The Same Two Words

Every morning when she wakes up, it’s the same two words that pop into her head.

What hurts?

Lying there, she will do a full body check – head to toe – pinpointing any aches and pains. Are the ones from yesterday still there? Are they worse? Better? Are there any new pains? What if I poke it? Or twist it a certain way?

Eventually she’ll get up, her back protesting in the process; another thing to add to the mental list.

As she eats breakfast, she runs through the data she’s collected so far.

That pain is still there, that’s eight days now. That’s probably too long, must be something serious. This pain seems to have gone for now but maybe it’s just morphed into something else. Maybe it’s connected. Maybe whatever it was has spread.

This pain is new. An ache in the ribs. A bruised sensation. Years of trawling the internet, looking up symptoms and self-diagnosing mean that she doesn’t even need a computer anymore. It’s all up there in her brain. To cycle through at any given opportunity.

Diagnosis: pancreatic cancer.

Because she never checks the insignificant causes. Those aren’t worth remembering. IBS. Gastritis. Bad posture. Too tight clothes. Diet. Anxiety. No. If it’s not scary or potentially fatal, it can’t possibly be it.

She doesn’t seem to comprehend the irony.

30 years old and never an overnight hospital stay. No dental work. No more than two weeks off work for sickness in ten years. Always managing to dodge the flus and colds that knock down everyone around her.

She’s aware of these facts. But they mean nothing to her. Because what if this thing – this pain, this ache, this feeling of wrongness – is The One? There has to be the first time. There’s always the first time.

What is she even afraid of? The pain? No, not the pain. It’s the not knowing. But also the not wanting to find out. An ouroboros in her own mind; a vicious cycle. The fear of the unknown, the fear of knowing. The only way to get rid of the first is to suffer the second. She refuses.

A hypochondriac with a fear of doctors. Go figure.

On the worst of days, the fears spread in her mind, like the diseases she creates within herself. The guilt and distress at upsetting loved ones with her paranoia and inaction. The constant need for reassurance eventually ending in isolation as every has had enough. Is there life after death? Is there nothing? Which one is more terrifying?

All because her neck felt oddly stiff today.

“Does it make any difference?”

The question catches her off-guard. Does it make any difference convincing yourself you have all these things? Will it make it any easier were it to turn out to be true? Would you be any more mentally prepared?

She realises. No. It makes no difference. Whatever will be, will be. The stress and anxiety will only exacerbate the issues. She realises. The time and energy spent worrying about any little thing that could disrupt her future is actually disrupting her future. She has become her own worst enemy. Her own fear.

It feels like progress. Maybe even a little bit of a breakthrough.

She goes to sleep that night, her thoughts busy with other things. Things that make her happy. Plans for the future. To-do lists for tomorrow. Her mind is at rest. She doesn’t notice how her body responds in kind.

But the next morning she wakes up and the same two words pop into her head.

What hurts?

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