How It Feels to Die

I was utterly convinced that I had a brain tumor. There was no way that you could have convinced me otherwise. I was around 23 and I happened to have a couple of really minor dizzy spells. In my mind, dizzy = brain, brain=tumor. There was no other possible explanation.

I had a serious boyfriend at the time (serious enough that we later got engaged) and he watched me devolve into a huddled mass that lived under the blankets in my bed. I lay there in fear of my impending death. I have a disturbing journal entry from that time that reflects my utter certainty that I had a limited time to live. My boyfriend called a good friend of mine and had her come over to check on me. I remember her sitting on my bed, stroking my hair, trying to reassure me that it was nothing. In my mind, she was coming to say goodbye.

I had made an appointment with my doctor who, not finding anything wrong with me, referred me to a neurologist. “I’m sure it’s nothing, but…” In my mind, that referral was the indicator of doom. Clearly, my doctor thought that a neurologist WOULD find something and she could pass off being the bearer of the inevitable bad news.

A few nights before the appointment my boyfriend insisted we go to the movies to take my (dizzy) mind off of things. Whatever it was we went to see completely eludes me. What I remember is sitting there in fear, not observing or hearing a thing, my dizzy spills getting worse. For some reason, I went into the lobby to call my father from a payphone. I was experiencing a full-on nervous breakdown, an antiquated term, but one I heard many times in regards to my mother. I was having a nervous breakdown, on a payphone in a move theater lobby, while my father listened. I was 23.

My father lives in California so the time difference was advantageous to him scrambling to call some of his contacts on the East Coast to get me in to see someone as quickly as possible. He called me back on the payphone with the number of a psychiatrist who his friend described as a “pussycat.” He had a Jewish last name.

I was able to get an appointment with him the next day. He was an older man, probably in his late 60s early 70s with a very calm demeanor. I had been in therapy on and off since I was 16 so I knew how it worked. I ran through my bullet points like I had hundreds of times and he listened and nodded in the way that therapists do.

A lot of people don’t realize that hypochondria to this degree is a symptom of depression. The dread, the fear, the self-sabotage and all that comes from the twirling spiral downward. I left his office with a prescription for Prozac when it was the newly lauded drug of the century.

Within the same week, I went to the neurologist for a brain scan. I held my breath as he came into the room after reading the results. “You’re fine,” he said smiling. Instantly my dizzy spells turned into little invisible vapors that swirled out the top of my head. Bye bye brain tumor.

Some time after that I thought I had ovarian cancer. It wasn’t nearly as extreme an experience but until I went to the doctor I was convinced that there was something the size of a grapefruit growing inside of me. My meds were “tweaked” and all was well. Until about two weeks ago.

For some reason my ability to breathe smoothly got all fucked up. I felt like there was a catch somewhere between my clavicle and my throat. No wheezing, no blood being coughed up in gobs, just…different. I began to incessantly google “symptoms of lung cancer.” Every day. Lung cancer and mold allergies. I tried to imagine which drag of a cigarette I had taken before I finally quit had run amok. One thing that really scared me is that apparently arm and shoulder pain is a sign of metastisized lung cancer and I’ve had pain in my arm for months. I can easily recreate the pain, clearly muscular, and in fact, I even chose to get a cortisone shot for it about six months ago. But, this didn’t matter. In my mind, the orthopedist wasn’t equipped to see a spot on my shoulder with simple x-rays and it’s been growing at a rapid pace ever since.

I questioned everyone. Are you having trouble breathing? Is it a dry feeling? Does it feel like this? Everyone had coughing and chills and fever. They wheezed and coughed up gunk. Clearly, I was the only one with lung cancer. I thought of what it would be like to have to tell my extremely sensitive daughter. I thought about my husband who I had just found the perfect love with. I thought about how the word would get out. Would I write a post on facebook? Would I be one of those people who smiled through it all and never told anyone until all my hair fell out?

Chances are pretty good that I DON’T have lung cancer. I’ve felt a bit more normal the past few days. I don’t know why I bring this on myself. Why, when I am at my happiest am I expecting it all to end? Why do I choose to sabotage my bliss? I don’t have answers for this, but perhaps, after 20 or so years, it’s time for another meds tweak.



  1. As a kid, I was a hypochondriac. Then I slowly grew out of it in young adulthood. That was a relief as I needed to spend my time worrying about things that I did need to worry about, and not about shortness of breath, tumors, and other creations of my overactive brain.Also, that 'sabotaging my bliss' thing is so common! It happens to lots of people I know. Not sure how to tame it.

  2. It would be really great if I didn't have so much in common with you. If I'm not dying at any given moment I'm sure my husband will!!!! I think it's just the total JEW neurotic thing!!! Wish I had something more intelligent to say!!! I'm actually so sick of all my fears but find comfort in knowing I'm not alone!!!! Lol. P.S. That is why eating tubs of ice cream is important. You never know when your time is up!!!! Xxoo

  3. My grandmothers favorite advice to the world is "never buy green bananas" ya know because you never know when it's going to end. I love Prozac but hate the sexual side effects. My dr just gave me the newest thing with no side effects. We'll see how it goes

  4. Dan

    As I grow older, I'm more and more aware of what an amazing machine the human body is. Mine's been working non-stop for nearly 50 years, and that blows my mind. I know at some point the machine will break down, either gradually or all at once. (In fact, it's already started to do so.) I just don't know when it will stop working completely. Also, the better or "happier" my life feels, the more that matters.And for me, THAT's where the meds come into play . . .

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