When the pandemic was first declared in the UK I was deep into trauma counselling as I tried to recover from the health anxiety that begun following my Mum’s death from lung cancer. Being locked up was pretty much worst case scenario for someone who has anxiety because it leaves you almost entirely alone with your worst enemy; your thoughts.
But, along with amazing therapy, the COVID-19 response was in some ways my personal saviour because I could absolutely observe how anyone can manipulate a statistically small risk and make it catastrophic. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of the virus and like many, apprehensive, particularly around my older family.
I observed the daily briefings, the death statistics but somehow was able to contextualise them, something I had not been able to do with my own fear of death which for me would be caused by the same thing that took my mother; cancer.
Health anxiety is the preoccupation with illness, the unshakeable belief that you have symptoms of an illness and despite all the evidence to suggest otherwise; you are going to die from said illness. The pandemic response has, in my opinion, inflicted mass health anxiety on the nation. That is not to say there is no risk, there is. People are dying and have died from COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean everyone will, in fact the very large majority won’t.
The vaccine was approved for pregnant women when I was around 6 months pregnant, lots of my friends jumped at the chance, I did not. Most people understood, some couldn’t understand why I would ‘put my baby at risk’ by not having it, I conversed with those people, most couldn’t tell me basic facts about the vaccine or made sweeping statements about it’s long term side effects which are still currently unknown. I’m not anti-vax, I just feel the risks of the vaccines are now more unknown and potentially serious than those of contracting COVID-19, to me, personally.
I got COVID-19 from my husband following a meeting in London. It took about a week after he was exposed for me to show symptoms which began with a headache and a cough. My lateral flow tests were negative. 4 days later I still had a bit of a cough and I was quite congested, no temperature or any other symptoms, another lateral flow test 4 days later came back positive and the PCR results detected COVID-19.
My husband was suffering a bit more than me, chills, night sweats and dizziness. Stories in the press have now focussed largely not just on those ‘young, fit and healthy’ dying from COVID but specifically the un-vaccinated, a category we both fall into. When you’re feeling a bit ill, especially if it restricts your breathing and your clarity of thinking it is not hard to induce fear. Dan became mildly concerned, and we bought an oxygen saturation monitor. One of the things I learnt during my battle with health anxiety is that monitoring things medically and looking for reassurance can be part of the problem, but in this instance it has been brilliant. I’ve had the reassurance that my baby is getting the oxygen he needs to thrive and Dan put his concerns to bed very quickly.
The vaccine push on pregnant women is forceful at the moment, it seems we are a group of people who fall into ‘vaccine-hesitant’ so there are plenty of articles without any context whatsoever claiming that women are 10 times more likely to die during labour if they have COVID or the chance of stillbirth is greatly increased. The solution remains the same in the eyes of the media; have the jab.
I’m not anti-vax, nor do I have an agenda to persuade anyone to have or not have a vaccine that they feel could have a positive impact on them in the event they contract the virus. But I do feel very strongly about the campaign of fear and the desire to actively make healthy people overly anxious to the point that they could actually succumb more heavily to the virus.
I have had to stand guard at the door to my mind for the last week, trusting my body inherently to fight this thing and keep me and my baby safe. A study by PANDA found the two most prevalent co-morbidities for COVID death were obesity and anxiety, and this anxiety has been manufactured but the very people that are trying to protect us. We do not need inflammatory news articles and stories of exceptions to the rule, we need facts, and solutions.
A conversation with a friend who is GP told me of a study into cancer patients and those who were fearful of death were actually more likely to die from the illness than those that were not. I have read ‘You Are The Placebo’ and it makes a powerful argument to back up this theory. Fear can absolutely control you, ultimately it can kill you, did I get ‘lucky’ to have mild symptoms of COVID-19? No, my experience is actually very normal, but that’s not what we hear all day every day. I am not discounting those that have died, my heart hurts for their family. I lost my Mum to what began as an innocuous cough, an x-ray, a CT and a biopsy later cancer was confirmed but I am now able to distinguish once again that cough does not mean cancer, and that took years of therapy. I imagine that post-pandemic, the anxiety and mental anguish will be our biggest health challenge to date.
Link to study; https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2021/21_0123.htm#T2_down