Too much Segal, too little space:)   2 comments

I spent most of Segal’s chapter on hypochondria questioning and second guessing just about every diagnosis I have ever received – wondering, “Is that me??”:).  In itself, the discourse formed between Segal and me began to make me feel like I have some form of post-hypochondria yet to be diagnosed – the realization that I may have been a hypochondriac at a point in my medical history….and I absolutely went back through some of my more major injuries/illnesses and evaluated, revaluated, and analyzed each and every one to prove to myself that my concern and my personal narrative of medical history was in fact, warranted and accurate.

Segal states that, “As just noted, hypochondria is also an agency – both a personal instrument by which individuals act on society and a social instrument by which society acts on individuals” (90).  As hypochondria is formed by a discourse with the body over constructions of what constitutes a disease, how the body expresses the disease, and how that information may be interpreted right/wrong by medical professionals – so are the attitudes and perceptions of certain diseases constructions of individuals, interest groups, and society as a whole.

As I revaluated a few of my knee surgeries, I came to the conclusion that in this case, hypochondria gave me agency to act upon society’s view of the female athlete binary.  When I tore my first ACL, I was 14 years old.  The doctor took x-rays (which does no good when the knee swells up to the size of a cantaloupe), and told me directly that my pain was me “being too sensitive, as all women are” and that it was just a simple bone bruise.  However, I saw myself as an athlete who suffered from an explainable and provable injury, and that the pain wasn’t me being a girl, it was the result of a bad slide tackle.  As I finally convinced him to give me an MRI some few months later, it turns out that I had not only torn my ACL, but several other major ligaments and some cartilage as well.  I never let up on him, and was relentless in my begging him to find what was really wrong, since my body was telling me that there had to be another reason why I was not able to perform at the level I was before the slide tackle. 

This is a prime example of what Segal says is characteristic of a hypochondriac, “The hypochondriac is well known for being tenacious, for holding on to the idea of illness even when there is no evidence of disease” (82).  However, I have to say that in this case, hypochondria and my obsessing over the fact that there was a misdiagnosis due to “the absence of evidence” in some of the imagaing – was the perfect agent in helping me form a narrative that expressed concern over the overwhelming trust in technology versus narrative (82).  Three ACLS, 5 surgeries, and 10 years later – I will have to say that many of my diagnoses have been cases that could easily have had me misconstrued to professionals in the field as a hypochondriac.  But, if I hadn’t obsessed, in many of the injuries, I would have been waved off due to my sex and the inability for a doctor to see me as just an athlete, not a female who was running around and fell down. SO – was I really a hypochondriac – or was I in control of my narrative?

I do think that hypochondria can be an agent used by society to categorize as well, which Segal definitely makes a case for.  One type of illness comes to mind, which misdiagnoses of is a problem plaguing our primary and secondary schools (and slowly creeping into higher education) – ADD/ADHD.  Segal paraphrases Talcott Parson’s take on illness, and states that, “…illness is not only a condition but also a social role with special benefits and permissions” (80-81).  In the case of ADD/ADHD, there is a wide ranging argument of how effective it is to use ILPs (individual learning plans) to give students who have been “diagnosed” with ADD/ADHD individual and tailored plans to ensure that they learn at the same rate as “normal” students. 

I question the validity of many cases of ADD with my students, which I know is not ethical at all. Yes, some students have legitimate learning disabilities that seriously impede their learning processes, but in today’s classroom, I believe that there are many students who are “lazy” and “don’t apply themselves” who sneak in under the cover of, “But I’m ADD.”  A social defense, if you will (a social cause as well, too).  But, in defense of myself, Segal makes sense in showing that a “disease” like ADD/ADHD comes with special social “benefits and permissions” (in the eyes of other students) such as longer testing time, use of computers, use of a note taker, etc – making the disease so appealing.  Now that it is socially accepted to be “a slow learner” –  who wouldn’t want to persuade themselves and medical professionals that they do, in fact, suffer from this disease?!  But what does this do for all of the “normal” students who could also benefit from individual teacher attention in regards to their educations?  Would an extra 30 minutes per timed writing drastically improve some students’ writing?  Would longer test times improve overall test scores?  But since these students aren’t “diseased,” the special benefits and permissions are not to be extended to them, because we as educators have to maintain a certain bar and expectations mandated by standards of education that are ironically set by the same society.

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Posted September 14, 2010 by terieleawatkins in Uncategorized

2 responses to “Too much Segal, too little space:)

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  1. A journalist phoned me a couple of weeks ago to talk about “cyberchondria.” This is a hypochondria people are willing to talk about (I talk a bit in the book about hyp humour; but hypo/cyberchondria isn’t funny). Microsoft did a study of people using health-info sites, and found that users do panic: if you Google headache, you are (they say) more likely to follow the brain-tumor road than the sinus-infection one. This web catastrophizing, seems to me, is the opposite of empowerment-by-information.

  2. I thought you (Segal) handled the issues so effectively with humor. I laughed out loud more than once. One of my favorite quotes in the text is “Just as paranoids are sometimes being followed, so hypochondriacs are sometimes very ill” (81). You make important points while infusing them with humor.

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