Hyper-chondriac: One Man's Quest to Hurry Up and Calm Down

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9780743293396: Hyper-chondriac: One Man's Quest to Hurry Up and Calm Down

Does your blood pressure surge if the car in front of you turns without signaling? Do your neck veins pulsate when a cashier takes too long to ring you up? Does relaxing seem like it'll have to wait until you're dead? Then your name could very well be Brian Frazer.

On paper, Frazer is the world's healthiest guy. He eats right, exercises regularly, gets plenty of sleep, has never smoked and has missed only one day of flossing in the last five years. But inside he's a swirling vortex of angst, capable of contracting a new malady every month. Once Frazer realized that all his ills were tied to stress, he went on a quixotic quest for calm, venturing into everything from Tai Chi, serotonin blockers and Kabbalah to an unfortunate incident involving pineapple-chicken curry at a Craniosacral therapy session. Never has the road to wellville taken so many unforeseen turns.

Achingly funny, uncomfortably true and always entertaining, Hyperchondriac is just the medicine for anyone who wants to take it down a notch.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Brian Frazer has written for Esquire, Vanity Fair, Premiere, ESPN, Los Angeles and other magazines. A former stand-up comedian, he lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Nancy, and dog, Kenyon.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction: Itching

March 2002

My hands were itching. After scratching my palms furiously for about an hour, they were still itching, so I drove to the pharmacy and spent thirty bucks on creams, lotions and gels. The trip was a quick one since I knew the exact aisle and shelf of every cream, lotion and gel (and capsule and tablet and cough expectorant). An hour later, my cream/lotion/gel-coated hands continued to itch, so I called a friend. Josh had been living in Los Angeles longer than I and seemed privy to every local specialist, whereas my collection of doctors was scattered between Boston, New York and Southern California. He referred me to his dermatologist, Dr. Tamm.

Dr. Tamm was a stern, bespectacled man of about sixty. He also wore what appeared to be a welder's mask over his thick glasses, apparently so he could see so deeply into peoples' pores that he could make eye contact with the gray matter in their brains.

Here's what I expected to happen in that office visit.

"Hi, my hands itch."

"Use some of this, son!" Dr. Tamm would reply while removing a tube of extra-strength, prescription-only cortisone cream from his front pocket and tossing it to me.

"Thank you, sir! I will."

"See Donna on the way out for your billing information."

This is what actually happened.

"Hi, my hands itch."

"You seem pretty tense."

"Actually, I feel pretty relaxed right now."

"Anything stressful happening in your life at the moment? Did you start a new job? Move? Anything?"

"Well, I'm getting married in a month."

"Are you nervous about the wedding?"

"Not at all. I knew ten minutes into our first date I was going to marry her."

"Congratulations."

"Thanks."

"How'd you meet?"

"Writing thought-bubbles on a TV show called Blind Date."

"Never seen it."

"It's like a live comic strip with horny people. I doubt you'd like it."

"So, I don't think your itching has anything to do with the wedding. Or anything else that's going on in your external surroundings."

"You know that already? You've spent like forty-five seconds with me."

"I know, but your energy is overpowering. You're the most uptight, high-strung person I've ever met. The problem isn't in your hands. It's in your head."

Dr. Tamm probably had a point.

On paper I'm the world's healthiest guy. I eat right, exercise regularly, drink in moderation, have all of the good cholesterol and none of the bad, weigh the same as I did in high school, have ideal blood pressure, am caffeine-free, get plenty of sleep, never smoke and have only missed one day of flossing in the last five years. It's essential that I take tip-top care of myself. Because underneath the wholesome habits and exemplary bodily statistics, I'm an unmitigated, non-synergetic mess.

But my body isn't to blame; it's my mind's fault. I've been attempting to regulate this high-maintenance brain of mine since my first baby aspirin. Some kids had guidance counselors. I had hypnotists. Others cried when they got braces. I had anxiety attacks whenever I saw baked beans. Friends collected baseball cards. I collected doctors' cards. Life just didn't feel right unless something was wrong.

For me there's always been a certain calmness in being in the diagnostic chair; then at least there's a reason for why life isn't as satisfying and perfect as I'd like it to be. Although I usually don't know what I've got until the experts tell me, once they do, I'm psyched -- as long as there are pills to swallow, creams to rub and warnings to heed. I'm fully capable of generating a new disease every month. Colitis. Prostatitis. Bronchitis (three times, including one stint on antibiotics in England for fifty-seven consecutive days). Hepatitis (the kind that turns you yellow, not the kind that Tommy Lee gave Pamela Anderson). Bigarexia (yes, there is such a thing). And as soon as I've conquered the ailment du jour, I'll just move on to the next disorder. Hastily. But it took a dermatologist to help me realize that I didn't actually have a collection of diseases -- I had just one. Hyper-chondria. A word I've made up for my condition.

Now, before I go any further, let me explain the difference between a hypochondriac (not me) and a hyper-chondriac (me). Hypochondria is when you think you're sick but you're really not. The hypochondriac's imaginary symptoms and ailments could theoretically be cured with a variety of placebos -- be they Halloween candy, dog kibble or a plastic button from a rugby shirt.

Conversely, placebos don't help hyper-chondriacs because hyper-chondriacs actually are sick. Unlike my hypo brethren, when I go to the doctor, I think I have ailment X and I do. The seed of each disease originates in my hyper brain, which subsequently creates a swirl of inner turmoil and turbulence in my body.

I've always been in a rush to do things: I paced in my crib, I barked at my parents to stir my chocolate milk faster, I ran out my walks in Little League. I would also seek revenge on anyone who impeded my path to getting things done quickly. Seemingly every day of my life I've had to restrain myself from punching people in the face. Before I discovered my hyper-chondria, I couldn't even drive more than a mile without honking at someone. And I don't just mean a little tap that says, "Hey...um...excuse me...but the light just changed." I'm talking about holding down the horn with my forehead while simultaneously giving the other car the finger with both hands. Not only was I rushing through life, I was rushing through life in a combative rage. For the better part of my thirty-eight years, my head felt as if it was inhabited by a pair of destructive heavy-metal bands each occupying a brain hemisphere. And neither of them liked the other.

So when Dr. Tamm had a solution to my itchy palms I was ready for action. He pulled out his free drug company pen with the word "Doxycycline" printed on the side and scribbled something on his pad, then tore the page off and stared at me as I read it aloud.

"Zoloft?"

"I think it'll help."

"Isn't that for depression? Because I'm not depressed. It's one of the few things that doesn't seem to happen to me."

"It can be for depression, but it's also used as an anti-anxiety medication."

He proceeded to tell me that Zoloft was a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor that would help take some of my edge off. Had my friends and family been in the examination room, Dr. Tamm would have undoubtedly been the first dermatologist in history to get a standing ovation.

I needed a wake-up call and it didn't have to be from God or a family intervention or a fellow road-rager teaching me a lesson by shooting me with his assault weapon. Besides, I'd seen those enticing TV commercials for Zoloft where that adorable little circle-creature turns his life around and it looked really appealing. I mean, it totally worked for that little circle-creature.

"Now, there could be side effects such as erection problems, but you let me know if that happens," warned Dr. Tamm.

"Sure."

"And I don't want you to discuss today's treatment with anyone. Don't tell your friends, don't tell your family members, don't even tell your fiancée."

"Why not?"

"It's better if you're not self-conscious about people knowing."

Keeping secrets from my soon-to-be spouse didn't seem like a good way to start a life together. But Dr. Tamm had seen through me in under a minute, so I figured why not let him push the boundaries of his skin doctor degree. Besides, I was sure my fiancée wouldn't have minded. It's not like Nancy wasn't aware she was about to wed a ragey, sick guy.

The first time Nancy slept over she awoke to me stuffing baby diaper rash ointment into each nostril with a Q-tip -- a treatment resulting from three months of mind-numbing dizziness in 1995. Two surgeons were convinced I had a brain tumor; thankfully, a third diagnosed it as nasal polyps. I still required an operation, but not the kind where they cut your skull in half like a cantaloupe.

Then there was the Thanksgiving I flew back east to meet Nancy's mother for the first time. In the middle of dinner I politely asked, "Could you please pass the cranber -- AUGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!" I then dropped my silverware on the floor and my head on the table and began frantically massaging my left eyelid. It felt as if someone was stabbing my cornea with an ice pick.

This was due to an accident in 1992 with a newspaper. As I frenetically turned to the sports section of The Boston Globe, speed-reading each page in a mad rush to check box scores to find out how my fantasy baseball players did, I flipped one of the corners into the center of my left eye. If you think a paper cut on your thumb hurts, try getting one near your optic nerve.

The eye guy in the emergency room said that I'd scratched my cornea. I was given an eye patch and told to rest both eyes for the next seventy-two hours. As I sat in my dark bedroom, I remember being happy thinking that my life was technically getting a little better since every minute -- every second, in fact -- my eye was allegedly repairing itself. As much as the hyper-chondriac likes to rush, waiting to heal is equally satisfying. During the follow-up visit, the patch was removed and I was given special drops to put into my eye should the shooting pains return. And if I didn't have the drops, I was told to massage my closed lid for twenty minutes -- which Nancy's mom was about to witness on our first Thanksgiving together.

Then there were my numerous colon checkups and blood tests, my bouts with vertigo, the time I required oxygen on a flight back from New York, and the Fourth of July my left arm went numb. Point being, Nancy was accustomed to seeing me at less than full strength. She understood my ailments; perhaps because a thirty-two-ounce bottle of Arizona Iced Tea once slipped out of her cart at Trader Joe's and landed on her foot, causing her to faint. And there was the time she had red spots on her ankles and went to the doctor thinking it was Kaposi's sarcoma. It turned out to be flea bites from her friend's cat. ...

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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