Friday, July 23, 2010
Since when did the human condition become a disease? Because it seems to me that low level hypochondria is all pervasive in our society. I think it’s because our expectations of life are too high. We expect that we should feel vital, and happy and full of energy and fun all the time, and when we don’t we think there is something ‘wrong’. I have seen too many people go half out of their minds with grief because they had a chest infection – and then take to the bed with depression because of the effects of the anti-biotics. I think I would have preferred it in the old days when people gave birth in fields and dropped dead from consumption cutting turf. Getting on with the business of keeping onseself alive until – BAM – time’s up. Imagine a world before you asked people “How are you” and they actually told you? The freedom of not having to listen to your whinging friend (we all have one) regaling you with the boring minutae of her daily ups and downs. The days when you didn’t have to worry about the shape of your thighs because (a) they were like moulded steel from walking backwards and forwards to the well and (b) nobody, probably now even your husband, ever got to see them. We are so bloody precious about ourselves these days. Going to homeopaths and spending twenty euro on 2ml of bottled water for some imagined ailment. “Stress” is what most of it seems to come down to. And yet, what really have most of us got to be stressed about? Nothing. Stress is a useless modern invention – more painful that the Brazilian wax and more pointless than the hostess trolley. People who are starving or dying don’t get stressed – they get sad. Perhaps we get stressed to stop ourselves feeling guilty about all the real sadness in the world. Because, after all, you might internalise other people sadness and that can lead to chest infections! Or depression. Another bandied about term. Depression is a misunderstood ailment – and that is partly because it has become so commonly used to describe how one feels when one is not on top of the world. For that reason, many ‘real’ depressives remain undiagnosed because they are afraid that their very real symptoms – lethargy, feelings of hopelessness, suicidal thoughts etc. – are just them being self-indulgent. The reason for this is because so many of us are, now, self-indulgent about our feelings. We can’t cope with the stress of work, or world poverty, or not having been hugged enough as a child, so we get ‘depressed’. Not depressed enough to take medication, or book ourselves in for residential care, or kill ourselves (as friends of mine with real depression have done) but depressed enough to call is ‘depression’ and garner sympathy and comfort from indulgent friends and family. I just think this kind of emotional – and physical - hypochondria somehow takes from those people who are truly suffering. Selfish miserable attention seekers who used to be told to ‘get on with it’ are now able to take centre stage in our sympathetic, permissive society. Where does the line betweeen genuine hardship and indulgent neurosis end? If there is one thing in my life I would like to change it is my neurotic nature. My tendancy to get het up and hysterical over problems which do not exist. Panicking over posting letters, worrying about my pension, stressing over wrinkles and wobbly thighs. Modern malaises which were once the hilarious “does my bum look big in this” obsession of my Bridget Jones generation. But the joke is starting to wear a bit thin.