Who you callin’ a hypochondriac?
I was diagnosed 12 months ago with severe anxiety, panic disorder, OCD and moderate depression. Yip, all at once - wasn’t I lucky! One week prior to my diagnosis I just couldn't get out of bed, I couldn't move. I had shooting pains, racing heart, night sweats, constant dizziness and the worst of the worst - chronic insomnia. I ran screaming to my doctor, I honestly thought I was dying and, I don’t say that lightly, I feared the worst. It really was that bad.
My OCD wasn’t your typical case. I didn’t wash my hands over and over, or avoid walking on cracks, or close doors 8 times over. What I did do - was obsess over my body.
Health anxiety has always been an issue for me. I had health anxiety about cancer when I was 9 years old. Roy Castle, a popular TV presenter in the UK was dying of cancer. He spoke on national TV about his hair falling out. I had no idea that this was a symptom of chemotherapy so; at 9 years old I was in the shower, with clumps of hairs in my hands convinced that I had cancer. It was all over. Please note, I am not in any way trying to trivialise cancer, but it is important for me to be able to articulate just how devastating OCD health anxiety can be. It's very real, it’s cruel and it can feel never-ending for a sufferer. Even trips to the doctor for reassurance can often be futile. At the time, my therapist asked me to sum up what it felt like, and it goes a little something like this:
Even writing this hurts, that I would continue to torture myself that way. But, you really have very little control over it. Your brain picks up on a small little thing and then before you know it you’ve got a mountain to climb. Worse still, are the psychosomatic symptoms, imagine them and they shall be. And yes, this does happen.
I checked my eyeballs constantly with a make up mirror looking for signs of jaundice. I poked and prodded my own stomach so much I bruised myself. I took sample after sample of urine to the doctors because I was convinced I had a kidney infection. I had a phantom cough that lasted for about 6 weeks. I bought and took copious amount of B12 vitamin because I thought I was low. I had two blood tests done within days of each other because I was convinced the first one (which was perfectly fine) wasn’t right. A headache was a tumour, a rash was meningitis, and imaginary bald spots were definitely the first signs of alopecia, definitely.
I wasted a lot of time and a lot of money on being a hypochondriac. But know this, I saw my doctor recently. Two days ago. I was, as per usual, in a state because I’d felt nauseous for 3 days. It was viral and it was nothing serious, I apologised to him for wasting his time, both now and last year. He said, explicitly, “That’s what we are here for. We know you suffer from health anxiety, we have your history in front of us. But we are your healthcare providers. Do not ever be scared to come and talk to us.”
Is that the most amazing thing you have ever heard? It was to me.
I’ve been lucky. I’ve had great support. I have my moments but for the most part I’ve stopped the cycle. I know others might not be so lucky and I want to tell you that I understand, I really understand how lonely this can be. It’s why I started Sergeant Calm in the first place.
At ease, soldiers.