My friend Andie, and I are extremely similar. I consider myself very lucky to have met her. Not only has she struggled with health anxiety but we are also taking the exact same program modules in school and have a lot of similar interests. I’ve been wanting her to guest post on this blog for a while now and we came up with the idea of creating mini interviews for each other. So behold, ten questions below, all answered by the lovely Andie.
1. Do you remember the exact moment that triggered the beginning of your hypochondriasis?
I don’t remember the exact moment, but I have a few memories that stick out for me in terms of the “beginning” of my hypochondriasis. When I was really young, maybe starting around 6 or 7, and for quite a few years following, I had somewhat lucid dreams about dying, which kind of became this boogie man type of fear for me. It was this all-consuming dark thing that jumped out of my dreams and into my real life – it’s hard to explain. It never really went away, but the health anxiety came out a little later I think. The next isolated moment I can remember was when I lost my virginity. I think I bought about a dozen pregnancy tests in the span of two weeks, and went to the doctor quite a few times (this was not with my current partner – he keeps me a little more grounded). I guess, like that “death boogie man” of my childhood, I created this “pregnancy boogie man” in my teenage years. Unfortunately, the “pregnancy boogie man” got really expensive, especially for my unemployed 17 year old self. Probably the biggest isolated moment I can think of is when I was diagnosed with C.Difficile, a gastrointestinal infectious disease similar in symptoms and biology to Colitis. I think because I was the exception in terms of diagnosis demographic, I was hyper-aware that I could be the exception to ANY statistic.
2. Do you identify with the term hypochondriac or the term health anxiety? Why or why not?
I’ve never given it a whole lot of thought, to be honest. I’ve always used the term “hypochondria” to describe what I’m dealing with, but it’s probably only because that’s the term my psychiatrist used when she originally diagnosed me. Officially, I have hypochondria with subsequent OCD, but I’m not really into labels regardless. I guess “health anxiety” works too, but it seems too… light, I think. At least I know that I don’t identify with the term “hysteria”!
3. What is your greatest fear in terms of disease/conditions (the one your mind always comes back to)?
I can do my top three for you, with some flimsy justifications.
- Pregnancy. Sometimes I say that my mind is pregnant, but my uterus is definitely not pregnant. Honestly, this one isn’t AS big of a THING for me as it was when I was younger, though if my period is like…a day late, sometimes I lose my mind a little.
- Cancer. This one seems pretty run of the mill for hypochondriacs. I think that because there are so many types of cancer, it’s easier to relate symptoms to one of the many forms. For me, skin cancer is a big point of concern. I am a very freckly person, so it’s always been a struggle not to study my moles/freckles to the point of insanity.
- Lupus. This one came about a couple of years ago, when my blood tested positive for the Lupus marker. Of course, this is probably easily explained, because Lupus and Renaud’s Syndrome have the same blood marker. My mom has Renaud’s (fun fact: as does my boyfriend) and it’s never been a point of anxiety for me (in super simplified terms, it just means you get really really cold and your extremities turn freaky colours).
4. What has mental illness taught you?
Mental illness has taught me that I am resilient. Even though I believe that to some extent, hypochondria is wired into my brain, that I am strong and that I can bounce back. More than ever, I’m trying not to let my anxiety hold me back. I don’t want to let the fear of dying stop me from living, as cheesy as that sounds. For example, I was never particularly keen travelling because I’m terrified of airplanes (they crash, and cause blood clots according to my nagging brain) and I am worried about picking up parasites, but my boyfriend and I are planning a trip to Asia this summer, and I am more excited than I am afraid. I’ve learned that my willpower is my biggest gift.
5. Are you open about your anxiety?
When I was little, I don’t think I had the language to talk about it clearly. I don’t even think my family knew much about my nightmares. In middle school, I was pretty shy, and I can’t really remember being particularly open about anything at all. Between the beginning of high school and now, I’ve sort of become an open book. I’m pretty much open about everything, sometimes to the embarrassment of the people around me! I mean, I’m happy to answer any questions that come my way, and I never hesitate from sharing my experiences if I think it will benefit or educate someone. I’m definitely not screaming “I HAVE ANXIETY” on the street outside my house, but I am comfortable with who I am and I am not embarrassed.
6. What advice would you give others with anxiety?
My biggest advice would be to see anxiety as a hurdle, not a roadblock. It’s something that can be dealt with, and it doesn’t need to control you. Like I said earlier, it took me a while to learn how resilient I really am, but I want people to know and understand that you will figure it out. You are not defined by anxiety.
7. What tools or strategies do you personally use to cope with your anxiety?
I have tons that I’ve learned over the years. One major one for me is weekly psychiatry appointments. My psychiatrist is a huge support for me, and knowing I have check-ins every Friday keeps me grounded. I guess Zoloft is a tool for me as well, but I think that Zoloft is just a small piece of the puzzle. I find joy in relaxing, and reflecting. I love to read, which is a great distraction, and I also really love a good realty TV show. Tea, writing, cooking, and spending time with people are also great strategies for suppressing my anxiety. It’s definitely something I work on every day.
8. What strategies definitely do not work for you?
One thing that I absolutely KNOW doesn’t work for me is going on the Internet and researching symptoms. Googling seems like an easy “strategy” for me when I’m attempting to self-diagnose, but it’s a rabbit hole, and leads nowhere positive. I usually end up convinced that I have at least a few tumors, an ectopic pregnancy, and a hole in my stomach lining. Nothing pleasant, nothing productive. I also know that looking for reassurance at my doctor’s office is not a good strategy. I’ve become very untrusting of most doctors, so I’m never really reassured anyways. In fact, doctor’s appointments usually spike my anxiety.
9. What are your goals for the future?
That’s a loaded question for anyone about to finish undergrad, anxiety or not. I’m hoping to pursue a career in the social services sector. I’m really interested in counseling, so who knows where that will take me. I would also like to be real-life pregnant one day (in a long time) and start a family. One of my major goals for the future is not to let my anxiety keep me from being happy. That’s just not an option.
P.S If you’re not bored of me yet- feel free to check out the interview that Andie did with me on her blog :). And while you’re over there you should follow her- she’s super interesting!