Am I Choosing To Be Anxious About My Health?
In The Middle Of A Health Anxiety Attack
Health Anxiety always bubbles away. I find, generally speaking I will be worrying about a particular symptom and then when I have satisfied that worry, (either it goes away or a Doctor reassures me) I will move onto something else and worry about that.
When you are in the worry, it is all consuming. Some of the symptoms synonymous with a regular panic attack can occur too, I often get a tight chest, rapid breathing, shaking, a feeling of ‘detachment’, dizzy, hot, nausea, inability to focus and this can last for hours.
But the cycle of health anxiety goes like this and I write this during the cycle.
Lymph nodes are a common cause for concern, and the reason is they are innocuous, ambiguous and have the ‘could be serious’ attached to them. It is common for me to catastrophise and so if it could be cancer, I am likely to think it is that, even if all the evidence suggests otherwise.
I first ‘noticed’ my lymph node when I was on my honeymoon. I had got out the shower, put my underwear on and was applying body lotion and I noticed on my groin a raised area, I prodded it and felt what was undoubtedly a lymph node. I played with it, tried to decide if it felt hard or soft, small or large, moveable or fixed and then to google.
The first search can be quite generic ‘lymph nodes in the groin’, the nhs website, webmd and patientinfo come up on page 1 along with cancerchat, cancerresearch and mumsnet, for good measure. Once the black hole that is google is open it is very hard to close it.
Back to the symptom, have another feel and another prod, change the search term slightly, ‘lymph nodes on both sides, no infection’ and some slightly different results come up. Sometimes this can be reassuring and some times it can be quite the opposite, I have had the both experiences in one sitting.
Some of the ‘answers’ I have found on google.
‘A normal lymph node is the size of a pea or bean, it is a hard lump that can be felt under the skin’
‘You can only feel your lymph node if there is infection and it shouldn’t be hard’
‘If there was cancer in the lymph node it would grow very quickly’
‘Cancer tends to develop slowly and over time the lymph node will get bigger’
‘If you keep poking the lymph node you can traumatise it and it won’t go away’
‘You should check your lymph nodes regularly for any changes’
In my experience of health anxiety I have never ever correctly diagnosed myself using google. Once I have had a Doctor diagnose I have gained further insight via google but I needed a medical professional to give me the place to start. I had a sore throat for about 8 weeks over the winter and was terrified I had throat cancer, it turned out to be silent reflux, which means acid from the stomach can come back up the oesophagus and burn the throat, but you don’t get the other symptoms associated with reflex, silent reflux is also known as LPR. Not one of my searches lead me even close to that diagnosis but when I put in ‘silent reflux and sore throat’ there are tons of resources including natural cures and first hand experiences - all of which were very useful. Thankfully, this has gone away now, occasionally it flares up but I know what it is and some silica gel is the best remedy I have found when it does.
When you are stuck in the cycle of anxiety it is extremely hard to break it, you sub-consciously forge such a strong neurological pathway that your conscious brain has a very hard job overriding it. Do I really think I have cancer of the lymph nodes? No. But I am still afraid, that I could have and if I don’t check I will miss something. There is no absolute answer on google, it is completely pointless looking for one and I do not feel I can justify an appointment to the Doctor, especially at a time like this.
My best bet is to leave them alone, let them heal and trust that my body will alert me to something, should it need to.
Being anxious about my health is not a choice, it happened as a result of a trauma that I am trying to heal, it is a symptom of that. It requires those around me to be patient and emphatic, which can be very challenging when it is so devastatingly clear from the outside that it is almost ‘all in my head’.
I felt like I'd failed. I called the Doctor, I explained my symptoms and he reassured me, in fact he was brilliant. I just couldn’t shake it without that reassurance, I thought about it day and night, what was worst was I knew what he would say, I knew what the call would involve and yet I still needed reassurance. I cried out of frustration, out of shame. Why did I need him to tell me what I already knew, why was I allowing the anxiety to be more powerful than me?
Because here is what those who have never suffered with health anxiety will never understand;
IT IS NOT A CHOICE.