Post 4- Health Anxiety
My mother thought she was ill a lot when I was growing up. She always seemed to be complaining of something, from a cold to lung cancer to a broken rib. Even when I was small I knew this was her way of getting attention. Now that I am in my late thirties I find myself doing the same, but not because I want sympathy.
I really do think that I am dying.
My daughter was born in 2011. Before her, I gave birth to a son in 2008. He was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis a week after being born so my husband and I jumped head first into caring for a chronically ill baby. After my daughter was born, about six months, something one day just clicked in my head.
What if I die and leave my children?
These thoughts started out of blue while being treated for a UTI. What if it is a kidney infection? What if I become septic? I drove myself to the ER in the middle of the night, convinced I was dying. It turns out that I was having a panic attack. From there I became a full fledged Hypochondriac.
Hypochondria, or Health Anxiety/Illness Anxiety as it called in medical terms, is something that is not on many peoples radar. It is usually saved for jokes when someone complains a lot about being sick. It can be brought on by depression, anxiety or OCD. Regular body functions to a Hypochondriac can be symptoms of something more sinister, like a headache could mean a brain tumor or a cramp in the leg could mean a blood clot. With online self-diagnosing tools so accessible now, this has made it easy for a Hypochondriac make the conclusion that they have something more menacing than what they really have.
There is a lot of self-checking involved in Hypochondria. This is where the OCD connection can be made. Self-checking is an uncontrollable impulse. You will literally drive yourself up a wall if you don’t “check just one more time”. Self-checking is the Hypochondriacs way of making sure they are safe and is the Hypochondriacs way of being proactive about their health. So you self-check. Every hour turns into every other minute. Then the freak out begins.
Usually every Hypochondriac has one illness that they fixate on. For me, it’s cancer. The amount of times I have thought I have had some sort of cancer would be impossible for me to say but any commercial, discussion, advertisement or sign of cancer sets me off into panic mode. Internally I still feel like I have it but have yet to be diagnosed.
Hypochondria is debilitating. The thoughts that you have when you are spinning on a certain disease is maddening. I have planned my own funeral three times, going as far as picking out what I will wear and what music will be played. Being convinced that you have a terminal illness and will leave your family soon isn’t something I would wish on my worst enemy. There have been many nights where I would stay up all night totally convinced that I was dying.
I have put my family into debt because of this disease. ER trip after ER trip adds up.
Specialists, MRI’s, CAT scans, nerve conjunction studies…you name it and I have had it. Each time I was convinced that this was it. This was when I would be told I had months to live and my family would have to say goodbye to me. I have even lost a job because I was so preoccupied with my health that I was unable to concentrate on my job. My marriage has suffered, as well. It has taken a lot of therapy sessions and a lot of patience on my husbands part to deal with this. I know it can’t be easy but things have gotten so much better.
Medication and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) have helped my anxiety about my health immensely. I still have moments where I second guess a Dr’s opinion or feel something that I am unsure about, but for the most part these episodes are now few and far between. I am not back to my old self yet, and might not ever be, but I have made a lot of progress and continue to do so everyday.