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I was born anxious, but I'm coping with coronavirus – here's why | Adrian Chiles

As a teenager I had chronic hypochondria. Yet in the face of a global pandemic I am surprisingly calm. Maybe it’s because we are all in this together

I was born anxious, but I'm coping with coronavirus – here's why | Adrian Chiles
Mind the gap … commuters keep their distance on London Bridge. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

I have noticed something odd about my anxiety at this time: I am not as anxious as I should be. I have been anxious for as long as I can remember: man, boy, child, baby and, for all I know, foetus. It just seems to be in my nature. I have a physical manifestation of it in the shape of a long furrow right across the middle of my brow. If I pull the skin on my forehead right back to stretch away this crevice, a white streak appears in its place. For this troubled trench is so deep that no sunlight finds a way to its depths.

When I was a kid, I worried about everything. I worried whether my friends liked me, whether girls liked me and, most of all, whether West Brom would win their next game. I worried about my grandparents dying and my parents dying. And, logically enough, by the time I got to my teens I started to worry about dying myself. This manifested itself in chronic hypochondria. I was convinced I had pretty much everything at some time or other, but the main focus of my concern was my testicles. To be fair, I had nearly lost them when I was 11 in a bicycle crash at my nan’s house on the day of the 1978 cup final, but that’s another story.

In my late teens, when I was away at university, I was sure that I had testicular cancer. I was checking them several times a day, invariably finding lumps and bumps and various inconsistencies. My own doctor got fed up with it, so I started presenting myself, as a visiting patient, at several different GPs. I went to them on a rota, so they didn’t get fed up, too. They never found anything but I remained in a right old state for years. And then one evening, in an Indian restaurant, my dad lost patience with my whimpering. He flung his naan bread down in irritation and said: “Look Ade, you’re fine. You’re not going to die of ball-rot or anything else.” The idea of ball-rot as a disease was absurd enough to snap me out of it. So that crisis passed, only to be replaced by another, and another.


So, I am a worrier. I have therapy for it; I swallow pills for it. I lie with my legs up against a wall, deep-breathing, with monks chanting on Spotify for it. But now, amid a global pandemic for God’s sake, I just can’t seem to worry enough. It turns out that the key component of my lifetime’s anxiety has been paranoia: a conviction that I would be singled out for especially bad treatment. I would get ill and die of ball-rot younger than anyone else; my career would end in dismal failure while others succeeded; my football team would lose more than any other.

But with this, as it is the whole planet, my stupid head is less anxious than normal. I mean, I am still anxious about the end of civilisation, the looming economic depression and the deaths of people we love. But it hasn’t sent me crazy like it’s sending some friends over the edge. Perhaps it is just that everyone else is now as anxious as the anxious are all time. Or perhaps it is just knowing that we’re all in this together.

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