Yesterday, I was browsing some pictures on Facebook (it’s called procrastination), when I stumbled upon a photo of my civil wedding. It’s a simple picture of my maid of honour, laughing, and I, amused, looking at her, smiling. 

The thing is, you see, she has been my friend for the past 24 years, and perhaps I was too immersed in the crazy wedding fog (not that I was Bridezilla, I simply have a Lebanese mother) to fully realise how much of a blessing it was to have your friend of 24 years stand next to you in such an important moment. 

There are many love stories, the strongest bonds not necessarily being the ones you build when you fall in love. My friend Ludivine and I know each other inside and out but never bore each other. We live thousands of miles apart, yet as soon as we see each other, it’s like our never ending conversation had never been stopped by distance, and we quite joyfully slot back into our routines, sharing our news, our jokes, our secrets. True friendships are like your best pair of jeans, the ones you’ve wore a gazillion times, yet they still fit perfectly and you never throw them away. I’m struggling to find the right words to describe what she means to me: we’ve been to hell and back together, we’ve been together in joy and sadness, like any other friends really. We’ve laughed and bickered and cried and fought and been pissy at one another, we’ve reconciled and forgot about it all, we’ve agonised over the come back of the denim shirt (so 90’s), we’ve dissected break ups over teas that were getting cold as our never ending conversations went along. 

On the day of my civil wedding, she was there, next to me, laughing and making me laugh, my sister in arms, and in itself it was a gift of life, to have two love stories around me, to feel hearts connected in time. 

On the evening of my religious wedding, she got up, her hands slightly shaking, she got up to make the traditional maid of honour speech. I kept looking at her, tears pouring down my face, half laughing, my heart overwhelmed, she got up, ever so pretty in her black bohemian dress, I looked at my friend of 24 years say her words of love and friendship to me, her words, the perfect embodiement of the mix of fun and serious moments we’ve had together, her words, en elegy of our past together, her presence, right there, the seal of all the wonderful things to come. 

I probably didn’t get the chance to tell her that night that I might have signed an unshakable bond with my husband that night, but that the one her and I have and nurtured is just as unfaltering, the way we probably intended it when we were exchanging black khol and blue gloss when we were 15, smoking our Marlboro Lights, thinking we were IT. 

I Don’t Know What You’re Talking About, You Big, Giant, Talking Cigarette

Chandler: Ok, I’m just going to go outside.
Ross: Whoa, whoa, hold it.
Chandler: Don’t worry. I’m not going to run away again. I just want to get some fresh air.
Ross: Ok.
Chandler: [exits into hallway and lights a cigarette] Ahh, fresh air…

Why God WHYYYYY!!!! I was doing so well! I was being so modestly smug, telling people I had quit smoking for good, that it was disgusting, that the smell now annoyed me, all with a composed winning smile, a poised demeanor, a whole attitude that screamed “Look at me! I am so great! I quit smoking without a patch! Where are the photographers? why isn’t my face on the cover of magazines?”. I thus felt I deserved a big hoopla only for stopping poisoning my own body with Cancer on a Stick. 

And here I am, nine months in.

Nine months, I barely made it nine months before breaking the cigarette fast and having one today.

You see, it is not that I didn’t try. I tried relieving myself from the stress by eating chocolate (marvellous, for about 36 Kinder, until I started to feel nauseated by all that good milk so healthy for my bones). I then tried green tea, walks; a friend of mine even suggested that I actually do sports, which, let’s face it, is very funny. I mean, the idea of me running after nothing, just to move, is beyond ludicrous. Let us be clear here: i run only if a pair of reduced Louboutins is looking at me and the only way to get it is to beat the hordes of red-sole hungry other lunatics competing in the same category as me: shoe crazed freak. No 12 cm peep-toed delights, me no run. End of Story.

So I decided that I was strong enough to deal and cope with the stress by myself, without the help of anything, just me and the 6 seasons of Sex and the City (by the way, I realised that the first episode was aired 14 years ago. Can you believe it? Yet Carrie Bradshaw’s style is still spot on trend, any way, moving on). That resolution was all well and dandy until a strange thing happened. My colleagues’ shapes were slowly blurring and started to look like big giant cigarettes explaining one thing or another to me. I started understanding Marlboros in Hellos and forgot the actual meaning of the word Merit, only to remember I used to smoke Merits in my beloved Cairo (don’t ask, i just saw the yellow merits suited Cairo).

Why is this happening to me now? Couldn’t have had withdrawal symptoms like every other normal human being, at the beginning of me quitting? When it got to the point where I was actually gonna light my boss, I decided I needed to keep my job to be able to exercise a bit in my shoe-pursuit sport, so I just went and pleaded (I mean it. The subject of the email was HELP!), yes pleaded with a colleague of mine for her to hand me that ciggie.

It was like a seedy affair you don’t want people to know about: I smoked it, yes, and I had pleasure doing it, but I felt guilty afterwards (well, more than I usually do anyway).

After I put it one, my fingers smelled yucky, I was coughing and my heart was beating too fast for words, increasing my stress. Was it worth it? Oh No! It is the last time EVER! (Smug, unstressed self, happily writing from the safety of her bed)

You just wait, says my other self, when I stress you tomorrow. DOn’t be more self-righteous than thee.

I really don’t know what you’re talking about, you big, giant talking cigarette.

On Being A Hypochondriac

Tout bien portant est un malade qui s’ignore.

Jules Romains, Knock

Hi, my name is Paola and I’m a hypochondriac. 

I think it just needed to be said. You see, most people would think it’s not normal to be calling the French SAMU for an indigestion, but that’s the kind of thing me and my best friend Ludivine would do in a heart beat. 

Now please don’t get me wrong: we really, truly, are lovely girls who’d give you the shirt off our backs and everything. It’s just that when we have a headache, we automatically think we have a brain tumour. 

The worst part of it all is the amount of bad faith we can show. Let’s take situation one: I feel queasy, with a strong headache. I go and complain towards a normal person, who will tell me, naturally enough, that it’s probably something I’ve eaten and that it’ll pass. My answer to this perfectly sane and sound piece of advice? One, Cry: and what do you know? Are you a doctor? I don’t think so! Two, carve the worst possible scenario ever: I have meningitis and you just don’t care! Three, huff and puff and go on Google: “meningitis symptoms”, “Doctissimo” “”. 

Then, when it’s all over, when, after calling about 23 different doctors who repeatedly tell me it is NOT meningitis, that I should STOP going on Wikipedia to make my own diagnosis, that it IS something bad I’ve eaten, I’ll go back to the normal person, all smug and happy, and tell he or she: you see? There was absolutely no need to worry like you did. You can be so nervous for nothing sometimes. Which often times seems to spark murderous thoughts in the mind of my interlocutor. Funnily enough, even though the probability of dying at the hands of a friend or parent I’ve driven mad is probably much higher than me getting meningitis, I never worry about that. For those of you who like me are Big Bang Theory Sheldon Cooper worshippers, just picture a gassy Sheldon knocking on Leonard’s door, thinking he might have Ebola when really, he’s just eaten way too many Brussels sprouts. There, picture clear enough?

Us Hypochondriacs just love each other’s company. No, really, we relish it. Why, you ask? Well because we can ask and probe and reassure one another until blue in the face, and no one can tell us to stop and come back to the lovely fields of sanity, because, well, we’re all as bas as each other, like: “Do you feel the same lump I’m feeling here? Here, I’m telling you, you’re not touching properly!” or “I’ve been feeling tired. I might have lymphoma.” or the best of the worst “I’ve bumped my head. I have a brain haemorrhage now”. 

The saddest part of it all is that, when we’re having a crisis, we truly, really believe that our fantasies are true and that we’re on our way to eternal sleep. Non hypochondriacs might think we’re just drama queens and kings, which I strongly resent. Hypochondria is like a compulsion, and no matter how many doctors you see or exams you take, you don’t feel reassured more than half a day. Then, you just go back to wanting to live in a hospital in case you might need a CAT scan. 

But why are we wired this way, one might ask? Some people argue it’s because of a tough medical family history, some think it’s the fear of dying. Other simply think we’re Molière’s Imaginary Invalid. 

I choose to blame the media, who tell us to worry about our health: we’re just over-achieving students.