Health Anxiety

Last year I went through something traumatic. It left me dealing with a few health problems, which I wrote about recently here. Whilst I have come a long way in these past few months, I have periods where my body seems to flare up and a whole array of symptoms crop up and leave me feeling quite ill.
I've spent a lot of time in doctors offices in this last year, I've spent an even longer amount of time online researching. I've had many tests, from CT scans to extremely invasive stool analysis. Yes, some poor sod has spent a good chunk of their day digging around in my poop. Sorry to whomever you are. I can say that some things have come back wrong and I've had to work on treating them, but it has never been anything that has wildly threatened my life. Unfortunately I spent so long trying to get to the bottom of some problems that my body no longer knew how to feel healthy. My brain had spent so long absorbing all this health information that is suddenly had an array of threats to my wellbeing - you can guess what this means right? Yeap, I convince myself I have some deadly horrific disease on a daily basis. Sure, I only have myself to blame. I spent so long being sick that when I started to get better I was extremely in tune with my body, and not in a good way. I pick up on every little symptom and obsess over it until suddenly my entire body is experiencing systematic fuckary. Chest pains, hand tremors, headaches, numbness and tingling, weakness, breathlessness. This little brain nestled snuggly in my skull is always sending a variety of messages to my body saying "we are screwed" - and I often wholeheartedly believe it.

So often have I been left with sickening symptoms because something has triggered a panic response. You know that feeling - your heart races, your palms get clammy, you feel both cold and hot all at once. Your body feels heavy and you can't breathe. Your head spins and you fear that you might be having a heart attack. How many of us would be able to cope with our anxiety a lot more if it didn't cause physical symptoms? 

I have always struggled with anxiety and panic disorder, even at a time when I didn't know what anxiety was. I remember one sunny Christmas eve (I'm Australian honey, it's hell's fire in the jolly holidays) when I was about 11, I suddenly began to feel my throat closing up. I felt breathless and scared and every time I swallowed I could feel this giant lump blocking my throat. It was terrifying for someone so young. I was rushed to hospital and surrounded by extremely concerned nurses and doctors whilst I sobbed as gasped for air only to discover an hour later that absolutely nothing was wrong. I was in fact experiencing my very first panic attack. Nobody knows what caused it, there didn't seem to be a trigger, but that was the beginning of a very hard battle with anxiety. See, you never think that such a horrible thing could impact the life of a 11 year old do you? But when I look back on my younger years I realise that I had been plagued with anxiety from a very early age. I have one particular memory from when I was about 8 and I was eating my dinner, a very normal thing to do, suddenly I noticed metal in my food and thought that we had all unknowingly ingested metal and were probably going to die. It was my fork.. I should have been spending my days being a kid and never worrying about anything, but instead I had this huge weight sitting on my chest all the time. 

That brings us to now to my twenties, where I should be focusing on my career and my studies and my plans for the future. I should be hanging out with friends and bravely taking on my adult life with optimism and a ridiculous disregard for the state of my liver. Instead I spend most of my time trying to stop the world caving in around me, and desperately trying to slow down my racing heart. Anxiety creates many physical symptoms, and you would be shocked at just how many serious illnesses it can mimic. You can't tell someone with anxiety that they are perfectly fine and that it will all be OK and expect them to suddenly perk up. We live in a time where diseases and illnesses are advertised everywhere. You turn the TV on and there is an add urging you to never ignore these symptoms. You get on twitter and there is an article about M.S (one of my favourite ones to self-diagnose), breast cancer, or some extremely rare and deadly disease. Medicine has come a long way and scientist are discovering cures every day, but they are also discovering new disease, and this constant access to information only further fuels those anxieties. You see 'health' anxiety is just a very big symptom of anxiety, and it alone causes symptoms that lead to more anxiety. It's a vicious, cruel cycle. There have been many times where I have had to lock my phone away so I can't look up this and that and all that kills. I spend a lot of time in bed, curled up and crying and praying for relief, for this panic to leave me be and let me breathe. It consumes you and takes over your life. 

My own brain has been my own worst enemy for most of my life. I never had to fear what was in the dark or what lurked outside. Murderers and monsters never scared me. I am truly the scariest thing when the lights go out. My greatest fear was always within myself, in my own head. I'm on a journey to overcoming my anxiety. Hopefully one day I will be free, and you will be too.

With love, Paige. x

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