Extreme anxiety about your own health (hypochondria) is a common symptom of grief and can affect anyone. In fact, since starting my grief blog over five years ago following the sudden death of my eldest child, my post regarding my battle with health anxiety is always in the top three list. It’s also a popular search term that people use to find my blog.
My life with health anxiety started as soon as I conceived my first child in 2000. I would pour over pregnancy manuals and magazines. Realising how fragile a pregnancy was and how hard it was to get to the end with a healthy baby, I focused on the things that could go wrong—so much so that I often felt ill. I made it through without problems, despite me worrying about them.
The early maternal anxiety paled into insignificance when my daughter was born. Now I was solely tasked with feeding and raising this tiny, vulnerable human. (My husband was a fantastic support, too, but I’m talking here about my view.) I was expected to nourish her, protect her from obvious harm, and second-guess when she cried or got ill how serious it was. Being a mother means being on permanent alert to danger. I sometimes woke from nightmares about something happening to me, or worse my daughter being hurt or killed… I never got past that point in my dream because I’d wake up in sheer panic.
Related: Getting Anxiety In Check
Yet, in time, I calmed and felt more confident in my abilities and instincts. I went on to have two more children. I had PTSD following the birth of my second child which added to my stress, but I’d sussed this parenting thing, and over time the anxiety, while ever present, was low and manageable.
Then our precious first born, the one who’d taught me how to be a mother, who made us a family, died suddenly, tragically, taken by a catastrophic brain haemorrhage at just age 12. Any shred of certainty left that day, as I cried out in terror about how I couldn’t save my baby girl.
When your stability is destroyed, it’s understandable that your mind will be traumatised. Fears around death begin to take over every waking moment.
As I slowly adjusted to the life of grief, I noticed an extreme relentless anxiety that plagued my every waking hour and haunted my sleep. I obsessed about my own health, feeling my heart flutter in my chest, noticing every lump or mark on my skin, dizzy spells and blurred vision. Oh, now I had symptoms!
Related: PTSD and Coping
And once you start getting anxious, it breeds more anxiety. It takes a strong mind and professional support to overcome the feelings and get the rational mind working again…
But, in grief, there’s no reserve for strength, all you can do is submit.
There is no pill.
There is no one who can tell you that you’ll be ok and the chances of “such and such” happening is “low”… I know all about chance! My daughter’s haemorrhage was one in a million. Chance came into my home and ripped my heart out!
Having another baby a year after the death of my daughter was a huge blessing and distraction, but it didn’t help my anxiety which now included all those maternal new mother worries as well as my grief. It took a long while for me to finally submit to the offer of medication; however, I only felt more comfortable about it because it wasn’t for grief, it was for postnatal anxiety. And it helped.
I went on to have another baby and was on medication the entire pregnancy and after, which only created more anxiety. I battled with guilt for potentially harming my precious second rainbow baby. My anxiety was so severe after my fifth child’s birth that I had numerous hospital tests. My heart was simply not coping. In the painfully long end, they couldn’t find a medical reason for my symptoms and signed it off as a “pregnancy-related reaction”. Not one medical specialist linked my physical symptoms to my emotional trauma. The cardiologist even told me to come off my antidepressants because I “didn’t look depressed”. Thankfully I ignored his “advice”. I’m sure he’s very good at healing sick hearts, but not broken hearts.
I stopped taking the pills six months ago, and it was a very long process to get off them; if I tried too fast my mind and body panicked. I felt ready though and have felt, in the main, ok. I have shorter periods of panic when I stop and think about how any one of my children or us could die at any moment. The other night I couldn’t sleep because, in the heat of the summer, I was stressing about my children getting chest and throat infections this coming winter, anticipating the hyped news headlines about deadly viruses and overstretched health services. I felt overwhelmed at the thought of having to be strong, clear-headed, and calm. Then to my shame, I wondered why I had my children because my life feels like one long anxiety attack.
Most of the time I try to remind myself that the worry is always worse than the illness. Why? Because it destroys us inside; it steals our joy and takes up so much of our precious time. Hard times will come and so will those times that, to others, might not seem so hard, but to me will be just as stressful. I will deal with them because I have to. But I don’t want anxiety to rob me or my family of joy.
“Can anyone of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:27