Confessions of a Hypochondriac

Charles Darwin, Andy Warhol, Florence Nightingale all have something in common..

Ooh. What’s that? Intelligence? Creativity? Empathy? Fabulousness?

Well, all of those, but what I’m talking about is hypochondria.

A hypochondriac is someone who lives in fear of having a serious illness. This could even be despite medical tests never finding anything wrong. They may also have somatic symptom disorder known as illness anxiety disorder, health anxiety, or hypochondriasis.

I’ve written about my struggle with health anxiety before and I’m not ashamed to do so. The way I see it is this: The more we get mental illness out in the open, the more people can be helped, yes?

So if you’ve ever listed your aches and pains down in a diary or journal – you could be a hypochondriac.

Darwin, for instance, kept records of his own flatulence.

I like to think it read something like this..

Monday: Long. Rasping. Smells like something crawled into my colon and died.

Wednesday: Guffed. Put myself into a coma.

Saturday:  Woke up from coma & farted a 9.8 on the rectum scale.

Sunday: Attempted ‘danger fart’. Followed through. Mrs Darwin – NOT happy!

Darwin’s fart diary? That’s nowt. I kept records of my bowel movements. Yup, I lined the toilet with bog roll in order to inspect the contents of my own poo!

Then I wrote about my findings in my journal. *blush*

Note: A courtesy glance into the pan as you wipe your botty is NOT hypochondria. It’s normal. Advisable even. If there’s blood in your poo it could be an early sign of bowel cancer and early detection could save your life. We’ve all seen the Be Clear On Cancer ads, right?

Avoidance is probably worse than obsession because people ignore symptoms altogether, which was Andy Warhol’s story..

Warhol was a genius in his field, but he pathologically feared growing old and getting ill. He refused to go anywhere near hospitals and so he ignored a recurring gallbladder problem until the pain was bad enough to hospitalise him. Problem was, he’d left it too late.

Avoidance is a killer.

There is a midway between avoidance and obsession.

AWARENESS.

It’s normal to be aware of new symptoms and to seek help if problems persist, but I was doing went waaaaay beyond the realms of normality.

I compared my poo to the Bristol Shit Scale and one thing I learned from playing Miss Marple with my own crap is that EVERYTHING you ingest affects what comes out of your bottom. Even supplements!

P.S Calcium supplements can make your poo pale.

P.P.S They can also constipate you.

Pale bowel movements and hypochondria? What could possibly go wrong?!

DID YOU KNOW? Sweetcorn comes out appearing to have been undigested. Apparently it’s something to do with humans not being able to break down the cellulose husk? However, it is a good way of finding out how long the journey takes from food going in your mouth to it coming out the other end. In my case, sometimes the sweetcorn was outta there in a matter of hours. Sometimes it was festering for days..

Stress affects your digestion system. Fact. I varied from feeling nauseous and not being able to manage anything more than a dry cracker – to feeling ravenously hungry, even after a full meal.

When it comes to your bowels, stress can play havoc with them. Believe me! Some days I was crapping it up for Britain at 3am, whereas other days my poo got stuck in transit and I was stranded on the loo for what seemed like decades. One such day being when I, er, strained a bit and convinced myself I’d prolapsed my bowel.

I was on my own in the house – stranded in the bathroom with what felt like a grapefruit hanging out of my orifice.

I tentatively prodded the ‘mass’ with my finger.

As you do..

The only plausible explanation was that I’d forced my bowels out, right?

I texted OH: MY FUCKING BOWELS HAVE FALLEN OUT!

I rang the doctors and demanded to speak to my GP. Now, normally I avoid phone calls like Justin Bieber songs, but my fear of dying with my innards hanging out of my arse-hole overrode my phone phobia.

The jobsworth receptionist gave me the ‘You’ll have to make an appointment madam’ spiel, so I screamed at her that my bowels were hanging out of my bottom.

‘Ooh! Right. In that case, the doctor will phone you back as soon as possible.’

So my GP phoned back and listened as I hyperventilated in-between the words. My. Bowels. Have. Fallen. Out. Of. My. Bottom. He asked a few questions then said, ‘You’re constipated. I’m writing out a prescription for some Lactulose. Pick up in an hour’.

Lactulose? Why the fuck wasn’t I being taken to hospital to get my bowels shoved back up into their rightful place?

‘Wait, don’t you want to have a look up my bum?’

‘Well I can if you want me too, but from what you’ve described I’m 100% certain it’s constipation. You just need some stool softener.’

My GP obviously didn’t have a clue.

So I consulted another one.

Dr Google.

I can hear the sound of palms being slapped on faeces faces from here.

IDIOT! You type in constipation and two clicks later, you’re dead!!

Yes, I know, but fear overrides common sense. Also, you don’t need to make an appointment cos Doc Google is available 24/7.

Aside the usual cancer scaremongering, I was treated to some wonderful anecdotes of bowel prolapse. Not to mention graphic photographs of something resembling afterbirth protruding from people’s bottoms. Apparently prolapsed bowels are not uncommon with weight lifters? ‘Bob from Barnsley’ volunteered the info that the last time it happened to him (after an intense barbell lifting session) he simply poked his innards back up with his finger. ‘No fuckin problem’.

Quite.

Turns out my ‘prolapse’ was hard poo.

I’ll spare you the details of how I found that out.

Er, why are you talking about shit, you manky bastard?

Because IBS affects a lot of anxious people and until they know it’s IBS, they think it’s something terminal.

I thought it was bowel cancer.

It’s easy to understand how IBS can scare the living daylights out of people and a how health anxiety can develop, but if you ever find yourself poking around in your poo – it’s probably time to get some therapy!

There’s NO shame in being a hypochondriac.

Some of the world’s best have been hypochondriacs!

It’s hard to imagine Florence Nightingale (the most famous nurse in the universe) was in fact a hypochondriac, but she spent the last 57 years of her life bedridden convinced she was dying. Flo eventually flitted off her mortal coil at the grand old age of 90. Who says that doing sod all is no good for you?!

My health anxiety co-exists with a panic disorder, as it often does. The thing with panic disorder is that you get panic attacks, which are terrifying enough when they happen in the daytime, but the majority of mine happen at night. These are known as Nocturnal Panic Attacks and leading up to my crisis point I was having at least one attack every night, cue Insomnia! A tired mind is an irrational mind and all those normal symptoms of stress became life threatening to me.

There was a period where I was either pestering my doctors, the out of hours doctors or A & E. My health was my existence – my obsession.

I was having a mental breakdown.

Writing this post (specifically the literally shit bits) I can see the funny side, but at the time it was anything but funny.

IT WAS TERRIFYING.

I guess I was destined to breakdown at some point in my life because I am one of the many autistic people who’ve had to stumble through life undiagnosed. Once diagnosed we are labelled as ‘highly functioning’ though I can assure you that it’s a misleading term as most of us struggle to exist, let alone live.

I am also hyper-aware of changes in my body. Most people are unaware of such changes, but I’m special, innit?

Being naturally anxious (and obsessive) this makes me a prime candidate for health anxiety. Also, I’ve been exposed to death earlier than most as my family started dying off before I could say “Mummy, I’m going to be sick”. By the time I was 26 I’d lost all my grandparents, a school friend, my father-in-law, an aunt, an uncle and my father – The Reaper was on overtime with my lot!

When it’s written in black and white, it’s easy to see how I came to lose the plot. However, I knew I needed help, so I got some therapy. Got cured (ish) and I no longer stare at my poo longer than is necessary, or healthy.

Will I ever be free of health anxiety? Probably not, because worrying is stamped into my DNA. If they ever autopsy my body, they will find WORRIER written through me like a stick of Blackpool Rock!

There is a massive difference between controlling health anxiety and and it controlling you..

In between Andy Warhol and shit-prodders like me is awareness. It’s acting on persistent or unusual symptoms instead of ignoring them.

My advice is to learn about the effects of stress on the body. Start with this blog if you want. I’ve written about it enough times. Just search for health anxiety. Or read some books. Whatever. Just educate yourself because knowledge will help to remove the fear.

I write about my experiences to help people. No filters. I share my crap (literally in this post) so that people will see that there is no shame, whatsoever, in being mentally ill.

The End.

 

 

 

 

 

Mind, Shut Your Mouth

 

Would you like to know what my mind is like at night?

Pull up a chair. Get comfy and we will begin…

**************************

I’m dreaming. Yet another night terror. The third tonight. I try to fall back to sleep but I can’t because the dream was horrible. The harder I try to push the thoughts away, the stronger they become. Then, I notice that my arms and legs are tingling…

Oh my God. I feel weird. Weirder than usual, that is.

You’ve been here a trillion times before. They are just sensations.

But this is different. It feels different.

A wave of nausea sweeps over me and my body feels icy cold. My rational mind is fighting with the fear and somewhere in-between is a song with it’s verse stuck on repeat.

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

You know the GP has told you that the tingling is Spondylosis. You’re catastrophising!

Yeah BUT I’ve had no tests. It could be a brain tumour or MS. I’m partly deaf in one ear. What if it’s not normal hearing loss. What if it’s a tumour?

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

I see myself in a wheelchair and feel the surge of stress hormones as they perceive the imagery as a real threat.

This is unhelpful. Breathe!

I remind myself to breathe from my tummy and I feel calmer for a minute.

BUT the tingling is STILL THERE!

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

How would I cope with a brain tumour?

It has to be a brain tumour because I keep forgetting stuff.

That’s part of the menopause, you loon.

Yes, BUT…

But what?

It COULD be?

I force myself to remember things. Things I know I should remember, like my name, my kids names and what I had for tea.

I can’t remember what I had for tea! I CAN’T REMEMBER!!!

See! It IS a brain tumour!

No, it’s not!

I have migraines!

Yeah, since you were 23!

How would OH cope with me having a brain tumour?

The Boy wouldn’t cope without me.

HOW WOULD HE COPE WITHOUT ME?

How would I tell my lads?

I start to cry and my breathing becomes shallow. So shallow that it physically hurts to breathe. Then my entire body shakes uncontrollably..

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

Oh this MOTHERFUNGLING SONG!!

It’s ear-worm because it was the last song you heard on the radio. Think yourself lucky it wasn’t Justin Bieber, eh?

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

Use your distraction techniques, you KNOW what to do!

OK, I’ll think of countries and go through the alphabet.

Atta girl!

A Australia

B Brain Tumour

Oh ffs

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

What if OH has a crash on the way to work. I’d be on my own. I COULDN’T COPE OMG!!

What if he didn’t have a crash?

YES BUT..

Or what if he had one but wasn’t hurt at all?

YES BUT..

What is it with you always killing people off?

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

Mind shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

PLEASE.

JUST STOP!

They are just thoughts, fruitcake.

They can’t hurt you.

It’s 3.30am. The stress hormones have gone feral. You know this. Fear is LOUDEST when the world is at it’s quietest. You know this. BREATHE!

I’M TRYING TO F**KING BREATHE!

Try harder!

Keep trying. Keep doing it over and over and over. These sensations will pass. They always do.

Yeah, but this time it’s different. THIS time, I’m REALLY ill.

Mind shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and SHUT YOUR MOUTH!!

****************************

Dawn approaches and the room gets lighter. Oh the RELIEF that night has passed. The thought clouds my mind that the days will start to get shorter soon and I will have to endure this crap for longer..

Daytime is easier because there are distractions. At night, it’s just me and my mind. I glance over to OH and resent the fact that he is sleeping soundly. I feel like elbowing him in the ribs to wake him up but I don’t. Instead, I look at him and whisper ‘You lucky git’. Because I am aware of EVERYTHING. This is when I feel that I am the ONLY person on the planet. Yet I know that I am not because there are thousands of us fighting with our minds. I want to put my arms round each and every one of you because I know how hard it is.

Exhausted, I fall into a dream, so fragmented and bizarre you’d think I was on some kind of hallucinogenic drug trip. Yet I’m not on any drugs. It’s because the stress hormones are flooding my body. I know why it’s happening. I’m a bloody expert when it comes to anxiety. It’s just that fear overrides rationality.

Sleep brings little respite for me unless I manage to get those magical two hours in before midnight but anybody with insomnia knows that a nighttime hour feels more like two, three or even four. Night time is different to day time. No distractions, see, and the silence only amplifies the mind chatter.

My mind is tired. After five years of panic disorder, it’s exhausted. My instinct is to fight but I have to accept all this for what it is. Just thoughts. My thoughts are NOT reality. If they were, I’d be in deep shit. My body is reacting as if they are but it’s up to me to change that by changing how I think. For a few months, my sleep was better. Not great but bearable so I know I can achieve it. It will just take time and instead of fearing another night, I need to accept whatever comes. You drown faster when you struggle, right? If you float, you have a better chance of surviving. That’s what I need to do. Float.

I have done my best to describe what happens to me at night and this is by no means a one off. Nor is it the worst case. I’ve gone for somewhere in the middle. But this is only about half an hours worth. Can you imagine hours of this shit? I hope you can’t because anxiety disorder is something I wouldn’t wish on anybody. If you can identify with any of it, I feel for you and you need to know that you are not alone. There are thousands of us in the insomnia club.

“The night is the hardest time to be alive and 4am knows all my secrets.”Poppy Z Brite

 

I Go to Extremes (OCD and Me)

I sat in the therapist’s office. Coat on. Hands in pockets.

‘So, what can I help you with?’

I’ve already clocked the box of tissues to the left of me and wonder how many boxes she goes through every week. Does she bulk-buy? Anyway, we go through the usual questions like, ‘On a level of one to ten, how has your anxiety affected you in the last two weeks and are you about to top yourself?’

No, I don’t want to top myself. I just need some help in lowering my anxiety levels from 10 to a 5, ta.

My eyes struggle to connect with hers. I’m way too anxious so I stare at the carpet, which is clean and has no pattern. Good. Because I’m in no mood to be coping with patterns and stains..

‘I don’t think we will have enough hours to address all my stuff.’

‘Well, just start with what’s easiest, OK?’

I blurt out, ‘I HAVE INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS’.

Pen poised, the therapist replied, ‘Really? In what way?’

I gave her the example of the hour before when I was partaking of a cup of coffee with OH in Costa. The sun was shining outside and there were only a few people in so I wasn’t overwhelmed. I felt relatively happy. Yep, I can do happy. Just as I acknowledged the happy feeling, a thought clouded my mind..

What if masked men burst in now and started to shoot?

My body reacted as if it was real, not that I’ve been in many hostage situations, thankfully.

Next thought was my son who was at school. Then my grown up boys. Adrenalin flooded my body and my undigested sausage bap was in danger of being barfed back up.

Then I remembered that it wasn’t real..

‘Calm down, nutcase, it’s just your mind being a bastard again. You KNOW this. Drink your coffee, there’s a good fruitcake.’

It was just a thought that had barged it’s way into my mind when I was feeling calm. One of millions of irrational thoughts over my 47 years. Even though I knew it wasn’t real, it threw me. Maybe I need to lay off on the police dramas?

I comforted myself with the thought, ‘What’s the likelihood of Costa being raided? What are they going to say, ‘Everybody on the floor and give me all your muffins?’ Then I researched it and there has actually been such an incident, only they were after money, not muffins. It was prior to opening and thankfully, nobody was hurt. I guess wherever there is money, there is motive..

See, I have this problem with safety. I can’t remember when it started but I’ve definitely done it for the majority of my life. It’s to do with fire, mostly. I have a thing about the house burning down so I have to check plugs and sockets.

Then I have to check them again.

I’ve noticed it’s worse when I’m stressed. The other day I literally couldn’t satisfy myself that I’d turned my straighteners off, despite me holding the disconnected plug in my hand. Then, I have to touch candle wicks to make sure they are cold and sometimes I stick them under the tap to be EXTRA sure. Once upon a time, I taped up all the knobs on my gas cooker in-case they turned themselves on while I was out because everybody knows, cookers can do that, right? I blame that one on surge in pregnancy hormones but I have been known to turn the electric cooker off too. You can gauge my anxiety on how many things I turn off but even on my best day – sockets, plugs, windows and doors are a given.

I refuse to go out and leave things charging up, like phones and Kindles. There’s, like, NO WAY I can do that. OH struggles to understand it. He says it knackers the batteries. I tell him, ‘Battery or insanity, mate, your choice’.

To get out of the house, I have a routine of going round and checking all doors, windows and sockets. If the chain of thought is broken with ONE of these things, I have to go and check them ALL again. Thankfully, I’m not incapacitated by it. I’ve often thought it would be easier to say sod it and stay in but that’s a road I know I don’t want to go down. I have my ritual. As long as I do this, I cope.

I don’t know why I do it. There isn’t a logical explanation for it. There has never been anything to justify it as far as I am aware of. No fires. No burglaries. I’m just a loon, innit?

With this is mind, I often wonder how I managed to be a school caretaker and NOT go totally gaga? I still have dreams about doing my ‘checks’. The alarm was the worst thing because I would convince myself I hadn’t set it so I would go back again and again. I’ve gone back to the school late at night because I’ve convinced myself I haven’t set it. Of course, I always had. It’s a wonder I wasn’t arrested for acting suspiciously, eh? On the positive side, having a security obsessed lunatic as a caretaker isn’t such a bad thing as in ten years of service, I was never called out to the alarm going off. No window or door was EVER left unlocked on my watch.

There seems to be some confusion regarding repetitive behaviours of autism and OCD..

Basically repetitive autistic behaviour, like stimming, is comforting. I stroke my little furry (NOT a euphemism) because it comforts me and picking scabs is on par to a decent orgasm in my book.

New word.

Scabasm.

OCD, however, is anxiety driven. The fear that something will go catastrophically wrong if I don’t touch my plugs ‘n’ shit. I am autistic but I obviously have OCD too, it’s just never been diagnosed because I’ve never sought help for it. Nor has anybody ever suggested I get help. Mostly, they are amused or frustrated by it. Maybe now is the time to address it? In for a penny, in for a pound, I say.

What’s the betting that my therapist will go off on the sick after she’s finished with me?

A slice of fruitcake says she does.

Image via Pixabay