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Thread: Dealing with HA

  1. #1

    Dealing with HA

    Iíve lurked on these forums, using them as a sort of crutch for a while whenever Iím convinced Iím about to succumb to whatever condition has become my latest obsession, so please indulge me for a moment.

    Iíve been dealing with health anxiety on and off since I was a teenager, and now that Iím 30, Iím back in the midst of another episode. In the past Iíve dealt with it in various ways as it has run its course, but this time, convinced that Iím older and therefore wiser, Iíve tried to write things down - venturing outside of my own head for a while, hoping that describing my craziness in prose may help give me some perspective. So far, so mixed results.

    To me health anxiety is like experiencing a bout of mental flu, itís not constant, and I can go a while, even a year or two, without it, but sure enough Iíll contract a nasty strain at some point.

    It comes first with mild aches and pains - the searching out of a lump, bump or mystery symptom on my body. After years of such obsessions I give myself a talking to, categorically state that this time will be different and I wonít be Googling at 4am. A few days later, and a few Google searches entered into my browser, and my anxiety intensifies. That lymph node really has enlarged, there really is a lump in the area where once there was no lump, and should I really be pooping this much? This continues for a few weeks, ebbing and flowing tortuously, before something else, usually more sane, takes my attention and, a few months after this, I can laugh with my partner as we reminisce Ďremember the time when I thought I had Xí. The mental flu has gone for a while, inevitably returning again at a later date.

    At present, Iím in the middle of another cycle. The very real symptom on my body, which in moments of clarity I realise is nothing, is taking all of my attention. It wakes me from sleep at night so I can thumb it, checking itís still there, chronically obsessed by size, texture, mobility and sponginess. On my worst days it can make me feel like I canít work, and instead I mope around, trying and failing not to enter another round of intensive research to figure out just how I am going to die.

    Like many people with HA, Google is both my best friend and worst enemy. The majority of times when you discover something slightly different about your body, a quick search with the symptoms and the word Ďforumí keyed in also, will return a plethora of results, mostly ending with Ďyep, Iíve had that for years, itís nothing.í

    But, that doesnít really feel right does it? Sure, this person may have had the same lump/rash/ache/pain as me, but Iím actually REALLY ill, not like this Reddit wannabe. And so you go again, searching endlessly until you get to the good stuff, either an exotic illness that will end in your untimely demise, or cancer.

    For what itís worth, if you Googled the symptoms of a common headache or cold, you will bring back a range of diagnosis from most trusted health bodies, one of which will include cancer. You know that, I know that, but how many cancer scares have you had with HA? To give you a spotted history of my adventures with self-diagnosis, I have come to the conclusion that Iíve had, since the age of 15, the following:

    Cancer of the bowel, stomach, lymph node(s), prostate, testicle, penis, leg and spine.

    I sincerely believed I had all of them, I currently believe I have one of them, and while I may be slightly more tongue in cheek at the time of writing, tomorrow morning I will be a quivering wreck asking my partner to reassure me for the twentieth time that week (and itíll only be Monday).

    To add further context to this, I spent an entire Christmas believing I had a subdural hematoma, I didnít, another Christmas that I had diabetes, I didnít (I actually had thrush from liberal application of aftershave to my genitals, but thatís another story). I once spent an entire evening watching the comedian, Ricky Gervais, live, with excellent seats near to the front, but instead of engaging with a fantastic show, I was interested more in checking my hand for tremors (at the time I believed I had Parkinsonís Disease). I would like to say that this activity was more entertaining than watching one of the finest comedians of this, and any, generation, but alas it provided very few laughs.

    With some self awareness, whenever I catch one of the bouts of mental flu, I lurk in forums such as this one, or elsewhere. I often see individuals wishing that they had family members who are in the medical profession, as though the reassurance will help.

    Unfortunately this is not the case. Like many, when convinced that this particular lump was the one destined to finish me of, I have gone to the doctors only to be told it is nothing to be concerned with. This has helped for all of two days before the anxiety returns, convinced they either didnít take me seriously or I didnít disclose my condition with enough candour. Living in the UK, I have even paid to see a private GP, so convinced that my own wasnít taking my symptoms seriously - they returned the same verdict, albeit more costly, with concerned advice that instead of relief for physical ailments, I should instead seek CBT.

    In later years, I have also achieved the dream of all those with HA, I am in a relationship with a health professional. A nurse to be precise, who has experience in emergency care. To be clear, weíve been together for almost 15 years - I didnít pick her out for her qualifications, my issues arenít that advanced, yet. Adding to this, I myself work within the health service, in a fairly senior position, which means I have good relationships with many a doctor and nurse, all of whom are always willing to look at a dodgy mole or squidgy lump, should the opportunity strike.

    And yet none of this helps. Try as she might, my partner canít dissuade me from my latest crusade to diagnose myself with non-Hodgkinsonís Lymphoma or a tropical fungal infection centralised within my scalp. Despite the fact she cares for those seriously ill, no amount of listening, nodding and checking ever really helps. All she can do is let the anxiety work itís way through my system, reminding me of the time I thought that I had a piece of sea coral stuck in my foot, or was about to die from blood poisoning due to a splinter wedging itself into my bum, and getting lost somewhere in my posterior in the desperation to pick it out. And while this is funny for a moment, it also illuminates that this thing that I deal with, and we all deal with, is deeply irrational.

    More than most, I understand whatís the matter with me, but it still doesnít stop me circling the drain and obsessing about illness. During this latest episode, when my feelings of anxiety have lessened about the primary symptom Iím dealing with, I have developed secondary issues. An ache here, or an abrasion there, seemingly out of nowhere. Just this evening I could be found feeling the sides of my skull, behind the ear, convinced that one side had suddenly enlarged. Thereís nothing quite like feeling the dimples of your own head, comparing diligently the various indents, whist panicking, to outline that your life really isnít where it should be.

    Again, in moments of clarity I realise this is just anxiety. Iím dealing with something (or not dealing may be the case), and when one obsession fails me I flail for another. This however doesnít stop me from running down my fingers against my skull looking for tumours.

    My last round of health anxiety was probably around two years ago, until I developed another starting in mid-December. This time around I have begun to write things down, which has helped slightly. I keep an open document on my phone, writing down certain rationalisations, which has taken the edge of some of the anxiety attacks. I have also taken screenshots of posts and pieces of information about the condition which is concerning me which play down its significance. Together they help, they donít entirely conquer the issue, but they stop me from going deeper, as has been the case in the past. Music also helps, and over the years I have developed something of a health anxiety playlist (although I doubt this will catch on as an open channel on Spotify).

    What I find interesting, in the midst of a global pandemic I have not been afraid of COVID-19, not even remotely. Given the fact I have worked at a hospital throughout this period is even stranger, which makes me believe thereís something deeper going on. Before I remember suffering with HA, my grandmother passed away following a number of years in remission from cancer, with it returning aggressively just before she died. The suddenness of this, subconsciously, must have created a phobia, and what I forget in this is the fact she had fought the illness once before, having suffered severe symptoms before diagnosis, and, leading up to its return, had slowly become more frail and in worse health. And perhaps thatís where my fear comes from - missing the signs and symptoms before itís too late.

    As suggested by the expensive doctor I once visited, something like CBT may help, but part of me believes this feels too much like reaching for a miracle cure. Perhaps Iím just playing to type and refusing a path towards a more healthy outlook. For now, I usually escape into my work as a means of pulling back from the brink.

    For those still with me - I hope you found some of this useful. HA can feel extremely lonely, scary and endless. I hope by sharing some of my experiences you will see recognise some of your own, and perhaps for an hour or two, may give you some respite from whatever is worrying you currently.

    For my part, I share all of this, because right now the recognition of actually what is the matter with me is helpful. It gives me a sense of perspective that is certain to disappear in a few hours. Iíll probably struggle with this mental flu for a little while longer, before it slowly subsides. Hopefully this time around it will be more permanent, or the strategies Iíve developed further will help me the next time I fret over a new lump or bump.

    Hereís to hoping.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2019

    Re: Dealing with HA


    Beautifully said! I enjoyed reading that and found myself spread throughout. You aren't alone and I so glad you shared your life with us.

    Best Wishes

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2016

    Re: Dealing with HA

    Ditto from me - very well written. I don’t think anyone with HA wouldn’t be able to relate on some level to what you wrote. I also enjoy your comparison to a “mental flu” - best description I’ve heard yet, and so very accurate.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2018

    Re: Dealing with HA

    Um, hello life twin.

    Wow that was an excellent memoir of HA and I can relate to almost every word of it.

    I once had front row seats to Cirque Du Soleil ďOĒ and would glance back and forth between watching these insane water acrobatics to checking to see if I had the tunnels characteristic of scabies on my skin. Good times.

    Thanks for sharing this and please stick around. We can hopefully get over this mental flu once and for all one day.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2019

    Re: Dealing with HA

    Very well written. I can relate to nearly everything youíve said. For me the HA started in my mid twenties. Iím 41 now. I am thankful for the times of ďclarityĒ especially when they last a few years. May I add additional observations? Maybe you can relate to these.

    1. Itís all about irrational thought. Why isnít this just a tension headache? It has to be brain cancer. Small scratch on my arm? Must have been a rabid bat. Dusty room? Iíve caught hantavirus for sure. Learning how to dispose of irrational thoughts helps but it can be very tough. I think the irrational mind and the OCD mind are very strong.
    2. HA wants your attention. The little jerk will jump from body part to body part to get it. When the twitches donít capture your attention like they used to theyíll stop and heíll move on to chest pains or floaters.
    3. As I get older I wrestle with dismissing everything as anxiety. At some point I may actually have a condition that needs treatment, preferably early. I deal with this by ďwiselyĒ using doctors. Not overusing them.
    4. As part of #3, Iíve resolved not to ask for scans. I always defer to the doctor.
    5. I still rarely go to the doctor and I think (or hope) part of the reason is a regular fitness routine. As an added benefit, exercise is great at minimizing anxiety in general.

    Thanks for your post. Youíre among friends.

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