In theory, it should often be fine. There’s nothing wrong with being informed about your illness (apart from, possibly, with mental illness), and any sensible web searcher knows how to find the right kind of information. There’s plenty of trustworthy and realistic information out there.
But all of that trustworthy information tells you the same thing ‘you’re probably fine, but go get it checked out by a doctor’. That is not good enough. That is not the information you were looking for. And there may even be a caveat explaining the one thing you might have. The tentacular horror growing inside your brain stem, slowly taking control of your motor function. Currently it’s just tickling the back of your nasal cavity, encouraging a case of mild sniffles, but soon, it will destroy you, and everything you have ever loved.
We are imaginative creatures. We like exploring the world because it gives us new palettes to play with. New games to play in our brain. New information is new landscapes. New worlds are our breakfast. We dream universes.
But it has bad sides. Lots of them. It doesn’t take much information for us to fill in the guesswork, and fundamentally, being even a little ill involves reminding ourselves of our physical weakness. Our inevitable death is around the corner, not necessarily a nearby corner, but our wild imaginations are ready to see it, even if we aren’t.
So the slightest flurry of sickness can throttle us quickly.
And google, oh google, you great purveyor of everything everywhere. You know just what we like. You feed our sense of drama. You put yahoo answers, with each personal horror story response to any symptom you can imagine, right to the top of the list.
I broke a fingernail once and my entire hand fell off and the stump became gangrenous and now I am dead.
Once my auntie got a cough and then three days later a billion spiders ate her liver.
Your blocked up nose means you are already dead.
And the thing is, the law of averages does mean that sometimes a cough means you’re dying. There is a possibility, at any point, that you have an illness that could kill you. Dying happens.
And your brain is aware of that, and it is scared of that. The brain is there to keep you alive. The imagination is there to protect you from bad things that haven’t happened yet. It is preservation, but it works best in a data-poor environment.
Data-richness overloads. Odds aren’t a strong point. Symptoms induce panic attacks.
Then you go to the Doctor, and they’re probably half guessing, fob you off with something and see if you come back, and then they start the serious guessing.
Your body will fix most things on itself. But your brains know that doesn’t always work. So it wants you to be more active.
And then sometimes, google will be right. But will you be able to tell?
Healthy is hard.
Illustration by Jaime