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Old 08-03-2011, 03:23 PM   #1
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Talking 23 Year Old College Graduate Seeking Worry-Free Life!

Hello everyone, I thought I'd introduce myself and tell you about my story:

Well I am 23 years old and just graduated from a 4-year university in southern Georgia, and my health worries started when I was very young.

I was born 1 pound 13oz...and three months early. Apparently my mom had fluid drawn and tested from her embryonic sac, and was not told to "take it easy," and she went out and did aerobic exercises. Well that night I broke her water and she was forced to have me WAY early. I stayed in the hospital until my due date (so approximately three months) and then spent the next year or so wearing a heart monitor 24/7. After that, besides being pretty skinny, I started to grow like any other normal kid.

During elementary school, I used to get dizzy--spinning dizziness and nausea frequently. My mom realized it was a big problem and took me to a pediatric neurologist, who did CAT scans and MRI's and told my parents that I was "making it all up" and needed to see a psychiatrist. Luckily, my parents didn't believe him and kept searching for answers. They took me to an adult neurologist, who did another MRI and discovered a tumor on my cerebellum, which was responsible for my dizziness. I had brain surgery at age 9, and they determined the tumor was BENIGN; no chemo, no follow-up visits except one MRI at six months to make sure it hadn't grown back, which it hadn't.

After the surgery, I continued life as normal--finished elementary school, entered middle school and took up rollerblading as a hobby, then entered high school. I felt basically like any other person, and many times forgot how I had even had the surgery and that I was "different". In high school, I took up smoking cigarettes, and continued this into my .. 4th year at college. I had an 8 month break somewhere in there, but smoked for about 5 years total. Today, I have been smoke-free for 1 year, 7 months, and 1 day. After I quit cigarettes I started feeling significantly better, and didn't think twice about it.

My parents have always called me a "worrier"--I would always seek reassurance that I'd be fine if I had a cold, or if there was a cut on my body, etc. I never obsessed about it to the extent that I have been, though. On Thanksgiving day of 2010, I had Thanksgiving dinner like normal, and then night-time came and my mom and sister were going shopping all night for "Black Friday" (the day of sales in America that starts at like 12am and continues all day). I thought I'd join them, and so I drank some coffee and ate some Thanksgiving leftovers. I ate a jumbled mix of a bunch of things; ham, turkey, potatoes, and a piece of pie or something that we had for dessert. After I ate all of this, I got a quick "dizzy spell" that lasted maybe half a minute. It was enough to worry me, but I figured it would go away and it was just a one-time thing. I continued drinking coffee and went to the store with my girlfriend and bought a few things, then returned home. Once again, I had another quick dizzy-spell where I just felt lightheaded and "not right". I started getting nervous and decided to go on a walk. I was also feeling nauseous at the time..I think partly because of the coffee, and also partly because I was thinking too much about my symptoms, and shortly into the walk I dry-heaved a few times. Then I came home, started shaking and got very pale. I was worried sick and couldn't seem to calm myself down or stop shaking. Eventually I managed to fall asleep on the couch and woke up in the morning, feeling 99% better.

I went back to school for the next to weeks to finish the semester, and was constantly worried, but only slightly. I started experiencing slight but constant dizziness, and started zooming in on every physical symptom that I was having, convinced that my brain tumor was back and something was seriously wrong. I expressed my fears to my roommate and he tried to reassure me that there was probably nothing wrong with me. Over the next few weeks, my fears grew steadily until I had a sort-of "break down" where I consoled in someone and told her that I thought my brain tumor was back, and I had all these major fears of ending up in the hospital again, and how I had treated my body so badly for the past few years (with the cigarettes) and that it HAD to have grown back. I was terrified. I kept experiencing my slight dizziness throughout this, and I just didn't feel completely right. I don't know how else to describe it, but it was not a spinning dizziness, and it's not accompanied by nausea or headaches or anything else.

I decided to seek medical attention, and firstly assumed (after doing some research online) that it was something related to my ears. This was about the point that I started Googling my symptoms and trying to "investigate" my case. I scheduled an appointment with my general physician, who thought it was sinuses and gave me a strong form of Sudafed to take. It didn't help at all, and I thought I had a feeling of clogged ears during this whole ordeal. After that did nothing, I decided to consult an ENT doctor (ear nose and throat). I scheduled the appointment, and when I talked to that doctor he checked my ears and assured me that it was nothing to do with them, and my dizziness would be a spinning type if it were an ear-related problem.

Then I went back to my general doctor and got blood work done, at one point, which came back normal. I had thought maybe I was diabetic or it was a thyroid issue. My grandmother and aunt have thyroid issues, and my mom has leukemia, so all of this was worrying me as well. I asked my doctor to refer me to a neurologist, which she did, given my past history of brain tumor. The neurologist examined me and said he didn't think it was a brain tumor, but said he would not hesitate to schedule me an MRI if it would give me peace of mind. I originally decided not to, but changed my mind within the week. The MRI was done with and without contrast, and there were no signs of abnormalities or tumors, except they could see evidence of the previous surgery. This was a huge relief off of my shoulders, and life returned to normal for a few weeks, I'd say. I kept experiencing the slight dizziness (probably because I was so focused on it constantly) but no longer felt like I was dying of some debilitating tumor.

I had another panic attack in May, and was able to stop it by taking half of a friend's Xanax. I was able to go to sleep and thwart the would-be panic attack before it got any worse. I decided to visit a chiropractor, because I thought maybe this was an issue with a pinched nerve in my neck. I had previously suffered a concussion from jumping down a friend's staircase and hitting my head, splitting it open and needing staples. Anyways, the chiropractor took x-rays and tried to convince me that it was a pinched nerve. I had one manipulation there, and then quit going.

I then consulted a different ENT, who did further testing such as an audiogram (normal) and a vestibular test. That was terrible; they blew warm and cold air in each of my ears and videoed my eyes' responses to the spinning sensation. All of that came back normal, so that ENT referred me to a different neurologist. This neurologist listened to all of my symptoms, looked at a list I had made of my symptoms/doctor visits, and determined that I was suffering from a problem that was both physical and mental in nature--he thought that my neck could have something to do with it. He tried to prescribe me an SSRI but I am too weary of taking drugs, especially antidepressants and the like, so I didn't take it.

I have continued reading health threads and forums, looking for something that could be causing it. And I also have a strange sensation at the back of my head, sort-of like a "heart beat" in the back of my head while laying down. I cannot stop fixating on these symptoms, but feel like I need to reassure myself that it's nothing physical before I can be sure that I need to seek help from a mental therapist. Things I can still think to get checked would be my neck (via MRI) and my heart/veins (via a Cardiologist). My parents are frustrated beyond belief, my girlfriend is getting tired of always taking care of me, and I wish I could return to my life as normal. Before this terrible "episode" of events, I was carefree and didn't put much thought into my health problems. I was relatively healthy (other than the smoking) but didn't do anything reckless to endanger my health.

Recently, I have developed two swollen lymph nodes and convinced myself that something was seriously wrong with me. The doctor said she doesn't know what has caused them, but one is on my neck (next to a bug bite) and the other is behind my ear. I just can't stop fixating on every little sensation and convincing myself that there are tests that haven't been done, so I can never be "at ease" that there is nothing physically wrong with me!

I'm sorry that this was so long of a post; I guess I didn't know how much I really needed to get out. *Sigh* that feels a lot better. Anyways, I want to recover from this, but do so SAFELY, so I am sure that nothing physical is wrong with me. I guess given my past history of the doctor misdiagnosing me, I have been afraid to put my full faith in the doctors' diagnosis, because if my parents would have done that originally, I would not be here today. So I guess I'm a tough case . Thanks for reading!

 
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Old 08-03-2011, 04:00 PM   #2
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Re: 23 Year Old College Graduate Seeking Worry-Free Life!

Having read about you I just wanted to encourage you to go back to the doctor who wanted to prescribe anti depressants to you. They could potentially CHANGE YOUR LIFE!
I want to say too, that you have been through a lot and I'm sure you are worried about your mom. Stresses like these are tough. It sounds like the perfect time to get a little medicinal help. I wish you the very best, and am praying for you and yours.

Sue

 
Old 08-03-2011, 06:29 PM   #3
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Re: 23 Year Old College Graduate Seeking Worry-Free Life!

Hi Sue, I still have the prescription for Pamelor (Nortriptyline), but I am just weary of the fact that I would have to take it for 3-4 weeks to even see any effects. I don't want to be dependent on any type of medication, especially an anti-depressant when I never needed that in the past! I feel like a lot of times they can cause more harm than good. I never needed them before that occurrence, so why would I need to start them now? I just wish I could return my mind to the way it thought BEFORE that one deadly panic attack. I have Xanax that I am supposed to take when I am about to have a major attack, but I haven't needed to take it but once since I got the prescription (at the beginning of summer). I might try to take a half a pill or so (.25mg) in the morning, to see if that could create a positive change in my early-morning thoughts, which could potentially create a positive chain-reaction. I don't know what to do anymore! Lately I've been worried about a swollen lymph node in my neck, along with nerve pain on that side of the neck.

 
Old 08-28-2011, 01:54 PM   #4
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Re: 23 Year Old College Graduate Seeking Worry-Free Life!

Ryan,

This really sounds like panic attacks to me. I'm 24 now but I had my first panic attack when I was 19. Worrying about your health is all a part of it. I had that strange sensation in the back of my head/neck for the longest time. And I still get it every once in a while. It is due to anything as simple as eating a granola bar or something so your neck muscles are slightly tight or maybe you slept wrong that night. But man, combine that with health anxiety and you get this feeling like your head is going to roll off or something (at least for me).

What you are going to have to do to is just trust the doctors. Really listen to the doctors when they tell you that nothing is wrong. And then just try as hard as you can to assume that nothing is wrong. Because of your health anxiety, your body picks up on any tiny sensation that a normal person would not feel. It does not mean anything is wrong with you, you just have this heightened awareness of your bodily sensations. So when you feel dizzy or your neck hurts just be like "okay, this is only my body picking up on something insignificant. this is not dangerous" and if you can say that to yourself and truly believe it, you can start to ignore all of these little things. And yeah it can be hard sometimes, for example maybe you are dizzy and you think it is a tumor. But just remember that 1) you got checked out and are okay 2) youve felt dizzy hundreds of other times and it has always been okay. There is maybe that .00001% chance that it is actually a tumor but you know what? you can't live your life worrying about odds like that. We are too young. Its a risk-assessment thing. You have to assume it is your anxiety every single time. And after you can do this for a while, it will start to go away.

 
Old 08-28-2011, 08:32 PM   #5
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Re: 23 Year Old College Graduate Seeking Worry-Free Life!

Hey Val,
I know exactly what you mean…I feel like recently my anxiety has calmed down about 80%, although if I were to say I did not worry about it anymore I would be lying! I recently got a CTAT of my neck and brain, because I told my neurologist about the “pulsing” sensations in my neck that I experience. They are more pronounced while lying down, and because of my past medical history (brain tumor removed at age 9—benign), he wanted to do a CTAT of the arteries to make sure I had no blockages or aneurysms. The results came back and that is all clear, and I have a follow-up sometime in September.

I do need to trust the doctors. There’s always been that sense of “you know your body better than anyone else” that keeps me thinking there could be something wrong. You know what I mean? I guess I would be one of the first to say that doctors don’t know everything, because the first doctor I saw when I was young (when I had the brain tumor) actually told me that I needed child psychology and was making it all up. I guess that misdiagnosis has me a bit paranoid!

However, this time I am almost 100% sure that the appropriate tests have been done, and I really trust the neurologist that I have been seeing. He did the original MRI last February when I was worried about the tumor recurring, and he was the one that ordered the CTAT. He did mention that I could have a Eustacian tube dysfunction, since I seem to get spouts of dizziness when I am eating. I am not nearly as worried as I used to be about this “mild” dizziness.

I know how you can have a heightened sense of any sensation that you experience, especially when you pay attention to it. That is MUCH less when I am focused on something, like a task or a job. I can’t just sit idly still or else I risk my mind wandering towards that heightened awareness.

So Val, if you don’t mind could you tell me a little more about your situation and how you have conquered it? I feel like I have made SIGNIFICANT progress since I first started dealing with this, but am also not done with the battle. The biggest fears have definitely been squashed, though, which is fantastic. At least I will not be reverting back to that original state of health anxiety.

I have always been the type of person to worry about health, but not to this extent. I even smoked cigarettes for about 5 years. I’ve been smoke-free for 1 year and 8 months, which is fantastic. I just don’t know how I could have turned such a blind eye to my own health! I knew what I was doing, and how much I was damaging my body…but somehow the actual realization of that, and the possible consequences and repercussions didn’t hit me until after I quit. So I guess that would also be another factor that has exaggerated all of this.

Anyways, sorry to make this so long; I just wanted to be as specific as possible. Your post definitely helped, and I’m so thankful for your input/personal experience!! Makes me feel like I’m not dealing with this alone.

 
Old 08-29-2011, 05:45 PM   #6
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Re: 23 Year Old College Graduate Seeking Worry-Free Life!

Hey,

Yeah I know it can be hard to trust the doctors because we all know about times that they missed things or made mistakes. The one that thought you didn't have a tumor when you were 9 - maybe your tumor was too small to be seen on the scan yet? But anyway I just feel like if you have a competent doctor who performs the right tests for you and they come back negative...I mean that is sort of all you can do. At some point you just need to trust it, and like I said before, maybe they were wrong and missed something. But you really don't want to live your life worrying about that, at least I don't. I also used to have the symptom of a pulsating sensation in my neck - thought it was my carotid arteries or something. Anxiety can manifest in crazy ways. Any way that will get your attention in fact lol.

And I agree that you know your body better than anyone else but the problem with this health anxiety issue, at least for me, is that you are so tuned into your bodily sensations that they seem much more prominent than they normally would. If my heart rate is over like 85-90, I can feel it. And since you aren't supposed to feel your heart pounding, it is a worrisome sensation. But its only because my mind is tuned into it, there is nothing actually wrong. You mentioned feeling dizzy around eating - I totally get that all the time and I think it is the slight changes in my body chemistry due to the food intake (insulin is released, your sympathetic system is turning down so your parasympathetic system can take over and digest, etc etc) and you are so tuned into your bodily sensations that you can FEEL all of those changes that a normal person can't. also now that it has happened a lot your mind is probably even searching for the sensation subconsciously. You may be expecting it, or waiting for it without knowing.

About me: I now believe that I had my first panic attack at 19 (but didn't realize it at the time) but it wasn't until I was 21 and fresh out of college that I had my first one where I thought something was wrong, went to the doctor, had all the tests, they decided it was a panic attack. I handled it okay and was pretty much fine most of the time but then I moved across the country and started grad school and even though I didn't feel like outwardly stressed or anything, I think all of the life changes just sort of brought the whole thing up again and I started really struggling with it in May 2010. And I decided that I just needed to do something about it. So I went to the student run thing and my condition was basically way too advanced for those psych grad students (lol) so I was referred to this group of panic disorder specialists who happened to have an office like 15 min from my house. And I literally had weekly appts for about 9 months. they gave me tons of techniques, some worked and some didn't work. i know you don't really have panic disorder so its not as relevant to you but i did start writing about my experience in treatment and started writing it in a blog on this website if you want to read more about it.

but to be perfectly honest, the main thing that i needed to deal with to help overcome this anxiety thing is to accept that yes, maybe this isn't a panic attack, maybe i am actually dying of a heart attack right now but i am going to continue on as normal because that is a risk i am willing to take. and it took a lot of time and acceptance for me to get to this point. but i think it is necessary. you have to be okay with the possibility that you may have a brain tumor. if there is a little voice in the back of your head saying "no actually im not okay with that!!" then you cant get over it. but seriously every time i feel a weird sensation and start to have a panic attack i just think "i am choosing to believe this is just a panic attack / just a headache / just an air bubble in my chest and will continue to live my life. if i was wrong and i die in the next 5 minutes, oh well too bad". and seriously it probably took like a year for me to get to this point because it is very scary to think something is wrong. but if you can somehow get to this state of mind you will be able to get over this health anxiety thing. it is very hard to get to that point though, and i wont lie and say that i never slip up and freak out that something is wrong (but hey even "normal" people do this right? lol). but i no longer obsess over sensations, i dont constantly look everything up on the internet like i used to and im not constantly worried about my health. and i think i can only continue to improve from here.... youll get there too!!!!!

 
Old 09-11-2011, 06:53 PM   #7
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Re: 23 Year Old College Graduate Seeking Worry-Free Life!

Well I went back to my neurologist on Thursday and we reviewed the results of my CTAT scans of my head/neck. He said that structurally, everything looks good. The CTAT showed that there are NO blockages of veins or arteries, and that everything also looks good with that. Now, he has prescribed me some Zoloft and wants to see me back in three months. He is convinced that this is anxiety-related, and wants me to try a SSRI. I have been adamant about not using medication, and I’m still convinced that I don’t need an SSRI to feel “right” again. I just don’t want to change, and feel like a different person. I don’t want to rely on daily medication to get rid of this. However, I don’t know what else to do..I haven’t started the prescription yet (but I got it filled). So yeah…that’s the latest news as of now.

 
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