Saturday 22 October 2016

Mid life crisis: Coeliac, with a chance of a stroke

Published 27/07/2015 | 02:30

It all started with my foot: But before long Brendan O'Connor was imagining all kinds of unpleasant medical possibilities
It all started with my foot: But before long Brendan O'Connor was imagining all kinds of unpleasant medical possibilities

I am clearly wasting my time here week in, week out, writing about the serious themes of life and death. In fact, what I should be doing is writing about my digestive system. Spilling my guts if you will. Not since the one about dropping out, which also clearly struck a chord with all you unhappy dreamers out there, have I got such a postbag.

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Clearly Irish people are obsessed with blood and guts. I have had everything from one-month fasts to weird diets recommended. And just to reassure the sizeable number of you who are trying to claim me for the coeliac community, I promise, I will have the test. According to the internet, I don't actually have the symptoms of coeliac disease , but I promise I will check it out. (Apparently, there can be masking symptoms). Personally I am wondering why I would want to get labelled with a disease that I am not actually suffering the symptoms of, but I am assured it is better to know.Some of you have been suggesting that I am being rather cavalier with a potentially serious illness, to which my response is: Trust me, I would never be cavalier with a disease. Given that I spend much of my time these days worrying about diseases I don't have; if I actually had one, I think I would go into overdrive altogether.

I'm not exactly sure why, but I am tending to catastrophise these days. I think it comes with your forties and mortality moving into earshot like the distant rumble of thunder at a picnic. I can offer one piece of advice if you are tending to catastrophise and that is: do not under any circumstances get a hangover. On Saturday, after I had a quick swim, I noticed that my foot was numb. In reality, I think it's something to do with the kicking exercises. I am flapping the foot quite hard against the water and trying to keep it en pointe, which is an unnatural position for me.

But with a touch of a hangover on Saturday I was having no such sensible thoughts. Obviously my initial fear was MS. I danced around the house, banging the foot on the floor, but it still maintained a stubborn numbness along the top.

Then obviously I got quite panicky, so I decided I was having a panic attack. I should tell you I have never had a panic attack in my life. If you are panicking that you are having a panic attack, does that qualify as an actual panic attack?

Naturally, I then started feeling light-headed. My wife said that my blood sugar was possibly low - just to get me to shut up, basically - so I ate some sweets. Didn't really work. In fact, I decided then that the weird feeling was going up one whole side of my body. And we all know what that means don't we? I was clearly having a stroke. I stood in front of the mirror making sure I could smile and raise my hands above my head. I thought I vaguely remembered that if you can smile and put your hands above your head then you are not having a stroke, and indeed you may be at a Coldplay gig. Everything seemed to be in order on that score. But I was still keen to believe that some form of catastrophe was befalling me. And then, something else happened and I got distracted and I completely forgot about the catastrophe.

That's the thing really isn't it? You can pour all your energy into thinking you are dying or you can, as the man says, get busy living.

To that end, I decided to do an unusual thing for me during the week, by saying yes to life for once. My swim coach, whom I haven't seen in a while, texted me and said I was ready to hit the open sea. A little bit of flattery went a long way and so I found myself half naked with him at Seapoint at 6am on Wednesday. Obviously I took one look at the sea and wanted to go home to my Mammy. Then we actually started getting into the sea and I really wanted to go home to my Mammy. Then we swam out a bit and I have to admit the cold and anxiety abated somewhat. "It makes you feel really alive," he kept telling me. I always find when someone has to tell you how something feels, then it doesn't feel good. But he was right. As I got back in the car and shivered uncontrollably all the way home for a hot shower before hitting the wireless, I did feel strangely exhilarated, and my diseases, real and/or imagined, were far from my mind. And I found that I was dying to go again. Dying to get living.

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