Health Anxiety & Me
“Mr. Wood, this is the fifth time you’ve visited the Emergency Room this winter. Is there something more going on that you’d like to discuss?”
I’ll never forget when the intake representative said those words to me in 2010. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I knew I wouldn’t even be able to cover the co-pay for these visits, but I had to go to the ER because my health anxiety convinced me I was dying. Rather than tell her the truth, I replied with my standard, “Oh really? Must just be a string of bad luck, no I’m fine.”
I’ve often joked around with friends about being a hypochondriac, a term I’ve come to despise, but the truth is I suffer from a disorder known as health anxiety. I’ll spend hours with Dr. Google when the slightest symptoms appear.
A sore throat must be cancer. A headache must be a tumor. A cough must mean COVID. I think you get the point.
Through talking with my therapist, I’ve come to realize that a lot of this stems from the early deaths of both of my parents. My dad’s symptoms presented as a sore back and then suddenly a few months later he was dead at 58 from colorectal cancer. My mom, a two-time lung cancer survivor, started experiencing dizziness and earaches that the doctor initially diagnosed as an ear infection. Several months later, she would succumb to brain cancer and pneumonia at the age of 64.
I watched the people closest to me die at relatively young ages after having what I would assume are minor symptoms. This heightened my level of health awareness and left me in a constant state of fear, waiting for my own body to turn on me. The dawn of the Internet added fuel to the fire, giving me access to way too much information. But I know I’m not alone.
So what did I do? For starters, I would oftentimes feel something like a cramp in my leg. Then look it up online and convince myself I had a blood clot. I’d make my way to the ER. This became a regular occurrence for a variety of symptoms. The bills soon added up and destroyed my credit. I’d have medical bill collectors calling my phone day and night, leading to eventual wage garnishment.
Eventually, I stopped going to the ER but that didn’t stop me from living in a constant state of dread. Then, I really did have legit health scares with colorectal cancer polyps, and melanoma. Both of these instances furthered my health anxiety. While everything was caught early, I was convinced my body had it out for me.
So I took control by committing to the healthiest possible diets and I think we all know how that turned out.
The ironic part of it all is I thought I was taking the necessary steps to help improve my quality of life and longevity. In reality, my anxiety left me financially, emotionally, mentally, and physically drained.
I’m working with my therapist to overcome this anxiety and no longer visit Dr. Google every time a new symptom arises. I’d be lying if I said I’m healed because there are still days I’m convinced I have some type of cancer.
When these thoughts do occur, I remind myself that my mental health is just as important as my physical health. I shift my focus and do my best to enjoy the moment I am in. I can’t spend my entire life worrying about death or illness, because what kind of life would that be?!