Doctor, doctor

Mental health

One thing worse than being a hypochondriac is being a hypochondriac who has been diagnosed with a major health problem.

I don’t know that meditation helps with this, so I’m not going to talk about being plugged into the universe or finding peace within yourself. I’m going to talk about how bloody annoying it is. Hypochondria is another of the litany of mental health disorders I have, and sometimes it gets so bad I feel that I am on the verge of death. My brain frequently flashes forward to me being diagnosed with whatever I have too late, and dying.

Today, I’m worried that the fluttering in my heart is a sign that I have a serious heart problem. Last week, I went to see a skin specialist after months of wrestling the fear that the ‘lesion’ on my back was skin cancer. I have ‘sticky blood’ so I worry about getting a clot, even though a specialist has told me that my crazy leg growth, made up of a giant network of tangled blood vessels, will ‘unlikely’ leech a clot into my arterial system, instead continually clotting within itself. I worry, that somewhere inside me, cancer is growing. That I am blanking out a lot because I have early onset Alzheimer’s. That my gallbladder issues are going to shorten my life. That the giant hemangioma on my liver is not innocuous, as a liver consultant assured me, but something far more sinister.

After all of the births of my sons, this health anxiety worsened. There are lists upon lists on my iPhone, things like ‘ask about darkened patches at top of leg’ or ‘ask about stabbing pain in stomach – is it an infection’ or ‘ask about bouts of breathlessness’. There are actual, real health diagnosis and then there is a plethora of thoughts about them, with embellishments. Right now, the thoughts feel more harmful to my health than the diagnosis themselves.

You battle mental illness on all fronts. You need to be like a ninja, constantly brandishing different weapons and strategies just to survive the day – just to survive your life. One mental disorder goes hand in hand with another. You don’t just get the gift of depression, you’ll get a sideshow of anxiety or a good nip of OCD to go with it. You’ll have hypochondria, and its playmate will be panic.

There are solutions to the shitshow inside your head. I am committed to finding them. We are here to master our minds, not the other way around.

And Death Shall Have No Dominion


In her poem, The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac, Mary Oliver talks about the urgency of living.

She asks: Do you need a prod?/Do you need a little darkness to get you going? And then brutally reminds us that such a vibrant soul as Keats died at just 25.

None of us have much time. We really don’t. I’m sure most of you have been reminded of the lack of time we have on this planet. Often it happens when someone very close to you dies, or when you get a frightening medical diagnosis. For me, it was the latter. It wasn’t cancer, as prompted the urgency in Oliver’s poem, but it was something utterly left-field, something bananas, a one-in-a-million medical condition that finally explained why I had been living with intermittent, excruciating bouts of pain for all of my adult life.

During the weeks of diagnosis, the scans and the being pinged from one grim consultant to the next, there loomed the possibility that whatever it was I had would kill me (It didn’t. It won’t). It was unbelievable and it was totally unbelievable how my mindset instantly changed.

Time became distilled. I couldn’t believe I’d had a complaint about anything before – literally anything. Everything seemed like a special, priceless gift that was about to be snatched away from me. I got down on my knees and prayed every night (and during the day, and every hour) to God to let me stay alive and healthy to look after my sons. To let me live the life that until the week before, when a scan had found a gigantic growth wrapped around the sciatic nerve in my leg, I’d been a bit ‘meh’ about.

Yes, really. I dared to be ‘meh’ about my one wild and precious life, my adorable, bolshy little sons, my practical, kind husband, my sensitive, whip-smart stepdaughter, and about my tumbly tiny terraced house in the centre of the city.

I’m not going to die anytime soon. Or I might. Who knows? Any one of us, at any time, could die or become ill, or something could happen to one of our loved ones.

It is impossible to live at the intensity of ‘I might die’ every day, or even for a moment – but having experienced what it is like, its imprint is inside of me, somewhere. It’s yet another reason why I meditate. It is so incredibly comforting. When you do it regularly, you slowly start to become aware that death cannot exist.

Because there is a part of us that can never die.