After nearly losing my life delivering my second daughter, I suffer from health anxiety. I am much better today, better than I have ever been, but getting to this point has not been easy.
What exactly is health anxiety? It is when you think every little thing that ails you is going to kill you. You may know this as hypochondria. You may be a hypochondriac yourself.
In the age of Google, the number of those suffering from health anxiety continues to rise. That’s the flip-side to having information at your fingertips.
A pimple is deadly skin cancer.
A bump is the dreaded C.
A bug bite is the West Nile virus.
Thanks, Google! I was never a hypochondriac before I almost died. I was the person who rode every ride at the theme park without thinking twice about it.
Then I almost died . . . and suddenly I felt what didn’t kill me the first time would catch me on any given day.
When you’ve stared death in the face, it changes you.
Sure, it made me appreciate every moment. I tell my family I love them every chance I get. I hug them more, and I try to laugh with them as much as possible.
Since nearly dying, I’ve become less stressed about certain life situations.
That guy who cut me off this morning . . . I let it roll off my back.
The mom who acts ridiculous at the PTA meeting . . . whatever.
My health anxiety sneaks in when I start to feel sick, get a migraine, or basically just feel out of sorts.
Common cold? No, it must be something else. I imagine my lungs black as night as I cough.
Heartburn turns into a possible heart attack.
A bruise means my muscles are failing me.
I have spent hours on Google trying to self-diagnose. It is an endless dark rabbit hole. I would convince myself I had X only to read something else, and no, it must be that instead.
When I was in the worst spiral of healthy anxiety, it affected my relationships. It was a time stealer.
It stole my time from the things I wanted to accomplish.
It prevented me from working on my book. It prevented me from watching my favorite television show. It stole time from my husband because I was too caught up on my phone reading about what I most likely did not have.
One more search, I would tell myself. It turned into hours wasted. I would get upset with myself only to begin the vicious cycle again anytime I felt under the weather.
Some people who suffer from health anxiety go to the emergency room or the doctor’s office every time they feel anything off. They will go from doctor to doctor, believing none of them are being truthful or they don’t know what they are doing.
My health anxiety attacks did not cause me to do that. Mine was much more focused on the internet and spending hours reading and researching diseases. There are varying forms of health anxiety, and we each suffer from it in our own way.
My health anxiety clouded my mind and overtook my heart with worry.
Some would say this is the devil’s work. He wants you miserable so he can steal your joy. It feeds his ego. I read that on a Catholic self-help site.
I also read that if you suffer from health anxiety, your best friend is cognitive behavioral therapy, and I believe that 100%.
In 2017, I was at the peak of my health anxiety. I had just nearly died at the end of 2016, and I had so many questions.
I was struggling to understand why I survived while at the same time worrying if my body was genuinely healing itself properly.
I re-played images in my mind of all the blood that left my body as I was hemorrhaging. I convinced myself that somehow the blood transfusion infected me with something else. I went to dark places in my mind where I saw myself losing blood as I slept, never waking up.
At the end of 2017, I had decided enough was enough. I felt I had missed out on so much with my second daughter. Instead of playing with her, I was searching the internet. I would search for the lasting effects of blood loss or the dangers of a blood transfusion as she played by herself on the playmat.
I knew something had to change.
I spoke to a pastor. I told him what I was feeling. I purposely went to this pastor because he was not the judging kind. He would not tell me, “Put it all on Jesus and have a nice day.”
No, he spoke to me, not at me. He actively listened. He did not pretend to have all the answers. He prayed with me. He did not say, “Lord, heal this woman.” He said, “God, help bring Aliette peace and clarity.” That slight difference is everything.
I had to put in the work myself if I wanted to change, but God would be my biggest cheerleader.
I started small. If I found myself with the need to search for whatever disease I might have, I gave myself a limit.
I would tell myself, “I will search this for twenty minutes max.” Then I would put the phone down and walk away. I often needed to shut my phone completely off.
I would place limits on daily searches. Instead of searching every day, I would tell myself on a Monday I would not search again until Thursday. Usually, in that three-day window, whatever I was feeling was gone, and the need to search Google went with it.
I prayed and asked for clarity and a peaceful heart.
If I failed and went on a searching binge, I started all over again by limiting myself on how much time I dedicated to it. It was a daily painful exercise in mental strength.
I went through various cycles of success and failure, finally beating it in 2019. By then, I had stopped searching Google entirely for whatever I thought may kill me.
If I felt sick, I simply called my doctor and booked an appointment. If I felt the urge to get on Google, I would find something else to do, and I would turn my phone off.
I am proud to say I overcame my health anxiety.
I beat the need to Google every symptom. I stopped believing that something was out to get me and take me away from everything I loved.
I moved on to focusing on what I could do with the time I had. I picked up my writing again, and I focused on my family and friends. I made new goals and laid out plans to achieve them.
This is what helped me, but it was a slow process. It took nearly two years to overcome my hypochondria fully, and it is still a daily struggle sometimes to stay off the internet. Yet, I have done it and you can, too.
If you suffer from health anxiety, my solutions may help you, or they may not. You may need additional help from a psychologist, medication, or a combination of these things. We each have our own path to achieve optimal mental health.
Do not be ashamed if you suffer from health anxiety.
Google has made it easy to become a hypochondriac. Talk to people and let them know what you are feeling. You will be surprised at how many people suffer from health anxiety silently. It is believed that 1 in 4 people suffer from this condition, but very few seek treatment. Do not let that be you.
Whatever you need to help defeat your health anxiety, do it. You are a gift to this world. Your time with your loved ones is everything. You deserve to live a life where you do not allow your hypochondria and endless internet searches to steal your joy and time. Your life experience is more valuable than a Google search.