The magnificent Theodore Dalrymple, writing in The Telegraph about David Cameron’s back pain (and yes, you should read the whole thing), starts by empathizing,
As an occasional sufferer from lower back pain, I sympathise deeply with David Cameron, whose lumbago currently prevents him from pursuing deer on Jura. A bad back is an utter misery: there is no position that one can adopt for long that remains comfortable. It is like a nagging spouse: it demands attention and cannot be ignored.
But soon transcends that, going into an area often, justly, feared by modern medicine:
Regarding myself as psychologically robust rather than fragile, I was once rather humiliated to discover that my bouts of back pain had a considerable, not to say overwhelming, psychological component. I was in India, and due to return home in a few days, when I was stricken by severe pain that made it almost impossible to walk. There was concurrently a problem with my ticket, but I did not connect the two. The ticket had disappeared into the maw of the airline office (no internet then).
As someone who suffers from both eczema and asthma, I’m often reminded that very real ills of the physical body can come from stress or other emotional states. So why do I say that area is justly feared?
Because there is a great temptation to consider ills as psychological if the symptoms are baffling. A doctor once attempted to diagnose an infection I was suffering from as depression because of certain baffling symptoms. So this type of illness needs to be approached with care.
But does it happen? That is undeniable. Doctor Dalrymple mentions that many world leaders have become addicted to pain pills and other substances while trying to treat vaguely defined “somatized” complaints. Men under great stress show it in their bodies.Nothing to be surprised at. As Dalrymple says
In a giant textbook from 1917 entitled Malingering, dedicated (ironically?) to the author of the National Insurance Act, Lloyd George, we read: “Our views as to the nature of [backache] sadly lack precision, and up to now the condition has not been correlated with any anatomical lesion… It is easy to complain of ‘pain in the back’, difficult to establish the truth of the assertion – a fact of which the fraudulent-minded are well aware.” To this day private detectives are probably better at discerning the truth than radiographers.
Between anatomical lesion and fraud, however, there is a large no-man’s land, probably inhabited by Mr Cameron – and by me. Perhaps also he suffers from that well-known phenomenon, illness that comes on when busy people relax. They have had no time to be ill before.
I know that I, personally, get end-of-novel flu, something that is well known in the writing community. When I let go I get ill. Now think of the myriad situations in which this could affect world leaders, and you’ll see the need for better understanding emotional conditions that manifest on your body.