a serious post about anxiety

James here – posting yet again from work, activating a draft post because I’m stuck at work! This whole week has been an absolute bust diet wise – couldn’t get to class tonight either, so I can’t even assess how much damage I’ve done. Meh, a week off. Back on it tomorrow. Tell you what, I can’t even tell you all truthfully that it’s been wonderful eating lots of chocolate and nonsense because I actually feel bloated and oily! The problem is, when I’m working late, there’s nothing healthy to hand, and I do need to eat – so we end up getting in takeaway which sounds great in principle but eating Chinese at 11pm with a couple more hours of work ahead of you doesn’t do well for the diet. That said, I feel considerably less bloated now because in the middle of that sentence I had to excuse myself, nip to the gents and let rip a fart that I’m surprised didn’t tear the tiles off the wall. Good lord. Anyway: tomorrow something new and exciting comes onto the blog. And not in that way. We’re experimenting! Here’s this evening’s post…it’s actually a serious one for a change!

Serious post tonight, folks, though I’ll chuck in a few jokes because why the hell not. I received an email from wordpress (the guys who host my blog) saying happy anniversary – it’s been three years since you set up your blog. My first thought was that I had clearly stroked out for a few months because I was sure twochubbycubs had only been going for a few months, but then I twigged it was actually my first blog where I documented my ‘battle’ with health anxiety. I was so proud of that blog’s name – I called it shakerattleanddroll because of my obsession with my shaking (Parkinsons), rattling (tablets) and droll (the sparkling wit you all know and love). Mulling on it a moment or two, I thought it might be a decent thing to talk about anxiety to give some hope to anyone out there suffering with it.

I suffer from health anxiety – I’d go so far to say that it doesn’t affect me so much anymore and that I have a handle on it, but I’ll still have the occasional wobble (the wobble being a clear sign that I’ve got vertigo, or balance problems, or seasickness, or a brain tumour). Anxiety is an awful, awful thing and those who dismiss it as anything other than a serious illness can kiss my arse. I’m a strong-minded, confident bloke and I was brought to my knees through health anxiety – quite genuinely the worst three months of my life. I became hyper-sensitive to every little thing that my body did and what it meant – always the worst case scenario, and was completely unable to relax or think straight for months. Imagine always fearing you were about to die.

My obsession became multiple sclerosis – I became genuinely quite convinced that I had MS simply because my eyes were aching and I had perceived weakness in my right leg. I had, quite innocently, typed those symptoms into Dr Google and of course, the worst case scenario came up. I knew nothing about MS at the time (I could write a fucking book on it now) but everything ‘clicked’ in such a way that I started experiencing other common symptoms – balance problems, forgetfulness, more vision problems, which only reinforced my belief. I spoke to doctors who ruled it out but I knew that MS is an incredibly hard thing to actually diagnose because there isn’t a concrete test for it, so I ignored them. It’s actually a very common disease for those with health anxiety to latch onto for this very reason – plus a lot of the symptoms of anxiety and MS match up, and the more you worry about having MS, the more your anxiety grows, the worse the symptoms get…

Then, because I saw an article on Parkinsons, I became convinced that I was suffering from that purely because my hands were shaking a little. Just like that, MS was forgotten (and it seems ridiculous to me now) and Parkinsons became the focus. Pick up a piece of paper by the corner and hold it in front of you – watch the edges shake a little. It’s perfectly normal. But to me that was a sign I was going to spend my life unable to type and never eating peas again. Eventually, I pretty much snapped through all of the worry and went to talk to my doctor, who god bless her, went through each and every one of my ‘symptoms’ and told me it was anxiety.

I was put onto an anti-depressant called citalopram for six months – only a small dose, but enough to ‘take the edge off’ my worries. It worked to some extent because it dulled my senses and stopped me thinking about every little thing, but I was cynical about it working. Then it happened – a few peaceful hours became a full day, one day became two, two days became a week, and I just stopped worrying, and I stopped taking the tablets and felt fine. Paul was an absolute wonder through all of this, being my constant rock, as always, and I do try and tell him how thankful I am.

It’s not perfect – even now I catastrophise – if I have a headache, I’ll immediately start running through my mind the possibilities: brain tumour (unlikely, I’m not seeing blue flashes), mad cow disease (possibly, I grew up on cheap beef), stroke (touch each tooth with the tip of your tongue, if you can do that, you’re not having a stroke). Crazy. But, I know how to deal with it – I take solace in statistics. The same logic and rationale that gets me onto an aeroplane keeps me from flipping out over health worries. I’ve had a weird tic in my left eye for a good few weeks now but I don’t care, and that feels good.

I’m not posting all of this for attention or for people to say ‘Oooh, haven’t you done well’ – in fact, no comments wanted, I know I’ve got it licked. No, I’m posting this because if anyone is reading this and going through anxiety themselves – whether health anxiety, general anxiety or just a period of depression, know that it does, and will, get better. At my darkest I thought I’d suffer for the rest of my life and to be quite honest, it’s probably always going to be a small part of me, but I go weeks without thinking about it and I can’t, genuinely, remember the last time it was a problem. It might feel neverending or that there’s no hope, but there’s always something positive to cling to, and things always get better in the end. I did…!