First post, so I'm not sure if there is a right way / wrong way to begin. Anyway, I thought I'd share some insights I have gained during my most recent month-long episode of particularly bad health anxiety.
Anxiety and obsessiveness always strikes when I'm already stressed about other (normal) things. This time around I picked up on a number of indicators that a bad episode was imminent. In the weeks leading up to the beginning of the bad period I had had far more panic attacks than normal.
Also in the preceding weeks I began to shut myself off from people - when my phone died it took me a couple of days to charge it and I'd leave it on silent and out of view.
In the midst of the anxiety episode I made a list of stupid everyday things that I was failing to do due to panic - cut the grass, get a haircut etc. I slowly forced my way through that list and by the time I had checked the items off, the health anxiety was a lot better.
I also noticed that the fearful thoughts and worries that were overrunning my mind were piggybacking on the structure of past events in my life. I always get particularly bad episodes in May and September. I think this stems from bad anxiety I associate with going to school - the episodes I have still map themselves onto the academic calendar because that was where my anxiety began.
I also discovered some new aspects of the pattern an anxiety episode takes for me. First I get obsessed with a particular project, at work for example, and work too hard on it. Then, as I'm becoming burnt out from working I notice something 'unusual' about my health.
That is the primary trigger. I go to the doctor who tells me everything is fine but I don't believe him so I go to another doctor. Then, as I slowly and grudgingly accept that there isn't anything abnormal about the thing I noticed, the anxiety goes in seek of a new foothold - I have phantom aches and pains elsewhere as it desperately tries to cling on to anything else suspicious.
Over the course of the episode, the subject matter of the anxiety itself slowly becomes less and less rational. It spreads itself too thinly in search of a new host-issue. Eventually the anxiety collapses due to its own irrationality.
The scary thing about the episode I'm currently on the way out of is that the thought pattern went a layer deeper than ever before. Anxiety, as you all know, is the most convincing thing in the world. It always holds the trump card of "but what if this time I'm really ill?" that can undermine the shaky structure of rationalization you keep trying to construct.
This time, though, the thinking process took on another turn. Whereas before my worry was always 'am I sick? am I going to die?' this time it became so intense that the thought process was 'o.k. I'm sick so now how do I deal with this?'
It wasn't a hypothetical - the anxiety made the thing I was worrying about into a sort of parallel reality that looked and felt like the world everyone else was inhabiting but was governed by magical thinking.
I also noticed a new version to the worries I have had before. On top of all the usual worrying, this time I began to worry than by thinking about being seriously ill all the time I would actually bring it about. In other words, the anxiety made me feel anxious about feeling anxious which is a vicious cycle and a definite escalation on what I've had before.
This is the first time I've had health anxiety where I've recognised it for what it really is - anxiety and not cancer, an auto-immune disease etc. Fear of serious illness is really fear of losing control. I know when I lose control of daily life I am risking triggering my anxiety.
My plan for the near future is to try and recognize the patterns of anxiety disorder in my personality when I'm feeling good and not going through an episode. I have a tendency to obsess over things and get massively obsessed over a given activity or project before discarding it and moving on. I think this behaviour is the other side of the same coin as anxiety.
I can't believe I'm saying it, but to some extent I'd mis it if it was gone, the same thing that makes my darkest days hellish makes me who I am in happier times.
There were other things too but this post is already too long