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.
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.
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’.
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 poo, you manky cow?
Because IBS affects a lot of anxious people and until they know it’s IBS, they think it’s something terminal.
And 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.