On Hypochondria

The hardened sensation in or around my anus had been first attributed to my office chair, on which I’ve sat — with the exception of disappointing vacations and dreamlike sick leave — 40 hours a week for the past 9 years. Short of a conspiracy theory involving cruel co-workers and a rigged chair, the sudden change under me was arresting. I leaned on one cheek to both relieve and assess the dull knoblike pain, then switched to the other in order to corroborate that it was indeed inside my ass.

My supposedly ergonomic $700 chair was inherited to me when someone “higher up” got promoted higher than that. After the tedious farewell party in the conference room, I discreetly entered his office, sat down, and finally experienced the kind of chair I felt I fully deserved. Like most middle-rung employees with stagnant trajectories at large faceless institutions, I believe I am underpaid, which is why I load up on the free saltines in the cafeteria: to redistribute the wealth, and crumbs.

Rolling the chair into my cubicle incurs friendly smiles from those laterally paid who would have done the same. The office chair is a kind of corporate throne; I usurped a King, my fellow serfs were glad. This was 7 years ago, and my ass has found deep repose in the cushiony coup, until now. Or, it was colon cancer.

When my doctor suggested, albeit two years ago, that now was the time in one’s life — were one in his mid-30s, whose relatives have gotten colon cancer — to get a colonoscopy, I immediately envisioned the grainy footage and shaky cam of a snuff film, or amateur porn, coursing over a heap of metastasized cells — a bulbous tumor with a pulse of its own — inside the darkest part of me. With odd retroactive contemporariness, the clip was on YouTube, and had over a million views. While the like to dislike ratio was favorable, the comments were most unsympathetic. I named the tumor Ted Chen, sick bastard.

The idle mind and unexercised heart is worry jerky that chews on itself long after the taste goes away. Without God, a partner, five-year plan, or any plan, there’s little in life to consider save one’s premature mortality. Some Scotch and a few hobbies may do well to distract me, but the uncertain future — the entropic ontological one for those who were too lazy to plan logistics — looms ahead. Ted Chen would make me miss work. I’d get fired, lose my health insurance, exhaust the empathy of my nurses, and wind up on the euthanasia waiting list. Then, dead.

A former therapist once characterized this as “catastrophic thinking,” which plays neatly into my OCD. Hypochondria is the visceral extension of this. A blackberry seed temporarily slips under a gum, I have visions of a bloody root canal; a self-inflicted hangnail gets inflamed, I resign to amputating the entire arm; I sneeze from hay fever prepared for a broken rib puncturing a lung. Perhaps it is the residual tic of adolescent self-loathing, some unresolved body dysmorphia, a fascination with the grotesque, all coupled by the atheist’s self-reduced plight of being cosmically alone. The body is a metaphor, a built-in squishy shell for the soul. When you’re dead inside, the sentiment eventually becomes the condition.

The most important words in the English language are not ‘I love you,’ but ‘It’s benign,’ says Woody Allen in Deconstructing Harry, which is not just a punch line but an aphorism. In place of love, for those of us who may have recently resigned to its impossibility, we only have left narcissistic obsession with the Self, that auto-empathic mirror that conveniently follows us around. Perhaps Narcissus’s blurry semblance on the water’s surface, all consuming, was the first Instagram filter.

Now, dead. I imagine my drizzly funeral, sparsely attended by former lovers hiding ravaged eyes behind black veils, holding snot rags as limp bouquets for their favorite dead man.


My therapist is a Buddhist monk who will disappear for months on meditation retreats, solemnly leaving me with a vague “remember to be present,” a subject of much quandary and debate. I tell him the present sucks, and he tells me to thank my mind for that thought. According to him, the mind sells us the lie of who we are, for we are nothing but a vessel in the present moment. “That sounds nice, but I still feel bad,” I say. We bicker as an old couple, going in circles under a grid of diplomas and wisps of incense.

In my textbook codependency (he was not keen on Codependents Anonymous, to which I went every week, in a circle holding clammy hands with emotionally devastated people), I realize I am unhappy in our relationship, but feel like he could use the business, especially in this slow economy, so I stay. I fantasize about cheating on him with a classic Freudian who’ll be more keen on my hole, which, if you still care, still hurts. Each time I hand Mr. Zen my $20 dollar copay — sir Andrew Jackson avoiding eye-contact — a decent bottle of Côtes du Rhône shatters on the floor, and my wrists immediately come into mind. As for my drinking problem, it’s the best one I got.

Buddhism, at least the somewhat entitled DIY-way it’s practiced among Westerners, seems like a misguided last ditch attempt at cultural consumption, in this case happiness itself. “I just want to be happy,” I tell him. “Wanting it will keep you from being it,” he replies. Dude’s got an argument for everything.

There is no anesthesia for lovelessness. Sometimes after the dishes, my cat asleep and in a better world, the sudden realization — however perennial, always profound — that I’m utterly alone takes over me. This is when I usually reach for the wine, or porn, or ice cream, but Mr. Zen himself has requested — from the calm of his generic black bulbous office chair, plastic wheels delicately still — that I let myself have my feelings, to notice them, without judgment, without commentary, to be “present,” but whatever depth might be expected to arise is abutted by the shallow vapidity of the kind of person I’ve meandered into. There’s nothing inside. I just want to drink and fuck, or die.

I’m told that suicide ideation is basically avoidance, a lazy person’s favorite narrative, starring them, of not having to live their lives. Suicide, or even self-harm, takes a certain kind of admirable conviction. A slacker at heart, I find some gorgeously sad piano sonatas while lying on the couch more attuned to my sensibilities. Unfortunately for this hypochondriac, I’m in the fairest of health, which means I’ve been sentenced to life inside my own. I resent my real relationships and pine for strangers. I leave parties early without saying goodbye. I blog. Maybe I’m just an asshole, which reminds me, turns out it was just constipation. A few days later it fought its way out, so big I took it as inverse sodomy, and have since been waiting to be called back. Ted Chen, the stud.

For a man who dreads his own mortality yet, simplistically, kind of wants to die, may he deserve the ingrown misery of his mind. The hunt for Self may be a shallow spiral. When the serpent finally catches its tail, it will know true boredom. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

image – Eric C Bryan

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