Our new Community Correspondent Ellen has written a piece for Mind Waves about her experience of health anxiety.
Her words are below.
I like to think of myself as a fairly rational person – I don’t believe in ghosts, I know the earth is round, and I don’t believe everything I read in the tabloids. And yet, every night I lie awake until the early hours of the morning, utterly convinced that I am dying. Most of the time my self-diagnoses are your run of the mill fatal illnesses: a pulmonary embolism, aneurysm, terminal cancer. Sometimes, my otherwise rational mind decides it is a good idea to utilize everyone’s favourite medical professional, Web MD (not advised), and that’s when things tend to get a bit freakier. Once, I convinced myself that I had a parasite in my brain.
This has been a huge problem for me for nearly 5 years. I am regularly sleep deprived and constantly on high alert for unusual sensations in my body. Any flicker of pain or irregular twitch has the potential to become a fixation, and my body feels like an unfamiliar mass of potential catastrophes. I often wake up the morning feeling like a fog has lifted. I can barely recognise the pacing, weeping, walking nightmare I was the night before. I cannot relate to that girl who couldn’t think straight, one finger on her pulse, the other hand googling: “what does a heart attack feel like?”
I didn’t tell anyone about my anxiety for a long time. I think I was embarrassed. It took me a couple of years to even realise that what I was experiencing was a manifestation of anxiety, and, it turns out, a pretty common one. Presentations of health anxiety (formerly known as hypochondria) in media are usually a play for laughs, ridiculing sufferers for being paranoid, whiney or neurotic. In reality, it looks different for everyone, and can be incredibly debilitating.
Once I began talking about my own health anxiety and finding others who shared my experiences, I realised that I have nothing to be ashamed of. My embarrassment at what I perceived to be a character flaw is both unfounded and unproductive. Talking to other people has became a positive coping mechanism for me. Knowing that I have people in my life who can talk me down without judgement or dissmissal makes it easier to manage my anxiety when before I felt isolated with my fears. There is so much to be said for a space like Mind Waves, where people can come together and forge a community of acceptance and support. I hope that by talking about my own experience, I can contribute in some small way to reducing the stigma around health anxiety.