Today the hypochondriac is ridiculed and reviled, a figure of fun and an object of scorn. But for centuries, hypochondria was deemed a fashionable, even a desirable disorder. In this series, six writers look at the past and present of hypochondria. Personal, historical and political, these essays ask what we might learn from this troubling condition. Who gets labelled ‘hypochondriac’? What questions do hypochondriacs raise about the bodily nature of our existence, and about the way we separate health and illness? Might hypochondria even be a source not only of suffering, but also insight?
Unless she falls to the floor unconscious, Anne Boyer has always ignored signs of illness. Cancer, however, made her face her fallibility.
Writing about bodies, and hearing the stories of others’ bodies, Johanna Hedva also heard, over and over, how people blame themselves – and are encouraged to do this – for illness and disability.
Reading the writings of the lifelong hypochondriac Jacques Derrida during lockdown, Brian Dillon realises his own health anxiety has become unusually subdued.
An intense focus on his own bodily sensations led poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge to self-medicate with narcotics. But this fascination also put Coleridge ahead of the medical sensibilities of his day.
Reading descriptions of the way humans become infested by parasitic flatworms, Daisy Lafarge experienced painful physical symptoms. Perhaps the very creature she was studying had invaded her body.
About the contributors
Will Rees is a director of Peninsula Press, and a Wellcome Trust–funded PhD student at UCL, where he is writing a literary history of hypochondria.
Naki is an artist of Ghanaian descent from two homes, Accra and London. Her work draws inspiration from quintessentially Ghanaian tropes and concerns: explorations of self and identity, social and personal conscience. She loves to work with abstract lines, portraits, colour and patterns. She works in ink and acrylic on paper, digital painting and canvas. Explosions of colour and patterns mark her rapidly evolving signature style. Her love for art and architecture are more than expressions of self: they represent an amalgam of all that has moulded her themes and style of painting. They are an assimilation of the kaleidoscope of cultural and structural vibrancy and vitality of a life spent immersed in distinctly different cultures.