How to Lose Everything in Twelve Easy Steps

Step One

Wake up drenched in sweat, with a fatigue that reaches to your marrow. Fear you’re dying. Go to the doctor. When he runs a battery of tests and declares you to be in perfect health, blink at him in wonderment. Explain again: everything hurts, you have zero energy, on some mornings, when you first wake up, you can’t see. The doctor will shrug and send you home. When you get home, crawl into bed and sleep for sixteen hours.

A week later, go to a different doctor. Show her your brown, furry tongue. She will also run a bunch of tests, will also say you are fine. Dumbfounded, reiterate the part about your liver—how you have a dull, constant ache where your liver should be. With one hand, she’ll hold up an ultrasound slide and say, “You’ve got a terrific liver! Enjoy it!” Stick out your tongue. “Some people just have brown, furry tongues!” she’ll say.

In her white coat, the doctor appears perfectly sincere. You’re at one of the finest hospitals in the country. Glance around. Is it April Fools’? Are you being punked? When she tells you again that you are the image of good health, do not scream. Do not say: “Are you out of your mind?” Not because you’re intimidated by her framed diplomas, her mahogany desk, her shockingly white teeth. You just have an absurd compulsion to be nice.

At home, in the bathroom, scrutinize your face. Your hair is falling out. There are dark circles under your eyes. Your fingernails are soft as wax. Your skin, once dewy, has turned brittle overnight. Tell yourself that now you have just enough wrinkles for people to take you seriously. But what’s going on? Even the dog sniffs at you as if your scent has turned foreign.

By the time you go to the third doctor, you’ve started forgetting things. You carry a list of symptoms in your purse. Sunlight—nearly all light—hurts your eyes. All sounds hurt your ears. Your mouth tastes like metal. Several times a day, you feel on the verge of passing out. On your way from your car to this doctor’s office, you have to rest briefly on the curb. Whenever you walk these days, it feels as if your legs belong to someone else—someone who has just run twelve marathons.

Again, the tests say you are fine. Again, the doctor agrees. On your way back to the car, slump beside a manicured bush and cry.

Repeat this six more times, with six more doctors.

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