Living with Health Anxiety
Living with health anxiety isn’t really living at all.
"Health anxiety is an anxiety condition that is often housed within the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) spectrum of disorders. Those affected by health anxiety have an obsessional preoccupation with the idea that they are currently (or will be) experiencing a physical illness. The most common health anxieties tend to centre on conditions such as cancer, HIV, AIDs, etc. However, the person experiencing health anxiety may fixate on any type of illness. This condition is known as health anxiety, illness phobia/illness anxiety or hypochondriasis."
The funny thing about living with health anxiety is a lot of the time you don’t feel like you are living. You are either dying from a brain hemorrhage (headache), cancer/tumours (probably just a spot), or bird flu (is that even still around?). But that’s what it’s like; having something small like a cough but to you it isn’t small, it must be something bigger than just a common cold. People call me a hypochondriac, which yes I am, but dealing with health anxiety on top of all the other anxieties I have is exhausting. It’s like the placebo effect; you tell yourself you are going to die, and you probably will. I have multiple deficiencies, I take four different tablets a day, extra ones on a weekend, and I have just started a course of injections. So you can see why I always think my illnesses are worse than they are, because due to past experiences, they have been. The common misconception of people who worry about their health is that's all it is, worry. But for me it has been more than that, and partly the reason of my depression and anxiety as a whole. I read that people suffering health anxiety are more likely to consider ‘dark’ thoughts alongside depression and anxiety. I really agree that it all feeds in to one another and no one should go through it alone. That is why I want to share a little of my story in the hopes it may help others to speak up and feel better within themselves. And if you aren't the one suffering, chances are, someone around you is.
Let’s start from the beginning. I was complete bugga when my mum went into labour. I was comfy in there and took forever to come out. When I finally made my appearance (after being yanked out with tong like apparatus leaving my head a weird shape), I was taken away from my mum for checks, and for a brief period of time I had no hearing. So right away I had health issues. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there. I spent many of my childhood years with multiple illnesses and although not my mum's fault, she did worry about me all the time, and that worry rubbed off on me.
When I was 14, on top of many other teenage dramas, I was in hospital with 'suspected Glandular Fever,' and I never found out if it really was or not. I was in hospital between Christmas and New Year on a drip struggling to breathe. That Christmas I actually had noodles at five in the morning because it was the only thing I had felt like eating in days. When I was 16 I was told I had an iron deficiency and at one point I was told I was borderline anaemic.
So yeah, I have had my fair share of health issues over the years. But that doesn't make it any easier every time I have to visit the doctors. I panic about leaving the house, I get there and they take my blood pressure which is usually through the roof, so I start to panic about that. And then the doctor asks what's up, to which I will reply with 10 different things (which is a lot to go through in a 10 minute session). Everyone tells me 'but that's what the doctors are there for, to talk about your health issues,' but when those issues range from a bump behind my ear to not being able to sleep to blood test results, it sometimes feels like I am worrying about nothing. Because of some of my illnesses, like my deficiencies, make me feel down and tired, which makes it a lot easier to feel like I have lots of other problems.
I haven't yet found a way to deal with this; for a while I wouldn't take medication because it would make me feel ill in other ways. For example, paracetamol makes me feel sick. But now, I am trying to take my tablets more frequently, because I know if I get my all-around health back on track I am less likely to worry about bigger things such as cancer. I'm not a doctor, or anyone in a similar profession, but my advice to anyone with similar issues is to go to your GP and tell them how you feel, no matter how stupid you feel for asking them to count all the moles on your arms or check the hair growing on your toe. The first step to getting better is to help yourself get better. I always thought I would live with health anxiety for my whole life, but I am starting to believe that might not be the case.