Health anxiety is an anxiety disorder that is often housed within the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) spectrum of disorders. Those affected by health anxiety have an obsessional preoccupation with the idea or the thought that they are currently (or will be) experiencing a physical illness. The most common health anxieties tend to centre on conditions such as cancer, HIV, AIDs, etc. However, the person experiencing health anxiety or illness phobia may fixate on any type of illness. This condition is known as health anxiety, illness phobia/illness anxiety or hypochondriasis.Those who are affected by health anxiety/illness phobia are convinced that harmless physical symptoms are indicators of serious disease or severe medical conditions. For example, if a person experiencing health anxiety or illness phobia feels that their chest is getting tight, they may believe that they are having a heart attack. Those with health anxiety frequently misinterpret physical symptoms of anxiety as a sign of an impending physical health problem.
I have considered writing this post a few times but have always held back. It is not the easiest thing to write about but Ive been wanting to talk about it on my blog for a while, not to gain sympathy or for people to feel sorry for me but to share my experiences in the hope it may shed some light for somebody who may be suffering in silence.
Whilst living and working in America I got myself into a rather bad relationship, 'toxic' some would say. I wont go into detail but it ruined what should have been the best year of my life. It wasn't until a year after I returned to England that the effects started to take their toll. Painful memories brought on extreme anxiety and before long I was in a abyss of panic attacks and mild depression. I had been to the doctors a few times about the way I was feeling and they put it down to 'stress'!!!! Yes i was in my final year of Uni but I knew deep down it was way more than that.
I would spend day by day worrying about something bad happening to me and that I wouldn't live past getting married and having kids. I would spend frantic hours studying my body for something wrong and I would get myself into intense panic if I found a lump, bump or blemish that wasn't quite right. I took to google almost everyday which is the worst thing to do because google is not accurate when it comes to diagnosing things to do with your health. I would turn over the channel if a programme came on tv about cancer or illnesses and I couldn't bear to read the paper in case of coming across a story of someone dying. People with health anxiety do 2 things, they avoid and they seek reassurance. My reassurance came in the form of my mum, if something wasn't right I would ring her and ask what she thought it was. She was an angel and put up with it the whole time.
After countless visits to my GP she finally figured something was wrong and referred me to see a cognitive behavioural therapist. This initially terrified me....a therapist...I wasn't crazy, why do I need therapy? My first session however put me at ease, yes he explained that I had severe health anxiety but he told me I was already on the road to recovery as the first hurdle was accepting that I had a problem. I knew I had to do something about it before it took over my life.
It was a long hard, tiring road before I started to feel improvements. Therapy was all about facing my fears head on and things got a lot worse before they started getting better. It wasn't until my last couple of sessions that I started to feel happier and the panic attacks started to reduce. My last session was so scary, I was on my own and it was up to me to fight this battle. I would say it took a good 6 months after my last session to start to feel myself again, I started to go back out with my friends and began to realise that life was far too short to spend everyday worrying.
What I am saying is, please don't suffer in silence. If i hadn't have been honest with my feelings I may have gotten much worse and ended up destroying everything around me, my job, my friends, my family and my relationship. Yes I still have my bad days when I slip back into my old ways but I have learnt how to cope with it and where as before I would spend weeks worrying about something, now it may only be 1 day before I realise that we only have one life and I need to live it to the full