Please note that this post has loads of triggers including (but not limited to);
- Fear of Death
Please do not read on if you are not comfortable to do so.
Living with Health Anxiety.
I’ve suffered with health anxiety for the last 2 years, I lost my Mum to cancer, 3 years ago.
I guess it’s going to be quite upsetting to start with, but I hope that ultimately, it is a story of hope, I’m working on it.
Health Anxiety, is in my words, the preoccupation and obsession that you have the symptoms of an illness and you must remain focussed and hyper vigilant at all times so as not to miss anything. It is the ability to turn an entirely innocuous symptom into a catastrophe with total certainty that it can only be that thing, for me that thing, is cancer.
I wasn’t always like this, In fact, I never used to think about my health, or more importantly I never used to be afraid of getting ill. That changed when I watched my Mum die of cancer. It was traumatic, painful and in some ways still, unbelievable.
My Mum had lung cancer, it’s called mesothelioma (I never learned to say or spell it), it’s caused by exposure to asbestos. There is no cure, it is normally discovered when it has already been in the body for 20 - 30 years by which point it is quite far advanced. For her, it started with a cough; an innocuous, normal, everyday symptom that four and a half years later killed her. I was blindsided any it. She was terrified of dying, I took that anxiety on, and when she died, I continued to live with that fear.
The thing with health anxiety is you feel quite silly, having it. And some times when I tell people about it, retrospectively, I laugh, at how easily I blew something out or proportion. Like the time I had throat cancer that turned out to be silent reflux. Or the time I obsessed about a brain tumour that turned out to be chronic tension headache, or the time I had ovarian (or was it cervical cancer) that turned out to be a bleed caused by stress.
But when you have an anxiety that is all consuming that you know to other people sounds like you are being crazy, irrational and self-obsessed, you can’t talk about it. You can talk about it if you ‘own’ the anxiety but no one wants to hear about yet another ‘symptom’ that you are utterly convinced is the ‘one’, this time it’s different and no one is listening to you. So you become detached, you internalise and you feel mis-understood.
I’ve wasted a lot of Doctor’s appointments, I feel guilty and embarrassed. I discovered the cartilage ring in my neck, utterly convinced it was lymphoma I went to the surgery, I had a panic attack in the waiting room and when I got into the surgery, I couldn’t talk. The condition was not real, but the anxiety was. I have thought about my own funeral, how I will tell people I am ill, all the things I would miss out on and grieved for my own life, even though I am perfectly healthy.
I would never have understood how crippling anxiety could be until I experienced it myself. I got to a stage where I knew I had to heal, I literally could not go on like this. I have had CBT (which helped temporarily) but now I am having trauma counselling.
I learned that trauma can get stuck on the body, and if it is too painful to face, we develop coping mechanisms, some of them are not useful but it is our brains way of trying to protect us. My health anxiety developed partially also as a result of chronic tension headaches, very common if you are going through grief. So, I began to realise that I could develop strategies and tools to deal with the anxiety but unless I healed the wound, the fear would always haunt me.
I started counselling a few weeks ago, it’s like peeling an onion and I guess some day, I will have to to go back to the night I woke up, walked into Mum’s room and found her dead, but I am not afraid, I am only afraid to continue to live in fear.