As some people know I've got some health anxiety issues; the embarassing name for this is hypochondria. Since getting hurt it's been acting up pretty badly - so I've decided to post an article I wrote last year about living with health anxiety. A friend of mine who'd read it recently told me it was good enough for publication, and that I should share it with others.
So without further ado; here 'tis...
I suppose the first fatal disease I developed was probably cancer...
In my early twenties I got chicken pox (yeah, it was weird to get it so late). It’s slightly more serious to get ‘the pox’ as an adult, so my doctor was proactive and put me on antibiotics and an anti-viral medication and I recovered nicely. However I was left with two swollen lymph nodes – one on the side of my neck and the other on the back of my head at the base of my skull. I had my doctor look at them and she was unconcerned.
I however diagnosed them as lymphoma.
Hours were spent looking up symptoms of lymphoma and comparing them to myself. Was I having night sweats? Were my ‘tumors’ growing substantially?
Time went by and eventually my paralyzing fear faded – but a weekend at the Mountains that entailed a vast number of mosquito bites made the neck one swell up a bit, and back I went running to the doctor. Only to have the doctor peer at all the bug bites and inform me that I might have hypochondria.
Other fatal illnesses would of course follow. Headache and dizziness brought on by my seasonal allergies? Well those just HAD to be a brain tumor. Hip hurting because of the hip joint birth defect I was born with? Must be bone cancer. Feeling a bit worn down? It’s got to be leukemia. Holy crap, one of my boobs is bigger than the other – I must have breast cancer!
Over the decade since I had chicken pox the lymph node on the side of my neck did eventually return to its normal size, but the one on the back of my skull is still swollen, and to this day I reach back and run my fingers over it – wondering what malignancy might be lurking inside.
Two years ago I broke my leg climbing into a fishing boat. During my recovery I noticed that my hands were shaking when I held them in certain fixed positions. I mentioned this to my doctor of course (having already diagnosed myself with Parkinson’s disease – I must be one of those early thirty something onset types) and she said I’d probably injured the tendons in my arms and wrists dragging around on crutches for two months.
In the following year I also noticed that I was twitching a lot – generally all over, but particularly I’d get these persistent ones in my thumbs that would last for days.
Dang – now I not only had Parkinson’s but ALS to boot – death within five years. And no number of additional trips to the gym lifting weights to show myself how strong and normal all my muscles still were would convince me otherwise.
Keep in mind this is all a good decade after I was supposed to have died from that pesky lymphoma I got when I was 21…
So where am I today?
I do have something wrong with me, two things in fact. The first and probably most serious is anxiety. Health anxiety. The second is a benign tremor disorder called Essential Tremor. And yeah, that one is a bummer because it’s incurable and probably will get a bit worse as I get older – but here’s the important bit… it can’t and won’t kill me.
The diagnosis of ET came from a neurologist, so that ones probably legit. He wants me to have an MRI done on my skull just as a follow up (he does not expect to find anything on it). But I haven’t made that appointment yet because I’m positive the technicians will gasp with horror when they see the dozens of MS lesions on my brain or the gigantic, fanged tumor that I believe must be lurking inside my skull.
If I sound like I’m making fun of myself, yeah – I am. Because part of me actually is aware of how incredibly, pointlessly dumb all of my fear is. I’m also aware of what anxiety can do to a body physically – from headaches, to dizziness, to twitching and tremors.
Unfortunately I can’t seem to get that part to be bigger than the anxiety part that chokes my life like weeds that daily infest an otherwise beautiful garden.
Because honestly? I have a good life. I have my faith, I have a husband who I love and who loves me with the kind of romantic passion you usually only see in a fairy tale. I have a great step kid who’s going to start college soon and an absolutely awesome extended family. I live in a safe, beautiful home and have dozens of friends. I have an okay job.
So why can’t I just let it go? Why can’t my faith in God be bigger than this?
I guess if I had those answers, I wouldn’t be here.
Thanks for listening…
Hi, I’m Carolyn and I am not dying of a fatal illness.