OCDiaries: Sick in the Head
I’m sick in the head.
And I don’t mean that in the “ooh, I’m mentally ill, I have an anxiety disorder” way. I mean it quite literally: in my own head, I am often sick. Because one of the ways my stupid anxiety likes to manifest itself is via outrageous concern about my health.
Health anxiety, or hypochondria, is a exactly what it sounds like: a complete, irrational, all-consuming certainty that you are ill, even if there’s nothing functional that actually points to that conclusion.
Health anxiety is actually what spurred me into getting treatment for my bullshit in the first place. Over the course of summer of last year, I spent about two straight months having daily meltdowns over all the diseases I was certain that I had. I became a regular at the doctor’s office (the regular one, not even, like, Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor’s office) because I just couldn’t go more than a week without having to turn up with a bunch of symptons and dump them on the lap of whoever had a spare appointment and go “Tell me I’m not dying, please!” (major shout-out to the doctor who politely explained to a tearful me that a lump I thought I had on my neck was actually a very normal piece of my skull, and then sat down and quietly asked how my anxiety treatment was going). If you ran into a girl with dumb hair and a distracted expression on her face palpating every part of herself she could reach for lumps over the course of the last six months, ask me for an autograph next to me. My boobs had bruises on them because I couldn’t stop giving myself these frantic, useless breast exams.
Now, the thing about health anxiety is that it’s a rolling contract. Your body is always doing something, whether it’s preparing for a period or dealing with some dodgy soy milk or an excess of coffee. And where I used to be able to brush those things off as what they obviously were, I became a disciple of the NHS symptons pages, turning every single thing that my body did into a prime example of my impending doom. And once you have that information, you can’t shake it, so you can be walking around perfectly happy one day and then feel a twinge in your armpit and the entire world comes crashing down around you as you relate that to a plethora of horrible diseases. I can’t even begin to tell you the extent to which my health anxiety consumed my life for a good few months, except to explain that I started to parse out time in likely prognoses for various terminal illnesses. Oh, three months until Widows is out? I’ll be dead by then, if my latest wild prognosis is correct. It’s funny, in a League of Gentlemen kind of way.
You know what else happened, too? I just became a nightmare to be around. Disease and illness is a part of life, no getting around it, but when this health anxiety hit me, I couldn’t even think about the concept of illness without having a kick of anxiety. I wanted to help my friends and family who were going through stuff, and I think I managed alright all things considered, but it was regularly through a screaming siren shriek of “OH FUCK” inside my head every time the notion of illness came up. Not to mention the fact that I was constantly finding subtle ways to get people to tell me I wasn’t dying, which honestly isn’t the most party way I can think to spend a Saturday night.
More than anything it made me feel so selfish – I have been given a reasonable decent body that hasn’t had to deal with much in the way of serious illness, and yet here I was, freaking out about it when people had real health problems to worry about. And yet, I was unable to talk myself into stopping. Once it got to the point that I had started to book a standing appointment with my GP in an attempt to offset the seething panic attacks that were leaving me crying on the bathroom floor a few times a week (bathroom floors in my house are only for anxiety attacks and hangovers, nothing else. We waft when we go in to brush our teeth), I figured it was about time to deal with it.
Which led to me realizing it was really just a symptom of a wider problem, which is what I’m tackling at the moment. I know that I’m reasonably healthy; I quit smoking, quit drinking, I take care of myself as best I can. The conviction of my own infirmness is all in my head. It’s really helped me to try and quit getting reassurance from my doctors every time I sit on my feet too long and they go to sleep, as well as keeping a diary of my symptoms (“symptoms”) to keep track of what actually sticks around and what is just my body doing average, normal body stuff. I still have to wear clothes that cover up as much of my body as possible, because even seeing myself can launch me into “was that bruise there two days ago?” panic, but it’s Winter in Scotland, so honestly I probably would be anyway. I’m surviving, even if sometimes it feels like my body isn’t.
So that’s it for the second part of the OCDiaries! You can find the first part here – thanks for the awesome response you all shared with me, it really means so much. If you’ve had experience with health anxiety, I’d love to hear about it – what did you use to overcome it? How do you handle flare-ups? What’s made it easier to live with? Please let me know in the comments below.