a chat with a fellow hypochondriac

I discussed being a hypochondriac with my mom and sister today, one of the rare times I talk openly about the issue. My sister had brought the topic up because her husband happens to be a hypochondriac too. He will obsess over little issues like a fast heart rate like me, and even had numerous tests done with a cardiologist to make sure everything was okay. He has had a few health problems, but nothing serious I would say. I started with the issue of floaters because my eyes have been the main thing on my mind recently, and found out both my sis and bro-in-law have floaters too! My sister thought it was fun to have them because she would try to follow them around or count them – what I would do to treat them with the same lightheartedness.

I could tell my brother-in-law was relieved to hear me describe the obsessiveness and panic that accompanies me whenever I find something “wrong” with myself. My sister has encouraged me before to talk about such things in front of him because it puts him at ease. I felt much better too! It was nice to find someone who understood exactly how I felt, without being made to feel silly. My family was around too to make sure we didn’t talk ourselves into a disease either. Overall, it lifted a bit of the weight on my shoulders.

I have googled for some hypochondriac forums before because I thought it would be good to talk to others about it. However, most of the places I find seem to be an abyss of doom – just hypochondriacs chatting with others about symptoms that they’ve been suffering and their fears. It made me scared because the last thing I want now is to be bombarded with symptoms and diseases. And being online, it would be oh-so-easy to search for the disease and set myself off again.

Talking with someone I know, on the other hand, doesn’t quite have the same gloom and doom about it. In real life, it’s a lot harder to panic over a symptom when talking with someone. It’s like when I say it out, it doesn’t seem so bad. What had been a mountain in my mind seems like a little molehill when I say it out loud, especially when my friends react with nonchalance. This can be both a good or a bad thing. On one hand, they could help me shake off the anxiety and march on with my life. Others don’t think it is serious, or others have experienced it too. I’ll be okay! But more often than not, it means that I can never really assuage my fears completely because people just don’t know how worried I am. If I think I am losing my vision, a simple “Oh it’ll go away!” won’t help me.

Talking with a fellow hypochondriac in real life strikes the right balance. I treat the issue with a little distance, and yet I know the other person understands all the complex thoughts swirling in my head. The fact that my family was around probably helped a lot – they were the “grounding points” to ensure we didn’t drive each other into another bout of anxiety. My sister even told me that my hypochondria is fairly mild because my parents are doctors and they have reigned me in most of the time when my fears get out of hand. My brother-in-law is worse because his mom tends to worry a lot too.

I have always thought my parents were half the reason I developed hypochondria, but I am very grateful for their presence. When I am worried about something, they are simply a phone call away. (My siblings and I live overseas.) It’s good to have that sort of support. :)

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Mindfulness – a strategy

Sharing this article on Business Insider (link at end of the post) about a strategy to help you stop worrying. Hypochondria is, at the end of the day, “in our heads”. I know I said the symptoms are real, but what we want to target is the worry that comes along with it. The anxiety that mushrooms the symptoms into large monsters. The fear that may even cause you to fall sick because your mind goes into over-drive.

Next time you’re worrying, remember that your thoughts aren’t real. Life is real.

So turn your attention to your senses. To the world around you. (No, not to your smartphone.)

How does that cup of coffee smell? Did you even notice the people nearby?

Continue reading “Mindfulness – a strategy”

are you ready to zumba?

As part of my goal to become physically stronger and healthier, I signed up for these free exercise sessions at the national stadium. They hold one type of exercise every day, and the main one I am interested in is Zumba Wednesdays! It’s not too intense, really fun and kinda fulfills my secret wish to join dancing.

I’ve also been following FitnessBlender’s workouts recently. I try to do the 30minute cardio workout at least three times a week. This week I tried that 16min HIIT workout for the first time and wow, my thighs are still aching two days on from the squats. I feel good though! I feel like I am taking charge of my own health. As I was recovering from my latest bout of flu, I did some of their lower intensity, recovery workouts and I felt a lot better afterwards. They leave me refreshed and feeling strangely light.

So my goals for the next 3 months: workout at least 3 times a week. I hope to get my weekly regime up to:

  1. Two 30min cardio workouts.
  2. 30mins of jogging.
  3. Weekly zumba.
  4. Quick 10min jog on the remaining days.

That equates to exercising every day, which is a lot. But the main goal is the first three bullet points – 4 workouts a week should not be too bad. I can always lower the intensity, but the idea is to exercise regularly. That’s why I added in the fourth point – I’ll be happy to turn the 10min jog into a 10min stretch or quick yoga session, but I find there is nothing quite like getting the blood pumping than jogging. Even cardio just doesn’t reach the same level of intensity.

I am aware that the above regime may seem like peanuts to very fit people, or even mildly fit people. However, I am a slob who has little discipline and would be happy to spend my day tumblr-ing and doing absolutely nothing (you would be amazed at my ability to do absolutely nothing – like stare out the window at the completely blank sky).

I used to exercise a ton because I had mandatory PE lessons and tennis lessons (played for my school), but I never liked exercising. The sweat, the exhaustion, the feeling that my chest and muscles were going to burst. I find some people love that feeling, but most of the time, I hated it. That’s why nowadays, I’m changing up my routine to the things I want to do. I want to zumba, because I like shaking and twisting and dancing. I like the cardio workouts – Kelli is such a sweet trainer, and the workouts are interesting and fun. I don’t like the jogging, but it’s there as a necessity. Oh well. You can’t win at everything. Still, the same things I used to hate? I’m starting to like that feeling. If I don’t feel slightly sore or tired after a workout, I find myself disappointed. It’s a good sign.

Time to sleep now. I’ve hit my 3 exercise session for this week, but I do hope to fit in one more over the weekend if I can. Come on! I can do this.

history

I grew up with parent doctors, being exposed to lots of medical books and knowledge of diseased most other kids would not have thought of. However, I was not affected by it until I was maybe…12-13? Maybe a bit older. And of all the things that would trigger my hypochondria, it was a copy of Reader’s Digest.

I remember the story quite well. It was written by a parent about how her son (daughter?) had gotten a brain hemorrhage after knocking his (her?) head on a cabinet. The story was written dramatically – the child woke up screaming, it was all sudden, it was such an innocuous knock. I have no idea why this story would stick to me. A while later, I knocked my own head (how, I cannot recall anymore). I became convinced I might get a brain hemorrhage too. My heart beat fast all the time, I waited with bated breath for the moment when I too would wake up screaming.

My parents reassured me nothing was wrong. I did not have a brain hemorrhage. They assured me that they would keep a 24, or to be safe (and probably to allay my fears) a 48 hour watch on me. During that time, if the knock was serious, it would show in the form of a concussion or something else. Nothing happened. The knock just became a bump on the head which lingered for a day or so before going away. However, I did get fever for 4 days after that. My dad called it a panic fever. He told me that I was so panicked and worried that my body literally reacted with a fever.

It slowly began from there. I had gastric problems growing up. I had a weird feeling near my lower right ribcage for months, maybe a year or more when I was around 16 – like a sock was wadded up there. I felt my abdomen and was convinced I felt lumps there. My mom had a benign tumour removed in my secondary school days – I thought I had a tumour too. I googled it – I was convinced I had an inflamed liver. I agonised over it for weeks before mustering up the courage to ask my dad about it. I remember the phone call:

Dad: Okay, I’ll test you for other tell-tale signs of an inflamed liver. Do you feel a pain when you jump?

Me: No.

Dad: Do you feel any pain when you  run?

Me: No.

Dad: Do you feel any pain when you engage in physical activities of any sort?

Me: No. I’ve been playing tennis and having PE a few times a week.

Dad: Do you see any yellowing of the whites of your eyes?

Me: No.

Dad: Then your liver is not inflamed.

And so that was the end of it. The feeling eventually went away. I don’t even remember when it did. It’s just, one day a few years later, I woke up and remembered about it and…it had just fallen out of my consciousness somewhere along the way.

I had numerous other scares along the year (a more memorable one being breast cancer). 2015 ended with some visual migraines. I have had these before – weird lines in my vision that spread to the periphery and clear up within 20 minutes, followed by a headache for a few hours. A quick google search (aha) revealed that this is a visual migraine. It is completely harmless and indeed, googling some more (oops), one of the less painful migraines (I read of people having splitting headaches, numb arms, impaired speech, all from migraines). However, it made me suddenly aware of my vision. And lo and behold, within a few weeks of agonising over my vision, I realised my floaters, which I had since I was very young, were suddenly a lot worse. I always had a few floating around in my vision, but I had barely noticed these for years. Now they were everywhere.

Cue the articles about retina detachment and impending vision loss. I would just start crying because I was so scared. I imagined I was seeing bright flashes. I would see stars when looking at a cloudy white sky (although I later read that this is a perfectly normal phenomenon that everyone experiences, if they actually focused – I probably began noticing it because I was so focused on my own vision).

Did anything happen? Well, I finally asked my mom about it. She said retinal detachment is extremely rare for someone my age, and what I should be looking out for, really, is vision loss. I had experienced no such thing. So, it was not retinal detachment. I plucked up the courage to ask some of my friends about it – turns out, others have it too! One guy said he could see the moonlight bouncing off his floaters sometimes, another said he didn’t need bright light to see them at all. People my age had them to. The difference was that I agonised over it like crazy, whereas they simply thought it was dust or just ignored it. In the months since, once I began forgetting about the floaters, I could go by hours without seeing them.

I could go in detail about the other afflictions I had/thought I had, but this should do. As a summary, the floaters were followed by an infection (completely unrelated) that I had to take antibiotics for which tired me out so much that I am 99.9% sure it weakened my immune system and in turn led to: eye-twitching, gastric, food-poisoning, a random one day bout of allergy where my lip swelled up, allergies on my legs and finally a three week flu. YAY good end to 2015 and a good start to 2016.

You might understand that by this point I am fed up with my own immune system. I am always “sick” these days. The thing is, other people I know are “sick” then too. They also have floaters, some regularly get migraines and headaches, so many people at school had the flu at the same time I did, food poisoning is not unheard of. I was getting whacked continuously, yes that needed work, but it was the wearing down of my mind that worried me. I was always fearing that I was going to get something again. That I was sickly. That I was frail.

And I’m not! I am a young, pretty healthy person otherwise. I am not as fit as I used to be, but I used to exercise so much, and my body is still capable of that. I had to overhaul myself physically and mentally. It may not prevent sicknesses – but it will mean that I won’t live my life being scared and afraid. There are some ailments that I can’t prevent, but there are a ton that I can just by adopting the right lifestyle and mindset. So that is my history up there, now for the future.

prologue

So hi.

I’m a bit tentative about starting this journey, and I’m not entirely sure I’ll keep to this blog, but well, here goes.

I’ve been mulling the idea of writing a blog about my hypochondria for a few months now. 2015 ended tough – I had a few infections, got food poisoning, had visual migraines, floaters etc. – and I started 2016 down with the flu. However, it wasn’t falling sick that worried me. These are quite common ailments. It was the fact that my hypochondria seems to be taking a turn for the worse again. I have had this for around 10 years now, but recently, I found myself more often than not googling symptoms even though I knew I should not. Thoughts of serious diseases began to crawl at the edges of my brain again. I once found myself crying because I was so worried.

I wondered if I should write about it. However, my biggest concern is that this blog will become a journal of fears which I will wallow in even more. That I will look back on it one day and it was all strike me again that I might be suffering from something after all. It has taken me a while, but I decided to finally do it. Because the mind is a powerful thing, I read again and again. It is true that all of the above could happen. It is also true that by writing this blog, I could strengthen my mind and teach myself to think more positively. It’s almost like reinforcement. Also, I believe that writing about things often helps me to take a step back and look on it more objectively.

I’ll have a few introductory posts up over the next few days. I want to keep to this. I don’t want to be crippled by fears anymore, I want to live life just feeling happy and free and young. A big part of that would come if I could move towards curing my hypochondria.

Best of luck, to my own self.