When reading this post, keep in mind that I am not a psychologist or scientist- I am very simply someone living with a particular experience.
As a self-proclaimed (but ‘recovering’) ‘hypochondriac’, I have always been conscious of the chemicals and toxins that surround me. Whether these chemicals exist in the form of pollution or house-hold cleaning products, I am almost always aware of potential dangers to my health. This consciousness influences my lifestyle and choices. For example, I only like to buy natural products, and I could never see myself raising a family in the city.
My ecology class recently read Marie Clements’ extraordinary play entitled Burning Vision. If you haven’t read it, the play revolves around the atomic explosion that occurred over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. The play takes place in a variety of countries, employing a variety of themes, and as mentioned by my professor (Dr. Julia Emberley), exposes the connections between the countries and beings who were affected by the bombs. For instance, the writing discusses uranium mining in Canada. This mining affected many cultures and people. The miners (mainly men) and the radium painters (of watches, and mainly female) developed cancer from the mining of uranium. As well, still to this day, numerous populations of people are affected by the aftermath of the atomic bombs and uranium mining in general. Connections forged due to violence and warfare are still alive and operating today.
After discussing Clements’ play, the class watched a documentary on uranium mining. The documentary did a good job of depicting how the mining affects Indigenous populations and a major theme within the film revolved around capitalism and the favouring of economy over ecology. As well, the film depicted the urgent need for Western society to develop a sense of consciousness towards capitalist actions, in order to recognize the full impact of such actions and prevent violence and harm. This consciousness and awareness already exists within Indigenous culture and spirituality. Sadly, the government and people in power fail to listen to Indigenous populations who are directly impacted by uranium mining, even though the populations are developing sickness, and cancer because of the mining.
How does this link to ‘conscious hypochondria’? Well, I would describe my episodes of hypochondria as being derived from my ‘subconscious’. In regards to environmental degradation, my ‘everyday brain’ is already consciously aware of chemicals and pollution (because of my experienced hypochondria). My hypochondria therefore, has made me aware of the health dangers that surround me. Through this perspective, one can see the clear tie between mental health and ecological issues (again, a conscious perspective that Indigenous culture already understands).
Consciousness is a concept and way of thinking that Eurocentric and capitalist forces are afraid of. Consciousness allows people knowledge of their surroundings, therefore it also allows people to understand when violence and harm are occuring. So consciousness is dangerous to the powerful forces that would prefer to remain unquestioned.
I would never wish mental illness upon anyone. But imagine if capitalist Western society developed a conscious form of hypochondria. This form of hypochondria would not be distressing per say, rather it would allow people in power to directly see uranium mining as affecting health, and they would want (key word ‘want’) to actually stop any violence and harm. My hypochondria in my day to day life, psychologically gives me no other choice but to avoid things that negatively impact my health.
Can hypochondria be productive? Would a taste of it actually force people in power to make the right decisions? I would argue yes, but nonetheless, one can clearly see the intersecting lines between mental illness and ecological health and well-being.
Comment below if you want to critique or add thoughts!