For many years I’ve written about health anxiety, my experiences and how it makes me feel. A lot of the time people are described as hypochondriacs when they worry about their health, I feel like this is an ‘old term’ for it, because doctors don’t diagnose people with hypochondria but for the sake of this post let’s get some definitions under our belts shall we;
From the NHS website:
“Health anxiety (sometimes called hypochondria) is when you spend so much time worrying you’re ill, or about getting ill, that it starts to take over your life.”
All of this is that I speak about is from my own experience but that definition really of course hits the nail on the head, it’s debilitating and can truly ruin your life. It can obviously lead on to general anxiety and depression too because it’s so intense sometimes it makes life very hard to live.
My time with health anxiety perhaps started earlier than I thought because I was poorly when I was really little but from memory I would say it started when I was about 12. I remember reading something about brain tumours and all of a sudden every headache I had was a brain tumour, which led on to an array of other fears. My friends at school would be like “Shannon’s got a headache again” because I was just always complaining, all of the time. I was always worrying about it and that’s when the endless amount of doctors trips begun.
I then had really bad anaemia at 14 years old which meant I was in and out of hospital having blood tests, even a blood transfusion and I think that stayed with me. I just feared being back in hospital, the thought of being scared in hospital was enough for me to try to avoid them by catching the problem before it caught me.
I always explain health anxiety to people in exactly that way – if I catch the problem which I think exists then I’ll get it before it gets me and kills me. So because of that I’m on edge constantly, trying to find things wrong or any odd feeling must be a death sentence. BUT if I catch it first, then I won’t die so if I go to the doctors a million times they’ll get it and I won’t die. However, there’s never anything actually there it’s just anxiety and that gets tiring as time goes on.
I have spent so many years knocking off work early to go to a doctors appointment, skipping lunches so I can shoot off to the doctors because I can’t concentrate until I’ve been told I’m okay. It’s such a time consuming illness. I have spent days on end in tears to my mum being convinced I’m riddled with cancer and I’m going to drop down dead at any moment. It doesn’t just have an impact on me, it’s everyone around me too.
The physical effects of anxiety however can make your mind go into overdrive that it’s that classic vicious cycle. Feel ill – panic – feel more ill – panic. A simple cold is never just a simple cold, a headache is never just a headache, a stomach ache is never just a stomach ache. Nothing is innocent, it’s always deadly and out to get you. It’s honestly horrendous and not an illness that should be taken lightly.
I do believe that it’s brushed off a lot as ‘just anxiety’ and ‘just being silly’ because sometimes the things you worry about are so far from being true that it is a bit ludicrous and ‘silly’. It doesn’t discount the fact that it’s upsetting, painful and draining. Physically and mentally draining.
I’ve had a lot of counselling and CBT over the years to try to tackle it and sometimes it works, other times it’s too intense and nothing can fix it. I just think the only way to look at it would be “what are the actual chances?” Sometimes I look at statistics and remember how massive the world is and how I’m just small human, in some parts of the world and to some people I am everything (hello to my big head) but in reality I am a spec on this little planet and what actually are the chances?
It’s a long old road and it’s certainly not easy, but the chances are you are OKAY and I am OKAY. This illness is a lot more complex than meets the eye, it’s not just people overreacting, to them (and to me) the illnesses are very real which then makes the physical symptoms of anxiety very real too. Speak up and listen, allow yourself to feel how you feel an reach out for the right help. It’s out there, I promise!