever resist me. Take that, Bella Swan.
(4) I’m an unlucky person. Sort of. In my mind, most of the good things that have happened to me in life resulted from hard work and perky breasts, not good fortune.
The problem is that I’m a recovering attorney, and my mind operates in a very specific way. When I assess that there is a threat within a 500 mile or so radius, I scour the Internet for evidence to support or dismiss that threat. After reading dozens of articles, blogs, Wikipedia entries, and a couple of double-blind, random, placebo-controlled studies, and determining that the threat is valid, I then begin comparing the disease’s list of symptoms with my current ailments. Dengue fever sufferers, for example, may expect fevers as high as 106 F, severe headaches, body rash, joint and muscle pain so draconian it can cause contortions, nausea, vomiting, eye pain, and minor bleeding from the gums and nose.
My gums bled this morning when I brushed my teeth. My lower back is killing me and I’ve had recurrent abdominal distress for over two weeks. Someone’s tap dancing on a nerve directly behind my left eye, as I write. I could be dying. But the only doctor I’ve seen in months is my chiropractor.
Why? Because I don’t really believe I have, or am going to catch, dengue fever, but the chance exists. In law, you might call it reasonable doubt or preponderance of the evidence. If there is any reasonable doubt that I could be bitten by an infected mosquito, then I have to take the necessary precautions to make sure that neither I, nor Hubby, my family, all my FB friends, all my Twitter friends, all the friends whom I’ve actually met, the lady in front of me in the checkout line who looks like she has a weak immune system, and each and every one of my adoring blog readers, contract dengue fever. Does that make me a hypochondriac or just a concerned citizen who believes that Benjamin Franklin was correct when he wrote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? C’mon, he nailed the whole electricity thing. The dude had mad smart skills.
Call me a hypochondriac, but it won’t stop me from hiding indoors after dusk for the next couple of months. After all, I live in one of the warmest, wettest places in the country, and that doesn’t take into account Tampa’s strip clubs, which are a hot mess all on their own. My yard breeds mosquitoes the way those Duggars spawn children. Our 1920′s bungalow rests on bricks stacked a foot high – and, based on the bites that pepper my calves and ankles - the dark, sweltering space below it is probably the largest Aedes aegypti neonatal unit in Florida.
Today, I’ll be calling our local mosquito control center and requesting that they do a drive by drenching. Likewise, thrice-daily DEET baths, and mesh body armor after dark are probably in order. I’ve considered sending Hubby outside 5 to 10 minutes ahead of me as a decoy of sorts, but that would involve stepping over a serious moral line. One I’d readily cross (hey, his immune system has my lymph nodes mounted on wooden plaque hanging on its wall), but those pesky, little bloodsuckers won’t touch him. It’s like his mother bottle-fed him a diet of Off! mixed with Skin So Soft. I thought spouses were supposed to have each other’s backs, but mine won’t even donate a pint of blood.
Prevention is the key to beating hypochondria. If I’m not bitten by a mosquito, I won’t worry that my headache is indicative of blistering fevers and aching muscles to come. Or, if I don’t leave the house until Thanksgiving. Or if I temporarily move to Antarctica.
Plus, I have bigger concerns. Did you know that spices can carry salmonella? The FDA will be releasing a study that shows that 15% of coriander, 12% of both basil and oregano, and 4% of regular ol’ peppercorns imported to the United States are contaminated with the potentially-deadly virus. Americans are particularly at risk because we tend to add pepper to our food after it is cooked – and the heating process is what destroys the salmonella virus.
Now ask yourself, Have I sprinkled a little fresh, ground pepper to my food recently? When did the chef add that coriander to my curry? What about the basil I use in my homemade Italian vinaigrette?
Now who’s the hypochondriac?
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You know your workout isn’t off to a great start when your husband challenges you to do a chin up and you immediately wonder, “Which chin?”
Hey, it’s a serious question. Do I need to pull all of my body weight up towards a metal rod of random height and merely touch the tip of my chin to the bar – or do I have to haul my waddle up there too and dangle it over the other side? I bet you George Lucas wonders the same thing all the time. Do I stuff all of my waddle under my shirt collar or do I allow it to drape over like Miss Snarky Pants’ muffin top?
Oh yeah? Well, the dialogue in Star Wars sucks. Hear that, fat man!
In my case, the issue was moot because I can’t do a single chin up. Nor could my hubby. In my defense, after six weeks of working out, Hubby is only up to four. Not four reps of ten, but four chin ups. Of course, he’s only 140 pounds soaking wet, so he doesn’t have the same, erm, challenges that I have. I’m not just pulling myself up; I’ve got a monkey on my back. Make that a full-grown gorilla. With hypothyroidism and a penchant for eating anvils.
In practical terms, imagine that you’re a person of average weight for your height, unless you already are – in which case, imagine me glaring at you because you insist upon mocking me with your perfectly fit body. However, despite the fact that you are constantly rubbing your toned abs in my face like I’m a puppy that’s pooed on the carpet, I’m still a thoughtful friend. I’ve bought you a lovely, sturdy belt for your birthday – and then, because making a point is ultimately much more important to me than your friendship, I’ve looped that belt through the handles of six, one gallon cans of paint. Though you wish I’d given you a book or maybe some earrings, you still fasten the 60+ pound belt around your waist. And when I ask you to go ahead and do a chin up, you tell me to fuck off.
“Do you realize that I’m wearing enough Sherman Williams to paint the White House?” you ask. “Inside and out?” Of course I do; welcome to my life.
While researching the elusive chin up, I came across an article on stronglifts.com which insists that “[y]our body-weight is not the problem. Strength is. If you want to get stronger at Pull-ups & Chin-ups, do them more.” Let’s see now…if I do 5 times the chin ups I’m doing now, I’ll have done, erm, zero. Great advice, douchebag.
I was surprised to discover that even my slimmer and testosterone-infused friends are similarly challenged. My friend, Evan, recently lamented to me that he can’t complete a single chin up – or pull up, depending upon your definition – unaided. The worst part is that he has to rely on the “assisted pull up machine” in the gym to train so that he can eventually accomplish this tremendous feat of strength. “As soon as you climb onto the assisted pull up machine, you’ve just announced to everyone in the gym that
you are a pussy you can’t do a chin up on your own,” he complained. “Having the muscleheads know this is worse than not being able to do a damn chin up in the first place.”
This reminded me of when I used to work for a pharmaceutical company that formulated a little, blue pill which lifted the, erm, heads of many a man. While I was practically assaulted in the waiting rooms of each and every doctor’s office I visited by decrepit, old codgers just dying to shoot their wad, not one of them accepted my offer of a pen or notepad with the pill’s name on it. No, they wanted samples – a request that only their doctor could fulfill – and lots of ’em. Prescriptions were useless as they announced to everyone working in the pharmacy that Flopsy was not the name of a member of your four-legged family, but the pet name for your, erm, member.
Still, I’m perplexed by why this seemingly simple exercise is so damned difficult. By the age of six, I could complete hundreds of one-armed chin ups in a row, hang upside down from the monkey bars until all of my blood pooled in my brain, and contort myself in such a way that I once crammed my entire body into a pillowcase. Why can’t adults do something that kids can do so effortlessly?
I suspect the answer lies in knowledge. As children, we don’t know that we can’t do things, so we just do them. Second graders don’t know the first thing about their Latissimus Dorsi…and, frankly, neither did I until I Googled it. Apparently, it’s not the name of the roguishly handsome, but tragic hero in an Italian romance novel as I’d initially believed – and instead are big ol’ muscles in your back that make a pronated (overhand) grip pull up/chin up possible. My problem lies in the fact that I’m aware that muscles are involved in exercise, thereby making chin ups an impossibility for me. Moreover, my back muscles and I aren’t on speaking terms and haven’t been since I allowed numerous cars to plow into mine over the years.
Were I to try a supinated (underhand) grip instead, I could rely more heavily on my biceps – which is kinda like Tony Stark relying on the phrase, “Stop! I’m a rich dude” to halt criminals instead of donning his Iron Man suit and crushing them beneath his metallic red foot. However, my biceps cooperate only when alcohol is involved – and it’s simply too difficult to attempt a chin up with the stem of a wineglass clamped between your teeth.
So for now, I will celebrate the fact that I’ve lost 9 pounds (and have been placed in the Witness Protection Program so that they can’t find me again and re-staple themselves to my ass cheeks) and, thanks to the miracle of technology, I can watch Bravo on every single cardio machine in the gym. As Hubby conquers one more chin up after another, I will have to revel in the knowledge that if he brags about it and pisses me off, I can easily crush the ego out of him by merely sitting on his lap.
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***Photo credits: Chin Up: Menshealth.com George Lucas: Georgelucasneck.tumblr.com White House: WhiteHouse.gov Sixteen Candles Chin Up: Tumblr.com Latissimus Dorsi: Wikipedia.com