These are the words which you worry you’ll come across time after time when you are diagnosed with what is now clinically referred to as ‘Health Anxiety’. Of course everyone becomes concerned with their health at certain points in their life but, for me, health anxiety became debilitating when it combined with the onset of depression at the beginning of last year.
Somebody who suffers with health anxiety goes beyond what is classed as normal, rational behaviour and fully believes that they have a serious (often terminal/incurable) medical condition, which leads them to seek out medical advice as soon as a new headache, lump, ache or pain appears.
I lived in such a heightened state of anxiety that I could not function. I had bouts of what can only be described as severe ‘brain fog’ where your thoughts just do not add up and it feels as though you are walking around in a bubble, isolated from the outside world, your friends, family and any kind of social situation. Combined with this was wanting to sleep all day, having no energy, total depletion of any appetite, shaking, blurred vision, de-personalisation and severe memory loss – a cycle which continually fed the health anxiety leading me to head into a darker place – depression.
I bought some self help books on health anxiety, which I was slowly working through but the feelings continued to get worse. It all came to a head when I bolted out of London to stay with my Aunt in Essex, who understood what I was going through, cared and looked after me and continuously reassured me that I would be ok – she was my rock.
I had been suffering for a long time by this point, and one evening I managed to get myself to sit down for dinner when suddenly a huge rush of anxiety came over me. I started shaking, blurred vision made me feel as though I was going to fall off my chair and I burst out crying. I physically and mentally could not handle it anymore and my mind had gone into shut down. My Aunt decided that we needed to go out for a long walk to clear my mind and help me calm down. It was then that I decided that I couldnt carry on like this.
The first step was to bypass my previous GP (I now have a fantastic GP who listened whole heartedly to my problems and provided me with a proper diagnosis) and to pay for private therapy. I began seeing a hypnotherapist/Cognitive Behavioural Therapist once a week who ran through my history and what I wanted to achieve. He recognised I was in a very bad place and helped me to relax and interupt my thought process when it came to thinking I was ill unnecessarily. Just to have somebody to talk to and be frank with for an hour once a week was an enormous relief for me – and for a good few months, I felt more relaxed and calm.
Throughout all this time, I carried on going to work, believing that it would help me maintain a sense of normality when I thought I was going mad, but it got to a point where I had to let somebody know what was happening – incase my work began to suffer. I initially did not speak about my problems at work. I thought that I could handle it myself and it would pass, I also did not want to put myself in a vulnerable position during a financially difficult time for most businesses.
When I realised that it wasn't just going to 'blow over', I spoke to my boss, who was very good about it, and, whilst not necessarily understanding the health anxiety aspect, he listened to me and advised that where possible he would help me through this. I was pleasantly surprised by his positive reaction which helped me gain confidence that I can get through this And just to know that you have some breathing room helped enormously and reduced some of the pressure.
Nowadays, most people know someone who has or had anxiety disorders or depression, and therefore have a grasp on how it can change a person and how terrifying it can be. I have found that most people I have spoken to, both personally and at work have reacted well, and I have been lucky enough not to suffer any direct discrimination or negativity towards me.
I still regularly begin to feel as though I’m slipping back into old behaviours. However, I now recognise the symptoms and have decided to start seeing a new therapist who has been very supportive and understanding.
I read somewhere that people suffering health anxiety are more likely to consider ‘dark’ thoughts than other forms of depression and anxiety. What I want to achieve from this blog is to say that you are not alone, it will pass and you will be ok. Please just try to remember that.
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