08 July, 2016

The Internet and the thirst for trauma

By Anisha Ralhan

Information is a good thing, no? That's why the Internet, as an inexhaustible and inexpensive repository of knowledge, is the go-to option for many an ailing curious cat. Only, it's important to realise that it can afflict you with anxiety as easily as it can diagnose or inform you.

The Internet teaches you a lot of things. How to bully a stranger. How to survive a bully a you barely know. Ten things to watch before you die. Ten ways to make a man fall in love with you. How to make your life seem more interesting than what it is because YOLO. The internet is like a cabinet of curiosity. If you open the right drawer, you could end up being popular or even smarter. But if you happen to be a hypochondriac like me, you could unleash upon yourself a world of misery — or in Web MD’s lexicon, an “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” — and things only spiral downward from there.

I can’t remember when exactly I began to worry about my health. It certainly didn’t happen overnight. I wasn’t raised in the shadows of a hypochondriac. All I remember is waking up in the middle of the night and breaking into a cold sweat as my eyeballs scanned the dark, grisly corridors of WebMD and Symptom checker. Tingling hands, bloated tummy, nausea, day-time headache, night-time headache, pain in the chest, heart palpitations...

The number of tabs kept growing. One night, I would diagnose myself of multiples scleroses. Two weeks later, it was colon cancer. There came a point when I could finish a friend’s sentence when she would describe her illness to me. This was around the same time, I had more doctors on last-dialed-contacts than friends and relatives.

What began as a harmless inquiry of symptoms gradually manifested into something bigger and demonic. The impact of my health-anxiety came to haunt me with the intensity of Thom Yorke’s lyrics. It was all-consuming. I began to encounter several of the low-flying panic attacks he describes so poignantly. The more I read, the more I suffered. What the hell; wasn’t it supposed to be vice-versa?

Cyberchondria, or hypochondria fueled by a relentless study of one’s symptoms online, is the bane of modern-day technology and access to a wormhole of unsupervised information, ie. the Internet.

Within minutes, stomach cramps escalated to an exploding appendix, a headache into a severe migraine attack, palpitations into a cardiac arrest. I would shake vigorously while picking up the phone to call a doctor, while making an unsolicited trip to the ER. Needless to say, the entire ordeal would leave me exhausted and embarrassed in equal parts.

A month-and-a-half back, I was diagnosed of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The symptoms: consistent pain in the stomach, erratic bowel movement, nausea and bloating. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the gastric symptoms that led my doctor to raise a red flag. He expressed concern about my mental well-being. Do you think too much? Are you stressed about something? Why are you so anxious? 

These questions nudged me to sit back and regain the reins of my mind. After weeks of introspection, I came to terms with the fact that I’m a compulsive worrier, a hypochondriac. I have been a worrier all my life. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I was spending too much time on the internet dwelling upon unimportant symptoms.

Cyberchondria, or hypochondria fueled by a relentless study of one’s symptoms online, is the bane of modern-day technology and access to a wormhole of unsupervised information, ie. the Internet. According to a recent survey, 1 in 5 people reported escalated levels of medical anxiety after a week’s ingestion of health-related websites. That’s the corrupting effect of unsupervised information floating on the Internet. Who’s to tell how many of those websites were well-intentioned and not publishing content for clickbaits. 10 foods that can cause you cancer, anyone?

I’m no psychiatrist to have understood the complex ways in which our minds function. But I do know that the blackbox that resides in our head musn’t be fed with too much information. Especially, if Worrywart is your middle name. An anxious person running to the Internet for help is like a drunk man asking a coke-head to drive him home. I was destined to be damaged.

There’s no easy answer as to why some people are predisposed to anxiety or might, at some point or other, find themselves grappling with inexplicable worries. However, the most alarming thing about us worrywarts is that we fail to acknowledge it as some kind of an aberration to the rule.

Reading up symptoms, I thought, was hardly different from the act of folding every single towel that came from the laundromat or insisting on drinking tea from a cup-and-saucer. Until recently, I used to laugh about my symptom-checking urges the way people laugh about their compulsive habits (not disorders, mind you!). After all, worrying over potential worries sounds like some kind of a meta joke right?

Here’s the thing about Dr. Google. It works as an opiate for us worriers. It lures us into thinking that this inveterate curiosity is good for us, that information snorted in small doses won’t get us hooked to it, that it helps us sleep better after aching for a long time. To know the extent of its addiction, try stopping yourself from searching for 'ebola virus' soon after you’re down with fever, which is unaccompanied by cold and throat-ache.

I won’t say I have forgotten what it is to not obsess over health but I have stopped surfing in the bottomless sea of discussion forums and symptom-checking websites. I try to disassociate myself from other people’s sickness, their experiences and, to a large extent, even my own. I’ve had no panic attack recently. And on days I’m running out of things to focus on the Internet, the meme featuring a cat wearing a YOLO cap comes in handy.





Information is a good thing, no? That's why the Internet, as an inexhaustible and inexpensive repository of knowledge, is the go-to option for many an ailing curious cat. Only, it's important to realise that it can afflict you with anxiety as easily as it can diagnose or inform you.

The Internet teaches you a lot of things. How to bully a stranger. How to survive a bully a you barely know. Ten things to watch before you die. Ten ways to make a man fall in love with you. How to make your life seem more interesting than what it is because YOLO. The internet is like a cabinet of curiosity. If you open the right drawer, you could end up being popular or even smarter. But if you happen to be a hypochondriac like me, you could unleash upon yourself a world of misery — or in Web MD’s lexicon, an “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” — and things only spiral downward from there.

I can’t remember when exactly I began to worry about my health. It certainly didn’t happen overnight. I wasn’t raised in the shadows of a hypochondriac. All I remember is waking up in the middle of the night and breaking into a cold sweat as my eyeballs scanned the dark, grisly corridors of WebMD and Symptom checker. Tingling hands, bloated tummy, nausea, day-time headache, night-time headache, pain in the chest, heart palpitations...

The number of tabs kept growing. One night, I would diagnose myself of multiples scleroses. Two weeks later, it was colon cancer. There came a point when I could finish a friend’s sentence when she would describe her illness to me. This was around the same time, I had more doctors on last-dialed-contacts than friends and relatives.

What began as a harmless inquiry of symptoms gradually manifested into something bigger and demonic. The impact of my health-anxiety came to haunt me with the intensity of Thom Yorke’s lyrics. It was all-consuming. I began to encounter several of the low-flying panic attacks he describes so poignantly. The more I read, the more I suffered. What the hell; wasn’t it supposed to be vice-versa?

Cyberchondria, or hypochondria fueled by a relentless study of one’s symptoms online, is the bane of modern-day technology and access to a wormhole of unsupervised information, ie. the Internet.

Within minutes, stomach cramps escalated to an exploding appendix, a headache into a severe migraine attack, palpitations into a cardiac arrest. I would shake vigorously while picking up the phone to call a doctor, while making an unsolicited trip to the ER. Needless to say, the entire ordeal would leave me exhausted and embarrassed in equal parts.

A month-and-a-half back, I was diagnosed of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The symptoms: consistent pain in the stomach, erratic bowel movement, nausea and bloating. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the gastric symptoms that led my doctor to raise a red flag. He expressed concern about my mental well-being. Do you think too much? Are you stressed about something? Why are you so anxious? 

These questions nudged me to sit back and regain the reins of my mind. After weeks of introspection, I came to terms with the fact that I’m a compulsive worrier, a hypochondriac. I have been a worrier all my life. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I was spending too much time on the internet dwelling upon unimportant symptoms.

Cyberchondria, or hypochondria fueled by a relentless study of one’s symptoms online, is the bane of modern-day technology and access to a wormhole of unsupervised information, ie. the Internet. According to a recent survey, 1 in 5 people reported escalated levels of medical anxiety after a week’s ingestion of health-related websites. That’s the corrupting effect of unsupervised information floating on the Internet. Who’s to tell how many of those websites were well-intentioned and not publishing content for clickbaits. 10 foods that can cause you cancer, anyone?

I’m no psychiatrist to have understood the complex ways in which our minds function. But I do know that the blackbox that resides in our head musn’t be fed with too much information. Especially, if Worrywart is your middle name. An anxious person running to the Internet for help is like a drunk man asking a coke-head to drive him home. I was destined to be damaged.

There’s no easy answer as to why some people are predisposed to anxiety or might, at some point or other, find themselves grappling with inexplicable worries. However, the most alarming thing about us worrywarts is that we fail to acknowledge it as some kind of an aberration to the rule.

Reading up symptoms, I thought, was hardly different from the act of folding every single towel that came from the laundromat or insisting on drinking tea from a cup-and-saucer. Until recently, I used to laugh about my symptom-checking urges the way people laugh about their compulsive habits (not disorders, mind you!). After all, worrying over potential worries sounds like some kind of a meta joke right?

Here’s the thing about Dr. Google. It works as an opiate for us worriers. It lures us into thinking that this inveterate curiosity is good for us, that information snorted in small doses won’t get us hooked to it, that it helps us sleep better after aching for a long time. To know the extent of its addiction, try stopping yourself from searching for 'ebola virus' soon after you’re down with fever, which is unaccompanied by cold and throat-ache.

I won’t say I have forgotten what it is to not obsess over health but I have stopped surfing in the bottomless sea of discussion forums and symptom-checking websites. I try to disassociate myself from other people’s sickness, their experiences and, to a large extent, even my own. I’ve had no panic attack recently. And on days I’m running out of things to focus on the Internet, the meme featuring a cat wearing a YOLO cap comes in handy.



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