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Disorder of the Day

I don’t ask to be like this, trust me I would rather be living a normal, pain-free life. But the reality is I will never be that ‘normal’ person. I will always be a girl living with chronic and mental illnesses, and with that comes the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s hard enough to admit this to myself, but having people doubt it, as I mentioned last time, is not the greatest feeling. To add to my woes, and probably as a result of all that’s happened to me in the last two or three years, I’ve recently been diagnosed with Health Anxiety and Panic Disorder. 

To break it down a bit, Health Anxiety is when you spend so much time worrying you’re ill or about to become ill, it starts taking over your life. Symptoms include:
  • Always worrying about your health
  • Constantly checking your body for changes
  • Seeking reassurance from others that you’re not ill
  • Worrying your doctors have missed something
  • Obsessively looking at health information on the internet or in the media
  • Avoiding anything to do with serious illness
  • Avoiding certain activities as if you were actually ill
As a treatment for this I’ve started Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It took me a long time to admit I needed support, but worry and anxiety have a huge impact on my day-to-day life. I know people are going to say it’s normal to be anxious and worry about things, but the physical effects that accompany my anxiety and panic are scary. In the back of my mind I might know I’m panicking, but I find it really hard to shake off those feelings and convince myself I’m actually ok.

At least once a day, and often when I’m alone with the boys, I physically feel there’s something seriously wrong with me and I’m going to pass out. It's scary, it’s truly an awful feeling. This is the side of my condition they call Panic Disorder, and it’s exactly like it sounds, an anxiety condition where you regularly have sudden attacks of panic or fear. Now, anxiety and panic are in fact natural responses to stressful or dangerous situations. However, someone with panic disorder has feelings of anxiety, stress and panic regularly and at any time, often for no apparent reason. Symptoms of panic disorder include:
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Feeling faint
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Hot flushes
Panic attacks often last between five and twenty minutes long and how often they occur depends on how severe that person’s condition is. For me, I have them maybe four or five times a week and often two to three times a day but usually only lasting around five minutes, sometimes longer. Personally, I believe I’m struggling with these conditions due to the rollercoaster you find yourself on when being diagnosed with chronic illnesses (or any illnesses for that matter). There are so many ifs, buts, medications, tests and appointments involved during diagnosis and treatment.

Three years and still waiting

I sit here now and realise that for the last three years I’ve never been settled. And I’m still not happy with where I am or where I’m heading. I struggle to accept any of it. When the doctors offer me different solutions I’m reluctant to agree because I don’t know what effect each might have on me. But I still have to make those decisions, and make them alone, because in the end it’s only me dealing with it. My doctors can advise but they can’t tell me what to do. What if I make the wrong decision? That’s on me, to decide whether these alternatives are going to turn out good or bad.

This is what I have to do every single day. So, I find myself questioning everything and it becomes a vicious circle. Why am I like this? What did I do? What if my children get it? What if anybody I love gets it? What is that pain I haven't had before? I have a headache today, is it a brain tumour? I have chest pain; will I die of a heart attack? I can't see clearly, am I going blind? How long will I live for? What if I die? What will my children do without me? Will they remember me? Will they always love me?

Then I take my medication and still convince myself it’s going to harm me. This is what a normal day for me is like. Everything to me, no matter how small, is such a HUGE deal and there’s no switching it off. I’m taking each day as it comes and accepting all the help I’m offered but I’ll still do my research and weigh things up and take advice and medication unless there’s a reason why I think I should not.

Breaking the cycle of anxiety and doubt

It’s so difficult to see any light at the end of the tunnel when I’ve not started to feel slightly better yet, but in fact things seem to get worse for me. Each appointment I attend I get more bad news – how can that not have an impact on someone’s mental health? It’s so difficult to take it all in and just accept it, that’s why I feel the build-up over time is why I find myself suffering with Health Anxiety and Panic Disorder. I do try to tell myself it's only temporary, and I know I’ll start to feel better one day, but when all I’ve known so far is pain and little improvement it’s so difficult to believe that. Whenever I discuss my feelings all I seem to get is, “At least the doctors are doing something.” Well yes, I appreciate that but isn't that what they have been doing for the past three years? I know things like this take time, I know it isn't going to get better with the click of a finger, but I do think that after three years there would be just a little glimmer of hope that one day I will get there. Wherever 'there' is.

The only reason I tell myself I will get through this tunnel one day is because I won’t give up on my family. I have to be the best I can be for them. Come rain or shine I’ll do my utmost to be the best for them, because that’s what they deserve. So, I do know that one day I’ll look back on all this and wonder where the time went and hopefully thank my lucky stars I’m on the road to better things. For now, however, I’m angry and frustrated that I’m not even slightly there yet.

Sorry to seem so negative, but things have been getting to me recently. I think you can tell! Here’s hoping the CBT may help me see things in a different light and overcome some of the issues I’m faced with. CBT is based on the concept that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle. It aims to help you deal with overwhelming problems in a more positive way by breaking them down into smaller parts. You're shown how to change these negative patterns to improve the way you feel. Unlike some other ‘talking’ therapies, CBT deals with your current problems, rather than focusing on issues from your past, and it looks for practical ways to improve your state of mind on a daily basis.

Realistically, if things never seem to make any sense to you, it may be you just have to learn to understand them a bit better.


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