Confessions of a Worrywart: A Chronic Stress-Case Accepts Herself

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Compulsive Hypochondriac

When you arrive at worst-case scenarios with warp speed, owning pets is fraught with terror. I had my own two kitties at college in Kansas, and when I hauled them out to graduate school in Arizona, into a rented ranch house in the desert, terror ensued. Out into the desert my kitties would go; back they would come looking like pincushions of cactus needles. They were neurotic cats, those sisters; one of them used to climb the hollow-core doors inside the house and leave excrement on the top, from which it would fall whenever I moved the door. The other took to eating dead tarantulas. I think she understood how creeped out finding the bodies would make me and sought to spare me that. But perhaps it was my constant, completely over-the-top concern for them that drove them to their rebellions.

Every evening I would confine them in the house, where we would listen to the coyotes out in the hills or the sand snicking at the windows. But in the morning they would escape between my legs into the desert, digging up all their lethal playthings. And if I thought they were feverish, off to the vet they would go. It was always after hours; it always cost at least $100. I spent a fortune on those cats.

It wasn't just the animals I've owned that have been the victims of my worry. Hypochondria comes with this particular territory. Going back to, say, fourth grade, I have suffered agonies of worry over the mere possibility of ever having the following afflictions, in, roughly, this order: brain tumor, breast cancer, pleurisy, anemia, herpes (complex and simplex), pregnancy, pregnancy, heart murmur, pregnancy, pregnancy, pregnancy, chin cancer, melanoma, TB, rickets, OCD, Lyme disease, the hantavirus, rotting flesh, and mad cow.

The only things I have actually suffered (so far, knock on wood) are back spasm and bulimia -- this latter of which might be, when you think about it, a perfect kind of middle-aged disorder: having your cake and heaving it, too. I am the kind of person who should not have a medical encyclopedia in my house let alone an illustrated guide to dermatological disorders; the Internet has exponentially increased the amount of time I can waste, on a daily basis, substantiating some far-flung notion about my own, my husband's, or my children's corporeal conditions.

Continued on page 4:  "I'll Worry for You"


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