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On Being Told 'You Think About Your Illnesses Too Much'

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This is a comment I have received many times. Those living with long-term conditions will be all too familiar with remarks of this nature. I understand the intention. Living with chronic illnesses comes inescapably with the need for managing thoughts and feelings towards your illness. This is an incredibly valid struggle. One that is often clearly visible to those on the outside of our lived experience. And it does raise the importance of talking about health
anxiety, and how it can be complexly interwoven with physical or mental health conditions.

There is a link between stress and the exacerbation of pre-existing
conditions. And many such as I, find that in times of pressure, strain, or
emotional trauma our physical or mental conditions may flare-up. However, members of the chronic illness community know all too well that in many cases, the relationship between long-term illness and health anxiety is far more nuanced and complex. And simply blaming our thoughts about our illnesses as responsible for the manifestation or aggravation of symptoms
is simply not accurate.

This is a dangerous notion and is a logic sometimes used by some doctors who dismiss physical symptoms as psychosomatic and deny patients proper investigation or treatment. Many of us have explained our experience of persistent symptoms in a doctor’s office only to have them written off as “stress” and not properly understood. Even in cases where stress and emotional triggers are contributing to the issue, this does not mean that the resulting symptoms or health anxiety itself does not require care and attention.

Health anxiety is common, especially considering recent events in the world. It’s valid, it’s scary, and it takes careful and proper management. For many with long-term illnesses, health anxiety stems from a pre-existing condition or diagnosis, and the fear of deterioration or complication. This presents a difficult relationship when the frequency and nature of persistent symptoms mean that they are ever-present in our thoughts. The need for managing and monitoring long-term conditions demands attention.

So, do I think about my illnesses too much? Well … it’s hard not to when I spent every second of my life with at least one symptom bothering me that I can’t help but think about. And I do worry about my future because of my illnesses, about complications or deterioration.

If this thinking becomes worrisome, and I am struggling to cope with those thoughts then I reach out for help. But thinking about my illness is OK – it’s helpful. It also allows me to be present, monitor my symptoms, take my medication, and keep an eye out for potential risks that constantly
need to be managed.

Photo credit: fizkes/Getty Images

Originally published: February 23, 2021
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