‘The sun stopped shining for me is all. The whole story is: I am sad. I am sad all the time and the sadness is so heavy that I can’t get away from it. Not ever’ – Nina LaCour
I’ve often sat and thought to myself that Google should launch and app called ‘Google Diagnose’ where you type in all your medical symptoms and it tells you in plain English what it thinks you have. Then I figured they needn’t bother, as that’s what I use the standard Goggle Search engine for most days anyway. But more on that a bit later.
I’ve always been a worrier, I come from a long line of worriers and people pleasers. My dad and I talk all the time about how much we worry, and that we worry when we don’t have anything to worry about. Over recent times though, my worry has unfortunately manifested itself into full blown anxiety. I know there are a myriad of different anxiety disorders that many people suffer from; mine however has reared its ugly head as Health Anxiety, which is a kind, doctor’s way of saying hypochondria.
I was officially diagnosed about a month ago, when I’d been to 3 different GPs about my varicose veins because I’d convinced myself that I had DVT, despite not having any of the symptoms. The previous week I’d been having heart palpitations and after spending (I kid you not) one whole Sunday googling different symptoms (I’m talking from 10am to 10pm at night) I knew it was getting out of control. I knew I couldn’t spend all my days on Google Diagnose™, but I couldn’t stop myself. No diagnosis I found sounded quite right, or was what I wanted to read, so I would keep on searching different pages and different forums looking for the website that said ‘you know what, it’s probably nothing, you’re fine’. Of course, medical websites never say that, because, well, what if someone I actually having a heart attack and the website has told them they’re fine? It was a perpetual cycle of thinking of a new symptom and trying to find the cause, and let me tell you, that, my friends is a right exhausting ballache.
The 3rd GP who saw me about my lumpy leg took a good look at both legs, measured them and talked me through the Wells Score. The Wells Score is 7 things they take into account when looking for a blood clot, and if you score 5 or more you get sent for further tests. I didn’t have any of the symptoms. She then said something that no other GP has ever said to me. She asked if everything else was ok. The floodgates of relief opened and drowned the GP, the practice nurse next door, the receptionist and the little old lady collecting her prescription. No one had ever asked me that before (well, no one who was able to do anything about it at least) and it was such a relief to feel like I was being listened to. The truth was, I wasn’t ok, but now at least it seemed like someone cared.
My GP did explain to me that there is actually a difference between health anxiety and hypochondria. With Health Anxiety you’re acting on a symptom, there is something there, you do have a headache, or dizziness or whatever, you just assume it’s something more serious than it is. With hypochondria, you think there’s something wrong when you don’t even have any symptoms. Problem with Health Anxiety though is that you start off with a symptom (say my varicose veins) so you google that, then you worry about what that says, and that worry gives you a headache, so then you google ‘varicose veins and headache’ and what tells you makes you feel sick, you see where I’m going with this? It’s always astounded me how emotions can affect you physically, ever been so nervous that you have the runs? That’s weird right? That certain thoughts can make something physical happen to you.
Through all the googling I’ve done (and, as mentioned above, I’ve done a lot!) I recently stumbled across this website and I think if it was something I’d found when I was going through one of my manic searching phases before I was diagnosed, it would have done me the world of good:
One thing I’ve learnt from having Health Anxiety is that facts are your friends. Like the Wells Score, seeing that there’s a process that’s followed to diagnose blood clots is reassuring, it’s not just one person’s opinion (which could be wrong). I love this site above because it gives you the facts. The fact is, if you have a headache, statistically it’s unlikely to be a brain tumour. If you have dizziness with no associated weakness or slurred speech, statistically it’s probably not a stroke. It feels more personal rather than the cold hard symptoms of NHS Choices that leaves you to use your own judgement when trying to self diagnose.
There should be more things like this available on the internet so that people like me don’t get themselves into a frenzy over something which is most likely trivial. It’s hard though, now that I know what the root of all this worry is, and the fact I’m getting help is great, but it’s triggered within that its own set of new worries. What if my friends think I’m weak and crazy? Will people think I’m a drain on NHS resources because it’s a mental health issue? What if I really do have something seriously wrong but I dismiss it as anxiety related?
Don’t get me wrong having an official diagnosis, albeit a mental health one is a good thing and has reassured me loads already. I’m hopefully going to start some cognitive therapy soon to try and retrain my brain so that when I next have a headache, I don’t automatically think ‘brain tumour!’ and I got some great advice from a friend recently who suffers anxiety as well. When she has a physical symptom she will google it alongside the word ‘anxiety’ which means the first results that come up will be from mental health forums rather than some of the more blunt ‘you’re having a stroke and you should call 999 immediately’ websites.
One of the things that was always at the forefront of my mind before all of this was that I didn’t want to get ill, because I’m happy and I love my quiet little life with my hubby and my close family and friends, I don’t want anything serious to happen and jeopardise that. Unfortunately that’s created a vicious circle and in an ironic twist, me trying desperately to maintain my happy life, has made me desperately unhappy. And I don’t want to be desperately unhappy. I have bitchy resting face, I look way better when I smile.