diagnostics

You’d think you’d recognise any named condition that was afflicting you, once you knew what its symptoms were. They ought to form a distinctive signature. That’s how it works when you’re thinking about other people: You identify symptoms; your initial thoughts are mutable, but they get bedded in as you gossip about them, seeking out evidence that confirms your theory. The neural pathways are reinforced; your tentative speculations become accepted fact.

Humans are equipped with “concept of mind” – an ability to recognise that other people are real, thinking individuals with all the profound depth of experience and sense of self that we have ourselves. To fit them all into our minds, though, we have to reduce them to short-hand notes, to a few salient characteristics, at least when we’re not talking to them directly. Other people’s afflictions, therefore, seem bloody obvious, their defining characteristic; their wierdnesses become their heraldic insignia.

In your own head, though, the growth of a condition is screened by a welter of random thoughts and observations, all demanding attention. Psychological habits and/or physiological symptoms creep through your mind like weeds colonising an old rubbish dump: not unobserved, but unobtrusive. They’re weak, easy to root out if you could be bothered, but you miss their significance. They send out runners unnoticed, slowly strangling off other concerns, until, one day, you realise your whole life is dominated by one obsessive mono-culture. You try to tackle it in one part of your psyche, but it’s still flourishing in another, ready to spread out again.

We are beguiled by the rest of our behaviours carrying on as normal, despite the development of small idiosyncrasies in eating or exercise or sleep patterns or energy levels. Or mood or attitude. It all seems perfectly normal. Night falls, you go to bed; the alarm gets you up. You go to work. You work you socialise you gossip. You go home; you clean you cook. Weekends arrive: again and again and again – like normal. Everything’s normal. Surely a chronic, a life-altering, perhaps fatal, condition would be obvious, would announce itself with trumpets!

But it doesn’t.

When I developed Grave’s Disease, an auto-immune hyperthyroid condition, in my late 20s, I didn’t bother to go to the doctor for a couple of YEARS, despite manifesting quite striking symptoms: chronic insomnia, a heart-rate of 120 while sleeping (Jo took my pulse), a body temperature so high that, on frosty mornings, I would stand, gratefully, in the back yard with wisps of steam curling off my shoulder-blades. I was constantly hungry and weighed 8 ½ stone, despite a diet of Pizza and cheesecake. (This must be significant to my present condition.)

Similarly, when I became anorexic, it was just a little discrepancy between calories input and calories burned, a little mathematical hiccup, which would correct itself soon enough, given my (and the whole nation’s) taste for pizza and cheesecake. Modern life is corrupting: calories creep up on you. It wasn’t worth bothering the GP about. (I’ve never liked pestering doctors. Say the word “doctor” and a certain junior doctor skips into my mind, down a staircase to meet me…)

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