Going Viral on the Reg. | Live Wire Radio

Our opening show on September 26, 2015 had the theme, "Going Viral." Our head writer, Courtenay Hameister, has some experience with this.

Going Viral on the Reg.

I can turn anything into cancer. 

I’m like the world’s saddest magician.

Most people see a mole on their shoulder change a little, and they think, “Uh-oh. Could be cancer.”

That is rookie bullshit.

I can have a pain in the second-to biggest toe on my right foot, and think, “Bone cancer. It’s probably bone cancer. Yes, the chance of bone cancer is significantly lessened in adults without other cancers but that’s exactly why Scott’s friend got it because the doctors didn’t think to look for it and now they haven’t looked for it in me and here it is, in my toe that weirdly hurts even though I didn’t do a thing to it.”

The thing about hypochondria is that unlike most things that you need to work harder at as you get older, convincing yourself you have some sort of illness or infirmity gets significantly easier once you hit 40.

Now there are so many new pains and unexplained marks and bruises on my body that the list of diseases I could have has skyrocketed, so I no longer need to create new-and-undiscovered illnesses like “healthy-feeling-fever” or “latent tibula fracture." In my 30’s I mostly worried about cancer and schizophrenia or that might be a sociopath, but now I’ve had shingles and herpes and the plague and a heart attack, all in my head.

That’s the funny thing about hypochondria—our brain can’t really tell the difference between when we’re imagining something or actually experiencing it—it reacts almost identically, so when I’m talking to someone who had a heart attack, my impulse is to say, “Oh, I did too,” because of that time when I had gall stones and I was sure I was dying. In my head, I was going through the exact same thing he did, I was just wrong.

And now, hypochondria has an assist in the internet, to the point that there’s now a colloquial term for people whose hypochondria is escalated by looking up their symptoms on the web: it’s called Cyberchondria.

WebMD is essentially Pinterest for hypochondriacs—all they need to add is the ability to create boards of your favorite disease families, like "dermatological disorders I probably have," "New viruses that are definitely going around my office" and "Cute cats that just gave me the first human case of feline leukemia."

There are about 25 million searches for the word "cancer" on Google per month. About a million people worldwide are diagnosed with cancer in a month, so that's approximately 24 million people searching for cancer who probably don't have it. (I'd like to apologize to all the hypochondriacs out there for that cancer statistic. That's just the type of thing to send them into a tailspin, so you have to remember that there are 7.3 billion people in the world, so only .0001% of them are getting diagnosed each month. I hope that makes you feel better. It made me feel better. But what that also means is that if you tell someone they're one in a million, you're telling them that there are 7,125 other people in the world exactly like them. Statistics are a complicated double-edged sword.)

As for me, it turned out that I'm not a hypochondriac, I've just had generalized anxiety disorder my whole life, which I just discovered recently. But for all the hypochondriacs out there, I know it's frustrating when you keep thinking you have something and it turns out you don't. It may be comforting to find out that even if you don't have anything else, hypochondria is a bonafide mental illness listed in the DSM-5. So you were right. You DO have something. Congratulations?