To All the Jewish Hypochondriacs Out There

A rare form of cancer is lying dormant somewhere in my body. I know it’s there, and I know I’m going to get a call from my doctor while in the midst of planning my future daughter’s 10th birthday party. I’ll have to excuse myself from the room to answer the call, and the doctor will say, “Hi, Mrs. Hemsworth. I am very sorry, but your results have come back positive.” I’ll clench the phone in my hand and strongly hold back tears. After all, I have to be strong for my daughter, Jicama, and husband, Liam. Then, I’ll wipe my eyes and go back into the room, pretending nothing life-altering just occurred.

Years later, after my memoir featuring the cancerous incident climbs up to #1 on the New York Time’s Bestseller list, Nicole Kidman will play me in the film adaptation, her restrained sadness and quiet courage winning her at least a Golden Globe.

Granted, this is all if the cancer doesn’t kill me first.

I don’t know if it’s coded in the DNA of the Jewish People™, or if you become a hypochondriac via osmosis from growing up in a city, but it seems that a lot of my fellow hypochondriacs are both Jewish and have been to a deli and wondered what would happen if someone were to have a heart attack and smack their head on the case of cold cuts. Is it because of our mothers and the seemingly constant need for communication and check-ins about our health? If we’ve heard about the superbug that’s happened out in Boston? The news? Your aunt’s sister’s daughter Alyssa who once slept on a hotel bed without checking for bed bugs and now looks like she’s got scabies all over her body as if she’s trying to win a medal or something?

There is, of course, a difference between being a serious, diagnosed hypochondriac and just being kind of neurotic and over-analytical, sometimes seeping into the over-dramatic category. It just so happens that when one is neurotic, giving into bouts of bizarre, irrational, and ridiculous, hypochondria is bound to occur. I like to think I belong in this category, and I know many of my fellow Jewish Ladies™ suffer from the same affliction.

For example, I once thought I had brain cancer because I had wicked headaches on and off for a few weeks. Why did my mind automatically go to the worst-case scenario? Why couldn’t I have talked myself down and said, “You know what it is, Kate—you’re not drinking enough water. Stop eating crackers and going about your day like you don’t have a sawdust mouth that even Jesus couldn’t set foot in to finish staining a coffee table.” Worst-case scenarios are my weakness, it seems.

Perhaps nothing I’m saying makes sense to you, and that’s probably a good thing. But in case you’re going, “Um…this girl needs help, like, now,” here is a comprehensive list of illnesses and diseases I have thought I’ve had, as well as illness-based fears I have had throughout my human experience:

• Herpes (was not possible at the time of introspection, as I was about as virginal as a white Mary Jane sandal)

• A fear of someone randomly injecting me with heroin and then never being able to get clean, eventually succumbing to my addiction à la the 27 club, albeit less talented at string instruments

• Brain aneurysm (although to understand Joni Mitchell’s life is something I’ve yearned for)

• A foot-based fungal infection (age 6, went to the nurse’s office at day camp who very strongly suggested a foot-spray for my Puma soles)

• HIV (again, simply not possible or based in science)

• Chlamydia

• Breast cancer

• That I will smoke marijuana and all of my brain cells will vanish, leaving me with no memory or cognitive abilities

• Hepatitis ABCDEFG

• Mono (which just turned out to be strep)

• Chicken pox

• Carbon monoxide poisoning

• Parkinson’s (from the time I went for a run and was startled by a car and dropped my phone)

• Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

• Toxic Shock Syndrome

• That the world would end in 2012 because Michael Jackson had declared it in his posthumously released documentary-concert film This is It, and in that same year watched I Am Legend in my science class and conflated the two hypothetical outcomes

Surely there is more I can add to this list, but I do not at all want to paint a picture of myself as being a crazy, weird, un-fun gal. I love fun! Besides, using the world “gal” in a sentence has the tendency to help portray one as a flirty and free individual who loves to walk everywhere barefoot and definitely did not keep her shoes on for the entire time at every bar and bat mitzvah she attended in middle school for fear of getting stepped on by an aunt’s six-inch Jimmy Choo.

In a way, it’s both a blessing and a curse to be this way: a blessing in that perhaps I can listen to my body and in return, it can let me know if something is truly wrong within my corporis. As for the curse, it’s unfortunately not the fun kind where I can go on a quest and find a magical sword drenched in moonlight—it’s more of a neurotic, self-deprecating curse that causes my friends to call me “Mom” and “Woody Allen.”

But the curse doesn’t have to be chronic—we can stop being this way, if we want. Not immediately, though—it’ll take weeks and months of immersive therapy by way of not using search engines or WebMD, but we can get there. Or, we can choose to stay this way. Perhaps it’s part of our charm. Frankly, who cares. As human beings, we are all so wrapped up in our own thoughts and ideas and emotions that none of us really pay attention to each other, anyway.

So, I don’t know if hypochondria and neuroses are hereditary for the Jewish People™. It is certainly a stereotype perpetuated by those who want to hate us. But, I do know that a lot of us have it and bond over it, laugh over it, and cry over it. We do this along with the other things that are inherently Jewish, like asking the waiter if the air conditioning in the restaurant could be turned down even though it isn’t possible, or turning a goodbye into a two-hour affair. It’s part of the culture, and it’s a culture I wouldn’t want to trade for anything, except for maybe a large bottle of NyQuil and a subscription to HBO.


Illustration via Flickr/hana jang

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