Close Up Of A Doctor Checking Blood Pressure Of A Patient

Every cough is a predictor of lung cancer; every ache is a sign of some kind of skeletal disease; every headache is a brain tumor. Essentially, every bodily “abnormality” is a catastrophic illness.

This is life with hypochondriasis, or its kinder, gentler euphemisms: illness anxiety disorder or somatic symptom disorder. Yes, chances are you’re fine — you’re not dying and not suffering from some debilitating but unseen disease. However, the feelings and the certainty are all too real for those of us who know there is something terrible happening in our bodies, just below the surface.

Right now as I am writing this, my back hurts. This vague but persistent ache is in between my shoulder blades: I’m almost certain it’s my heart or some kind of tumor on my spine. Right now, I am resisting the urge to go online and find confirmation of this on WebMd, but that’s a whole different issue called, appropriately, cyberchondria. The point is, while most people would simply say “my back hurts,” get an ice pack and leave it at that, I cannot help but think I am headed for an imminent and unpleasant death and that this back pain is only the beginning.

Later today, there will undoubtedly be different bodily sensations. Whether it is a headache from staring at my computer screen (brain tumor), neck pain from tilting my head in the same position for too long (lymphoma), or heart palpitations from too much coffee (heart attack), my brain will probably diagnose my body with something awful. Once the diagnosis has been made, the thoughts will snowball. “Thought-stopping” and “mindfulness” are beautiful ideas, but they are difficult to put into practice when you are having a hypochondriac episode which, by the way, can last for days, even weeks or months. A few summers ago, I spent months and a lot of money visiting doctors, waiting for one to tell me I was terminally ill. I visited two emergency rooms at two different hospitals. I went to every urgent care within a 30-mile radius. I had EKGs, X-rays, even a CT scan. The diagnosis? I was fine. At age 34, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t yet succumbed to one of the diseases my brain had convinced me I had.

Surprisingly, it was an oral surgeon — not a psychologist or psychiatrist — who told me something I never forgot. I went to him because a discoloration on my tongue had convinced me I had oral cancer. This had gone on for months and had been accompanied by jaw pain and other vague feelings of oral discomfort. After a thorough examination determined that it was, in fact, not cancer, I asked the doctor, “What is it then?” (People with health anxiety usually do not rest until a diagnosis is made: that’s why we spend so much time and money seeking one out.)

The doctor said, “It’s just your brain remembering the pain.”

That statement has stayed with me. We should never underestimate the power of our minds to convince us of anything, rational or not. A few years ago, today’s back pain would have sent me running to the doctor or even hospital. Today, while it still concerns me, it won’t take over or ruin the day because it is most likely my brain sending me a catastrophic but misplaced thought I can focus on lessening in intensity. I can breathe. I can remember the progress I’ve made. I can give myself a break. I am probably not dying.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the best thing a medical professional has said to you related to your (or a loved one’s) disability, disease or mental illness?  Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


On Sunday night, University of Washington football standout Isaiah Renfro took to Twitter to announce he was walking away from the team to receive treatment for depression and anxiety.

In a lengthy statement, Renfro explained he’d missed his school’s spring workouts because he had been in a hospital for “people like me,” participating in a rehabilitation program he said “taught me how to cope with my problems and what to do when I hit my lowest of lows.”

Renfro also wrote that being diagnosed with anxiety and depression makes it difficult for him to do a simple thing like get himself out of bed in the morning. Before being admitted to the hospital, he says he was in a dark place.

The football player’s decision to speak out is an important one. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than non-Hispanic whites. But, only a quarter of African Americans, compared with 40 percent of whites, seek mental health care.

Paolo Delvecchio, Director of the Center for Mental Health Services at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, praised Renfro’s actions.

“Honest conversations about mental health dismantle the prejudice that is often associated with mental illness,” Delvecchio, who himself has depression and anxiety, told The Mighty. “When a respected public figure discloses a mental health condition and the experience of seeking treatment, they lead by example, breaking down the misperception that having a mental health problem is a personal weakness. Most importantly, by their willingness to share their stories, they help give others the hope and the confidence to seek help and recovery.”

Especially among football players, this conversation is needed.

Now, Renfro said, he has a “better outlook,” but will step away from football and his studies at UW as he continues to recuperate.

“This isn’t the end of me, just the end of a certain chapter,” he wrote. “I will conquer this, and not let this situation conquer me. I’m on a journey to find my happiness again.”

Renfro told ABC News the reaction to his story has taken him by surprise.

“It’s a bit surreal — people calling me a hero,” Renfro said. “But I don’t view myself as that at all. I see it as just telling my story, to see if I could help one or two people. I didn’t imagine that it would help all these people.”

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

When my father died I wasn’t prepared for it. It was supposed to be a happy time in our lives. I was pregnant with my parents’ first grandchild, and everyone was thrilled. My father had been diagnosed with lung cancer and was estimated to live a few more years. My pregnancy became the focus of happiness and life away from the inevitable loss on the horizon. We just didn’t know it was going to happen so soon.

When I was five months pregnant, we lost him and I shut down. Usually I have no problem talking openly about my feelings and understanding the pain that comes with them. This time, I just buried it all. I found it necessary to skip the grieving process to continue with a safe pregnancy. My focus was on keeping my baby healthy, positive and delivering her unharmed. I knew none of us could handle another loss. I had to be strong.

There is a price that comes with burying something so important. I found this out shortly after the birth of my daughter. It began with starting to feel panic over taking my baby in the car. I did it, but I suffered extreme anxiety. I would sit in my rocker and cry thinking about what might happen were I to be in a car accident resulting in her injury or death — how I would want to die if my baby died.

It wasn’t only just anxiety over losing her. I felt anxiety over her losing me.

Often I would need to pull to the side of the road to calm down when driving alone. I would hope people didn’t call me to have dinner or meet to go shopping because I was plagued with a desperate fear that I would die and my beautiful, sweet daughter would grow up without her mommy’s protection. I grew frustrated whenever someone invited me out. I resented it because in my mind it was a risk. I couldn’t leave my daughter. What if I didn’t ever make it back?

I started to experience dizzy spells when out in public. At the park, watching my daughter go down the slide I would feel panic beginning to take over. Chugging down the bottle of water I’d brought with me and eating a grain bar I would try and tell myself everything was fine, it was just a panic attack, nothing was going to happen. No matter how much I tried to talk myself out of feeling the extreme anxiety, it would never completely go away. Things got worse.

I began to have what my therapist called “daymares.” Basically I would have a nightmare while being completely awake. Going for a walk with my daughter I’d suddenly be taken over by a fear, and that fear would turn into a deep thought process where I envisioned myself passing out, my daughter left with no one to watch her as an oncoming car would speed her way.

These kinds of daymares happened often. My husband would see the look of horror on my face and question what was wrong. I didn’t know how to tell him nothing was wrong in reality, but in my head there was death, pain and endless fear. I realized I truly had no control over my situation, and I needed to get better fast. It wasn’t fair that my daughter had a mother who feared the world. My illness was debilitating and getting worse every day. When my husband won a trip to the Caribbean, my first reaction was terror — not joy, terror. All I could think about was how I didn’t want to instill this sort of fear in my young daughter. I felt like I was failing as a mother.

mom and daughter in ocean She deserved better, and so I finally began my grieving period.

I connected with my family, my therapist and did I could to come to terms with what I’d ignored for so long.

I no longer feel the fear of driving distances. No longer do I envision my child’s death. I no longer fear the future. I know this is not the last time I will experience anxiety and depression. I know this is not the last time I will experience a death. I just hope in the future I will be able to handle things better because there is someone relying on me and she’s not going anywhere.

Perhaps tackling the pain head on is the way to deal. I don’t know. What I know is I can’t allow things to go on as they did before. My daughter deserves for me to be the best parent I can be — the kind of parent my father was and my mother still is.

She deserves mother who can show her the world without fear — someone who can prove there is a silver lining behind every cloud and a dream following every nightmare.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

Anxiety is a different experience for everyone. Some people have panic attacks, some avoid social situations and some who have anxiety show signs nobody on the outside can see. I show six signs of anxiety that are subtle and secret to me because they are hard for those close to me to notice.

1. I bite my lips.

My lips are usually broken and chapped because when I’m feeling anxious, I bite them until they bleed. It hurts a little and leaves my lips looking torn up, and I don’t usually realize I’m doing it.

2. I pick at my face.

I have scars all over my face from relentless picking and scratching when I’m experiencing anxiety. The scars affect my self-esteem, but even though I end up feeling badly about myself, I can’t seem to stop.

3. I can’t sit still.

Pacing, fidgeting and tapping my feet are all things I do when I’m anxious. I’m restless and it bothers me because my racing thoughts are showing outward.

4. My muscles are tense.

I’m almost always sore because when I’m anxious, I can almost never relax. My shoulders feel like they are as high as my ears, and my fingers get sore from clenching my fists so tightly.

5. My stomach gets upset.

For me, nausea always comes with my anxiety. I constantly feel like throwing up and feel like I want to physically buckle over and hold my belly. I get heartburn, as if my anxiety is coming up from the pit of my my stomach and burning my throat.

6. I clench my jaw shut.

I know I had an anxious day when I wake up the next day with a sore face. I clench my teeth in my sleep when my anxiety had been particularly bad that day, and have continuous pain because of it.

These six signs aren’t easily recognized as signs of anxiety, but they are mine. I decided to share my secret signs because I don’t want to hide when I need a little extra help or encouragement. I don’t want to keep my anxiety in, because it could manifest into something more. So, no more secrets. These are the signs of my anxiety.

The Mighty is asking the following: What is a part of your or a loved one’s disease, disability or mental illness that no one is aware of? Why is it time to start talking about it? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

6 Secret Signs of My Anxiety

What is it like being the mom of a child with severe anxiety?

It is helping her down stairs every morning despite the fact she can do it herself. It’s reassuring her, yet again, she won’t fall just because once, several years ago, she heard mom fell down the stairs and hurt herself.

It is encouraging her to dress herself when she’s afraid she may fall over because that happened once before and she never forgets.

It is reassuring her that her clothes have been washed and she has worn them before. It is showing her, as always, the labels have been removed so they won’t hurt her, the trousers are soft enough and the socks have no sharp bits.

It is telling her she is beautiful so often in the hope she will one day believe me.

It is letting her see the breakfast cereal in the box. Otherwise she will refuse to eat it in case you have somehow bought another brand by mistake. It is pouring out just the right amount in case some accidentally spills over the bowl because she lives in fear she may somehow get in trouble even though she never has.

It is brushing her teeth religiously because the dentist said she should do it twice a day, and she worries what will happen if she doesn’t.

It is walking to school making sure we avoid uneven ground because she may just fall and hurt herself and that would be a disaster.

It is going over and over what the day at school holds because she is worried you may have forgotten sometimes (we checked three times before we left the house) or she may have done something not quite perfect in her homework the night before. It is the heartbreak of watching her become mute as she walks through that school gate holding your hand like you are sending her into the lion’s den.

It is watching her walk (never run, as you may be punished up for that!) to her line, avoiding eye contact or body contact with any other child in the playground in case they say something that upsets her or they accidentally touch her. It is looking at her standing facing the front, arms straight by her side like a soldier as she lines up, terrified she may lose points for her class because she is not forming a straight enough line.

That was just the first hour of our day.

My daughter will bite her lips, chew her tongue, barely eat or speak but conform to everything school expects of her. She will inwardly break her heart if she spells one word wrong on a test (and break down about it that night at home), she will freeze during gym lessons when they ask her to stand on a bench for fear of falling. She will take food because she doesn’t want to be seen as different yet she will hardly touch it. She would never ask for someone to help her cut it up as she is too anxious she may get in trouble for doing so. She would even eat something she was allergic to if she felt it would make a teacher happy.

Living with that level of anxiety is not healthy, yet so many children experience anxiety on that level daily.

I can reassure her. I can encourage her and prepare her for change, but I can not take her anxiety away.

Watching her refuse to eat because she had a wobbly tooth was awful. Hearing her cry because she can not read a word in her new reading book breaks my heart.

Sometimes you may see me jump into play areas with my 7-year-old and think I am bizarre. Sometimes you may hear me say I laid beside my child until she fell asleep and you may feel I need to let her grow up. You may see me lift her on and off escalators and think I am keeping her a baby. If you knew I held her in my lap and cradled her and wiped her tears last night, would you perhaps think I was overprotective?

Her anxiety is huge. Her worries are real. Today I will do my best to help her as I do every day. Tomorrow she will be just as anxious and I will try yet again to help her. We get through one day at a time.

I acknowledge her anxieties but I also help her overcome them.

That is the role of a mom to a child with severe anxiety.

That is what it is like being the mom of an anxious child.

Follow this journey on Faithmummy.

The Mighty is asking the following: Parents of children with mental illnesses – tell us a story about working within the mental health system. What barriers of treatment have you experienced? What’s a change in the system that could help your child? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

I have had a unique opportunity to enjoy three different events I would not have previously been able. These events have been documented on my personal blog, but I will summarize and detail why I would not attend them in the first place.

1. The Zoo Run: I am not a morning person. I had to wake up myself, and the family at 6:30 a.m. to attend. I also do not like to run, or in this case walk, any distance. Combine that with my anxiety in crowds and this was not where I wanted to be.

2. The theme park: I normally enjoy theme parks when it’s not a busy day, but in this case it was “bring a friend free” day. The park was packed with people. Lines to get food were an hour and a half long. Crowds we know are an issue so that was not fun. This was immediately following the zoo run so I had already walked 5k, so what’s another 10 for my legs?

3. Wrestlemania. OK, I have not watched wrestling since I was a kid in the 90s. This was one that was way outside my comfort zone. A friend called me last minute and asked me to go. I am not a last minute guy by any means. Crowds, loud noises and sweaty men grappling each other are not my cup of tea. I had no vested interest in going.

Why did I do all these events?

For joy.

More specifically, the joy of others.

I made a mental decision to go to all these events not for me, but for those around me. My family loves going to the zoo and we had friends who went with us. My daughters love going to the theme park as my youngest was able to ride more rides because she was taller this trip. My friend wanted someone to share the Wrestlemania experience. These were all acts that brought joy to others.

And in doing so reciprocated joy to me.

I found that joy can directly combat the effects of depression and anxiety. I stepped out of my comfort zone and shared in the experiences. I grasped the joy that came off my family and friends and held it close. I used their joy to inject some back to me. I stole their joy to increase my own happiness. In doing so I was able to fight of the depression and anxiety that vexes me so often.

These are things, as I have said, I would not do under normal circumstances. However, I felt compelled to do them. I was presented with the option of doing or not doing these activities. Instead of my usual “thank you, but no” response, I decided to take a risk.

And it paid off.

During the Zoo Run, I was able to get my exercise, increasing blood flow and help fight off depression. I got to laugh at the silly costumes with those around me. I got to see my daughters running and chasing their friend while their mother and I gasped for air running to keep up with them. I got to see the wonderment that came across their faces when we got to the zoo portion and the joy fill their bodies when they got to see lions and tigers and bears (oh my!). I felt fantastic at the joy around me.

At the theme park, I was able to again see the excitement on the faces of the children (both mine and their friends) as we got to go on roller coasters and merry-go-rounds and log flumes. The ear piercing screams were a bit much but were almost magical in and of themselves. They laughed at the excitement and cried out in terror. The second to last ride of the day was my eldest daughter’s “favorite ride ever, Daddy!” More joy to seep myself with.

At Wrestlemania I did not have my family, only a good friend. Instead of just one person, I was swept up in the 100,000 people cheering, booing, laughing at the antics in the ring. Seeing everyone hiss and boo as the wrestler with a bad reputation comes strolling into the ring with a unique unification that amazed me. I had one little boy break down crying in front of me as his favorite fighter lost while his sister put her arm around him to comfort him. It didn’t last though, because by the next match the action was back again and the crowd was cheering. While I knew almost nothing about who was who or what was going on, the excitement was infectious. The joy of people enjoying themselves was thick in the air. I drank it in, stealing a part of it for myself.

As a known introvert, it was difficult to say yes to these events. I am more at home with a good book and a nice cup of tea or coffee. I made the decision to break out of my comfort in order to find the joy I was lacking in myself.

The author and his wife.
Daniel and his wife.

So I ask, dear reader, are you lacking in joy? My pastor defined Joy as something that wells up inside us and is consistent. Happiness can come from joy, but it will fade and leave emptiness. Words I took to heart when setting this up. I was seeking joy. And I found it.

In places and activities I would never have gone too.

When was the last time you took that plunge? When was the last time you said yes to something you could do but you really just didn’t feel like it? You can sit it out.


You can go and look for the joy in places you didn’t expect. Try and seek it out. Judge not o, least ye be judged. Someone is having fun. Share in that fun. Someone is experiencing joy. Steal some of that joy for yourself. Take up the fight with your depression. Stand up to your anxiety.

You may be surprised at what you find with an open mind and a willing spirit.

Oh, and bring your plushie or something that comforts you. There were several times I needed a moment to fight the anxiety, but the willingness and the strength I got using my coping mechanism helped me through it.

#hugapony my friends. Go find joy.

 Follow this journey on My Stuffed Little Therapy.

The Mighty is asking the following: What was one moment you received help in an unexpected or unorthodox way related to disability, disease or mental illness? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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