Pinworms | Hal Baum

When you Google pinworms the information may be vague, but when you Google “I want to kill myself” the information is very specific, and very helpful.

I have had pinworms for the past two years.

Pinworms are these little parasites that live inside your small intestines. They’re tiny-about half the length of your pinky nail-and they look like little, transparent white threads.

You get infected with pinworms by swallowing pinworm eggs. The eggs get stuck in your intestines until they hatch, and then the worms squirm down to your asshole and lay new eggs there. These eggs make your asshole very itchy, so you scratch it. Then, the new pinworm eggs get under your fingernails, so when you eat something you swallow them and the whole cycle starts over again. It’s all very gross.

When I first found the worms, I looked up what they were on the Internet, and how to get rid of them. The website I looked at said that I should:

  1. Wash all of my clothes and sheets.
  2. Wash my hands thoroughly with soap before and after every meal.
  3. Dust my apartment.
  4. Get medicine to kill the worms.

It was that last one that worried me. I was (and still am) on my parents’ insurance. Going to the doctor would mean telling my parents that I had worms, and I was too embarrassed to do that.

My family doesn’t really talk about personal stuff that much. When I was in high school, I used to steal rum from my dad’s liquor cabinet. I always assumed I was getting away with it, but later my sister told me that they had known the whole time, and just never said anything about it. It’s not that we are cold and distant. Polite is the word I would use. We are very polite.

I did everything the Internet told me. I cleaned my room and my clothes. I washed my hands before and after every meal. I dusted and vacuumed my apartment. I did my best not to scratch. In a few days, the itching went away.

I assumed I was cured and I forgot about it.

But then three weeks later my asshole started itching again. I tried to pretend that I was just imagining it, or that it was something else entirely, but the truth was unavoidable. The worms were back. Really, they had never left.

Much like the life cycle of the pinworms themselves, this cycle of itching, cleaning, forgetting, and then suddenly remembering, continued like clockwork for two years. Every time they came back it became harder and harder to convince myself it would be the last time, but it also became more and more impossible to reveal to my parents.

Eventually I realized that I would never be cured with good hygiene alone, but by that point it had just gone on too long to admit it. I figured that pinworms were just something I was going to have to live with for the rest of my life. All because I was too embarrassed to talk about it. I never even wrote about them in my journal.

It wasn’t the only thing I was too embarrassed to talk about. Stealing rum from my dad’s liquor cabinet was one thing: during that time,  I also used to get out of bed at night and go downstairs into the kitchen, get a knife out of the drawer, and press it against my arm, daring myself to do it. In the end, I was always too afraid to even break the skin. I would put the knife back and make the miserable crawl back upstairs, feeling like a pussy and hating myself.

Back then, these suicidal thoughts were really scary, because I actually thought I wanted to die. I was convinced that it was only a matter of time before I killed myself. I didn’t think I would make it out of high school alive. I couldn’t go to a doctor about this though, because that would mean telling my parents.

Instead, I went to the Internet for help. I read suicide hotline websites, and filled quizzes with titles like “do you have depression? Take this quiz to find out!” filled with questions like:

How often do you have feelings of being worthless?”

  • Never
  • Sometimes
  • Often
  • Always

I usually wound up with a score of “Moderate Depression.”

Like the pinworms, my depression came in cycles. One week I would feel absolutely miserable and tell myself over and over again that I needed to get help, but then a week later the feeling would go away, and I would convince myself that I was just being overdramatic.

That’s the difference between pinworms and depression. Pinworms are a lot harder to ignore because you can see them. They’re small, but they’re there. With the whole depression thing, it’s all in my head. There is no physical evidence. I think that’s partly why I want to hurt myself so much – just to prove that it is actually real. Sometimes I get jealous of my sister with the long, white scar down her forearm. She can look at that and say, “What I’m feeling is real. This is proof.”

As I got older, the suicidal thoughts continued, but I realized that even though my brain wants me to kill myself, I don’t actually want to die. Death is the most terrifying thing I can imagine. Even cutting myself is too scary.

But even though I know I don’t want to die, the cycle continues. Sometimes it’s easy to remind myself, and I can laugh it off, but sometimes it’s much harder, and I end up pounding my head against the wall.

The last time I had a resurgence of pinworms, I got completely fed up with it. Once again, I returned to my old friend, turning desperately to the Internet for answers. This time, I found a more specifically worded website where I learned actually, as it turns out, you can buy pinworm medication over the counter. No doctor required. No insurance necessary.

I went down to Walgreens, got the pinworm medicine, and drank it that night. The next morning I wasn’t itchy anymore, and I’ve been pinworm-free ever since

Two years. Two years of itching and being unable to sleep. Two years of feeling disgusting and guilty, terrified that I was infecting someone else. Two years of carrying this stupid, gross secret. Two years. I fell in love for the first time. Had my heart broken for the first time. I traveled to Russia. I traveled to Israel. I fell in love a second time, had my heart broken again. I moved to three different apartments. I broke my wrist in a bicycle accident. My friend’s dad died of cancer. My grandpa died of cancer. I got a job. Got fired. Got another job. Graduated college. Quit my job. Had one-night stands, two night stands, weird long distance phone sex. I lived, loved, laughed, and cried, and the whole time I had little white worms living in my intestines.

For two years. And I cured myself in an afternoon.

Before my sister tried to kill herself, I had no idea anything was wrong. After my sister tried to kill herself, she became much closer with my parents. Sometimes it takes something hard to break the ice. Sometimes it just takes a phone call. It’s also very possible that they were close all along, and I just wasn’t paying attention.

I don’t like talking about depression. It really grosses me out. But I’m glad I talked about the pinworms. As dumb as it is, they were a big part of my life for the past two years. It would be even dumber to pretend they never existed at all.




Hal Baum
is a writer and performer in the city of Chicago. His work has been featured in The Arrow, and The LivingRoom and he performs with his improv team 99 Problemz: An Improvised 90’s Sitcom at theaters around the city. He is currently working on his first book.

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