A Month of Health Anxiety, Hospital, and the Howling Void
Alright, look, I will stop whining about my annoying health issues soon – but God almighty, if April wasn’t just the most spectacular prick of a month I’ve had in a long time.
Long story short: recurring tonsillitis, Covid, briefly in hospital, heavy-duty antibiotics leading to a UTI and an IBS flare, hoping that nothing re-occurs, now playing the waiting game to see if my chronic Throaty Hurty makes a dramatic return again. I’m not catastrophically ill, but it’s been enough to get in the way of me doing most of anything that I enjoy, and that’s been really fucking shitty. Truly, my hubris in stating that I was going to be doing better this year gave the universe a hearty chuckle, and then I ended up getting the most sick I have been in my adult life.
And while, at the moment, I’m doing physically reasonably okay, I’m going to be honest with you: these last few weeks have been some of the worst I’ve ever experienced with my OCD. If you’ve been reading this blog a while, you might be aware that health anxiety was what initially triggered my OCD to a bad enough point that I sought treatment a few years ago, and to this day, it’s still the worst trigger for really severe anxiety spirals. For me, health anxiety is a constant thing, but it was kicked into the highest of high gears knowing that there was actually something wrong with me. Even the smell of a hospital makes me genuinely panicky, and I had to spend seven hours straight in one last month (also, God bless the NHS and every single wonderful, kind person who helped treat me while I was there, especially the one that bought me microwaved Fanta to help my throat while I was sitting on the floor trying not to vomit and crying from the pain. You are an angel, actually, love you).
I’ve spent a good part of the last month dealing with medical stuff, and I guess I should have known that my health-related OCD would come back to dominate my life, but I didn’t until it was too late. I’m not quite at the level I was a few years ago, when I couldn’t really leave the house due to panic attacks if I saw anything related to specific illnesses while I was out, but I am back to compulsive body-checking, reassurance-seeking, anxiety-spiralling howling void of terror that consumed my life for a long time. I know there’s a way out of it, I know it’s just a matter of working to curb compulsions until my brain starts to sort itself out, but for the time being, it’s really fucking hard, especially not knowing if I might have another re-occurrence of Throaty Hurty and end up really ill again.
And when things are this bad, it’s really easy to just…stop trying. That’s where I’ve been at the last few weeks, to be honest, so physically and mentally drained that I wasn’t taking care of even the smallest aspects of my normal routine. When the big things were so out of whack – like my ability to eat a bag of crisps without feeling like I was chewing glass – what was the point of doing the little things? What difference was it all going to make? It’s really hard, I think, to consider the small steps if you’re feeling really, dramatically fucking awful for whatever reason, because they feel so pointless. Why would I bother with a three-minute meditation when it wasn’t going to make my stomach hurt less? Why would I try some grounding techniques to deal with body-checking when it wasn’t going to make it easier for me to drink water?
And yeah, those things are true. But letting it all go to shit was much, much worse than the culmination of the small things that I could have done to help my mental health. And, since I’ve mostly recovered from this latest tonsillitis bout, I’ve been focusing on making it easier to take care of the small things.
I have set up a little grounding station next to my work desk – I find stuff like scented play-dough, hand cream, perfume, chewing gum, and fidget toys are useful to help avoid body-checking compulsions, as they keep my senses stimulated in less harmful ways – to use when I’m feeling anxiety spirals coming on. I’ve cut down on work a bit to lessen my stress there, and I’ve started filtering my social media to make sure I’m not going to come across stuff that might send me spiralling. I’ve added in a few minutes of meditation every day to try and get back into the swing of mindfulness, which has always been a big help with my OCD symptoms. I’ve also started loudly saying “NO” when I find myself reaching to check my lymph nodes for the fiftieth time in an hour, which has helped no end, and given me a reason to keep wearing my mask in public.
I can’t guarantee I’m not going to get sick again, which sucks, but I can try and manage my OCD symptoms in relation to it. And even just a few small changes have made a genuine difference, if not a life-altering one. When the big things feel fucked, it’s really easy to let the little things drop because they don’t feel important enough, but I honestly feel like I’ve managed to steady the ship a bit, regardless of what comes next in my hilarious health hi-jinks. So, this month is going to be better, I’ve decided, because I’m going to handle the foundations as best I can, regardless of what exciting Jenga-tower structure life decides to build on top of it.