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How Anxiety Makes Me Fear My Own Body

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Have you ever been scared of your body? Not your mind or soul, or your good or bad intentions, but the physical cells of your body? From the top of your head to the ends of your toes, feeling dread and anxiety scanning right across you every single day.

I “suffer” from health anxiety, and when I say “suffer,” I really do mean it. At any given point of the day, somewhere in my body I’ll be finding sickness. A brain tumor, a breast lump, a blood clot, a dangerous mole, an infected lung. Any illness that can occur in the human body, I’ll assign to mine. Even typing the word “lump” sends an anxious spark through my brain, striking into my heart as it rattles around my head.

I’m always conscious of my health. I fear cancer and sickness and untreatable diseases. I’m sick from the thought of being sick and I don’t really know what the cure is.

So how does this affect me on a daily basis? Well I can’t remember the last time I felt comfortable looking at my entire body in a mirror. The fear that one day I’ll wake up to a lump or a tumor somehow sticking out of my chest consumes me, and I feel sick at the thought of it. I changed the way I put on clothes, adjusting my arms to avoid touching my own body as much as possible. I get nervous before any kind of physical contact in case someone suddenly jolts away from my skin after feeling something malignant. During my one and only massage, the therapist explained that I had some trapped air in my spine and my entire body tensed up in fear. The last time I went to try on clothes in a shop, I skimmed my fingers across my armpit and collapsed into a panic attack. Right now, sitting on my sofa, I feel the waves of anxiety circling me because my knee bent the wrong way half an hour ago.

I’m scared of learning more about the human body in case I discover something new to be afraid of. I get nervous before going to the doctor about anything, even completely benign issues, in case they suddenly decide to do a test that I know will come out poorly. One of my biggest fears is sitting in a consultants waiting room as they diagnose me with cancer. But then, what can I do? Almost illogically, I’m comforted by the anxiety  — as if by worrying about these lumps and bumps, I’m going to be more aware should they actually appear. But then I’ve learned that if I go hunting for a pain or an itch or a raised gland, I usually find it, and it’s never anything unusual.

It’s become a phobia that can have me suddenly in the depths of panic halfway through my working day. There is so much that can go wrong in the human body and I’m terrified of finding all of it. On good days, I can rationalize my fears. I can provide myself with the strength to do proper checks, and they always come out fine. I can reassure myself that the likelihood of me being diagnosed is slim due to the lack of factors surrounding my genetics. I can tell myself that the anxiety won’t impact whether I get sick or not, it’s just wasting my time and energy.

But on bad days, all of that goes out of the window. On bad days, I can spend hours seeking reassurance that I don’t have cancer. I can trawl the WebMD pages like a stalker, messaging friends and family constantly to find any kind of comfort or logical response. I can sit and gnaw on my fingernails and worry myself into a frenzy, when all I want is to cut off bits of my body to prevent them from ever getting a disease.

I have a therapist and she’s great. She understands the anxiety and how much it affects me on a daily basis — even if I did try to downplay it a lot in our first few sessions. I also speak to my boyfriend about it regularly, although he has such a calm and logical approach to his body that I usually wind up envying him whenever we speak. I wish my brain was as relaxed as his, as rational and organized. Mine feels like a cluttered mess, with so much to be afraid of.

So I guess what I want to know is this: how do I cope with this? How do I find that beautiful line between logical worry and obsessive fear? What should I do in that moment of climactic panic, when all I can picture is hospital beds, needles and lost hair pooling around my feet?

I also want to know that I’m not alone. That other people worry about their own bodies and fear them as much as I do. Because it’s frightening being alone in your anxiety. It’s isolating being terrified of a changing room or a massage table. It makes feel you different, and strange and guilty. My friend recently lost her amazing boyfriend to cancer and I hate myself for worrying about it so much in my own body. I feel selfish and heartless for feeling the anxiety I do about imaginary illnesses when she’s dealing with the real illness every single day. It’s not easy being this scared.

Which, I guess, is why I wrote this blog post. Because perhaps to someone out there, whose hands are too shaky to touch their own body, this might be a comfort. You’re not alone in this. There are others who fear the same illnesses, diseases, infections and sicknesses as you, and you are definitely not “crazy.” I’m not “crazy” either, of course. But if someone could just let my head know that, that would be great.

Getty Images: fcscafeine

Originally published: September 1, 2019
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