Why the internet enabled my health anxiety

Although I don’t know my readers personally, I think I can confidentially assume one thing about you all. That probably at one time or another in your life, you have googled your symptoms of something.

Maybe it’s something you do every now and then when you’re unsure what that strange rash on your body is. Maybe it’s when you feel like you’re sleepy way more than usual, or hungry all the time… or your pill is fucking you up, and you’re getting weird bleeding.

Maybe you’re actually something like me, and your first instinct whenever you feel the slightest twinge of feeling a bit crap leads you straight to Dr. Google.

Whatever it may be, I don’t think anyone with a phone or access to the internet hasn’t fallen prey to the temptations of Google’s search feature, only to be terrified away within minutes of scrolling.

But that’s normal? Right?

Well, what I wanted to write about today was how my health anxiety has been enabled and even worsened, by falling prey to having constant access to medical knowledge, and how you can combat it if you’re finding yourself getting into a panic every time there’s something slightly wrong. (From my very limited amount of research when I was writing this blog post, there’s actually a name for this phenomenon these days! Cyber-condria.)

When did I realise I had a problem?

I’ve forever been an anxious person. (Mainly fuelled by my OCD, but mostly because that’s just a huge aspect of my personality) but as a child and teenager, health was not something that I ever worried about.

Friendships? Sure.

Relationships? Christ I was a mess at 16-21.

Public Speaking. OH GOD KILL ME.

But health? Nah.

I was not the kind of person who ever worried if I felt a bit crap. I was never the kind of person who would think into the future and panic about death/ illness and I still am not the kind of person who really worries about rational things… instead, I think my anxiety fixated itself on health after I had a particularly bad few months with my body.

I’ve written before about my bladder issues (that post has since been removed by me, because it just felt all too personal) – but it’s something I’m not really ashamed of sharing.

I had a bladder condition which developed when I was 21, and basically meant I felt like I had cystitis all the fucking time (except without the burning pain)

After traipsing to my doctor, trying several different brands of antibiotics and being sent to a consultant, they still couldn’t really tell me what was wrong with me.

I was sent away with tablets, with special diets, with promises that they would continue to try to work it out. Hell, I even had a bladder scan to see if there was something structurally wrong with me.

Despite the doctors doing their absolute best to help, I began to get into a sense of frustration and panic that I couldn’t snap out of.

I started to Google my symptoms more and more, to try and figure out what the hell was wrong with me. (Because if a medical professional couldn’t, maybe I could right? HA)

What started as a couple of Google searches soon turned into an obsessive habit, where I’d spend the majority of the evening trying to distract myself, before inevitably falling into the abyss and googling for the rest of the evening.

I’d read medical journals, talk on forums (where I actually met one of the loveliest people ever that I’m still friendly with!) and would basically become absorbed in what could be the matter with me.

It got to the point that I’d try and hide my phone and computer away, but I kept coming back to the same thing and the same patterns over and over again.

I convinced myself in a few days that I had an illness called ‘Interstitial Cystitis’, ‘bladder cancer’… that I’d never have a boyfriend ever again.

I did test after test, took so many antibiotics that summer and completely warped myself into an obsessive state.

So- what happened?

After a couple of months, it turned out that it had been anxiety that had been causing the issue in the first place.

My third year of uni had triggered it, I had literally made myself sick with worrying and although luckily my bladder issue sorted out after one summer, but my health anxiety unfortunately remains.

How I’ve combated it?

Talk to someone about it

Sharing with my family and friends how badly the above incident affected me and my confidence, has been really helpful at moving on from the anxiety. They’re a great reassurance that I’m ok now and that I managed everything before. Plus, they help me with the below point.

Resist the urge

At times when I’m worrying about my symptoms it can feel impossible to just carry on as normal. However, more often than not, your symptoms will probably just disappear on their own. Resisting the urge is hard at first, but god does it get so much easier as time goes on!

Stay away from medical forums

Do you know who writes on medical forums? Sick people. Panicking people. Anxious people. People who will never come back and update the forum when they get better!! Just think about it. Why on earth would any of the best case scenarios go on them. Try and keep some perspective.

Talk to a medical professional

If you’re genuinely worried that there’s something the matter, then my best advice is to literally suck it up and go and see a doctor. At the end of the day, that’s where you’ll need to go even after you’ve been on Google for 4-hours straight.

Assess your risk/ what’s the worst case scenario?

I’m not sure that this would work for everyone, but for me… planning out the worst case scenario can often be very comforting. Facing the fear and working through the thing that’s causing it in the first place can really help me to put things into perspective.

Although it’s always temping to reach for my phone, my life is all the better for it when I manage to resist the urge. I’m happy and healthy for now (touch wood!) and it would be stupid and pointless to waste anymore time googling away about things that may or may not be wrong!

Rach

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