When I was around 7 years old my parents decided to subscribe to ‘The Readers Digest’. My dad must have thought that a monthly treat of a small, complicated looking magazine was just what his young family needed to inject a bit of culture into our otherwise ordinairy, suburban lives.
For the most part, these books sat on the side unread and unloved until we had collected a sizeable pile, at which point my mum decided that a frilly lace doily on the sideboard would be much more attractive than the wobbly tower of dust collecting books that currently resided there, and banished them all to the garage (which is probably where they still sit, over 30 years later)
However, as part of our subscription package, we were allowed to choose a heavyweight hardback book by way of a ‘thank you’ for subscribing. My parents carefully selected a very uninspriring, grey book called ‘The Readers Digest Medical Dictionary’ which I think was intended to sit on the shelf until one of us choked on a hardboiled sweet and needed the Heimlich Manoeuvre, but quickly became the most-read book in the house (by me!)
I would pour over the pages daily, uncovering an alphabetised new and exciting world of foreign sounding illnesses and maladies.
Whenever I got sick (whether real or imagined – it happened on an almost daily basis) I would reach for the book, flick straight to the symptom sorter and try to work out what I had contracted. Rather than look at the most likely option I would head straight for the worst disease possible and convinvce myself that’s what I had.
As a result, I had glaucoma on more than one occasion, a nasty bout of rickets and several different cancers within the space of just a few months.
Not happy with self-diagnosing I wanted to spread my skills further and wider. I became the resident Doogie Houser (click the link if you’re under 40) and could quickly diagnose any number of complicated symptoms at the drop of a hat.
Strange smell of toast in your nostrils even though you’ve not made any? Probably about to have a stroke. Headache for more than one hour? Brain tumour. Freckle, blemish or heaven forbid..a mole? Malignant Melanoma without a doubt.
It became a bit of a joke in my family, and I tried hard to laugh it off. After all, they’d all be thanking me IF one day my theories turned out to be true.
I believe this was the start of my horrendous health anxiety that has plagued me for as long as I can remember, but not even my trusty grey book could prepare me for what was going to happen.