I’ve caught myself applying the three-date rule to doctors. As much as I want to, I don’t give it away until our third appointment, because until then I’m busy trying to convince them to like me. I want them to understand that I’m normally a fun-loving, hard-working, free-spirited, NON- HYPOCHONDRIAC. I begin nearly every appointment with an anecdote about not even flinching when I got my foot tattooed! (I don’t care if the doctor just wants me to get to the point- I got tattooed on my foot and it didn’t hurt me! I’m as courageous as Joan of Arc!)
Now, it doesn’t take a session with Dr Frasier Crane (or indeed a real life Psychiatrist) to work out that this deep routed fear of being perceived as a hypochondriac comes from having spent many years of my childhood as A MASSIVE HYPOCONDRIAC. Actually, I was more of A MASSIVE LIAR.
- Aged 5 I stuffed a tissue in my eye, long enough for it to go black.
- Aged 6 I licked my brother’s cup when he had a sicky bug. It worked.
- Aged 7 I made the Gregory Twins carry me round for an entire afternoon because my legs stopped working. I told them I might never walk again and they cried, both of them.
- Aged 8 I limped round the V&A with my mum and sister, insisting on wearing a bandage on the outside of my trousers. They had me sussed and left me on a bench, where I looked as pitiful as possible in the hope that passing strangers might think I was a street urchin (albeit it a culturally astute one in the V&A?!)
- Aged 9 I danced then fake-fainted outside my neighbour’s house, in case he was a Hollywood director looking to cast a jaunty yet frail red head in his next movie. He was a builder.
Thankfully I grew out of this morally questionable hobby, and became an actress so I could lie on stage with a paying audience applauding me for it.
In fact, it was theatre that instilled in me the stoicism of a Second World War Army General, with both legs blown off, pulling his comrades from a burning bunker. When you’re unloading a set from the back of your van at 4am, having just driven five hours following a performance in Lands’ End, there’s no room for wimps. If you’ve cut your finger, you slap some gaffer tape on it. If you tear your cruciate ligament during a rather feisty performance of The Secret Seven, you strap it up and skip the skipping scene. If you sprain your ankle, you juggle cow hearts whilst balancing on crutches. (These were actual bleeding cows hearts, in a fiercely political show about Foot and Mouth disease, a subject we knew nothing about but hoped was outrageously controversial.) If you break your nose on stage in Germany, you stuff it with tissue and pretend the tip of it is just counting freckles on your cheek. Because the Show. Must. Go. On. And thankfully it’s this attitude I have carried with me through life, and not the one that lead me to lick my brother’s cup.
By my third appointment with the wonderful Dr Lanham at the London Lupus centre, I no longer cared if he thought I was as brave as Bouidica, because at this point, my PMA was nearly out. A diagnosis of Systemic Lupus was looming ever closer and it could smell my fear; if gaffer tape couldn’t fix me, I needed to know what could. After an hour together Dr Lanham saw me to his door and said ‘I know how much pain you’re in and you’ve been very brave. We will get to the bottom of this together.’ At which point, I felt the heavy weight of my childhood hypochondria lift from my shoulders. He said I was brave and for the first time, I felt like I didn’t have to pretend to be anymore.
Look at that badass tattoo… and I didn’t even flinch!