i’ve got esoteric syndromes!

“I’ve got a number of irrational fears
That I’d like to share with you”  –Weezer, “Falling For You”


My primary care physician likes to tell me how interesting a patient I am.  I am a generally fairly healthy person, but I have had a fair number of sports injuries over the last year, and if I get injured or ill, it’s generally some weird condition she hasn’t heard of since doctorin’ school.


Anyone familiar with the internet for a few minutes has looked up their weird assortment of symptoms and decided they have a tumor of the pineal gland.  However, I have had assortments of symptoms that I never even thought of as symptoms, only to one day read of a weird condition and think, “oh man, not everyone feels that way!? I just thought that was normal!”  I am a total syndrome hipster–you’ve probably never heard of my syndromes.  They are as follows:


Stendhal Syndrome  The first time I went to the Art Institute in Chicago was in high school.  I remember breaking off from the group and sitting in front of El Greco’s Assumption of the Virgin.  Generally this is exactly the kind of art I do not like.  I mean, I get that it’s beautiful and such, but it generally doesn’t do much for me.  I’m also not religious, but hooboy have I had hours of training on religious art–I went to 14 years of Catholic school.  I believe I had an entire class period on this painting alone.  I sat down because there was a bench, not because of this painting in specific, but because I was feeling dizzy, nauseous, and near fainting.  I never feel this way.  I never vomit, pretty much.


I’ve been to lots of art museums over the years and whenever I really like some art, I feel this way.  I have felt this way in non-art museums, and generally even when seeing cool natural things.  Lately it also includes random weeping!  In college I was in a class where The Red & The Black by Stendhal was required reading.  And that’s when I learned that this is actually a (psychosomatic) condition people tend to get.  It’s generally unpleasant and sometimes embarrassing.  Yes, I have wept openly at the Library of Congress.  It’s something I have to build into tourist experiences now.


L’appel du Vide/Call of the void This is an urge, when in a high place, to jump off.  Growing up in Chicago, I was not faced with many high places.  It’s flat.  We do have a very tall building but I don’t get the call of the void when indoors.  I only get it in what I call “unsecured heights.”  If there’s even a rail, I have no impetus to throw myself over.  But a trail?  Yes.  The Grand Canyon?  Hooboy yes.  I have rappelled off of a 28 story building and thrown myself (and someone else) out of a perfectly good airplane in order to attempt to get more comfortable with this.  Sort of helped.  I am even freaked out if there’s intense traffic with no guardrail–I want to throw myself into it.  The el tracks?  They are very compelling.

Let me clarify that I have no urge to die.  I am a clumsy person so I try to avoid being near these places in general because I trip and fall a lot.  So I think this fear is actually totally rational and keeps me from these places.  If I could throw myself (safely) off of a building every week, I would do so with glee.  When I rappelled, I was told I went way too fast and they physically stopped me several times.  MUST GO FAST TOWARD GROUND!


When I skydived, it was the least frightening thing ever.  It was more exactly what I want to do whenever I am high up.  The jumping out wasn’t frightening–it’s the having to make myself not jump all the time that’s frightening.  In fact I jumped out of the airplane too soon–before my instructor told me.  It was fine but he thought this was hilarious, especially after hearing I was a librarian and totally thinking I would wuss out.  He commented on how extremely calm I was.  WELL OF COURSE MAN!


I may also have Freiberg’s Syndrome/Infarction/Disease, something that only affects one metatarsal and is common in gymnasts under 20 (I am neither of those things). And I have a weird genetic anemia which kills my red blood cells and would kill my children if I had a Mediterranean babydaddy.  On the bright side, it makes it really hard for me to get malaria! Yippee!


Do you think this is why I was such a big fan of House, M.D.?


  1. E says:

    Heights are the worst! I have an irrational fear of falling even when extremely secure.

  2. eye-ona says:

    Whoa, Stendhal Syndrome is crazy!

    I once turned the corner in a museum and came face-to-face with an enormous Kandinsky painting. I had always read that his paintings were fueled by his synesthesia, but when I saw an actual painting I suddenly understood and was SO overwhelmed with emotion.

    And hey, at least you don’t have synesthesia! It sounds difficult.

    Hooray for no malaria!

  3. Jennifer says:

    I love that you are this way. I am too but keep it mostly a secret because it makes me feel like such a dork. One time at the Art Institute in Chicago I had to leave because I was kind of a wreck, crying and all. Even the bums, who had hit me up for money on my way in, just turned away when they saw me coming out. That place is kind of dangerous. I don’t even want to think about the LOC. I believe Sizemore refers to it as having the sap gene.

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