Like a lot of people, I have been struggling with anxiety recently, more so over the last few months. The uncertainty around lockdown, social isolation and the pandemic in general have (unsurprisingly) resulted in an increase in mental health issues, and also, a general awareness of them too.
I have always been a worrier, ever since I was a child.
My main anxiety has always been around my health. As a child, I remember checking myself for breast cancer and becoming obsessed with a medical book my parents had, convincing myself I had all of the illnesses in there. When I was at primary school, I vividly remember getting myself in a state about a school trip. I didn’t want to go, as I was terrified the bus would crash. As a teenager, I convinced myself that I was going to die at age 17, due to a dream I had. When I last had a cold, I convinced myself I had pneumonia and had panic attacks over it. Anxiety is more than worrying. Anxiety can take over, make you convinced you are dying and seriously affect your quality of life.
Of course, when I was a child, I didn’t know I had anxiety. There was less awareness back then and I just thought I was a worrier. It was just my personality. Looking back now, at my behaviour, I can see this wasn’t right.
I have often thought about the impact of being diagnosed with scoliosis at 14 and how this has affected me.
I do think I had anxiety symptoms before I was diagnosed with scoliosis. However, I don’t think having scoliosis helped my mental health. I think it made it much worse. After being diagnosed, I spent so many days as a teenager crying in my room. I isolated myself from others and I was convinced I was going to end up in a wheelchair or die young. It consumed me. I didn’t know how to cope with the diagnosis or the prospect of major spinal surgery. After all, it’s a chronic condition and there’s no “cure” as such, especially for a large curve like mine. After the surgery, I thought the anxiety would go away but if anything it got worse. For example, I would obsess over pictures of my back, convinced the metalwork had moved. I was crying most days. I seriously think there should be more awareness and mental health support offered to children and teenagers diagnosed with scoliosis.
Until recently, I didn’t realise how bad my anxiety could get.
I haven’t had any treatment for anxiety over the years. I wasn’t even 100% sure if I had it as I had never been diagnosed officially. I knew something wasn’t right though, and the more I read about anxiety and other people’s experiences the more I resonated with them.
I have tried to manage things myself by running and exercise. I’ve also tried yoga, meditation and reading self help books. In lockdown, I haven’t had many distractions. I have also been injured so I haven’t been able to run. This has given me more time to think and to obsess over health issues. For example, I have had long standing numbness in my leg which I have been obsessing over. I had all the tests you can think of (pre-pandemic) but nothing was found. I am still convinced there is something wrong and that it is serious and will spread round my body. I think about stuff like this 24/7, there’s no break. It’s mentally exhausting.
I feel like the anxiety is always there bubbling below the surface, ready to erupt and when it does, I can’t stop it.
Usually my anxiety will be triggered by something, like a health issue or traumatic event in my life. Even if some one says something to me in a certain way, I can spend weeks over analysing and obsessively thinking about it, to the point where I wish I could stop but I can’t.
Last year, I noticed my biggest fear. A changing mole. Cancer is a major fear of mine, ever since I had to have a mole removed when I was a teenager. I get quite obsessive about my moles and checking them. Last summer, one of my moles started to change colour and flake off. As a result I went to see a dermatologist. But not before I spent weeks looking at moles on the Internet, comparing, reading cancer forums and convincing myself I had skin cancer. This kind of behaviour takes over my life. When I get like this, I can’t focus on anything else. It becomes obsessive. Work, my blog, exercise all take a back seat. I can’t sleep and I stop eating. And it’s really bad, because I know what I’m doing is unhelpful and unhealthy, but I can’t stop myself. I torture myself.
Last weekend, it was the worst it’s ever been. I felt like I was dying. I hated how I felt. I spent most of the weekend crying and didn’t want to do anything. I wasn’t eating or sleeping. I was shaking all the time. The knot in my stomach wouldn’t go away. At work, I couldn’t focus and just kept randomly crying. This was triggered because I had convinced myself that I had skin cancer that was spreading round my body. I was waiting for some biopsy results and couldn’t deal with it. In the end, I was told I didn’t have skin cancer but I had pretty much convinced myself that I had and worked myself into a state.
I contacted my GP in tears earlier this week and everything came out. I can’t tell you how much better I feel just having spoke to a Dr and finally, I am going to get some help with managing my anxiety. I just wish I had realised and sought help sooner. I’ve always felt like my anxiety is not bad enough to need treatment, or that there’s people who need treatment more than me so I don’t want to take someone else’s space.
I’m not sure of the point of this post but I needed to get my thoughts down. Conditions like anxiety will not go away. In my case it got worse over time until it erupted spectacularly.
My anxiety is not so severe that I can’t leave the house but it does affect my quality of life.
In the past, I have been so worried or convinced that I’m seriously ill that I have not enjoyed days out/holidays etc as the anxiety takes over. On a holiday once, I was convinced I had a heart condition as I kept getting palpitations, which are, ironically, caused by anxiety. But the stress of it ruined my trip. I have been in tears in the Dr’s office over the years about heart palpitations, as I struggle to comprehend that they aren’t something serious.
My fears aren’t irrational, they are generally based on actual symptoms but my reactions do tend to be highly over the top and irrational. This is something that I cannot control.
I’m sharing this as it helps me to write down how I feel, but also in case it helps someone else. If you struggle with anxiety, please seek help, you are not alone and it’s nothing to be ashamed about.
If you are struggling with anxiety, I recommend looking at the Mind website, they have lots of useful information, resources and support.
Stay safe and well,
I had scoliosis surgery in 2010 and blog about my experiences living with scoliosis. My aim is to raise awareness of scoliosis and help and inspire others with the condition.