We are all wanderers on this earth. Our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tarot Hypochondria

I recently read about how doctors are getting frustrated with patients who gather medical information about their symptoms via the Internet.  This TIME article by Dr. Zachary Meisel illustrates an all too common scene in today's doctor's office:

The medical intern started her presentation with an eye roll. "The patient in Room 3 had some blood in the toilet bowl this morning and is here with a pile of Internet printouts listing all the crazy things she thinks she might have."
The intern continued, "I think she has a hemorrhoid."
"Another case of cyberchondria," added the nurse behind me.
In the end, the patient did, indeed, have a hemorrhoid.
This made me laugh because a number of years ago I did something very similar, but in my case I didn't even have any symptoms. Simply browsing the Internet I came upon a description of a rare, genetic disorder, Marfan Syndrome, that, it appeared to me, I might have.  It didn't matter that no one in my family had ever been diagnosed with this disorder nor met their premature end as a result of this disorder, I became increasingly convinced I was at least potentially one with this life-threatening condition.  The scary part about it was that it involved a weakness in the heart's aorta and death could come instantly without warning as the aorta ruptures.  I spent weeks in nervous anxiety, thinking every twinge in my upper back, every weird sensation in my chest, was an indication that I did have this condition.   I even ended up imagining being carted out of my house by EMT's on a stretcher while my young children, bewildered, looked on helplessly, thinking it would be the last time they would see their mother alive.  Oh, I was a wreck.

So, I scheduled a physical with my doctor.  She was wonderful.  I remember her smiling and even warmly laughing a little at my concern.  I admitted I felt foolish, having dredged up this information on the Internet.  She commiserated, sharing that, being a doctor, she had too much information at her disposal and had done the same more than once.  She said, "You understand how rare this disorder is, don't you?  And you're not tall, so..." I nodded.  "But I do share many of the other indications, and that worries me," I said.  She said, "Ok, I understand.  Let's do an echocardigram and put your mind at ease."  Bless her.  Tests revealed I do not, in fact, have Marfan Syndrome and I stopped having imaginary traumatic death scenes play out inside my head.

A similar dynamic can happen when reading tarot, especially if we are "self-diagnosing," or reading for oneself.  Just as the wealth of information on the Internet can benefit someone with a health concern, it can also lead to unfounded worries.  So, too, the myriad of meanings and interpretations to the tarot cards can both inform and send one down anxiety ridden paths.  For example, we can get quite nervous when we see the Tower show up on any given day.  It's not just the imagery, it's the traditional meaning, too.  According to Waite's Pictorial Key:
 THE TOWER.--Misery, distress, indigence, adversity, calamity, disgrace, deception, ruin. It is a card in particular of unforeseen catastrophe. Reversed: According to one account, the same in a lesser degree also oppression, imprisonment, tyranny.
Nice.  You're screwed.  Oh noes!  So, if you're like me, you do more research.  You ask the cards what the hell they are talking about and what means the Tower in this situation. It's answer?  Ten of Swords:

Whatsoever is intimated by the design; also pain, affliction, tears, sadness, desolation. It is not especially a card of violent death. Reversed: Advantage, profit, success, favour, but none of these are permanent; also power and authority.
 Good grief.  Well, at least I won't die violently.  And the Swords indicate conflict, but it is likely something verbal or that is going on inside my own head.  I'd rather see this card follow the Tower than the 5 of Pentacles reversed:

The card foretells material trouble above all, whether in the form illustrated--that is, destitution--or otherwise. For some cartomancists, it is a card of love and lovers-wife, husband, friend, mistress; also concordance, affinities. These alternatives cannot be harmonized. Reversed: Disorder, chaos, ruin, discord, profligacy.
But it's still disconcerting, so how about we have a do-over?  Shuffle.  Shuffle some more.  Shuffle more.  Now my hands are sweaty and random cards fall out of the deck.  Do they mean something? Nah, I'm just perspiring.  But what if they do?  Strength fell out, but was it upright or reversed?  I don't know because it fell on the floor sideways.

Power, energy, action, courage, magnanimity; also complete success and honours. Reversed: Despotism, abuse if power, weakness, discord, sometimes even disgrace.
I need to know if it was upright or reversed, so I draw another card to ask this.  I get 7 of Wands:
Reversed: Perplexity, embarrassments, anxiety. It is also a caution against indecision.
 Now the tarot is making fun of me and my anxious state over this whole reading.  "Very funny, " I say out loud.  Further readings, of which there are several, yield results no better and less clear.

First, calm down.  Even doctors need to consult other doctors.  Tarot readers need to consult other tarot readers sometimes, too.  All it took for me to find peace when I thought I was suffering from an incurable condition was an understanding physician and a simple test.  It was worth the co-pay.  It was not worth the weeks of dread and anxiety I waited because I thought I was being foolish.  The objectivity that another reader can provide is priceless.