The following is a personal essay I wrote for my English Composition I class in October of 2016. I'm sharing it here for no particular reason. I received an A.
Everything Wrong with Me
Oh no! I have breast cancer. I was lying in bed, scrolling through a medical website on my cell phone. I am the first boy to ever get breast cancer and now I have to tell my mom that her son is going to die. I was thirteen and my thumb was moving so fast against the glass that my Wi-Fi could hardly keep up. What did I do to deserve this? I’m a Boy Scout! I get straight A’s! I’ve never hit a dog and I scowl at those who do! It was Saturday morning and I had been up all night researching my symptoms online. Two words entered into a search engine were all it took for me to become immediately aware of my own mortality: breast lumps. I had noticed them late Friday night while getting ready for bed. I was pulling a shirt over my head. Ouch! Why are those so sensitive? I felt them with one hand and reached for my phone with the other. At the age of thirteen, most everything I knew came from television and the internet. I was inclined to believe every word I read on the first website I visited that Saturday morning. I was inclined to believe that I had breast cancer.
I am twenty now, and I am cancer free. This is not because I received a life-saving treatment, nor is it because I participated in a successful trial drug study for cancer patients. I am cancer free because, during puberty, about half of all boys develop enlarged, sensitive breast tissue in a condition called gynecomastia. The tissue is completely noncancerous, and eventually disappears completely. No one told me about such a condition when I was growing up. I did not even know boys had breasts for most of my youth. I learned a lot at the age of thirteen, though. Most importantly, I learned that I should always check the second link in search results, especially when I am looking up symptoms like “breast lumps,” because that link is where my saving grace, gynecomastia, is waiting to rescue me. Clicking on the second link instead of just the first in a set of search results was not the only “first” I experienced that morning, however. It was on that morning I noticed, for the first time, that there might be something wrong with me. Granted, it was not as bad as my thirteen-year-old mind thought, but in those moments when I planned on how to tell my mother about my imminent death, I felt more wrong than ever before. I did not like the feeling.
Even now, at the age of twenty, I take note of the traits that make me feel like something is wrong with me, but I have learned to accept them. I have learned that what feels wrong to me—what makes me different—is no longer a trait that I should dread having to tell my mother about. Every person on Earth has something different about them, and though they might feel like that difference is wrong, I believe they will learn that the only way for true happiness is to accept—embrace, even—that wrongness.
Ever since that Saturday morning, I have kept a mental list of my differences titled “Everything Wrong with Me.” This list rarely makes its way onto paper—partly because of its personal nature, and partly because of its sheer length. However, I am a firm believer that it is not about the length of your list, but rather, how you use it. I have many uses for “Everything Wrong with Me.” For one, I can give it a quick once-over whenever I might need to humble myself (this is needed a lot, and therefore, my use of the list in this way has also made it onto the list.) My mother occasionally accuses me of thinking I am better than other people, that I put myself up on a higher plane. My response is always the same: I do not think I am higher than other people. I just often think that other people are lower than me. I do not think this is any better than putting myself higher—in fact, it might be worse—but I do think that it is at least more honest. However honest it may be, though, I also think that it is wrong, so it is on the list.
Moving down the list, there is a large section devoted to self-diagnosed medical conditions: trichotillomania, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, dermatophagia, dermatillomania, onychophagy, a large number of body-focused repetitive behaviors, and a few more that I cannot pronounce. The list contains nearly every condition I have come across while browsing online, except, of course, hypochondria (my refusal to add hypochondria to the list is on the list.) I have even added autism to the list because an online test I took showed me that I have above average autistic tendencies. I figured that would be the result going into the test, though, knowing that I often don’t like talking to people, but can also go on for too long about one topic in which I can tell they are not interested. I will expect someone to listen to me drone on about my favorite movies or albums, but then immediately lose interest when they try to tell me about their own favorites. I have an unhealthy habit of staying up late watching movies (and researching medical phenomena) instead of going to bed. I am very specific about the bottled water I drink, but simultaneously, I pay no mind to the brand of ginger ale that I consume. I add more quirks to the list of everything wrong with me each day of the week.
The list has grown to a very large size over the years. Its own great length has been, more recently, added to the list. To the untrained eye, “Everything Wrong with Me” may seem unruly or even unhealthy, but to me, someone with seven years of experience, the list is the only way I have been able to maintain my health. It has been often said that we must accept our flaws—everyone has heard this statement. However, I do not feel that enough people follow this life advice. Even looking at my closest friends, I see people unhappy with who they are while also refusing to do anything to feel better about themselves. I have often been unhappy with who I am. This is why it is so easy for me to fill my list. The difference between me and my friends, though, is my willingness to acknowledge what I do not like about myself in a very head-on approach.
After convincing myself that I was terminal, I realized that sometimes we hyperbolize those traits about us that we do not like. As strange of a thought that it might be, I was not happy with myself for acquiring cancer. I was thirteen and I was disappointed in myself for letting my life end up that way. I had a flair for the dramatic. But after learning that I did not have cancer, and that I had exaggerated a trait about me that I did not want to accept, I realized that I was also exaggerating my other undesired quirks as well. Did I really have every medical condition I had found just because I matched four of the thirty symptoms? No, I probably did not. By allowing myself to create and study “Everything Wrong with Me,” I have also allowed myself to look back on it at times after I have learned much more about the world to realize that everything wrong with me really is not all that wrong, or true. I do not think that the list is the right choice for everyone, though. Some may get very overwhelmed or discouraged if theirs grows too long. I do think, however, that everyone should be willing to at least give the second search result a chance when it comes to the traits they do not like about themselves. After all, I never had to tell my mom her son was going to die.
This article was updated on April 12, 2018