Why We Shouldn’t Diagnose Ourselves

Quite a few years ago, in late June, I noticed something different about the knuckles on my big toes. They were darker and somewhat callous. How strange. I assumed that perhaps the change was due to the type of sandal that I had worn throughout the greater part of the summer. I shrugged it off and figured it would go away as I switched to footwear for the cooler seasons ahead. Unfortunately, I saw no improvement. While I felt perfectly fine, I grew curious as to why the knuckles on my big toes remained discolored. Like many people, I decided to find my answer on the wild west that is the internet. The most popular answer? I could be in the beginning stages of type 2 diabetes.

Immediately, I was nothing less than terrified. My father had been diagnosed with type 2 within the past decade. At the time, I thought I had been living relatively healthily. However, I thought back to all the unhealthy choices I made in the first twenty-five years of my life. I spent ten plus years smoking cigarettes on and off.  I thrived on Poptarts and Reese’s cups during a few of my college years. Most regretfully, I suffered from an eating disorder for almost ten years. Was this my body’s way of finally getting back at me? Was this my punishment for not eating enough kale? I was angry with myself, and I was scared. I did not want to have to visit the doctor regularly for blood work. I did not want to take medication. I did not want to check my blood sugar and watch what I ate.

You would think if I thought I was developing diabetes, I would make an appointment with my doctor right away. If you thought that, you obviously didn’t know me in my twenties. Instead, I thought I would walk around and suffer for a while. When I thought I had suffered enough, I made an appointment to see my family practitioner. I filled out the same forms I always did, and we went through the general check up process. That’s when I finally told my doctor the reason I was there. I believed I had diabetes and I wanted to get healthier. I started crying. I finally had accepted my fate. My doctor continued to ask me a series of questions. Finally, he asked, “Hillary, do you go to a tanning bed?”. While my first instinct was to insist that my goddess glow was natural, I admitted that I had. His response was, “I want you to take a month off and see if your toes go back to normal.”.  

I took a month off from tanning and my big toes went back to normal. It turns out repetitive, close-up exposure to UV light was causing the knuckles on my big toes to turn very dark. I did not have type 2 diabetes, but because I diagnosed myself, I walked around for months thinking I did. I am not a medical doctor, neither is Google, nor WebMD. Your best friend who tells you they have the same symptoms as you and was diagnosed with something so you must have that same thing, is not a doctor. Well, they could be a doctor, but it is unlikely they are your doctor. What I am saying is leave the diagnosis to the professionals! I can’t tell you how many people I have spoken to since my own experience that also diagnose themselves and suffer incredible amounts of anxiety based upon what they think they have. If you notice something different about your physical or mental state and it concerns you, make an appointment to see someone who has been trained to assist you and answer your questions. Also, please stay out of the tanning beds, your big toes will thank you.   

If you would like to speak to a professional counselor or psychologist about this and are in the Chicago area, please feel free to contact Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc. at 708-633-8000. We are located at 6819 West 167th Street in Tinley Park, Illinois 60477.

Written By: Hillary R., Masters Level Intern 2023

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