Health Anxiety: One Year After Opening Up

One year ago, I wrote a blog post all about Health Anxiety. I opened up, let out how it makes me feel, what it’s like to live with it. Being able to say it, letting people see a real side of me, truly felt great. It stayed that way for quite a while, until it started to have more of an effect on me.

See, I’m a very self-aware person. Acknowledging it & accepting it was indeed a big step, but also came with additional challenges. No longer was I taking medication just in case, Googling things and trying to prove or disprove myself, or simply try and ignore it, hoping for the best. Now what I was doing, was fighting myself daily.

Why Being Self-Aware is Difficult

Have you ever had (insert relatable cliché here) happen to you, and you knew that it needed fixing but there was nothing you could do about it? That’s basically been the past year for me. Sure, accepting and learning that I have a real problem was helpful, but it made the hard days so much harder.

No longer was I panicking about health problems, but I was now aware I had created those problems in my head and they were still hurting me. I couldn’t turn it off, I couldn’t escape it.

I essentially had to watch myself suffer through these fictional problems and just hope it wouldn’t last long. Don’t get me wrong, self-awareness can come in handy too, especially when it comes to having a logical discussion with myself as to whether or not I should do something.

For example, “Should I say (insert mildly offensive inside joke) to this friend?” to which I then think, “Actually, my delivery of this may come across more insulting than anything as I don’t always manage well with tone of voice. Plus, I’m really awkward about this one, so my body language will probably make the situation uncomfortable… I think I’ll just leave it.”

Alas, when it is relating to health anxiety, it becomes quite an issue and is rather hard to deal with. Something happens and I start to feel a pain that isn’t there. I then acknowledge to myself that it’s in my head, but now it’s manifesting and I’m anxious because I can’t shut my anxiety off, even though it’s illogical.

My Christmas Concern

Throughout the year, my mental health had fluctuated anyway. Ups and downs thanks to the likes of Covid, furlough, online gaming disputes, the death of my Grandad and so on.

I’d had a few instances leading up to the Christmas period, wherein I got so anxious that I legitimately started to shake, struggled to breathe and caused both nausea and frequent trips to the bathroom.

Then came Christmas, the key to it all. I’d been having some fairly standard days, some better due to my love for the festive season, but mostly business as usual. Then came another health woe. I can’t remember the exact evening, I believe it was Boxing Day, where I was playing online with friends.

Leading up to this I had become aware of frequent trips to the bathroom. As is typical with me, this was nothing more than me drinking too much water and tea, so of course this was going to happen. My brain doesn’t work that way though, so panic ensued and I began tensing a lot, almost trying to squeeze it all out. Gross, I know.

This all came to ahead on this fateful night, where a friend innocently proclaimed that they had been going to the toilet a lot, and had hoped it wasn’t like the year prior, of which they’d suffered a kidney infection.

Bet you can’t guess what happened next? That’s correct, I thought that was my problem. I checked the 111 section of the NHS app, did a quiz on what I thought my problem was and it told me to seek help.

I was shaking, upset stomach, couldn’t sit down and my head was spinning. It felt like an out of body experience. Only a few weeks prior, I’d heard a song in which the lyrics had said “dialysis means goodbye”. I was distraught.

Unnecessary Medication For a Non-Existent Problem

Following this, I’d received a phone call from the general telephone team at 111. They ran through some questions, asking me about things like hernias and aneurysms, stuff that made me think I was going to die. Of course I wasn’t, but try telling that to me when I’m in a state like that. I then had to wait for a GP to call me, so I sat and I waited some more.

This turned out to be a blessing. The lady I spoke to was lovely and understanding. Once she realised I was a very generally and also health anxious person, it all changed. She told me I’d probably be okay, and if it’s still a big concern, to go to the walk-in centre in the morning, but that even if it was something, nothing would happen so quickly overnight.

More at ease, I spoke to my friend about the situation and then went to bed. The next morning, I did just that, went to the walk-in centre. They made me do a urine sample, which only came back with extra protein (I’d had Christmas dinner only like a day or so before, so this was normal).

After a few questions back and forth about me squeezing/tensing and going to the toilet a fair bit, they determined it might be a urethral infection.

What followed was spending a week on antibiotics that drained me and made me feel super sick. After my course had ended, I pondered why it had made me feel sick if it was supposed to help. They can upset your stomach, but they shouldn’t have made me feel that way surely?

I then proceeded to have the same tensing feelings, leading me to wonder what was wrong if it was still like this.

Deciding to Ask For Help

I left these issues for another week or so afterwards, hoping it would just go away. During this time, it was pointed out to me that this could all just be in my head. That the pains and the problems might not have been real after all, just like so many problems before it. I pondered this, and reflected. It made perfect sense and slowly but surely, my problems went away.

It was at this point, I decided that I’d had enough. Nearing 25 years of age, with a whole future ahead of me, I didn’t want this to be my life. I wanted to enjoy my youth and make the most out of everything I had. I knew this didn’t have to be my life forever and that I could beat it if I tried hard enough. So I sought help.

It wasn’t as hard as you may think, accepting help. At any point prior, maybe, but I’d hit my absolute lowest. I’d reached the point where I legitimately questioned whether or not I still wanted to be here. For me, accepting help was easy, because I had no other choice. I filled out a self-referral form for Let’s Talk in Hull and the rest is history in the making.

So, Where Am I Now?

The answer to this, is pursuing therapy and trying my very best to beat this. My counsellor has done wonders so far and I’m making a lot of progress. I’ve gone back into my past, found the potential cause and am doing what I can to make life easier for myself going forward.

It took me falling various steps backwards, to take the necessary leap forward, but I’m on my way. I still have bad days, and when they’re bad, they’re horrendous, but I’m having more good days now than I’ve ever had before.

I have good people around me who know my story, and who in their own ways encourage me, providing support and letting me know I’ll be okay. I’m forever grateful for that.

I can’t say for sure how long it will take, whether I can do this without medication or not, and whether I’ll truly be rid of it altogether, but I’m determined to keep going and never give up. I will create a future for myself that I can be happy in, no matter what it takes to get there.

If you’ve read this and relate in any way, always remember you’re not alone. Fighting Health Anxiety is hard, it’s a disorder that needs continuous work, but you can do it, I believe in you.

I’m by no means a professional myself, but if you do need help, please do seek it. Counsellors are there for this very reason, and they’re wonderful people. There’s no shame in asking for help, as doing so is one of the strongest things any of us can do.

List of UK Based Mental Health Services, Courtesy of Time to Change

Post by Michael Sallabank