Being in medical school is either the hypochondriac’s dream or their worst nightmare. On a daily basis, as clinicians discuss symptoms that patients may present with if they’re suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, ADHD, or schizophrenia, I think to myself, “Yep. I’ve had that. Great, I’m a schizophrenic with grumpy bowels.”

It’s actually a recognized phenomenon, as evidenced by lecturers consistently presenting cases in class that start with, “A 25-year-old medical student comes in with a headache…” We see the diagnostic criteria of all these diseases and we start counting how many symptoms we have. It was especially bad during our block on the Nervous System and Neurology, when so many syndromes have such mysterious causes and our understanding of them is still quite superficial. I would find myself falling asleep each night trying not to think about why my brain was thinking about how it worked, willing my thalamus to selectively filter the thoughts that were keeping it whirring. It was a vicious cycle and was only consistently interrupted by thinking about puppies, kittens and/or Gangnam Style (always a good distraction).

It’s amazing to me that the more I learn about my own body and how it works, the more I am shocked I’m not falling apart. How on earth is everything orchestrated so beautifully that I’m able to function the way I do? For example, like I mentioned earlier, the thalamus in the brain is involved in filtering out what information we’re going to focus on. Rather than taking in every sensation we have at any given time, we filter out and pay attention to only those things that are important. So instead of being constantly aware of each fold of fabric touching your body, every shift of light in your field of vision, and every insignificant thought that may be associated with the orange color of your jelly (orange is for fall and Halloween and I had a cat that was orange and once someone told me their favorite color was orange, who was that? And so on and so forth…), you can just spread the jam on your toast, take a bite, and indulge in the taste sensation now being associated with orange by your hippocampus. You aren’t overwhelmed by everything your nervous system is capable of sensing because parts of you are on autopilot and that’s the way it should be.

One theory for schizophrenia is that the thalamus doesn’t filter as well and all those sensations come through even when they’re not pertinent to the situation. Schizophrenic hallucinations may be interpreted this way because the mind doesn’t know how to handle the excess stimulation. Schizophrenia would be kind of a bigger leap to self-diagnose, but what about ADHD? Every person on the planet exhibits symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder at some point in their lives, but not everyone in the world would be diagnosable. The difference is of course severity. Do you have enough of the symptoms enough of the time that it negatively affects your life and the lives of those around you? Yes? Well, then seek treatment. Do you get distracted sometimes or fidget when you’re bored? You’re probably fine, we all do.

I guess the point is that as we learn about all these things that can go wrong with our incredibly intricate bodies and minds, it’s astounding to me that so many of us are relatively ok. It’s pretty wonderful (and in my opinion, magical) that everything fits and works together the way it does. Although we are entering our block on digestion and I can only imagine that my self-diagnosing is about to get really exciting in the coming weeks. Maybe I’ll finally figure out how to get rid of my oh-so-ladylike fart-astic reputation!
 


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