Join Date: May 2009
Location: Atlanta, GA, USA
| | Hypochondria...How I Beat It
I was raised in a house where control was very important. Important that nothing surprise you or sneak up on you. Always in control. But that's not real life, is it?
When I was about 27, my brother contracted HIV. After some research, and being around him occasionally, I got convinced that I had it too. No, I didn't use needles, didn't use hookers, didn't sleep with men, and had had a fairly low number of female sexual partners. For a month or so, I cried and fretted and wore myself down to a frazzle, until I finally got the nerve to go into a doctor for a test. I was scared out of mind about the results, but of course, it was negative. My fears were based on...nothing. And I was fine again. That was just a taste of what was to come.
About 10 years later, I started feeling run down. I remember the day it started...I was listening to the radio and the host said something about a celebrity that stuck. He said that the celebrity had lost weight, not like losing a few pounds from the belly, but that "sick" kind of lost weight.
OH MY GOD, I thought. My ring is loose, and my watch is loose. I'm losing weight too. I'm sick! Now, it didn't seem to matter at the time that I was TRYING to lose a few pounds, or that it was winter, when skin is cool and dry and rings slide around a little more. Nope...my brain was off and running..determined to keep control and not let anything sneak up on me!
I started rubbing my armpits trying to feel for swollen lymph nodes. Little did I know, I was just making them sore by repeated rubbing. And I'd rub my chest looking for nodules (and making my chest sore, which just made me more convinced). And then I'd jump to lung cancer, and start coughing just to see what would come up. Of course, that just irritated my lung tissue which made me cough more, which convinced me more of the problem. But at the time, I couldn't see that I was doing it to myself. I was dying. Or so I was convinced.
The stress of it all wore me out...couldn't eat, light headed, diarrhea (introducing the new possibility of colon cancer). And then it got bad. I could not sleep. My heart would pound, and my mind would race. I BEGGED for sleep. And before bed, I would wonder...what if I don't sleep tonight? Which just set me up for another sleepless night. I cried and begged my wife to help me, but what could she do?
I felt as though I was hanging from a thread, that could snap at any moment. My son saw me disintegrate, which just made me feel so inadequate, so ashamed.
I would troll the internet, looking for symptoms, and that would just scare the snot out of me. (Today, my wife and I jokingly call those web sites "IAmGoingToDie.com", because if you read them too much, that's what you wind up thinking.)
Shrinks called me "depressed" and prescribed meds. But one day I picked up the phone and called the assistant minister in the progressive church we go to, because I had heard him say he used to be a therapist. I explained where I was and I needed some help.
He explained that I was not depressed in the general since, but that I had anxiety, and was just worn out from that. He explained that the anti-depressant I was taking (Lexapro) would help my brain slow down...keep it from running out of control.
And he pointed me to a book named The Feeling Good Handbook. And he explained that it would take a few weeks, maybe even a month, before the Lexapro would kick in. He told me that while right now, you think you cannot get out of this hole, you will begin to get better, and get your life back.
I learned to stop and challenge every scary thought. "I have MS...because my muscles are aching". I remember that one, because I was up at 2 in the morning watching some movie where the dude gets MS. Great...just what I needed. I worried about that possibility all night long. The next morning, I got up and got a piece of paper, and wrote that down. And I made a list of reasons why that was probably true. And then a list of why it probably was not true. And I decided that most likely, probably, this was NOT true. And I labeled that a "crazy thought"...unfounded and not based on facts, and tried very hard to not think about it again. And if I did, I just went back to my paper.
This went on for some weeks. And very gradually, the Lexapro began to slow down my brain, and I regained my composure. Oh, the little medical freakouts kept right on coming, but I was able to wrestle them to the ground by challenging myself to "prove it"...which I could never do. I did ask my doctor for a full physical, just to sort of get a clean slate and that helped a lot. And I started sleeping pretty well again.
And I got my life back. I know that someday I will die. And I cannot control much about that. And I have learned to let go.
On the other side of that little adventure, I realize that I just wound myself up and let it tear me up. I am wound too tight...so I continue to take Lexapro. Probably always will.
Today I am 47. And I got back some blood results recently from a regular checkup showing a low count on one of the endocrine tests. Here's the good news...I'm not freaking out! I don't think I'm going to die. I'm getting a brain MRI on Monday...and that is OK. My company laid off a bunch of people last week, so the stress is high. I'm a little concerned, but not too much. I know that we will survive no matter what.
So if you are reading this because your heart is pounding and you are sure you have some disease or another, and you see your life hanging by a thread...
You will get through this. It may seem bleak and completely out of control, but there is a way out. Slow down, with meds if necessary, and learn to challenge those thoughts. The ones that are wearing you down are "crazy thoughts".
Go see your doctor, and tell them what's going on. Advocate for yourself, and request some tests to give you some confidence in your health.
And know that it's OK to be scared. Don't hide, don't cry alone. Ask for help, and talk to someone. Reach out.
You will get through it.