health

'I'm suffering with health anxiety. It's slowly ruining my life.'

Content warning: This post discusses violence and mental health issues. 

I grew up in a violent home, both physically and emotionally. 

While it’s given me the ability, as a highly attuned empath, to walk into any room, any time, anywhere and immediately pick up on the mood, no matter how subtle. 

It has also given me a huge amount of anxiety that I have carried throughout my whole adulthood. I’ve been diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and PTSD from my childhood trauma. I’ve also been diagnosed with hypochondria, now referred to as health anxiety. It’s slowly ruining my life. 

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In November 2021, I gave birth to my second son. He was squishy, delicious and looked just like his big brother. He still does. 

I was excited to have our littlest member out and in the world, and was looking forward to the chaos and love that two meant. I didn’t realise at the time what a huge difference having two kids would mean for my mental health. 

I’ve always been very proactive about seeking help for my mental health, especially given my diagnoses. 

I manage to keep on top of it with regular psychologist appointments, daily journaling and as much self-care as you can manage as a working mum. 

So, I had assumed, with the birth of the second, it would be more of the same. 

However, due to just the sheer number of children I suddenly have (it’s true that having one kid feels like one and having two kids feels like 20) getting some self-care time and doctor’s appointments that weren’t in relation to the increasingly bizarre daycare illnesses that have trekked their way into our home has been nearly impossible (what is Slapped Cheek Syndrome and why is this a thing?). 

So, I’ve found myself facing down my mental health demon once again, and it’s manifested in its standard form of panic attacks and health anxiety. 

In the last month, using the diabolical tool of Dr Google, I’ve diagnosed myself with cancer of the bowel, pancreas, gallbladder, breast and lymphatic system.

I’ve also thought I was having a heart attack, stroke and an aneurysm. Sleep deprivation from having a seven-month-old, and from the onset of the anxiety, means that I’ve been hazy, foggy and fatigued.

This has meant I also thought I had a brain tumour. 

The problem with health anxiety is that it can take a seemingly innocuous symptom, like fatigue, and twist it into a death sentence. 

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The problem with Dr Google is that the information backs it up, so the anxiety doubles down and I’m caught in an endless cycle of lunacy and panic. 

Terror gripping my throat, forcing me to make yet another appointment with my GP to follow the trail of some new symptom I have. 

Both the best and the worst part of it all is that I’m very healthy.

I exercise, I don’t smoke, I drink only occasionally. I run around with my toddler, despite operating on little sleep. 

I am, if I do say so myself, excellent at imaginative play and can think on my feet with whatever my three-year-old throws at me. 

Physically, I’m absolutely fine. And my heart breaks a thousand times over when I hear or read about women just like me who are sick. 

I follow them on Instagram and keep them in my thoughts. Hoping and wishing for them to get better, to come through it, to be able to do everything I can do. 

And yet, sickeningly, those women’s stories also fuel my own mental deterioration. There is also so much shame involved. 

Shame that I could possibly think I’m sick, shame that I’m healthy, shame at wasting so much of my loved ones' and medical professionals’ time. The shame, of course, adds to the anxiety and makes it that much worse. 

Thankfully, because I’ve had a lot of therapy, I’m able to identify my health anxiety. 

I can recognise a panic attack now for what it is, rather than what it feels like it is (which is imminent death, for those unlucky enough never to have had one). 

I have a strong foundation to build up from to get back to where I was prior to the birth of my second child. 

I’m also very lucky to have lots of family support, even if they don’t quite understand what is happening to me when I’m deep in the Google rabbit hole. 

Health anxiety isn’t as talked about as a lot of mental health issues, and it’s nearly always caused by something else. 

However, this issue affects around five per cent of the population, perhaps even more because it’s an under-reported issue due to the shame that comes along with it. 

With a problem this common, it’s important that we can talk about it so sufferers can feel supported and the people around them can be educated. 

And, if you find yourself deep in Dr Google whenever you have a tickle in your throat, make an appointment for a mental health referral with your GP. It could be the best doctor’s appointment you’ll make. 

Brooke is a freelance writer and columnist. She soaks up the sun on the Gold Coast and is kept on her toes by her husband and two little boys. You can follow her on Instagram at @thebrookeshelves

Feature Image: Supplied.

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