There is a long running joke in my family about my Granny's Reader's Digest Medical Glossary that she keeps on the table beside the couch within arm's reach. She is the original Queen of Self-Diagnosis. Before Google was even a thing, she would whip out that encyclopedia and give her official medical opinion of your condition. Always the worst possible scenario. We make fun of it, her love of going to the doctor; but Granny didn't develop her various vague illnesses until after my grandfather died. I think it's how she coped with his death.
So I come by my hypochondria honestly, although it took a while to manifest itself. I didn't always used to be this way, I swear.
I'm annoyingly outgoing. I talk a lot. I make friends easily. So it might surprise some people, even those who've known me longest, to know that I've had a long struggle with what I now know is anxiety. When I was a kid and young adult, I had panic attacks when I'd get what I like to call 'overstimulated.' Most often this happened at a birthday party, or large group gathering. It's in my nature to be ON all the time, and it's really exhausting. So, I'd usually have a meltdown towards the end of a party, where I didn't know if I was going to laugh or cry and all I did know was that I needed to take a breather right that second or my head was going to pop off like one of those jet.com commercials.
After years of this, I've gotten good at recognizing when I'm on the verge of a meltdown. I remove myself as soon as I am able from whatever is the trigger is. As an adult, though, the triggers have increased and I find myself feeling anxious often.
Last year, I was in a terribly stressful situation - and while I didn't realize what was happening for while, my body did, and anxiety took over. I was having anxiety attacks once or twice a week. Just getting in my car to go to work could trigger it. My body reacted violently - unbearable muscle tension, tmj, migraines - you name it, I had it. I was pretty sure I was dying. I went to the doctor several times, only to be told to take some ibuprofen and I'd feel better.
I didn't feel better and my hypochondria bloomed like a poisonous rose.
While my granny's medical book wasn't available for consultation, Almighty Google was, and I spent countless anxiety-fueled hours researching my symptoms, still not realizing that stress and anxiety was the root problem. My health consumed all of my free time. Every ache and pain was an ominous sign of what I was sure was something much worse. I came to believe that if I could just figure out what was wrong with me, then I'd start to feel better about everything else.
It wasn't until I went to physical therapy last year, that someone listened to me for five minutes and told me that stress was fueling my health crisis. I could have kissed that physical therapist on the mouth, just because she was sympathetic as I bawled in her office while we were stretching.
So, I removed the stressors. I quit my job. I moved. And slowly, I started to feel better.
It's still a struggle to manage this anxiety that manifests itself in an ugly cycle of hypochrondria. But I count tiny baby steps as success. When I get a headache, I no longer immediately assume BRAIN TUMOR and start planning my funeral.
Ok, sometimes I do that, but I do it much less often. Baby steps, remember?