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In COVID Times, Diary Of A Noted Hypochondriac

Every pang or cough could be the virus, or something worse.

In COVID Times, Diary Of A Noted Hypochondriac

The pandemic has been particularly difficult for those with hypochondria

Alidad Vassigh

-Essay-

MADRIDI had a slight pain recently on the left-hand side of my torso, just above my hip. Appendicitis, I thought. Or maybe a still undiscovered COVID symptom? The nagging mind chatter that has accompanied me for as long as I can remember continued its monologue: What, you thought you'd be healthy forever? Millions have died over the past two years while you were sitting pretty. That's over! You'll die alone, in a foreign land...

Or was the pain on the right-hand side? Where does appendicitis strike? I cannot recall, but the pain of sorts came and went. Like a warning shot!


After that, I had a slight ear and throat ache. An infection? Temperatures have dropped briskly in Madrid, and I'm still dressed a little like Errol Flynn on a safari, but it couldn't have been that. This, we know, is a well-documented COVID symptom. For medical reasons, I had a couple of drinks, to check my taste buds. I could taste the beer. The wine seemed fine. Later I ate some cake. What I could never understand is how France has mastered pastries, and across the border in Spain, they cannot make a piece of chocolate cake that couldn't double as a brick.

Mind your Karma

Hypochondria is cautiousness gone haywire

Max Harlynking/Unsplash


Hypochondria is cautiousness gone haywire. It is one of the many manifestations of fear, which, for those who believe in God or purport to, makes it a moral failure. Yes, it's your fault. It indicates an unwarranted attachment to your physical well-being, which assuredly is not the objective of a human life.

"God did not put us on earth to feel good, but to do good"

I've tried to console myself with snippets of wisdom from my readings. Any Buddhist or Hindu teacher will tell you to mind your Karma over your health. The 20th-century Indian speaker Jiddu Krishnamurti derided the Western eagerness for yoga and its benefits, believing moral rectitude to be the "real" yoga. Did they want the extra verve and energy yoga can give, he asked, "to do more mischief?"

Another 20th century mystic, Nur'ali Elahi, from western Iran, told his pupils to see a doctor in case of illness, and if that did not help, to accept the condition and its consequences. As another Persian theologian, Omid Safi, once told a class, God did not put us on earth to feel good, but to do good.

A kind of toxicity

On other occasions, I place myself in the company of historical eminences who also must have fallen ill. Like Romulus Augustulus, the last Western Roman emperor. Sure, he had private health care. I do too, but there's digital interplay involved now, so I'd rather suffer mild pain.

I begin to feel pain just seeing a doctor.

Or the Russian composer Alexander Borodin. He had his music and genius of course. Posterity loves him. His friends would greet him saying, "I do hope you're ill," as he only composed when he was ill. His day job was as a lab chemist. I feel better listening to Russian music. Just the sight of a doctor, and I begin to feel pain.

Yet I do nurse an unreasonable hope. I suspect my great pessimism is a kind of toxicity, which has managed to blitz all sort of viruses and bacteria in my body. Those germs were like hapless thieves blundering into a drug cartel headquarters. It's a comforting thought, and I feel better already. Except for an inexplicable irritation in my left eye, which began yesterday.

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