No one knows what the body can do. -Spinoza

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fear of Worms Fear of Larvae, For Kim



My dear friend, Kim, over at A Parent's Life to Behold just got an adorable puppy that turned out to have roundworms. Appropriately, this led to a month long scrub-down-everything-in-the-entire-world frenzy. The following anecdote is my admitting to my own month long neuroses of living-in-worm-terror as a way of saying, "oh Kim, i understand, and what you just went through is awful, and it could be worse. YOU, at least, have a real live dog that had real live worms."


As a reminder of how bad it really was, this is what I looked like in the coursework phase of graduate school...

we call this picture: oh dear LORD, help me.

During my second year of graduate coursework I realized I was developing an untenable hand washing habit. That is, whenever I was working on a paper, a presentation, or anything else where I wasn't just reading material and working to understand it, but instead having to actually produce my own work that would then be JUDGED BY OTHERS AS SOME SIGN OF MY OWN SELF WORTH (those of you that have been through this know what I'm talking about), I would start to wash my hands every fifteen to twenty minutes.

Now, some of us clearly understand the importance of washing your hands after you've done things like, come back home from ANYWHERE, put your hands on the subway escalator hand rail, petted a dog you don't know really well, been to the bathroom, are about to do things in the kitchen, etc. Those all count as REASONABLE hand washing. I know Kim (and my mother) understands THAT kind of handwashing. But at the point of stress I'm describing all I'd been doing was sitting there at my computer struggling to get clear my ideas. The kind of habit I was developing was more of the, oh! i'm stressed out by this paper i have and stuck on figuring out how to sort this idea... crap, what if i can't figure this out? wait, focus! focus! the idea... the idea... i'm stuck. what do i do? focus! focus! ... wait, why am i washing my hands?... variety. The truth is, it took me a while to notice. It's cold enough in Montreal in the winter that hands get chapped. I was putting on more lotion, but that wasn't alleviating the problem. I think I finally caught up with my new neuroses when at some point I didn't even make it back to the desk to sit down before I was already turning again towards the bathroom sink in some attempt to wash clarity straight through my hands and right into my thoughts.

This was a problem. I couldn't be a single mom in a French speaking city living on a graduate level stipend doing grad coursework WITH OCD. I had way way too many details in my life to schedule in all ready. I had to take counter-action. I had to find a different way to respond to my paper writing stress that would distract me (1) from the hand washing, and (2) from the terror of not sorting out my own ideas.

I decided the only way to deal was to divert my attention from the stress by tricking myself. The terror (and thus the hand washing) got triggered when I would think too hard on an idea I thought I might not figure out, and start spinning in my own head. But, if I got up to do something NOT thinking related, thinking that would calm me down, I'd get stressed out feeling like I wasn't doing my work, thereby escalating the whole problem. So, I had to come up with something that would keep me feeling like I was working, but that would be just enough of a distraction to calm me down. CLEARLY, the only solution was to study intestinal parasites.

Wait, WHAT?! It's true. I'd always had a fascination with medical oddities, and medical science, and the very many ways the body deals with such things. So, it seemed to me the best solution was to go ahead and learn lots and lots about something other than just my grad work but something that would hold my attention. That way I'd still be in LEARNING mode, thus tricking my (almost) entire being into feeling like I was getting my work done, while distracting the thinkee part of me with different information than what I HAD to write on, in fact with information that I didn't HAVE TO think on at all. So, I could stay in thinkee mode without the same feeling of pressure, thereby relaxing while not removing myself from the need to get the work done entirely. If I was still in thinkee mode, the thought went, i could turn back to thinking on the topic I had to do work on once I'd calmed down enough to get it done. (You see how grad work really is an exercise in juggling neuroses, rather than getting rid of them?)

So, I spent an entire summer reading everything I could find on intestinal parasites. The really good ones, though, are various types of intestinal worms, most of which THANK GOD (I honestly do thank God on this. Really.) cannot be "caught" anywhere near any of the places I've ever lived. (Still, to be honest, just typing the sentence "the really good ones, are intestinal worms" still makes me puke in my mouth a little bit.) The information I was gathering was fascinating, and completely engaging. I managed it all quite well actually, and really only made one mistake. I decided to look at pictures.

Please, PLEASE. Never do this to yourself. Please do not research human intestinal worms and then look at pictures.

It turned out I spent an entire month CERTAIN I had worms. Of the worst sorts. And probably multiple kinds all at once. They were probably at war inside my gut living out a worm-lovers dream in all 7 meters, 23 feet, of my warm, worm feeding intestines. I called a friend of mine half way through this crisis and left her a message confessing that I believed myself to have intestinal worms. The next time we talked, she only laughed. I had to give up eating sprouts of any kind lest they trick me into "seeing things" in my poo. I couldn't eat noodles either. I also couldn't eat meat (a good way to get worms), and had to wash vegetables a lot. A lot. Beans and rice are also manageable in the midst of such a crisis. Though, rice really does kind of look like larvae. So, be careful with that.

Somehow in the midst of it all, I knew all that had happened was I had given myself some screwed up worm-based coping strategy for my coursework stress. That is, instead of having the terror that I would flunk out of grad work to focus on, I had the fear of having worms to focus on. I never went to a doctor. Though my fear of worms FELT real, I never quite convinced myself it WAS real. So, I didn't get pills to kill 'em all. I think I intentionally over drank whiskey a couple of times cause I'd read worms will often die off and poop out if you drink too much whiskey. At least that's my excuse. The point is though: If you've just gotten a puppy that really does have worms go ahead and neurotically wash the entire house over and over and make sure your puppy has those KILL 'EM AND KILL 'EM GOOD anti worm pills. Cause you may have worms, but you've also got a puppy, and so that said, it's not clear to me you're ACTUALLY being neurotic with all that washing and pill puppy popping.

Plus, holy heck, that puppy is cute! Congratulations on little Z!

(If you wanna see how cute Kim's new puppy dog is, check Z out via the link at the top of this post.)

Lots of love to you, Kim!


  1. Oh Elaine...

    I would hug you, with my latex gloves on, this instant if I could!

    I did buy papayas and raw pumpkin seeds and pomegranates to feed to my kids and myself (all natural parasite killers); I have stopped short of buying wormwood oil and black walnut oil, though I did call the CDC and have a mental breakdown in the vet office...for a while I was sure gin and tonics were leveling me out, in more ways than one...

    I then went the opposite direction and read tons of info on all these crazy parents who let, nay, ENCOURAGED their children to eat dirt...some with SPOONS! I tend to yin and yang in my search for answers...I am fairly convinced we don't have dog roundworms at this point, but, you're right Elaine, I am going the distance until those nasty capellini-like monsters are GONE!

    Some day, we will get together, drink whiskey sours, and I will share the times I thought I had anthrax, rabies, and started to blame my paranoia on my mitral valve-prolapse...

    God has some uber grace in His side pocket...I double dip regularly, after washing my hands of course...

    Thanks so much for the plug too, and your fantastic I-can-TOTALLY-relate blog post! Woot!

  2. it's good to see this information in your post, i was looking the same but there was not any proper resource, thanx now i have the link which i was looking for my research.
    Coursework Help

  3. oh! what a relief! i can just pay someone else to write up an account of a topic no one else has ever written on before and get my dissertation done that way. PHEW!