Hypochondria

One day, when I was about twelve years old, I started having heart palpitations. It kept happening, and the longer it went on, the more freaked out I got (which I’m sure wasn’t helping matters). It got to the point where I was crying, convinced that at the ripe old age of twelve, I was having a heart attack. I made my mom drop everything and take me to the doctor. My doctor patiently checked me out, and then we had a little chat about dealing with anxiety.

I blame my adolescent hypochondria on reading those YA books by Lurlene McDaniel. The books were all about kids dealing with serious, often fatal, illnesses. For months, I was secretly convinced I had a brain tumour because I would sometimes get headaches and that’s how one of her characters discovered she had a brain tumour. As I got older, I grew out of this hypochondria. Certainly, nursing school extinguished any remaining flickers of that fire. When you start interacting with patients who are dealing with real medical problems, you pretty quickly adopt an attitude of “Meh, you’ll be fine” to anything short of profuse bleeding (NOTE: this attitude is only directed to myself and my family- patient concerns are always treated seriously).

Every once in awhile, though, I will notice some sort of physical anomaly on myself, and instead of just brushing it off, I will worry about it. Like when Penelope was about a month old, I discovered a palpable mass in my abdomen and was convinced that I had some sort of reproductive cancer. I booked an appointment for my doctor to examine me at the same time as Penelope’s two month check-up and I was legitimately terrified about what she would say. Of course, it was not cancer- it was only a hernia (apparently they are fairly common following repeat C-sections, a fact of which I had previously been unaware) and the only threat it posed was of a cosmetic nature.

And I am currently battling with myself over what must be a benign condition. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a bump, about the size of a quarter, on my forehead. It’s barely noticeable when I look in the mirror, but I can definitely feel it when I touch my forehead. Which I do all the time now to check if it’s still there and obsess over whether or not it’s gotten any bigger. It’s not painful, it’s not a pimple, there’s no skin discolouration- it’s just a bump on my forehead. I have been tempted to Google “forehead tumour” but I’m too scared to find out if “forehead tumours” are actually a thing.

So instead, I’m going to repeat to myself, complete with a Schwarzenegger accent, “It’s not a tumour.” And I will remember that there are plenty of people suffering from real medical conditions, and that I am not currently one of them, thankfully. But someone please tell me that I’m not the only one who does this needless worrying about harmless things! I can’t be the only recovering hypochondriac out there, so please share your stories so I don’t feel so ridiculous. I will enjoy reading about them whilst rubbing my forehead bump.

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I'm not one to let a little hypochondria interfere with selfie time!

I’m not one to let a little hypochondria interfere with selfie time with my girls!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fear and Violation

On Thursday evenings, I have started attending a strength-training class at the gym. This past Thursday was my second week in attendance. I felt great after the class, and was getting ready to head home. It was an awful night, weather-wise; pouring rain, thunder, lightning- the works. It hadn’t been raining when I left the house, so I didn’t have an umbrella or even my rain jacket with me. I was zipping up my sweater and steeling myself for going outside when my phone started ringing. I saw from the Caller ID that it was Mark.

“Hello,” I answered.

“Where are you?” he asked.

I was taken aback by this- he knew I was at the gym, and I couldn’t understand why he would be asking me this. Confused, I responded, “I’m at the gym, just getting ready to leave. Why, what’s going on?”

He paused, and he sounded as confused as I felt when he answered, “Well…we just heard the door open and someone come in the house. I thought it was you but then we couldn’t find you anywhere.”

My heart beating faster when I heard this. “Someone came in the house? Are you sure?”

“Well, pretty sure, yeah. I heard it really clearly and Barkley was barking but he’s settled down now, so there can’t be anyone here. I guess maybe it was next-door.” We live in a semi-detached home, and can sometimes hear our neighbours quite clearly, so it is entirely possible that’s what he heard. We talked for another couple minutes, and he asked me to pick up some washing machine cleanser from the grocery store on my way home and we hung up. I felt a bit unsettled after talking to him- I knew it was probably just our neighbour that he heard, but Mark was so certain that he had heard our door open that I really just wanted to get home and make sure everything was okay.

I ran into the grocery store that’s across the street from the gym. They didn’t have the washing machine cleanser in stock, so I texted Mark to double check and see if we had any- I thought there was some under the laundry room sink. A few minutes went by and I didn’t hear anything back from him. I decided to call and ask him to check. No answer. I found this strange, considering we had just hung up from one another about five minutes ago- why wouldn’t he be answering? I kept calling, with still no answer, and my imagination started running away with me.

Years of reading crime novels and watching shows like CSI, Criminal Minds, and Dexter caught up to me and resulted in my envisioning a frightening scenario in which Mark looks around the house to make sure there wasn’t anybody there but there IS an intruder and now my family is being held hostage in our home. The accompanying thunder, lightning, and pouring rain made it seem like all too real a possibility- it’s ALWAYS stormy when something bad happens in those shows. I left the grocery store and ran to the car, stepping in several puddles, soaking my feet, but I scarcely noticed and didn’t care.

As I was driving home, I kept thinking about what my plan should be. Should I have 911 ready to dial? Maybe I should call someone I know and tell them what’s going on and have a code word ready in case there’s trouble but I don’t want to tip off the intruder that I’m there or that the police are being notified? In the end, I decided to drive by the house first and have the emergency call button at the ready should I need it.

As I slowly drove past our house, I could see that all the lights were on, but couldn’t tell anything beyond that. I pulled into our laneway and parking spot, heart racing, hands shaking; nervous about what would happen next. As I turned off the car and gathered up my things, I could see Mark through the back window. He was in the kitchen and everything appeared to be okay. Still, I kept my phone ready just in case.

Of course, everything was fine. Mark had turned on all the lights checking through the house to make sure there was no one there (there wasn’t). There were no wet footprints in our front entrance so given how rainy it was outside, it was unlikely that anyone had been in there. It seemed that the door opening and footsteps had come from next door. He had left his phone upstairs and didn’t hear me calling as he was putting Charlotte to bed.

And so, mystery solved. The culprits? An overactive imagination and the acoustic eccentricities of a 90 year-old semi-detached house. Case closed, and I will never have to think about this again, right? Well, sort of.

Fast forward to the next morning. Friday mornings are always very busy around here. Penelope and I need to get to our group across town, Charlotte needs to get to school, and Mark needs to get to work. This particular Friday morning, Mark had a meeting in Scarborough, and so my father-in-law was coming over to take Charlotte to school. And then, to further complicate matters, the guy who was supposed to give Mark a ride to the meeting cancelled at the last minute, which meant he had to find alternate transportation. The atmosphere was a bit chaotic. Anyhow, it was getting close to the time Penelope and I needed to leave, so I went out to bring the car around to the front, so that it would be easier to get her loaded into the car. I approached the car and stopped dead in my tracks. All of the debris that had been in the side pocket of the driver’s side door (you know, pens, paper scraps, granola bar wrappers, parking receipts, etc) was spilled all over the ground beside the car.

I couldn’t recall anything dropping to the ground when I was getting out of the car the previous evening. I reasoned that it was possible that something got caught on my bag and caused everything to spill to the ground and I just failed to notice. And then I opened the front door and saw that the contents of the glove compartment were strewn all over the front seat. There was definitely no way I had accidentally done that, and I started to grow uneasy. Maybe Mark had come out to the car late last night, looking for something, and didn’t realize what a mess he had left in his wake?

I asked him about it when I came back inside, and was quite dismayed to hear that no, he had not been in the car last night. Which meant that a stranger was in there, looking for something to steal from us. And since the car alarm hadn’t sounded in the night, it meant that I hadn’t locked the car like I usually do. I went back out to the car to assess things and discovered that all the loose change from the cupholder was gone and our GPS was also missing.

I felt sick. Not because what was taken was so valuable (it wasn’t) but because of the violation. Someone had been in OUR car and had taken OUR things, just because they could. Now, I can understand that someone who would do something like this was probably in pretty desperate circumstances and badly needed the money (or maybe it was just a kleptomaniac who gets a rush from stealing things) and so I am not even angry about the theft. This incident, though, left me feeling unsafe, especially in combination with the scare I’d had on Thursday evening, and I was shaken up. And again, my imagination burst onto the scene, making things worse, thinking about what could have happened. What if the thief had broken into the house instead and hurt our family? What if they come back and come into the house this time and hurt us? I know how unlikely that is- this was a non-violent crime of opportunity- but it is hard not to feel anxious after something like this. I’m sure that if these two incidents hadn’t occurred so close together, I wouldn’t have been so upset- but they did, and I was upset.

I felt “off”, rattled, all morning. My in-laws were due to come over in the afternoon to stay with Penelope while I went to the gym. I thought about cancelling with them, because I felt uneasy about going out, but in the end I didn’t, and it was the right choice. A good workout helped me to clear my head and I sweated out all my anxiety. By the time I came home I had calmed down considerably and had put things in perspective. Nothing very valuable or irreplaceable had been taken, and no one had gotten hurt, and that was all that really mattered.

So, lessons learned from all of this:

1. Things can be replaced.

2. Always lock the car (which I am usually hyper-vigilant about but was not in the usual frame of mind on Thursday night when I got out of the car).

3. One can clearly hear in our basement when our next door neighbour comes home.

4. A good, sweaty session at the gym does wonders for anxiety.

5. I am nowhere near ready to start watching even mildly scary TV shows or to read scary books (I had to stop with any frightening forms of relaxing diversion after Charlotte was born because the fear it created in me about something happening to her or to me far outweighed any entertainment value it formerly possessed).

A scary face from Charlotte is close to the maximum amount of fear I can tolerate

A scary face from Charlotte is close to the maximum amount of fear I can tolerate

The Calls

Yesterday, around lunchtime, my phone rang. I could see from the caller ID that it was a TDSB (Toronto District School Board) number. Since Mark works for the TDSB, I assumed it was him calling to see how Penelope and I were doing. When I answered it, however, a female voice on the other end immediately said, “Don’t worry, Charlotte is fine.” I immediately began to hyperventilate. Because if someone from her school is calling me, obviously she wasn’t quite fine. In the two seconds before she told me what happened, a number of different scenarios flashed through my mind- fire at the school, gunman at the school, broken limbs, etc. It is actually quite astonishing how many different terrible things I thought of in that brief moment. Here’s what actually happened: Charlotte was playing on the teeter-totter and somehow it flew up and hit her in the face. I was told she had a bloody lip and possibly a sore nose. She was taken to the office and they put ice on her lip and she was okay. I asked if I should come and pick her up, and they said no, she was fine to stay at school.

So of course I worried all afternoon about what state she would be in when I picked her up. Visions of a swollen lip and bruises on her face danced through my mind. Would she be upset that I didn’t come to get her after she was hurt? For the next several decades, would I hear about how I made her stay at school when she got smashed in the face with the teeter totter? After all, I still make my dad feel guilty about the time he threw a softball at my face and gave me a black eye- twenty years ago.

This is who I dropped off at school in the morning:

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And this is who I picked up:

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It’s really not even noticeable. Her lip was ever so slightly swollen, and there was some dried blood around her nose, but she was not bothered by it at all. Thank god- parental guilt relieved. She told me about what happened, very matter-of-factly, and then moved onto to other stories about her day, which included a student who pooped in the classroom and her teacher cleaning it up (why so much poop in junior kindergarten? Her teacher is certainly earning her salary).

I received another call of sorts in the afternoon. This call came in the form of a letter from Charlotte’s teacher, asking parents to consider volunteering with the school. I definitely want to volunteer at her school- my mom was always very involved in my school life, and I loved it, especially when I was little. And even as I got older, I may have outwardly acted embarrassed by it, but there was something so comforting about walking down the hallway and hearing my mom’s voice as she helped make pancakes for Pancake Tuesday, and I secretly enjoyed it just as much as I did when I was younger.

Her teacher offers several different options for volunteering. They range from organizing projects at home to coming in to the classroom for an hour a week to read to the kids. And as much as I would love to come in to the classroom for an activity like that, having to bring Penelope along would, at best, be difficult, and at worst, be a total disaster.

Hard to imagine this face causing trouble. isn't it?

Hard to imagine this face causing trouble. isn’t it?

She also asks if parents have any special skills or interests they would like to share with the class. So let’s see, special interests…I mean, I guess I could talk to the kids about how to get the most out of their Netflix watching? As for special skills, well, I was the go-to girl for drawing blood in the genetics clinic before I went on maternity leave- kindergartners totally want to learn about phlebotomy, right? Sigh. I think my best bet will be to volunteer for one of the do-at-home options on the list. She’s got another thirteen years of school ahead of her- there will be plenty of time and opportunities for volunteering at the school in years to come. And I really have to be careful not to bite off more than I can chew.

So I am going to encourage some interactive discussion here today. How many of you have gotten THAT phone call from the school? What happened and what was your reaction? And what are your thoughts on volunteering at the school?