I’ve looked at my tongue in the mirror approximately 52 times today. And when I say the mirror I mean approximately 12 different reflective surfaces including my iPhone in a restaurant, the mirror in the bathroom of said restaurant, the mirror of the fitting room in the store near said restaurant, a dark window I walked by outside said store, and the rear view mirror of my car several times at different stop lights on the way home from said store and restaurant. The reason I’m looking is there’s this white stuff on the back that is a definite sign of disease and I swear to god when I’m sitting at that stop light I can feel it spreading all over so I look to try and catch it in the act. And I’m pretty sure it gets worse every time I look. And yesterday I spent approximately 8 hours googling the different diseases I might have, given my symptoms: sore throat, itchy reddish eye, small weird white stuff on way back of tongue, weird breathing (?), tingly warm stomach, to name a few.
I swear I have something. I just feel off, you know? Like something is off balance and I’m just crawling with some sort of invisible fungus or bacterial growth and it’s out of control and it’s in my intestines and all over my skin and in my mouth and I’m probably contagious. I’m definitely contagious. And it’s definitely spreading. I’ll just wake up like tomorrow and my whole body will look like a big tongue with white spots. What if I’m allergic to something and I don’t even know it. I should make a list of everything I eat. Another for everything I touch. Maybe it could travel by air. Maybe something is growing in my stomach. Some sort of colony. Or multiple colonies. Definitely colonies. I read somewhere that you can tell everything that’s wrong with your body by looking at your tongue. Well if that’s the case I’m fucked. What IS that stuff? I tried to brush it off but then I got distracted because my left eyeball was sort of red. Like a weird red. Also it looks larger than usual? Can eyeballs swell? I should google that.
The number of tabs open on my computer is slowly nearing the number of invisible and deadly organisms probably inhabiting my flesh, each one for a different web page describing the endless possible signs and symptoms signaling the possible presence of said deadly organisms. It has probably spread all over my computer too, inhabiting the crevices between the keys, slowly creating a thin and undetectable layer over the glowing screen during the long nights scanning WebMD and various health blogs and forums. I keep washing my hands, but I read somewhere that that could make it worse. Maybe I eat too much sugar. Fungus feeds on sugar, you know. Maybe it’s something in the tap water. Maybe I should stop using shampoo. Maybe I should go gluten free. I bet I have IBS. There were a couple weeks this past fall during which I swear I had not one single normal poop. Maybe this is some sort of reaction to the antibiotics I took for that UTI I had a few weeks ago. Totally wouldn’t have taken them if my goddamn urethra hadn’t been fucking trying to kill me. Don’t even look up all the things antibiotics can do to your body. Just don’t. Goddamn urinary tracts have to be so fucking high maintenance… Maybe I have an STD. Maybe I’m pregnant. Literally everything is a symptom of pregnancy.
Oh my god, I just looked at my tongue again. Have you ever googled pictures of diseased tongues? God, I could have any of these. What if I have a disease nobody has ever seen before? Someone has to be first, right? I should go to the doctor. They won’t know anything. I could have some rare microbial overgrowth and just because it doesn’t have a name yet, everyone will think I’m fine.
Mom said she thinks I’m going through a “phase”. This was after I called her from my car, parked outside my apartment in the rain, and hysterically tried to describe my tongue to her, taking pauses in between sentences to stick it out and check again for new developments. She said she went through it too, also in her early 20s, and that at one point she and her roommate kept a running list of all the diseases they thought they had. She said it’s a weird time because everything is uncertain (careers, relationships, identity, etc.) and that there’s this unfortunate pressure on you and your body because you feel like you’re supposed to be all young and beautiful and alive and having this great time and that it can create a lot of anxiety. Whatever. Tell that to my microbe-infested tongue.
artwork by Maria Ellman