Anxiety and I have been acquaintances for a long time, but I didn’t get to know it intimately until recent years.
Worrying, feeling unsettled or restless, and sensationalizing things were pillars in my home growing up. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized these thoughts weren’t a healthy, “normal” part of life.
My sister and I used to roll our eyes about how much my mom worried about every little thing. She’d hear a siren and would have to call our cell phones, imagining the worst. Her mom was more of the same. The term hypochondriac was regularly used to describe my grandmother, and we would laugh it off, not truly comprehending its meaning.
These were my early introductions with anxiety and the grip it could have on everyday life. I just didn’t know it.
After I developed postpartum anxiety after the birth of my first son, it reared its ugly head again with the arrival of my second child. Not wanting to suffer through it like I did with my first, I met with my OB/GYN and started seeing a therapist.
It wasn’t until I met with my therapist and was describing to her my worries that she asked me if a lot of my anxiety was health focused. And a light bulb lit up in my head. I realized that yes, a lot of my fears were health related.
When I was pregnant with my second child, I was convinced I had a blood clot in my leg. My second pregnancy was vastly different and much more difficult than my first. Varicose veins popped up unlike they had the first time and my brain decided to interpret it as I had a clot in my leg, destined to break off and cause a pulmonary embolism.
I made an appointment with my primary care doctor to address my concern. Even after he assured me that I did not have a blood clot in my leg, my brain would not rest. I asked my OB/GYN about it. She also reassured me that painful varicose veins were a normal part of pregnancy and do not indicate a clot. I started to settle slightly. But this fear lasted weeks and triggered my first panic attack.
Unfortunately, my health anxiety is not exclusive to my own health. Being a mama bear means I naturally worry about my kids. This normal worrying often grows to beast-like proportions thanks to my anxiety.
In fact, my breaking point of when I realized I could no longer face anxiety alone was due to spending days in agony believing my oldest son was a type 1 diabetic. You see, this is my affliction and will probably forever be in the back of my mind as something my kids may develop.
It was grueling. I was a jumble of nerves and fear, unable to relax. I knew I needed help.
Even though I seek treatment for my anxiety, it hasn’t been erased. Most days are good. Some days I have anxiety about having anxiety.
Having health anxiety means I’m the person reminding everyone to always wash their hands.
I’m the person reaching for the hand sanitizer as soon as we leave a public place that my son has practically licked every square inch of.
I’m the person reminding my husband to get his flu shot ASAP because the baby is too young for the vaccine.
I’m the person who, when I come across the latest horrible health-related disease in the news, is convinced it will wreak havoc on my family. The latest: the brain-eating amoeba that recently killed a woman from her use of a neti pot to treat recurrent sinus infections. I read this article in horror and my immediate response was to throw my neti pot in the trash (which I’ve used a total of three times in 5+ years). But it didn’t stop there, no. I had to furiously scrub and sterilize my baby’s cool-mist humidifier that I had been running religiously to help ease his congestion. I berated myself for using tap water on occasion when I didn’t have enough filtered water.
Fortunately, now that I am seeking treatment for my anxiety I know my triggers and have steps to help me break down and rationalize my thoughts and feelings. And sleep is typically my reset button (even though I don’t get much of it).
Much more than the old moniker hypochondriac, having health anxiety is exhausting and debilitating if left unchecked. I’m sure we all know someone who constantly believes she is right around the corner from being diagnosed with a terminal or life-altering disease. And while we like to dismiss those irrational thoughts or chuckle at the behavior, know that health anxiety makes that person believe it is a real probability.
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