I recently read on social media somewhere that self-diagnosed hypochondriacs are the epitome of irony.
When it comes to talking about hypochondriasis, I find that the general sentiment surrounding the topic is one of jest or mocking; and that people regard the disorder as something of amusement, or not even real at all.
Luckily, as somebody who has had to deal with health anxiety and its very real physical effects, I have learned to effectively handle these generalised assumptions through discovering more about my affliction.
"I was completely positive, for about two years, that I had bowel cancer." Image source: supplied.
I have come to recognise the physical manifestation of my obsessive worrying in the form of elevated heart rate, shortness of breath, trembling, and sweaty palms. As an adult, I have identified this in myself as a child, which led to the possibility that these anxieties developed in me when I was younger.
I remember being exposed to certain things that caused this same reaction; in particular tragic stories related to death on the news watched at eight years of age, or ideas of impending doom set about following the Sri Lankan tsunami in 2004 at nine years of age.
From this the assumption might be that I fear death – to be honest, this is not the case. The fear is not of death itself, but more the fear of a significantly reduced lifespan and/or diminished quality of life from a debilitating illness. The anxiety of knowing that you are dying due to a chronic disease, like cancer, is particularly incapacitating.
"The main way in which I have learned to cope is through understanding that truly, you cannot control everything that happens in life." Image source: supplied.
Fleetingly anxious thoughts often arise regularly for me. For example a mild headache would be perceived as a potential onset of an aneurysm, or the susceptibility to burn one’s tongue on hot foods results in becoming engrossed by thoughts of probable onsets of oral cancer, or even a rather indulgent day consuming greasy fish and chips could lead to the obsession of developing pancreatic cancer.
Other times, it’s not as simple. Two benign fatty lumps (lipomas) in my lower back consumed a large amount of my life. For more than two years, I was convinced that they were cancerous tumours. I even had a friend currently studying physiotherapy palpate them, and when her response was one of concern, that rendered me completely inconsolable and unable to complete a shift at work.
Another incident was when I was completely convinced, for about two years, that I had bowel cancer. Each and every Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptom I had was noted, and each and every one caused such anguish that the downward spiral I fell into somehow led me into an after-hours doctor’s office.
Shaking, breathing heavily, with tears in my eyes from the panic, the GP sat and waited, silently, for me to overcome my internal battle; before only managing to address my physical complaints and dismiss my mental state altogether. I was ‘young and healthy,’ he said, and that I’ve got ‘nothing wrong’.