Anxiety comes in many forms and, like any mental illness or disorder, it is a particularly nasty thing to suffer with because as a society we still just don’t understand it and struggle to be empathetic or compassionate towards something that we cannot see, unless of course they’ve been through it before, as more and more people now are.
August of this year marked a year since I got out of my 2 year battle with health anxiety. It was a complete nightmare and easily one of the lowest points of my life. It was horrible.
Here’s how my battle unfolded, watered down to avoid a novel.
How My Health Anxiety Started
Sounds strange, but my health anxiety started with small feelings in my face.
I remember it well. I was sat at work one day and I suddenly started getting a tingling feeling in my teeth. At first I thought nothing of it and it only happened every other day. But then it slowly got more frequent and was joined by a strange numb feeling in my left cheek.
I was already worrying by this point, but those things were quickly joined by blurred vision and pains / numbness in my head, and that’s when I really started to worry about it. I made the terrible decision to start using Google to check my symptoms every day (worst thing you can ever do) and it then began consuming my life. I was worried sick. I thought I was going to die.
I decided to see my doctor, who, without any tests of any kind, told me I had Rhinitis.
I didn’t believe him. It felt nothing like what I’d read about it, and my friend with it couldn’t relate. I now began to worry more because I didn’t think my doctor cared and was convinced there was any underlying illness he was missing. I walked away feeling hopeless, and scared.
One morning after this I was driving to work and suddenly a bout of heart palpitations hit me. It was the first time I’d had them and it scared the shit out of me. I was dead, I thought.
After that morning, I pretty much dropped off a cliff in terms of mental stability.
My Daily Struggle with Health Anxiety
I was spending every waking moment worrying about my health, searching endlessly for the terminal illness that was consuming me and would soon kill me before I had a chance to see my kids grow up. And it’s those thoughts of leaving my kids that really damaged me.
I had numerous symptoms every single day of my life and they felt very, very real. I was getting heart palpitations constantly. Was it Cancer? A heart attack? What’s happening to me?
I would tell anybody who would listen to me about what I was feeling, in terms of symptoms, every time hoping I’d hear that they feel it too or that they knew why I was feeling it. Every time I was met with disappointment, which made me worry even more.
I remember the worst night I had. I was awake for the entire night having panic attacks, with all of the symptoms and heart palpitations, one after the other, whilst sobbing my heart out the entire time thinking I was going to die and leave my kids. It was horrendous. I can’t explain how exhausted I felt the following day. I couldn’t take it anymore so I visited the doctor again and prescribed me Propranolol to stop the heart palpitations. They worked, most of the time.
From then on I had many more visits to the doctors, hospitals, dentists, psychiatrists, opticians, and even almost booked private CT scans after the doctor refused to refer me.
There was obviously nothing wrong with me. But I still didn’t believe it, even after a scan on my testicles when I was given the all clear, I said they must have missed the tumour as soon as I left the room. And that’s a crystal clear example of just how real it feels when you’re living it.
Every day, to me, was a battle. And a day closer to my death.
The Struggle for Loved Ones
The battle you face with health anxiety is a horrible, but it’s also very, very difficult for people who love you to see you compromised and destroying yourself in the way you do. The way I did. I became a shell of a person, let myself go in every way, and they could only look on and watch as I suffered in silence. They couldn’t help me, and I know how painful that can be.
My partner back then, Nora, couldn’t have been any better, though, she kept our family together, looked after our kids and supported me any way she could even though I was a hopeless father and partner during that time. I supported us financially, but I was just a useless mess.
My Mum wasn’t aware of how bad I was until I called her one day crying, begging her to go for a CT scan with me. “Mum, you have to accept that your Son is going to die,” I said to her.
That must have been horrible for her, I’d be heartbroken if my kids said that to me.
How I Got Over My Health Anxiety
Towards the end of my 2 year battle I think I reached a point where I was sick of suffering.
I told myself if something was going to happen to me, it would have happened by now. I’d be dead. It’d be over. But I was still alive, so maybe it is all in my head? You can’t just say that at any point, though, you have to genuinely believe it in your heart for it to allow you to relax.
I then made the decision to start cycling. I got a bike and started going out with my Dad 3 times a week. Within 2 months I stopped taking my Propranolol tablets, make sure you wean off if you do the same, and all of the symptoms I had been feeling for 2 years disappeared completely. I felt like a normal human being again. Felt like I’d escaped from a prison of self-destruction.
It was strange, once it was over I felt like I had been given a second chance at life, because that’s how convinced I was that my life was over during those 2 years. Very, very strange!
A year on and I feel unbreakable. The one positive of experiencing so much suffering is that I feel like there’s no person or situation in life that can now break me mentally. It shows you what you can deal with, and where you can go, and teaches you to manage your mind better.
Suffering? Stick in there, I know it’s tough but the wonderful thing about us humans is we’re tough as fuck. We always reach the light at the end of the tunnel. You will, too, I promise!
Family or friend to someone suffering? Stick by them, be patient and DO NOT tell them to get over it. They’re suffering more than you could understand. Support them all the way!
I’d love to hear your story in the comments section below!