My Experience with Health Anxiety

My experience with anxiety is something I've never fully discussed on this blog, but as mental health becomes a topic in desperate need of more attention I've decided for Mental Health Day 2017 (October 10th) now is the time to talk about it.

What many people don't understand about anxiety is that it can take form in different people in very different ways.

Personally, my anxiety centres on my health, commonly known as "health anxiety". I first started to notice I had a slight issue with the way I handle health related things when I was in school, a series of events that stick in my mind when I try to recall when exactly it started or even what the cause of it was. The ones that stick in mind were my intense fear of rust, bleach and any other chemicals as well as a fear of rats and the black plague.

I believe this stemmed from one of the first biology classes I had in Year 7 (so I would have been 11 years old) and we were told under no circumstances were we to eat or drink in the science labs, and to make sure we washed our hands upon leaving. I believe this to be the root because from then on I had an obsession with washing my hands, I guess you could say I suffered from OCD at that point; I would carry hand sanitizer and sanitising wipes everywhere, I would eat my sandwiches out of the foil so my hands never touched the food, I would never touch my face without washing my hands first and even to the extent I wouldn't even lick my lips in the science building out of fear of some chemicals being ingested into my system. This particular fear led to my lips being chapped a lot of the time and my abnormal behaviour started to get attention from my classmates and teachers alike. Although, I don't think at that point anyone really understood what was going on - including me.

One day, I was sat in a science class with my book on my lap rather than on the bench, because I was petrified that chemicals would touch the book, then would be inside my bag and end up back in my house. I vividly remember the teacher stopping the class to turn to my in front of everyone and go "Shannon, why aren't you using the desk? Put your book back on the desk now." to which I would have responded something along the lines of "I'm fine" and then she firmly instructed I did so, almost telling me off and the entire class laughed at me. I used to stategically time asking to use the bathroom every chemistry lesson to avoid participating in the pracitcals, although one day when I returned there was an entire tub of a blue poweder chemical spilt inside my science book. Turns out it was purposefully spilt by a girl who had bullied me throughout school, and she did it as she had clocked on to my fear of the chemicals they used in science.

Unfortunately my anxiety didn't stop there, although the OCD got a lot better after a few conversations with my mother who, bless her, helped me to rationalise a-lot. My anxiety progressed to become physical, for example in the months before I started university I was experiencing stomach pains, but the pain was almost like a niggling pain. It's hard to describe it but it went on for a few weeks, and then as if by magic, once I'd started university it stopped. I learnt a lot about myself in that time and how when I get nervous for something or have a major life changing event coming up my anxiety would make me think I'm experiencing some form of health issue.

My anxiety never stopped me from doing anything, I don't remember an event or occasion that I didn't do because of it but I do recall certain times where I was suffering pretty badly - most notably my school prom.

Luckily now, I'm more aware of what health anxiety is and I don't suffer with it now anywhere near as bad or as often as I did when I was younger - which I do honestly believe comes from a greater understanding of it.

So why am I telling you this? When I was younger and searched "Health Anxiety" very few things came up except NHS websites and other health forums, but no young people, like me who were talking about their experience. I want to be there for some of you guys who also feel like you're in this alone, because you're not and you don't need to suffer in silence. I'm going to link below some websites geared more towards health anxiety if you'd like to read up on it and better understand what exactly you're going through. Also my DM's on twitter are open, so if you just want to talk to someone about it, or ask me some more questions on my experience feel free!

I really hope this post helped at least one of you, and remember that you will get through it.

Health Anxiety - NHS
Health Anxiety - Anxiety.org
Health Anxiety - NoMorePanic.co.uk

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