Jennifer Traig’s hypochondria goes under the microscope in her bizarre and compelling memoir Well Enough Alone.
Picking up where her 2004 girlhood memoir, Devil in the Details, a chronicle of wrestling with obsessive-compulsive disorder, left off, Well Enough Alone has Jennifer Traig scratching a new itch. Or rather she describes, often in excruciatingly exact detail, a whole array of itches and potentially fatal illnesses that you’ve probably never imagined. As a young adult (mostly) suppressing her OCD urges, Traig developed a handful of medical problems: rash-inducing eczema, irritable bowel syndrome, and extreme hypochondria, which invoked a different category of obsession. Her unrelenting phobia of getting sick prevented her from feeling healthy, as she fell victim to one invented malady after another. By the time she had her first (false alarm) heart attack, at 18, she’d already suffered from boy-who-cried-wolf bouts of “skin cancer, meningitis, pancreatitis, and blood poisoning.” Interwoven with her own medical (and mental) crises is the fascinating history of hypochondria itself, which provides a rich cultural context for her personal story. Traig’s unflinching honesty and self-deprecation, combined with meticulous research and dashes of laugh-out-loud humor, render her chronicles surprisingly cinematic. Though the work is framed with a scattershot structure, at its best Traig’s writing is thoroughly engaging. And for readers afflicted with short attention spans, this book’s liveliness, along with a hilarious appendix featuring health horoscopes and hypochondria haiku, serves as the perfect—and contagious—antidote.