Tag Archives: doctor

True Confessions Friday:: I define myself by a number on a scale.

1 May

When I go to the doctor’s office, I have stopped looking at the number on the scale.  The last time I looked, I was thrown into a depressive tizzy that lasted for months.  Definitely not helpful and I gained more weight during that time.  It’s better to ignore the numbers and move forward with changing my life through exercise and diet (as well as discovering my relationship to food).

At a recent doctor’s appointment, the nurse told me I lost 5 pounds at the big weigh-in.  Go me!  As a matter of fact, my clothes do seem a little looser.  I made it through my dreaded one-on-one with my family doctor, who urged me to make an appointment at the weight management center…now that I’ve got an exercise routine worked out.  Sigh, this whole changing your life thing is hard work.

Because there was goofy insurance junk going on with the weight management center, I made an appointment with the area’s ONLY baritrician.  No, this isn’t weight loss surgery; she’s a doctor who helps with weight-loss and really gets to the bottom of what’s going on physically.  During the course of my appointment-making, the lady on the phone asked me how much I weigh.  Instead of offering a guesstimate, I asked Sarah (who went to my appointment with me due to my doctor-anxiety), who looks at the scale for me.  She told me the number, and it was a good 20 pounds higher than I expected (and that’s with losing 5 pounds).

I could scarcely repeat the number as all the excitement drained from my voice.  Appointment complete, I just sat in stunned silence.  Shrug it off, I told myself, you are doing what you need to do.  It doesn’t matter because you will lose the extra 20, too.  You are finally taking control of this area of your life.  You have more energy, strength, and your sleep cycle is finally normal.  You are doing great!

All I could think about was that number.

By the next day, I was drained of positive energy, and that number was pressing on me.  As I drove home from the pool, tears flooded my eyes.  How could you do this to yourself?  I was literally screaming and shrieking.  I wanted to crash my car because I was filled with hopelessness.  Instead, I just pulled over and cried until I was weary.  Then I drove home, collapsed on my bed, and decided that I would never leave my apartment again so that world would not be subjected to my hideousness.  I felt sorry for all the people who had to see me and my extra 20 pounds that day.

Sometime while wallowing in self-pity, I realized that I was late for my acting class.  Oh, crap, I thought, not only do the extra 20 and I have to leave the apartment, we have to perform in front of people.  I was half an hour late, and not in my usual jovial mood.  Everyone noticed it.  For the first 20 minutes, I did everything I could to hold myself together until I was eased into the rhythm of my class.  We began to perform our monologues, and a sick sense of dread came into my stomach.  I didn’t want to do mine, please, give me a reprieve.  But this was our second to last class and it was monologue night.

My turn came and I shuffled up to the front of the class and arranged the “stage” just so.  I offered some sort of apology about not being myself tonight, and the class smiled supportively.  Then I fumbled through my monologue.  I didn’t do as well as I would have liked, but this is acting class, not Broadway.  Everyone clapped appreciatively, and the instructor repeated to me how much she liked my monologue.  Instead of choosing a monologue from a movie or play, I had written my own, which I adapted from my blog post, “I Wish I Was Beautiful”.  Boy, did those words right true!  I felt like the most hideous woman in all the world.

I grabbed my evaluations and forgot about them until I was home.  I knew I wasn’t going to get a lot of excellent’s due to my distracted mental state, but I didn’t think I would receive this comment, “Who says your not?”   I stared at the paper trying to figure out what the question meant, then I realized it meant to say, “Who says you’re not beautiful?”  Uh, me.  Then it floored me, someone in my acting class thinks I am beautiful, even with the extra 20.  I’m beautiful to someone.

That number is starting to lose its grip on my mind, on my psyche, on my emotions.  I am the same person I was the day before I learned about that number, and my friends and family and most importantly, my God, still love me in spite of that number.  I’ve let that number sum up the worth of my entire personhood.

I am so much more than that number.

Spiritual (and Physical) Hypochondria

19 May

A few months ago, I was diagnosed with “moderate hypochondria” which came as no shock to those near and dear to me. Hypochondria is one of those things that can be tremendously funny and horribly terrifying. The funny part is that it’s completely irrational, but the horrifying part is that the fear is terribly real.

Hypochondria is a psychosomatic disorder which revolves around the fear of getting or being sick. While it varies in intensity from person to person, a hypochondriac will get something simple like a headache and believe or fear that she has a brain tumor. Normal bodily sensations and pains are intensified and even imagined. Some hypochondriacs go to the doctor too much while others are terrified to seek treatment. I used to be the former, now I’m the latter. I hate going to the family doctor, but I go when I must.

The Internet makes it easy to find new and interesting diseases from sites like WedMD or the Mayo Clinic. In trying to find cold relief, a hypochondriac can “end up” with pneumonia. For me, the hypochondria comes in bouts of anxiety. Sometimes I’m relatively OK as long as you keep me away from “E.R.” and “Grey’s Anatomy” but other times a commercial for “House” can freak me out. Plus, there’s the power of suggestion. If someone close to me has a bladder infection or a kidney stone or an ovarian cyst, then I suddenly “develop” one as well (or rather the symptoms).

Hypochondria hasn’t always been part of my life. As a child, I had surgery on my ears due to fluid in my cochlea (“tubes in the ears”), my tonsils removed, and knee surgery at 16. Despite terrible allergies, terrible sinus infections, and ovarian cysts (painful!), I was OK. That is until March of 2001, when I had the worst sinus infection imaginable. I kept going to the doctor trying to find relief for the pain, which wasn’t even lessened by prescription pain medications. After several tests including a spinal tap (those are HORRIBLE), it was discovered that I suffered from a rare condition called psuedo tumor cerebri. I was rushed to Philadelphia for emergency surgery–a shunt was inserted into my body to drain the fluid causing pressure in my head. This pressure was crushing my optic nerves, not only giving me terrible headaches, but causing me to go blind as well. I survived that ordeal and didn’t realize I was in for another.

A couple of weeks later, my right arm flailed about uncontrollably and went numb. Since my appendage was hanging on my body like dead weight, my mom drove me to the emergency room. After a few minutes, I suppose I just got tired of waiting, so I had a grand mal seizure (you lose control of your entire body) right there in front of everyone. I got rushed into a room where I had another seizure. Apparently, I was out quite a bit and there was fear I was brain damaged, but I was OK. The room looked like a scene from “E.R.”. Cabinets were open, stuff was thrown all over the place, a big blue breathing tube was popping out of my face, some weird thing was going out of my nose, and there were electrodes all over my chest.

After getting yet another spinal tap and other tests (which weren’t nearly as unpleasant as the spinal tap), it was discovered I had a blood clot in one of the main arteries of my brain. So I had to be put on blood thinners, which meant that the thickness of my blood was checked several times a day. I was in the hospital a week the first time and ten days the second. I became very good at stretching my arm and getting blood drained out of it. I also became very bruised.

Finally, I went home but I was terrified I would have another seizure. I had to wear a medical identification bracelet because I was on blood thinners and anti-seizure meds. And for a while my balance was off, and I had to use a cane. Plus,  I had frequent doctor visits to neurologists, the family doctor, the eye doctor, and everyone else that needed to see me. It was definitely not the way I wanted to spend the spring semester of my junior year.

Now it’s seven years later, and I’ve had sinus surgery due to chronic sinusitis and been diagnosed with several other chronic disorders which I don’t wish to mention, and now I hate going to the doctor. It seems to have worsened into hypochondria after the lingering deaths of both my grandparents.

Hypochondria makes life difficult at times, but fortunately I don’t live in a constant state of fear. I have random cycles in which I am forced to deny how I feel physically and rely on what I know to be true mentally. I have to trust that God is in control of my health and my life, which is something with which we all struggle. The problem is that my body ACTUALLY thinks it is sick, except that it isn’t. It actually feels pain when nothing is wrong. The pain is very real, but the underlying pain problem is not.

At least I have a diagnosis, but I tend to think that we as Christians often live as spiritual hypochondriacs. Instead of trusting God, we carefully analyze every situation to gain control. We feel the sting of others more deeply than we should and take on “illnesses”. We look around and say to ourselves, “The world is not safe. God is not in control.” We despair and fall away from truth.

During times of physical and/or spiritual hypochondria, I take comfort in Psalm 46, especially verses 1-4,

1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.

I don’t know about you, but if I saw the mountains fall into the ocean (an earthquake perhaps?), I would be scared out of my mind. Yet this psalm urges us not to fear because nothing escapes the watchful eyes of God. I like how verse 4 contrasts the volatile ocean with the “river whose streams make glad the city of God”. Completely out of  our realm of control is God, who invites us to be still and know Him (vs. 10). There is so much comfort and power in these words, especially in times of trouble, anxiety, and yes, hypochondria.

While I’ve tried to pray my hypochondria (and other ailments) away, so far I haven’t had any miraculous healing. But I have learned a lot about being still and knowing God, the value of praying and encouraging others, and living in situations I would have never chosen for my life. Since I can’t change it, I simply (or not so simply) accept it, rail against it with the truth, and trust God with the rest. It sounds easy enough, but it’s the fight of my life. Fortunately, thought sometimes I feel like it, I am never alone.

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