Today’s post is a collaboration with Nicole, all about health anxiety. I have written a post about my struggles over on Nicole’s blog if you want to check that out here. But over here, is Nicole’s experience and why health anxiety is no joke.
I suffer from health anxiety. And no that doesn’t mean I’m just a hypochondriac. Theres a huge difference between suffering from health anxiety and occasionally Googling your symptoms and believing that you have some unthinkable rare disease. It’s a debilitating condition that rules and ruins your life.
I also suffer from OCD and emetophobia (a fear of being sick) so naturally, the boundaries between all three illness do blur, but I’ll do my best to explain how health anxiety, explicitly affects my life. Obviously, these are just my experiences. Everyone will be affected differently. If you want to hear how Lucy is affected by health anxiety, you can read the post she wrote on my blog.
In my life, I’ve ‘had’ everything from skin cancer and broken bones to alopecia and even the menopause. Yeah you guessed it, I never really had any of these conditions. I mean come on the menopause, I’m only 18, and what the hell was I thinking?
You see that’s the thing about health anxiety. It doesn’t make any sense. Your brain lies to you constantly. You know you don’t have these illnesses but the health anxiety voice, if you like, is stronger. Most people worry about their health. They Google skin cancer when they see an unusual mole, but when they realise it’s benign, they carry on with their day and forget it.
But with my health anxiety, I can’t do that. I search. I search, and I search some more. I start researching statistics of death rates if applicable to that illness. I start finding horror stories. If I’m worried about a mole, a bone or something that is visible. I will keep checking it. Over and over. I can’t concentrate on what I’m supposed to be doing because half my time is spent checking the internet to match my symptoms with the unlikeliest of illnesses and the other half of the time I’m checking the ailment on my body.
And if I think I’m suffering from something that is not visible, I will book into see a doctor. For instance, my ‘favourite’ reason to go to the doctor is for excessive tiredness and sleepiness. Deep down I know the reasons I am lethargic and find it hard to concentrate during the day, but my health anxiety likes to tell me otherwise. My health anxiety wants to tell me I have a narcolepsy or chronic fatigue syndrome.
I don’t want to know how many times I have been to the doctors about my tiredness. They allowed me to have a blood test to make sure I didn’t have anaemia etc. Which is fine, however, when you get the results back saying they are fine (which mine were) most people would leave it at that. But not someone with health anxiety. I didn’t believe the results. I constantly doubted them and still do till this day.
I hate myself for wasting the doctor’s time. I know I’m part of the problem of why the NHS is struggling. I mean I’m intelligent enough to know that you don’t go to the doctors with a cold or stomach bug. But with things like tiredness, I’m there all the time. However, I need to cut myself some slack. I have a genuine illness. Health anxiety is real. In my defence, I do go to the doctor regularly for my OCD/depression. Once I have got my OCD and mood under control, I’m looking to try and do something about my health anxiety, maybe some exposure therapy.
When people dismiss health anxiety, as a made up illness or something we are doing for attention, it really winds me up. Health anxiety should be treated just as seriously as any other mental illness. It really can rule the sufferer’s life. I can’t go certain places or do certain things because I’m so worried about my health. As a result, my social life suffers. I become isolated and segregated, an outcast looking in at society, at the life I should have been leading at my age.
Health anxiety should be taken seriously as any other mental health problem. Health anxiety is no exception. It’s very unlikely that health anxiety is ever present on its own, it usually sits alongside OCD, phobias or panic attacks. Everyone’s experiences of health anxiety are going to be different. Some people will be affected more severely than others.
However, next time you feel like calling someone a hypochondriac. Think before you speak. That person may be suffering from health anxiety and hasn’t found the courage to tell anyone yet. Their worries, which may seem silly to you may be very real for the sufferer. They may genuinely feel them with massive amounts of stress and anxiety. Just stop and put yourself in their shoes for a second. How would you feel if someone dismissed an illness you had as just a cry for attention or made up entirely?