September 27th, 2012 / 9:30 am

Hypochondria, Death, and Boredom

I’ve been on a lot of planes this week, and I will be on more planes before this week is over. This guy I knew once told me that the best place to sit on a plane is in the back, the very back, by the bathrooms. It’s inconvenient, sure, and you have to wait forever to deplane, but if the damn thing goes down, the back is the safest place. The nose of the plane is obviously the first to go. Bye bye first and business class suckers! You’re dead. The middle of the plane is scary because it’s the weakest point, what with the weight of the wings and general architecture. If the plane is going to snap in half, the end. And so, the back. It makes sense. When the plane dives nose first, the back will be the last to impact. Chances are you won’t survive, but at least you’ll have a few extra seconds and maybe a little luck on your side.

Yesterday, during a class visit, a grad student asked if I am a hypochondriac. They’d read this story I wrote a lifetime ago. I barely remembered the story. And so I just answered: yes, I am a hypochondriac. It’s true and it’s not. If I’m not feeling well, sure, ok, maybe I weed through the Internet, trying to find a match for my symptoms. Usually, it’s just allergies, but in the moment, I am sure I have some level IV retrovirus that has never existed except in a lab. Usually, I’m able to calm myself down enough to understand that I am over-reacting. Either that, or I will be dead momentarily, and since I am still alive enough to type this, I probably didn’t have – don’t have – some obscure disease.

I am also a semi-hypochondriac about my head. For a while, I walked around convinced that I had DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder, which back in the day was called Multiple Identity Disorder). For a while, I was convinced I had a lot of things. Sometimes, when I am bored or lonely, both of which are regular occurrences for me, I still wander here and there, trying to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong with me. Chances are: Ennui. Privilege. Lack of sleep.

What’s the point? I’m not really a hypochondriac. I didn’t lie to the student yesterday, because I am at times fairly neurotic about both my body and head, but what I am is a fatalist. Or, I am a realist. We are all going to die, whether it’s in a plane crash or Ebola. Fine, most of us won’t demise in such memorable or romantic ways. We’ll die of something shitty like old age or cancer. Regardless, I have a pre-occupation with death.

I imagine car crashes a lot. I am short. If a car rear-ended me and my airbag deployed, I’d be screwed. I am as close to the steering wheel as is physically possible.

I often imagine accidentally driving into stationary bodies of water, which would be so embarrassing that I’d just keep on going. Screw it.

I often imagine driving off a bridge. If I wasn’t quick enough to roll down the windows and the engine breaks the plane of water, there’s no way I’d be able to get those windows down enough to swim out. Thank god I live in the desert now. Whew.

I think about this stuff all the time.

But I’m not weird or unique about death.

And I’m not really scared of it. It’s just something I think about. A lot.

Y tu?


  1. David Fishkind

      i think about death and disease and germs all the time and i am very scared of death and disease and germs

  2. lorian long

      i read somewhere that a sign of leukemia is bruising, so every new bruise is a shot at cancer. i am very scared of germs, too, and often fantasize of ending up in that ‘center’ where julianne moore goes to live in that movie ‘safe.’ i rlly like that movie.

  3. mimi

      i spent half of tuesday night awake convinced i had flesh-eating bacteria in my upper arm, when prolly it was just the sweeping of the autumn leaves from my front steps that caused the ache

  4. deadgod

      I think it’s normal – well, common – to be surprisingly morbid. Becoming impinges on all sides from every angle–you start to get the idea that it’s constitutive, that the world of things passing out of existence includes you.

      The answer to hypochondria is DENIAL. You can play both games–big fun!

      When I get a pang or drop something, I, too, automatically think, ‘Cancer.’ or ‘Amyloid plaque.’ It’s not long… seconds, before something else comes up.

      For me, it’s pretty easy to ‘deny’ the possibility of a crash on a plane. Where will you go if someone unexpectedly T-bones you at 70? or if your house blows up under your feet? Not sure if there’s a technique to thinking this way, but just let them fly the plane, you know? –and fantasize running up the aisle and taking the controls if there’s a real problem.

      I think most cognitive and psychological irregularities are spectrums. Having moments of helpless loss of control is nearly universal, isn’t it? –compassion for those for whom those ‘moments’ are continuous should be, too.

  5. Wallace Barker

      Death is so unknowable and unchangeable that it seems pointless to worry about it. I feel like I think about it very rarely but maybe I am just in denial about it.

      Also, I have an (unproven, unsubstantiated) theory that exposure to germs makes one “stronger.”

  6. mimi

      having less-than-squeaky-clean hair makes it more difficult for head lice eggs to adhere to the hairshaft

  7. Don

      I don’t worry about my own death, but I worry about other people dying all the time.



  9. mimi

      Montaigne was born in the Aquitaine region of France, on the family estate Château de Montaigne, in a town now called Saint-Michel-de-Montaigne, not far from Bordeaux. The family was very rich; his great-grandfather, Ramon Felipe Eyquem, had made a fortune as a herring merchant…

  10. deadgod

      Some deaths are brave and fortunate. I have seen death cut the thread of a man’s days when he was on the point of magnificent achievement. In the flower of his age, he made so fine an end that I do not believe even his most ambitious and courageous designs attained a splendour equal to that of the moment that cut them short. Without moving towards it, he obtained is goal more grandly and more gloriously than he can have hoped or desired. And he gained by his fall a more ample power and fame than he had aspired to in his whole career. In judging another man’s life, I always inquire how he behaved at the last; and one of the principal aims of my life is to conduct myself well when it ends — peacefully, I mean, and with a calm mind.

      –Montaigne, “That no man should be called happy until after his death” (transl. J. M. Cohen)