But I Don’t Want to be a Hypochondriac

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I have this persistent soreness in my upper back. By persistent, I mean it’s been going on for a couple of weeks, I can’t remember how long. Could it have something to do with my work out regimen? Perhaps it has something to do with the way I’m sleeping. The first time I started noticing it was a couple of months ago after sleeping on an inflatable mattress for 2 and one half months. Maybe it has something to do with that. It could also have something to do with the fact that at least once a week over the past 2 months I have crashed on my friends’ couch. Or maybe, maybe its cancer. You know, upper back soreness cancer. Have you ever heard of that? Me neither, but if you Google search “upper back soreness cancer” you will find something. So maybe I have that.

Plus there are the headaches. I used to get very brief and intensely sharp headaches in my right temple when I was younger. They would increase during times of great stress and according to the doctor I saw at the time, were likely caused by clenching my jaw. Recently they have returned. More frequent .. and of slightly different character – not as brief but usually as intense. I don’t get them every day, I was getting them a lot in the weeks before my 40th birthday, and especially when I hadn’t slept very well and was stressed about booking a job. So maybe it has to do with stress. Or it could be brain cancer. Or temple cancer. Or temple brain cancer. Or, OR it could be a brand new type of disease that is killing me.

Then there’s that lump I found. In my arm. The one that’s the size of a pea. (No, I don’t have an arm that is the size of a pea, there’s a subcutaneous ($5 word) lump on my right arm). You can’t see it, but if you feel my arm in just the right spot … there it is. When I went to the doctor 4 months ago and showed it to him he looked at my arm, touched the lump, shrugged his shoulders and said “it’s nothing.” It hasn’t changed since then. It’s still there. I’m going to name him Bumpy or Harry or Clive. I think Clive. But I found two more, in other parts of my body. I looked it up “small, hard, subcutaneous lumps” and guess what that can be? Yep. Cancer. It could also be nothing. But it COULD BE CANCER.

Then what? I’ll be a single, 40 year old, struggling (read “out of work”) actor, fighting cancer. Worse, I’ll be a “‘maybe if I stayed a lawyer I wouldn’t have cancer now’ guy” or “‘if I had gotten married at least I’d have someone to help me fight cancer now’ guy” or “‘if I wasn’t an out of work actor I’d have better health coverage to help me fight this cancer’ guy” or worse. Maybe I’ll be the kind a guy whose friends and family say “it’s a shame because he could have been successful and then be a successful man fighting cancer but now he’s just a loser that wasted his potential whose now fighting cancer and, really, nobody cares about that.”

I know. I know. Believe me, I KNOW. It is ridiculous and self-pitying and sad. I don’t want to be a hypochondriac. Worse, I don’t want to be a cyberchondriac – which is a hypochondriac that uses the web to self diagnose and spin out his fears. Actually, if I have to be a hypochondriac I’d rather be a cyberchondriac because it sounds cooler. CYBERCHONDRIAC – it sounds like a cyborg from the future who comes back in time not to destroy the human race, but to complain about the computer virus he’s absolutely sure is destroying him. But I don’t want to be that guy, I was never like that. Or was I?

I just remembered that I have had moments of hypochondria. The first was right before I went off to college. Summer was coming to a close and I was excited to head off to Penn State. There was anxiety, no doubt, but I was ready to go. Ready and willing and so very much looking forward to it. I do remember, however, wondering if I would ever make it there because I was fairly certain I had Lyme’s Disease. Perhaps that is an over statement, I wasn’t fairly certain I had LD, but I thought it was quite possible. That summer LD was pretty rampant. In fact, I had never heard about it before then, but the reports were increasing exponentially. I had spent the summer working for my brother’s landscaping business, so I was right in the middle of “the shit.” Every day I was entering enemy territory … did I always wear a hat? Did I wear long pants? Did I always check myself for ticks? What the hell is a deer tick? I was at risk. I remember more than a couple of nights, lying in bed and wondering – what if I have Lyme’s Disease, what if I can’t go to college, what if … sound familiar?

I seem to recall another experience. While this doesn’t necessarily fall under hypochondria, it is a close second. 4 years after my Lyme’s Disease disquiet, I was preparing to graduate Penn State University. I had been accepted to and was planning on attending Boston University School of Law. My future looked bright: I’d graduate law school, work as an assistant District Attorney, rise through the ranks and perhaps move on to the US Attorney’s Office – fighting crime, saving the world, making my parents proud. Or, maybe I’d work at a big commercial firm, rise through the ranks, make a name for myself, become a big partner – making tons of money, impressing the world with my brilliance, making my parents proud. And then the dream came crashing down because my girlfriend was pregnant. Probably. I was convinced she was pregnant. Why? Did she tell me she was? No. But I’m no idiot, we had been together for over a year and I was aware of her cycle – I’m a modern, sensitive guy, I know these things. And I knew that she had not had her monthly visitor – how did I know? Let’s just say that the scheduling and engagement in certain personal, intimate activities, happened in such a way as to make me aware that her visitor had yet to appear. He was late. Pretty damned late. I could sense that she was concerned, but we didn’t talk about it – did I mention that I was raised Irish Catholic? The lateness of her period (find, I said it) created a great swirling vortex of anxiety: she was pregnant; we would get married; I’d have to give up law school; get a job; ruin my life; and disappoint my parents. Waste my life. Of course she wasn’t pregnant and she thought it was sweet and cute and somewhat neurotic when I confessed my knowledge and concern over her “Lady Delay.” I know this isn’t hypochondria, but doesn’t it sound familiar? Fear – it’s a real bitch, no?

I am my own worst enemy. Cancer or some other horrid disease may some day put an end to me, though I hope that isn’t the case, but nothing can be as cruel or as insidious to my health and well being as my mind. My obsession with “fulfilling my potential” or disappointing my parents or wasting my life is something I wish I would have out grown a long time ago but I haven’t. There are times when I thought I got rid of all that shit, only to find that I’ve lugged this fear around for 40 years. But now I see it and I realize that it will continue to grow, to get heavier, to become such a burden as to make me immobile: unless I get rid of it.

How do I get rid of it? Ay, there’s the rub. The meditation helps, when I commit to it. The writing helps. I started this post with the hope that in writing about my current situation – OK, in mocking my current situation – I may find some clarity. And I have. I forgot about the Lyme’s Disease and “babies kill law school dreams” stories until I started writing. Perhaps therapy wouldn’t be a bad idea. Maybe just recognizing that the fear is there, that I carry it around, and that the only person keeping me from putting it down is me will help. Either way, life will continue to be an adventure. If your lucky, I’ll blog about it.

I thought I’d end this post by telling you about the new screenplay I’m going to write: CYBERCHONDRIAC. As discussed above, the main character is a Cyborg named Clive (I like that name, ok). Clive comes back from the future not to destroy the human race – as he is programmed to do – but because he’s sick. At least he thinks he is sick, he is convinced that he has every computer virus known to cyborgs, but no one believes him. So Clive comes to our time to get the kind of help and compassion that only human beings can give. He meets Billy – a sweet yet street smart 14 year old who recently lost his single mom in a robotics plant explosion. Clive teaches Billy how to fend for himself and live a life his mom would be proud of. Billy teaches Clive that he isn’t sick, he’s just insecure and that the only love Clive ever needs is the love of himself – he teaches Clive that Clive is enough. Clive lets that lesson sink in and is instantly healed. Finally feeling like the cyborg he was born to be, Clive destroys the entire human race and returns to his future a hero. The end. The message: Be Like Clive.

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