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Jessica’s Story

I’ve always been anxious – as far back as I can remember. As a child I was interfered with by my much older cousin, I didn’t mention it to anyone because for some reason I felt guilty and my family isn’t the kind of family that speaks about things. I was never close to my mother, she is a doctor and worked long hours. At the age of twelve I had my first episode of health anxiety – I thought I had HIV after I found a bruise on my breast.

I worried over this bruise for weeks, I had sleepless nights. Eventually I asked my mother and she reassured me it was just a bruise. I think I was just confused by the whole sex thing and thought that my cousin had given it to me. I may also have been seeking reassurance and comfort from my mother too, i’m not sure.

When I was 14, I started having behavioural problems and was finding it difficult to relate to the opposite sex. I was given counselling by my school and they persuaded me to tell my parents about the things that had happened when I was younger.

Up until I was 18 I had problems with men – I would try to be in control of relationships and was pretty nasty. I then took a year out when I finished school and spent a year in a developing country. here I worked on a voluntary project during the day and and in the evening I helped people in a hospital who were dying of AIDS. This experience completely changed my life – and I met some wonderful people. I made a promise to someone that I would always look after myself sexually and I would be very careful.

Whilst I was working on the ward I had my first experience of health anxiety. you see, we weren’t trained or using any protective clothing and we were constantly exposed to body fluids – at the time this didn’t worry me because I believed so much in what I was doing.

The anxiety started when I got a cold – I started to think I had HIV. I stopped eating and lost lots of weight, I retched into the toilet repeatedly and became lethargic and unable to cope with anything. Being 18 years and on the other side of the world this was an awful situation to deal with. the only solution I could find to cope until I got home and have a test (which was negative) was to accept that I had HIV.

When I returned to the UK and had a test I felt better. I started university and things returned to normal. however, six months later I developed strange swellings – because of my time abroad I was referred to the school of tropical medicine who eventually found I had large worms living in a very intimate part of my body – horrible I know! I was treated and all was fine – however the swellings continued – and my GP suggested I had a “space occupying lesion” and I had to have an urgent MRI scan. I became understandably incredibly anxious. I was unable to sleep and spent the time in states of panic. the MRI was fine and to this day I do not know what caused the swelling – it still happens occasionally.

For a couple of years I was fine. I completed university and started a phd – I also got back together with an old flame and was pretty happy. during the first year of my phd I became pregnant. I told very few people (certainly not my family) as I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I eventually took the difficult decision to have a termination. I was full of grief afterwards, and it hit me a lot harder than I thought it ever could. I became very depressed and was put onto fluoxitine by my doctor. At the time of my termination I found out that I had Chlamydia – I had been so careful since working on the AIDS ward getting regular tests done and had quizzed my boyfriend as to his sexual history – turned out he’d lied. amazingly we stayed together throughout this.. more because I think I was too numb to do otherwise. 8 months after my termination we moved in together. I was so unhappy at this point – I resented him badly.

It was soon after we moved in together that I found a red patch on my breast. my health anxiety kicked in big time. for 3 months I became a wreck (even though there was nothing physically wrong with me!) I started having breathing problems and chest pain which made me think I had lung cancer. I had numerous tests which came back ok. I was in and out of my gp’s surgery and became a shadow of the strong confident woman I had once been. needless to say after six months of living together we broke up and I have absolutely no regrets. with time and a bit of CBT I managed to get my life back on track again.

I then met a wonderful man – I felt like everything was new and fresh and that everything could move on. 4 months into my relationship with him I had an ectopic pregnancy that was probably caused by the Chlamydia my ex had given me. I’d had a coil fitted after my termination and for the first time in my life had been feeling like I was in control. oh no. my ectopic which had been missed by several health professionals despite going to the gp’s twice with reports of abdominal discomfort and bleeding and resulted in me losing a fallopian tube.

Strangely this didn’t hit me too hard – I was too in love and determined to get over it. but there’s only so much someone can take. following my ectopic I had had two borderline smear tests I had started writing up my thesis and was pretty stressed out but was and still am completely in love. I didn’t think too much of the borderline smears but was referred to the hospital for a colposcopy. I was told I had severe precancerous lesions caused by hpv and needed urgent surgery. Two weeks later, at the age of 26, I had a loop excision. that was 2 and a half months ago.

For the past 3 months I have once again become a wreck. my anxiety became sky high – I keep thinking that there is something else wrong with me. I’m depressed and angry that all my problems are sex related – it is so unfair. I worry about what will happen next, what else could go wrong and it feels like its taking over my life.

My fears are real but the way I cope with it is all wrong and I know I’m wasting my life spending it all worried and anxious like a coiled spring when I have so much going for me. I hope to start CBT again soon to try and get me to be a bit more positive about things and am getting some counselling too at the moment which is really helping. one small step at a time…