I realised I had been on the same webpage just 1 hour before. It was 2am and my panic resulted in another bout of sleeplessness, so I had been indulging in a favourite pastime: googling my headache symptoms in a subconscious attempt to prove to myself I was about to die.
I didn’t really want to die, did I? Perhaps it was better than this? Why was I so anxious about dying anyway? Perhaps it was because I knew I was going to hell?
I had been scrolling through various health and medical websites for the past 3 hours, trying to find something to would convince me things were not that bad. I doubled back on WebMD for the second occasion, thinking that I might have missed something the first time around. When I first loaded Dr. Google I was content to merely list my symptoms- right side headache, head pressure, dizziness, stiff neck …ad nauseam. This repetitive action brought up a staggering array of results, each of which informed me that I was about to die. I could feel my stomach twist and turn in a familiar yet still unwelcome knot of fear.
My wife suddenly turned in her sleep. She murmured something and then resumed her bliss. I was jealous.
I kept going with the checking, convinced that somehow the information online would make me feel better. I then remembered something: I could put quotation marks around a search term to pull up results that contained that exact phrase. The Lord was indeed shining his light on me. I set about this new task with the eagerness of an apprentice determined to prove himself to his master. There was no turn of phrase I didn’t try:
“It is unlikely to be cancer”
“Cancer is rare”
“Rare in people under 40”
“Recovery rates are good”
“It’s probably nothing serious”
And so I continued my paranoid search in the darkened moments of the early morning. It got so bad that at one point the Google server sent me an automated security message: “Your account is displaying suspicious behaviour.” Great, I thought. I was now marked as spam.
My wife woke-up. “What are you doing? Stop that for God’s sake. It doesn’t help.” I knew this but simply couldn’t look away from the screen.
The glow of the screen transfixed my eyes as I gazed into a world of medically induced fear. What I learned over the past 3 hours of relentless checking was that I had cancer. I also had Multiple Sclerosis. It was also likely I had some sort of thyroid problem, with a possible bout of TMJ thrown in for good measure. Overarching all of these perilous conditions was the ongoing threat of instantaneous demise due to stroke or aneurysm.
“Just put the bloody phone away,” my wife muttered under her breath.
With reluctance, I put the phone down. Just one more website and I would have been OK. It would have told me that I was overreacting and that my anxious mind could produce the very symptoms I was seeking reassurance for. Having woke-up my wife and got myself listed as a spam account on Google I placed the phone in my draw and shut my eyes.
Sleep came slowly. I woke the next day exhausted from last night’s battle. I had to face the world- a world of superficial appearances and never ending pursuit of all forms of success, where everyone wants you to be healthy and well and just super confident and together all the time. A world where daily lies are the currency we use to co-exist: “I am doing great thanks, how are you?” “Oh yeah my wife? she is amazing! we have the best life!”
It was a performance I had undertaken countless times before. And I was good at it. But this morning my body would not let me. I called in sick and opened up google on my phone.