Health Anxiety - What it's like to live with

Health Anxiety

Health Anxiety – it’s something I mentioned in my last post and boy is it making life almost impossible to live right now. It’s just relentless. And the worst thing? When you’re this anxious for this long, you start getting even more physical symptoms. And what does my brain do with those? Decides I must be ill, poisoned, or dying of something. I literally have no idea what symptoms I’m experiencing are even real now and which ones are either being created by my psyche, my stress response (those ones are real) and which I’m just imagining due to being so sensitive to every single movement, noise or feeling in my body. I can’t even express how all-consuming this is. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever experienced and it’s terrifying.

Every single sensation is now worrying me, am I hungry or is it a stomach tumour? Is my appetite lower than usual? Does that mean I’ve got cancer or is it just that I’m so stressed my appetite has been suppressed? Why can’t I go to the toilet? Am I under-nourished? Sick? Or has my digestion shut down because of my stress response. My heart rate seems a bit high even though I’ve taken my beta-blockers, maybe they’re not working anymore, maybe something else is wrong. Have I eaten the wrong stuff? Is sugar causing it? When did I last eat sugar? It can’t be sugar, I’ve not had any today, maybe it’s adrenaline as I’ve not actually eaten anything yet. My downstairs bits feel funny. I don’t remember that happening before. I don’t remember being able to feel there before. Maybe it’s just a random twinge. Why am I getting repeating random twinges there? Maybe it’s cancer? Would I even know? What if it is? How will I get treatment? I’ve still not had my smear test that was due two years ago because I can’t face going to the doctors, my anxiety just won’t let me. I know I need to go, I know that finding there are changes is so much better than leaving it and them possibly developing into cancer and yet the thought of even trying to make the appointment makes me feel physically sick and my stomach ties itself in knots. I just can’t do it at the moment. I get a pain in my mouth and I’m convinced it must be an abscess, a rotten tooth or that I’ll need a filling. I religiously brush my teeth and realise I’m probably brushing them too hard and causing the pain because I’m so worried about needing dental work. My ears feel weird or I get a slight pain and I’m sure I must be getting an ear infection again. I sneeze or have a slight sore throat and I’m instantly sure I’m getting a cold or flu and that I’ll get really ill with it. Any sort of pain or weird sensation is instantly focussed on, fixated upon and blown out of all proportion. No matter how logical I try to be, no matter how many statistics I bombard myself with to try and make myself see sense, it just doesn’t work. Even when the sensations or symptoms go away, my brain just fixates on the next one. It’s so consuming that I can’t do many activities now because I just can’t focus on them, I’m too busy being convinced that I’m going to get really ill or die. I’m not even scared of dying, if I drop dead tomorrow, I’m kind of ok with that, but I’m absolutely scared senseless of suffering. I’ve felt this way for as long as I can remember. I’ve had a lot of health problems for the latter two thirds of my life, none of them have been serious or life-threatening, but all have involved a lot of aches and pains and never feeling “well”. These conditions have also meant that when I get regular viruses or infections I’m hit much harder by them and get more severely ill and suffer for longer than regular people do. For some reason, I’ve managed to develop a huge fear of suffering that has been increasing for years and made me very frightened to be around other people who are ill firstly because I hate seeing suffering and secondly because of the risk of being infected by them. The only type of illness and suffering I don’t have an issue being around is mental illness which is why I managed to work successfully in mental health and in a hospital no less.

Back to now though. This health anxiety is just crippling. I can’t face going to the doctors to have any of my fears allayed and I often wonder if that would even help because I swear that at the first sign of a new symptom I’d be back at square one again. I’m also so scared that they’d find something that I then have no idea how to cope with treatment for, it hardly even seems worth getting investigated if I then can’t get treated for whatever hideous thing it might be. And I realise just how unlikely it is that there’s anything wrong with me, but still, the worries are constantly there. Today I found out that the most common cancer in women under the age of 33 is cervical. Oh joy! I also know from research that almost all of the female cancers, at least those affecting the lower half of the body, have very few noticeable symptoms and that those I may experience are remarkably similar to IBS symptoms which I also suffer badly from, especially when my anxiety is this bad. I can’t tell you how useful that is when trying to talk yourself down from being convinced you’ve got every disease under the sun. I’m sure that half of the symptoms I’m now experiencing are because I’m focusing so much on my body that I’m getting phantom symptoms from sending too much of my attention to those areas. It’s just doing me in. I’m sick of feeling so on edge, sick of feeling so out of control, sick of feeling like I’m going mad and sick of being convinced that I’m going to die some horrible, slow, painful death. I just want my brain to calm down, chill out and focus on something a bit less morbid than my own death or illness.

Anyone who thinks anxiety is a walk in the park clearly hasn’t visited this particular park which is currently frequented by wolves, big cats, and a whole heap of horrid diseases trying to kill me off at every turn. I have such a strong urge to give up, to stop even trying and to just give in. I don’t even know why I feel like that, I know it wouldn’t help. But I’m so tired. So tired of the thoughts, the constant stream of worries and then symptoms and the desire to research it but knowing that’ll almost certainly make me feel worse. I’m tired of fighting, of dreaming about it, of never being free. I’m tired of all of it. It’s been almost 4 years of fighting with my own head, fighting against each and every new worry that comes up, trying to adapt to every change, to every loss. Having health anxiety and worrying that I might lose even more functioning on top of all of that is nigh on impossible to cope with and means that I spend a lot of each day on the verge of crying because I feel like I’m falling apart. Part of me knows that this will probably pass, or at least ease off, just like a lot of the worries I’ve had throughout this period of illness. But I also know that the anxiety is becoming more and more ingrained and it feels like it’s taking a bigger hold with each passing month. It scares me so much. I don’t want this to become who I am. I have always been determined to be separate from my illnesses, to have them but not to be them. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to say that of the anxiety. It feels so intrinsically linked to who I am now. Most of the time I can differentiate between thoughts from the condition and thoughts of my own but when the thoughts from my condition are so overwhelmingly frequent, so loud and so awful, it’s hard to know where my own thoughts begin because there seem to be so few of them now, there simply isn’t room for anything much other than health anxiety and the occasional worry about going outside.

After my last post I’d hoped to be back to reviewing quite soon. I hoped that expressing how I’d been feeling would help it lessen and in some ways it has, I definitely feel less alone but sadly my health anxiety has just ramped up and up, day after day. My mum came to visit for the weekend and we had a lovely time and I managed to go out with her on two days and take lots of photographs and do lots of walking outside seeing loads of nature and very few people (my idea of perfect!). But still, even while I was out, I was getting twinges, random stabbing pains, wondering if I’d need mum to take me to the hospital. I’m at the point where I’m so frightened that I’m asking people random, really personal questions to find out if what I’m experiencing is normal or likely to be the cause of my premature death. I hate what this is turning me into. My social phobia is ramping up because I know I’m becoming obsessive about this and I’m terrified I’ll bore people or alienate myself from the few people remaining in my life. But I know that I can’t keep this inside as it feels like it’s eating me alive.

I’m not really sure where this post has gone or where it’s ended up. As usual, it feels like a rambling mess and I’m hoping I’ve pulled it miraculously out of the bag and written something at least partially coherent. I’m guessing it’s a heap of negativity and for that I’m sorry but I also can’t even begin to sugarcoat this and I always promised I would never do that, that I’d tell my story, tell the story of so many of us with mental illness, warts and all, with all the worst bits left in. So if this has left you feeling bleak or despondent then I guess that gives you a snapshot into what it’s like to be inside my head, to live a few minutes in my life and I can assure you that it’s infinitely worse when there’s no cause, no end in sight and no tab to close. I hope that sooner than I think, I’ll be feeling a bit brighter, a bit more hopeful and a little less plagued and that I’ll be back with some more positive posts that at least end on a lighter note. I’ll try to edit my photos from the weekend down enough that I won’t bore you all to tears with shot after shot of the same deer or ducks, that’s about the only task I’m managing to do whilst this poorly and I’m still sticking to my showering every day routine. Everything else is pretty much out of reach but I’ll try to get back on with my small tasks project and see if I can achieve a little more than showering and deleting photos. Writing this has been a bit helpful and some of the physical symptoms have eased off a bit which will hopefully sink in to my anxious brain as proof that they’re stress-induced. Huge hugs to all of you who are feeling this way or even just a little bit this way, you’re all warriors to fight this fight every day and I hope it gets easier for us all soon, we damn well deserve it!

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