This cartoon is the best way I could describe a discussion between me and one of my staff last week. It shows thoughts that I haven’t experienced in a long time. I even posted recently on this blog that I don’t seem to fear death any more. But I have been tired lately (not sleeping) and feeling pretty down about work, finances, and life in general … I guess that all increases my vulnerability to deeper bouts of anxiety and depression.
10 years ago now, after a series of health scares, I started being like this. My doctor called it health anxiety … a more palatable term today than hypochondria.
I have plenty of faults, but some of my personality strengths are caring and sensitivity. People know that about me and even praise me for it. I admit to being a proud INFJ. But what others do not see is the selfish prick that I see when it comes to dealing with their health issues. My mental response (more often than not) is … “WHAT ABOUT ME?” Sometimes it is just a brief thought that passes … but at other times, like in the cartoon, it lingers and festers.
At My Worst
I could tell many stories, but my lowest point was when I convinced myself I had breast cancer. I won’t amuse you with the details of my symptoms and self diagnosis here. Use your imagination!
The trigger was this: My mother-in-law was diagnosed. She had lymph nodes and one breast removed and was undergoing an exhausting course of chemo. A very difficult and scary time for my wife and her mother, made even worse for my wife as her father had just recently passed away. Physically, I did my best to be there and offer support … I would say all the right words … but mentally, all I could think was “WHAT ABOUT ME!?!” I felt sick with worry … but also was angry at myself because a rational part of me still cried out at times and accused me of not caring for others and being selfish.
How It Feels
When a thought of illness first hits me, I usually feel the blood rush out of my body (shock). I then feel weak, faint and physically sick. This is where I try to stop it and I am becoming better at that.
If I can’t or don’t stop it, I lose my ability to concentrate and cope, as thoughts of terminal illness consume me. Eventually the worry and thoughts of pending death heighten my depression and re-engaging in life becomes a hell of a lot harder.
I don’t care if it is true, but I can’t stand it when people say, “Worry and stress WILL make you sick, so try to relax“. Kind folk, I know you mean well, but that nugget of wisdom actually only gives me more reason to worry and makes me even more convinced that I am a Dead Man Walking.
Managing My Health Anxiety
1) I see my doctor first, rather than letting worry linger and grow. But it doesn’t help all the time, as I can still be convinced I have a rare case of a particular ‘illness’ which normal tests can’t expose. In addition to breast cancer, I’ve convinced myself I had a brain tumor, heart disease, oral cancer, and several freckles have been turned to melanomas in my mind.
2) No use of the internet AT ALL to diagnose my symptoms – even the most reliable and reputable sites.
3) Avoid watching medical shows on television. Reality shows and hospital dramas are full of illnesses I have the potential to imagine symptoms of. Also … I am learning more recently to be careful about blogs that I follow and posts I read.
4) CBT. I am hoping this will help reduce the need to be so vigilant with items 1-3. A large NHS trial has recently been completed and I am very interested in the results (but they won’t be published until 2014). I apply my own form of CBT, through forced logical thinking and rationalizing actual probabilities.
For simpletons like me, here is article regarding the study:
2010 Article from The Guardian
For the technically inclined, here is a more detailed brief:
Latest update on the Research Project
I would be interested in hearing from anyone else who has similar issues with health anxiety.
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