It is no surprise to the people that known me that I’m a health anxiety sufferer. Although my earliest memory of health-related anxiety was when I was seven, I was only diagnosed ‘officially’ about 3 years ago.
As a child, I showed very early signs of OCD. One of my first memories of this was being in a shop and not allowing my family to leave until I had gone back and touched something again. Even back then my anxiety was centred around health. I felt that if I did these strange habits then I would protect my family from harm. The rituals got progressively worse and I think peaked when I was around 13. I was sat in a maths class at school for an hour and spent the entire lesson trying to look at the light in a certain way bouncing off my necklace. Every time I did it, it felt wrong and I’d have to start again and if I didn’t get it right then something bad would happen. My family were very supportive and even helped me label it OCD. They explained that lots of people did it and that they could get me help if I wanted. This helped me so much as before I’d opened up to them I thought I was weird and the only person in the world with this strange need to do odd things.
By the time I was 18 my OCD was manageable and I finally felt like it wasn’t taking over my life. I think this was at the point where my health anxiety started to rear its ugly head instead. At college, we were being taught about safe sex and the various sexually transmitted diseases you could get. For some reason learning about HIV and it’s lack of a cure absolutely terrified me. It burrowed into my head and pretty much ruined every relationship I had because I was convinced that I either had HIV or that I was going to get it. This went on for years. I was 26 when I finally plucked up the courage to go and get tested. It took every bit of strength I had not to run away and waiting for the test results was torture. The test came back negative of course. You would think that would be enough to alleviate the fears yet somehow the relief was short lived. When being tested for HIV it can take 3 months to show in a blood test so I knew I wouldn’t feel completely happy until I had another test 3 months later. I knew I couldn’t go through the agony of waiting again so I booked into a clinic in London for same day test results. And of course, the test was negative again.
This meant that I was finally free of worry right? Wrong. You see I thought that the problem was that I had a fear of HIV. The truth was however, I had a fear of dying. It had just manifested itself in that one illness. Now I was free from those thoughts my attention turned to other illnesses and this was when the fun really began.
I spent the next 10 years on an emotional roller coaster. I can’t tell you the number of illnesses I thought I had. During this time I didn’t for one second believe that it was anxiety as, unlike the HIV thing I always started my worrying from the onset of a symptom. For example tummy ache = bowel cancer and headaches = brain tumour. It has got to the point now after spending so much time thinking the worst that even one of those random, half a second jabby eye pains we all get makes my mind rush straight to a ridiculous diagnosis. Seriously there is not even one second between a sensation I feel in my body and my mind rushing to some insane diagnosis based on something I read maybe a few years ago. At my lowest points, i’ve ended up in A and E with severe panic attacks mistaken for heart attacks. There are times that I can’t even look at myself naked, for fear of finding a lump or an abnormal mole. After many visits to the doctor with bizarre declarations of impending death, I got the diagnosis of health anxiety.
When I was 26 I met Paul and I was probably at my lowest ebb anxiety wise. It definitely tested his love for me at the beginning and still to this day he has to be so patient with me. It is hard living with anxiety but it is equally hard seeing someone you love destroying themselves with fear too. Having both him, my mum and my wonderful family and friends has helped me find ways of coping. They have recognised my illness and have allowed me to lean on them. I can openly ask for their opinion on if they think I have this, that or the other illness and their matter of fact responses reassure me and help me make sense of what’s true and downright ridiculous. (Most of the time!)
After having Pops and Fin my anxiety went through the roof! Not only did I have to worry about myself, I now had to keep two little people alive too! Anxiety swamped me during the early months of their lives. I convinced myself that something would happen to me before they were old enough to remember me. That thought haunted every cuddle, every kiss and every happy memory I had with them. I will always regret how those fears overshadowed my happiness. Now the anxiety is mostly when they get ill. Each sniff makes my mind frantic. This is where mum and Paul really come into their own! (Thanks guys!) They help keep things in perspective for me and as the kids have got older and can tell me how they are feeling it has saved a lot of wild stabbing in the dark about why they are ill and what they have!
So my story now brings us to three years ago. A few months after Fin was born. I started to exhibit some strange symptoms. I had a buzzing feeling in my left foot, I had on off headaches and a fluttering feeling in my chest. All of these symptoms would come and go but as I’m sure you can imagine sent me crazy with worry. After being tested for B12 deficiency, diabetes, overactive thyroid and MS I was sent away with the diagnosis of anxiety. This is the problem with having the word ‘anxiety’ on your doctor’s notes because let’s face it nearly every symptom you can have can be caused by anxiety. I literally felt like I was going crazy. Like no one believed me. These symptoms would come and go and not be related to the times I felt anxious at all yet because the doctors had run out of options I questioned if they could be right. However, each time these symptoms would arise my body was telling me different. It felt so real that deep down I knew there was something wrong. So I turned to the dreaded Dr Google! I unearthed so many very horrible possibilities which pulled at my health anxiety no end. I convinced myself that it must be the dreaded Big C and spent my days walking around with my symptoms and diagnosis playing on a loop in my head whilst trying to act normal. It was a pretty lonely place to be. On one of my numerous Google searches I came across a link to back issues and neurological tingling and decided through sheer desperation to make an appointment with a chiropractor. Long story short within minutes of meeting him he diagnosed my problem and started the treatment right away. I had to stop myself from crying because the relief was so intense. I wasn’t crazy! Or though he may have thought I was because I was probably the happiest person ever to be diagnosed with serious back issues! I’m still having symptoms and having treatment with my chiropractor and his team of physiotherapists but at least now I know what I am feeling is real. It’s hard anyway trying to work out what’s real and what’s in your head when you suffer from anxiety but at least I can check this one off the list.
That brings us to now. This is the reason we started Real Family Journey. I refuse to let this illness rob me of any more of my life. I want to be ‘present’ when I’m with my children and not in my own head. I want to say yes to all the fun things they want to do and not always fear the worst. I don’t want them to grow up thinking it’s ‘normal’ to worry all the time. I want to start living my life and not watching it go by. I want to give my family the life they deserve for being so patient with me. By doing this blog and our family vlog it encourages me every day to be the best that I can be. To document the good times and the bad and to start to push out the negative thoughts with the positive. I want to show all you anxiety sufferers out there that there is another way to live. That you can make positive changes and that it’s ok to want more. It’s time for change. You deserve it and do you know what? So do I. Get stuffed anxiety….now it’s my time!