Firstly, if you sang the title of this post to the tune of John Mayer’s song, “Gravity”, then you get a gold star. If you didn’t (*sigh*), have a quick listen, come back, and read it again to see how clever I have been by replacing the word ‘gravity’ with ‘ANXIETY‘! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iGOWk-r614)
So. Anxiety. I know what you’re thinking, “Oh bloody ‘ell not more #MentalHealth, Soph! We’re already clued up, babes! It’s 2019. Everyone and their Mum’s are writing about the importance of mental health. Go back to writing about periods and stuff.”
I will. You know I love endless chat about hormones and extra discharge-y days. But today I am going to talk to you about health anxiety. Specifically, my own health anxiety and how I deal with it/don’t deal with it at all. It’s something pretty personal. I find it more personal than talking about my vagina! But I wanted to put it out there because it exists!
“So what you’re a hypochondriac Sophie? GET OVER IT! You go to the doctors all the time and worry that you’re dying. Big deal.” I am a hypochondriac and actually, it is quite a big deal. Feeling like you, or someone you love is going to get ill, fall down and die, or just fall down and die instantly on the street, constantly, is pretty sh*t.
“Hypochondriasis or hypochondria is a condition in which a person is excessively and unduly worried about having a serious illness. It has been claimed that this debilitating condition results from an inaccurate perception of the condition of body or mind despite the absence of an actual medical diagnosis.”
Seeing hypochondriasis written down as a condition and defining it in a serious, medical way, may seem ridiculous. It almost reads as a joke, I know. And I am usually the butt of a lot of hypochondriac jokes. They are usually genuinely funny and I am usually, genuinely, ridiculous.
“Ooh I just felt a sharp pain in my anus.. it’s cancer.”
But behind the laughter, eye rolls and “Oh Soph, stop being so silly”, the feelings, paranoia, anxiety, wobbles and panic attacks are not a joke. Being a hypochondriac/having health anixety, has a lot of negative connotations and some people just laugh it off, but it ain’t funny.
The common misconception of someone like me having anxiety over health, is that I am “just an attention seeker”. This label is thrown around a lot to describe people with mental health battles. I can assure you we are not attention seeking. If I wanted your attention, I would dye my hair pink. Oh wait, I’ve done that. Ummmm, okay. I WOULD….. I WOULD GET A GREEN MOHAWK! There!
I don’t want attention, I want reassurance and then I want an answer. But the tricky thing I’ve found with my anxiety is that I’ll be too scared to ask for the answer. I’ll think something is wrong with me, but don’t want to go to the doctor in case they confirm it. Or I’ll have moments of booking a few doctors appointments consecutively, and then cancelling them after realising I’d be wasting their time.
I also often get intrusive thoughts. For example, if I don’t shut the door in front of me within 5 seconds, someone I love will fall down and die that day. I will shut that door, in 5 seconds, if it is the last thing I do. It sounds completely mad, but I see images of a body on the ground, paramedics, the whole kit and caboodle. So I shut the door. I’ll also continually annoy my parents by texting them every hour to make sure nothing has happened to them.
I’ve had therapy/mind-coaching to try and relieve myself of some of these thoughts, or at least learn how to rationalise and cope with them, and I am a lot better. I’ve said before that this blog has been a form of therapy to a degree. I am so clued up on vaginas, I rarely experience health anxiety in that area anymore, which is fab! But I’m not completely anxiety free else where.
A couple of months back I thought I had a lump in my arm pit. Cue panic, worry and a lot of prodding around in the depths of my pits. (CUE PAINFUL, IRRITATED, PISSED OFF, PITS!) After putting it off for a while, I booked a doctor’s appointment.
The day of the appointment arrived. I pooed 3 times. My hands were shaky. I was hot and clammy, and I immediately started thinking of all the different ways this appointment was going to go. “Maybe I’ll just faint on the floor and then get rushed to hospital with an unknown brain disease and my lumpy pit will never be resolved!” you know, the norm.
I packed up my things at work and got ready to leave. My co-worker knew I was off to the doctor, so he called after me,
“Good luck at the doctors….. hope it isn’t CANCER!”
Embarrassingly, I actually teared up at this point.
(It wasn’t cancer. He would have been sorry if it was.) No, the appointment was fine. My GP and I rabbited on about HPV, sex, oral, lumps, armpits, mental health, babies, and then I was out of there and eating curry at my Mum’s house. I zoned out a couple of time to stop an imminent panic attack, but it was all okay.
However, I don’t think that these things will ever not be scary for me. I am constantly being pushed out of my comfort zone. Some days I have to force myself out of the house, because I’ve been anxious that I might faint on the tube, or in the shops, and that’ll be it. I’ll fall ill. Or just die. I have stayed in the house or cancelled plans to avoid feeling this way and to make sure nothing bad does happen. I feel really embarrassed typing that out, but I gotta’ be honest. When it’s bad, it’s bad. Like any other anxiety, it can be debilitating and it definitely puts a strain on my health, ironically!
It is something that often stops me from livin’ the vida loca. A lot of people say “Oh, you should spend less time worrying that you’re going to get ill and die, and more time living your life! Stop worrying! Death is inevitable! We’re all going to die!” Blah blah blah. If I could switch it off like a light, don’t you think I would have done that by now, hun?
I’ve listed below some of the features of health anxiety, all of which I’ve ticked and completed (gold stars for me today). Some of these probably seem quite normal. Of course it is human to worry about your own health and the health of loved ones. But for some, like me, it can take over life and become obsessive, triggering panic attacks and general feelings of being unhappy.
- constantly worry about your health – nearly every day. I also constantly worry about my boyfriends health, my parents, my grandparents, my brothers etc.
- frequently check your body for signs of illness, such as lumps, tingling or pain – I checked my neck vigorously for lumps every day for about 2 months.
- are always asking people for reassurance that you’re not ill – my poor, long, suffering boyfriend puts up with this just before we’re about to go to sleep.
- worry that your doctor or medical tests may have missed something – yes.
- obsessively look at health information on the internet or in the media – all the time. Google. Forums. Charities. Organisations. Twitter.
- avoid anything to do with serious illness, such as medical TV programmes – I can watch 24 Hours in A&E now, but for a long time I avoided anything like this. I cry every time I watch it though.
- act as if you were ill (for example, avoiding physical activities) – I once fainted after doing an ‘Insanity’ workout (haha lol) and didn’t workout for a good 6 months afterwards, because I assumed I had a heart condition.
If I’ve just described you, hi! Me too. Up until last year I thought I was just overly sensitive,weak and pathetic. I’m not, and neither are you. You’re not alone. You’re not a joke. Your feelings are real, they are valid, they are scary but you are in control.
Anxiety is ugly. It’s a part of me, but it isn’t me. It’s not Sophie being a bit of a tit. It’s anxiety rearing it’s big, ugly head and trying to mess with mine. Some days I don’t beat it. But one day I will.
For tips and advice on how to deal with health anxiety clink on these links. The NHS is slowly making progress with the way it helps patients manage their mental health and the booklet (second link) was my first stepping stone to dealing with my own.
To end, a lovely lady said this to me recently and I wanted to share it with you,
“Don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up. It’s an impossible fight! Sometimes fighting it is harder than the actual anxiety. It’s alright to sit in it if you don’t feel like you have the energy to tackle it at the minute.”
Sending pussy positivity, and a whole lot of brain positivity to you.