Worry is the interest paid by those who borrow trouble. – George Washington
Don’t worry, be happy. – Bobby McFerrin
I had just turned 40 when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. That was a dozen years ago. Looking back on the way I reacted to my diagnosis, I see a few things I would have done differently.
My diagnosis came a few months after I decided I needed a well-patient checkup upon turning 40. I wasn’t aware of any symptoms at that time; I just figured getting a checkup is what responsible grownups do when they arrive at that milestone age.
My regular primary-care doctor was so much in demand, I ended up not being able to schedule an appointment with her. Instead, I saw a young associate who had just joined the practice.
Everything went pretty well; the doctor found nothing amiss. I mentioned that sometimes a few of the fingers on my left hand felt numb, as though they had fallen asleep. She asked whether shaking my hand a few times made the numbness go away. I said, yeah, I guess so; I had never really noticed. I also mentioned that I was tired all the time. All the time. She pointed out that mothers with young kids (mine were 7 and 4 at the time) are generally tired all the time.
At the end of my checkup, I uttered what I now recognize as fateful words. “So, I have a clean bill of health?” She hedged, saying so far as she could tell everything looked fine.
I now understand that “clean bill of health” question was a major jinx. Why on earth did I ask? It was like tempting fate.
Six months later, on April Fool’s Day, my neurologist told me that it looked as though I had MS. (Clean bill of health, indeed.) My mind immediately moved into full-on worry mode, and my already overactive imagination leapt to a future in which I was in a wheelchair, unable to see or move my limbs.
If I had it to do over, I would:
Insist on getting that physical from my regular doctor, who has known me since I was a young adult and would, I feel certain, have figured things out more quickly than her associate did. Even if I it meant postponing my checkup for a few months, I think things would have gone more smoothly had I waited.
Never have asked whether my bill of health is clean! In fact, nowadays I am very careful to avoid jinxing things.
But the most important thing I would do differently if I had a do-over would be to not assume the worst about my prognosis. All that time spent worrying did me no good. And so far, thank goodness, none of what I worried about has happened – and I’ve learned to stop worrying that it will.
To paraphrase George Washington, worrying is a pointless waste of time. I wish I could take back the countless hours I spent worrying after I was diagnosed. I would do something really fun with them instead. These days, I’ve borrowed Bobby McFerrin’s sage advice as my personal motto: Don’t worry, be happy. I hope you will, too.