By now, I think just about everyone I know has shared this New Yorker comic with me:
Okay, fine, it was only about five people, but I still find that significant. Of all the New Yorker comics that exist and of all the neurotic people that could jump to mind upon seeing them, this comic puts my friends and family in mind of me.
Recently, I watched the movie Romantics Anonymous (Les émotifs anonymes) with a friend. (The movie is very sweet, and French, and available on Netflix, so if you’re into romances about socially anxious people and chocolate, check it out.) In it, a character claimed that the three most stressful situations in life are moving, weddings, and exams.
My friend wondered, “Are exams really that stressful?”
I said, “Maybe he means medical exams.”
She replied, “You would say that.”
Recently I underwent a new medical exam of my own, and alongside it my usual trio of Stressing, Obsessing, and Second-guessing (yes, that’s SOS for short).
In advance: I stressed over whether I was following the preparation diet properly. I went online the day before—never wise—and found prep instructions from other doctors that included instructions mine hadn’t, all of which it was too late to implement. I stressed over how my change in routine for the day of the test would affect me for the rest of the week. I stressed over getting another diagnosis. I stressed over not getting another diagnosis.
On the day of: I stressed about whether my doctor’s office was properly handling the referral and billing process for my insurance (with good reason, turns out). I stressed about whether I was blowing the right way into the breath tester thingamabob. I stressed about the fact that midway into the test the receptionist realized she’d overlooked a detail about my insurance.
Properly dealing with this detail, I learned, would involve time travel. I stressed about not knowing how to time travel.
For the rest of the week: I continued to stress about the insurance, making phone calls to two different doctor’s offices and to the insurance company and not knowing what to say once I got on the phone with any of them.
To one, I said, helplessly, “I feel like the middleman here; I don’t know what I’m talking about,” to which she replied, “You are the middleman. You’re the patient!” I also said, to the same receptionist, “I’m only twenty-three!” Poor thing, she had no idea she was in for an impromptu counseling session, but she handled it well. Maybe twenty-three isn’t that young, considering in some places and times I’d have several children by now and be managing a household. Be that as it may, it’s true: I had no idea what I was doing. And it was stressful.
When I got the results: I compared my chart to others online and stressed over whether my doctor had gotten the diagnosis right. Those graphs don’t look the same! I thought. The peaks aren’t right! I stressed about taking a potentially unnecessary antibiotic. I stressed about my insurance’s prescription coverage. I read studies, second-guessed my doctor’s choice of antibiotic, then worried that I wouldn’t hear back from the pharmaceutical company before the weekend to learn whether my new tablets were gluten-free.
Now: The test is over! All I have left to stress about is whether I’m taking my antibiotics with enough time before and after meals and between doses and with enough water and without lying down within the next 10 minutes—why is that?—and without forgetting a dose. I’ve woken up several mornings convinced I’d forgotten to take it the day before (no wonder I’m having nightmares).
Oh, and if all that’s not enough and I feel myself entering stress withdrawal, I can always stress about whether or not any of this will do me any good.
Or about how stressed I am.
Tell me how you deal with stress, and your thoughts on the top three most stressful situations in life. Do you too Stress, Obsess, and Second-guess?