“Why are women so prone to cyberchondria?”

Posted by
Lucy Mangan

Winter is coming – and that inevitably means illness. We must resist the urge to google our symptoms, says Lucy Mangan.

I’ve not done much in my life of which I’m actively proud. Hooking up my Amazon Fire TV Stick without help, maybe. Keeping my child alive these past six years through the administration of semi-regular meals, bedtimes and ablutions, yes, well done me. But I think my greatest achievement is staying off Google when I’m ill.

I have never gone online to look up a single symptom. I’ve researched what my legal standing would be if I killed someone during a bout of PMT, yes. And how many Roses it would take to induce a diabetic coma from a standing start, sure – but I see them more as preventative measures.

I give my ache/pain/epidermal excrescence a few weeks to go away on its own, and if it doesn’t/gets worse/starts suppurating, I go to the doctor. But among my friends, I am learning, this is rare.

Macmillan Cancer Support has recently appointed a nurse, Ellen McPake, specifically to counter the myths about that particular disease that swirl through the internet, and I’m not surprised. 

Put down the laptop and go to see your GP, says Lucy.

People’s first instinct these days when something untoward happens within their personal fleshbag seems to be to disappear down the cyber-rabbit hole. 

They scare themselves half to death and go to the doctor only when they have imbibed enough false information to make sure they waste the entire appointment encased in a shell of fear that actual medical facts, though sharpened and polished to a high shine by years of actual medical training and experience, have great difficulty penetrating.

And, I am truly sorry to say, it’s mostly my female friends who choose this route. The men, as ever, prefer extremes. Either they are dragged to the doctor by force after three limbs have fallen off or they run to A&E and demand a full body cast for a papercut.

That women opt for cyberchondria is the first problem, and we must cure ourselves of it. By stopping. Just stop it. It’s essentially an act of self-harm. Go. To. The. Doctor.

“We don’t think we should be taking up a busy professional’s time, a slice of precious NHS resources, and we don’t want to seem pushy.”

The second problem arises when we actually do manage to get there, and is harder to treat. I’m currently accompanying a friend to her medical appointments for various new complications that have arisen from her old, chronic condition because she habitually walks out of these visits none the wiser than when she went in. She might have new instructions, a new timetable, a new consultant to visit (and she will follow and do all this) but she won’t know why or have asked if there are any alternatives that might suit her better, or what to do if something goes wrong, or… anything at all, really.

Her attitude is a symptom of how we internalise external pressures and prejudices. She – and we – don’t think we should be taking up a busy professional’s time, a slice of precious NHS resources, and we don’t want to seem pushy. So we are too polite.

We don’t feel we should question those in authority (a bit like we don’t interrogate those confident voices on the internet that tell us coffee enemas will beat cancer and magnesium supplements and ground flaxseed will cure almost everything else) but be grateful for whatever wisdom they hand down from on high.

We are not, runs the thought so pervasive it barely counts as a thought at all, equal; we are not quite worthy of a fair share of the resources pie, or the benefits such things would bring. Becoming conscious of this thought and then learning to resist it is a life’s work. But when it comes to your health, you must.

Or at least get a pushy friend like me to sit in and do it for you; a kind of temporary vaccine. That way you’ll live long enough to get there yourself.

Images: Pexels / iStock