In May of last year I was accepted into a Bachelor’s of Science in Public Health program with a concentration in Health Studies. At the time I was completely overwhelmed, I went from being dumbfounded that they actually accepted me, to elated, and finally settling on just completely psyched to begin. I chose the Public Health field because I wanted to not only understand why health disparities existed, but also what we could do to minimize their impacts within our society. I also am a complete science nerd. I love understanding how interconnected health is to our behaviors, environment, and our assigned roles within society. Having said all of this, I am writing to tell you why being a Health Studies major completely sucks when you also have a slight tendency to see diseases where they do not exist. And by slight tendency I definitely mean I absolutely do this all of the time and it gets extremely out of hand, very quickly.
My first incident of seeing a disease where it absolutely was not, occurred in my “Public Health Diseases” class. It was a course completely devoted to various diseases which were prevalent within our society that could be prevented, but are not. I had a final project which consisted of an in depth investigation of a disease of my choice. Obviously I chose Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. And by obviously, I mean I have absolutely no idea why I would do this to myself. Looking into the risk factors I saw that I could check off many of the boxes. As I investigated further, I soon found myself contacting my doctor and asking if I could have a dormant case of PID. Even as she assured me that she did not think it was likely, considering I had none of the symptoms (which by the way, to justify my insane reaction, a dormant case would not) but that I could come in for a test if I wanted. My feelings were not assuaged. I then replied that there was no gold standard in regards to testing for this particular disease, and the level of my craziness magnified from there.
Eventually I was able to admit to myself that there was little chance that I suffered from this particular disease, but this was not enough to shake me out of my mindset. Obviously, with all this newfound knowledge, and all without the help of WebMD’s symptom checker (which let’s be real always tells me I have appendicitis), I found it hard to shake seeing diseases, symptoms or even far off possibilities. My son is three years old, and one of his milestones is colors. Now, if I was not in the health field then I probably would not have been obsessed with this. I saw that he was a bit inconsistent identifying green and red. Now, to be fair, I was asking him flashcard questions while there was a mad Hot Wheels race transpiring, so he might’ve been a bit distracted. Yet my neurotic, health studies submerged brain, went straight to “he MUST be colorblind”. I called my mother, evidently after I had given my anxiety free reign of my thoughts, on the verge of tears. As any sane person would point out, my son did know his colors, but toy cars would always surpass flashcards with apples and grapes on them.
This is the point in my ramblings where I am able to accurately assess that these thoughts were irrational. I can earnestly tell you that I handed my son a green comb last night and he was able to categorize the color promptly. In the heat of the moment, with taunting whisper residing in the back of my mind, I struggle to see outside of the “disease and disorder” boxes. My days are spent either studying (or more accurately procrastinating) various health issues within our society. It is everything from the morbidity that these diseases bring, to quality of life issues and finishing up with mortality. I speed read textbooks that consist of all the ways our lives can end. Although this is fascinating to me on an academic level, the personal part of my life struggles with detaching. Last year, at my annual exam, the physician and I were joking that the health field will keep you up at night, and that is no exaggeration. Our bodies are deceptively fragile, and sometimes easily corrupted.
As I near the end of my degree, the one thing I know for certain is I need to find balance. There has to be a middle ground where if my husband goes to India I’m not terrified he’ll contract chikungunya, malaria, typhoid fever or a deadly combination of the three. If I have risk factors for a condition, then I have to remember that this does not mean I have the disease. Anxiety puts its nasty tentacles into so many areas of my life, and it would be wonderful if my academics could be a safe space. I want to go back to being excited, instead of feeling like I binged on WebMD and am intoxicated from all of the information. Sometimes, being a health studies major sucks but when it doesn’t I am absolutely enamored with the field. The key for my mental health is when I close my textbook, with its pictures of infected mosquitoes and fancy skin cancers, I also need to close myself off to that information. Separation of disease and state is my new motto. Well, that and the mantra “you do not have this disease, you do not have this disease.” over and over again until it actually registers.