Every time I get a sinus infection, I first assume it’s Bubonic Plague. And it makes no difference that the symptoms are instantly recognizable as those of the non-fatal sickness. As far as I’m concerned, I’m as good as dead.
In a similar way, when my hands are cold, I do some online research and conclude that I have either a blood clot or lupus. If I notice my arms and legs are covered with tiny red spots, I think I’ve contracted Lyme Disease or West Nile Virus or Scarlet Fever, only to later realize that the no-name laundry detergent we bought last month is giving me a rash.
Whatever I’m feeling, somewhere in the world there’s a corresponding ailment or disorder. Regardless of how rare and unlikely that condition may be, if it’s been given a name, I probably have it. Every bump, bruise, blotch, and blister is visible and undeniable proof that the end is near.
Inevitably, however, the evidence disappears, and I survive – at least for a while longer. Self-diagnosis is a bad idea. I think that’s what I’m supposed to admit right here.
On the other hand, sometimes we know ourselves better than any doctor, website, or medical book ever can. For example, I’m pretty sure I have a learning disability. But when I mention this to people, they immediately dismiss my assertion, and insist that I’m being ridiculous.
That’s what we all say. We need to reassure ourselves and each other that we’re okay, and that we’re simply overworking our poor little brains. We put our wallet in the refrigerator behind the orange juice, and then waste forty-five minutes looking for it, because we’re absorbed in that long list of chores we have to get done. We get into our cars and drive ninety miles past our intended destination, because we’re too preoccupied with important issues to be bothered with details like street signs and exit ramps. We walk around all day with a dryer sheet hanging from the bottom of our pants, because we’re busy solving the mysteries of the universe, which almost never involves inspecting our own ankles.
While I’m certain that I suffer from some sort of impairment, I have no plans to undergo testing or seek treatment. Medical professionals never find anything, anyway, even though I’ve already contracted and recovered from almost every affliction known to science. And they may not identify this one either, but I’m convinced there’s something there.
Learning is a constant struggle.
I’ve done quite a bit of traveling, for example, and have flown more than a hundred times. When the flight attendant explains the safety procedures, I pay close attention. I’m the only person on board who watches the video, and if it’s in more than one language, I keep listening as if I understand what they’re saying. I take the card out and read along, noting the location of all exits. I keep my seatbelt securely fastened, and mentally practice sliding down the emergency chute in case it becomes necessary to evacuate the aircraft. But in the event that I needed to summon enough dexterity to avoid my own death – like if I had to activate the oxygen mask, for instance — I doubt I’d make it. I might remember to tug on the little cord, but it would be just as I was losing consciousness.
It’s the same with the personal flotation devices. While the crew member is explaining where to find our life vests and how to put them on, my mind wanders off, trying to visualize a three-hundred-ton plane smacking into the surface of the ocean without breaking into a million pieces. But it doesn’t matter if I’m six miles up or standing in the backyard. Actions that must be performed in a precise sequence tend to confuse me. When straps have to be adjusted, that just adds to the problem.
I spend hours attempting to assemble a bookcase, including the ones that claim, right on the box, that they can be put together in minutes, and with no tools. If the instructions contain only those wordless diagrams populated by smiling stick figures, it could take days, because I can’t figure out if that short rectangular thing is a bracket or the man’s hat.
The same thing happens when I try to become familiar with a new software program, or use anything digital or electronic, such as an appliance that has more than three buttons. If a device can be programmed or information can be put into its memory, I’ll quickly reach that critical point where all I want to do is put the thing through a wall. I don’t expect to end up there. I usually start out brimming with optimism. I study the manual, and when the frustration becomes too much, I watch the tutorials — over and over. Every time the instructor tells me how easy the process is, I wish I could put him through a wall.
It isn’t that I’m irritable or mean. It’s that I never seem to learn my lesson. Which is what I’ve been telling you all along. In fact, just thinking about these things has now given me a rash on my neck and shoulders. It could be nerves, or that laundry detergent again. More likely, it’s the early stages of some life-threatening illness that hasn’t even been discovered yet. I have No-Brainer Syndrome. I know I do.