I was thinking today about my struggles with health anxiety (or hypochondriasis), which I have blogged about a few times in the past year, and my eating disorder. There are so many similarities between the health anxiety and the eating disorder, particularly the anorexia. In both situations, I find myself caught up in thoughts and beliefs that are so distorted that they are completely at odds with reality. What I think is really interesting is that these distorted thoughts pervade my thinking even as my rational mind knows that they are false. Let me explain:
First, the anorexia:
I knew, logically, that I was not overweight. I read the height/weight charts. I knew that I was underweight. I knew that my BMI was below normal. I knew that, technically, there was NO WAY that I could be "fat". But that was knowlege, not belief. This is hard to explain, but just because you can know a thing, doesnt mean you believe it. Despite my knowlege of the facts, I believed I was fat. I believed it, I saw it, I felt it. I experienced it. It was this belief, this experience, which dictated my behavior. I restricted, excercised, took pills, and purged, despite knowing that I was not fat, because I believed that I was. I know it is hard to wrap your head around....but then again, who said that eating disorders are logical? They are quite the opposite.
So, following this theme, here is a bit about my struggles with health anxiety:
I know, logically, that I do not have cancer (or congestive heart failure, liver disease, internal bleeding, blood clot, bowel obstructions, or whatever else my anxiety might currently be focused on). In the past two years I have had x-rays, ekgs, lab workups, and physical exams, all yielding normal results. My doctor has even done testing for heavy metals toxicity at my request (normal, by the way). All evidence points to me being a relatively healthy specimen. But even armed with these lab results, this knowlege, my mind refuses to believe it. I live under a sort of cloud that is born out of the belief that I am, in fact, terminally ill with some as-yet undiagnosed disease, and it is just a matter of time before it is found out. I try not to think about it, but it is in the back of my brain all the time. That is why every new symptom sends me to the doctor's office, so sure that "this is it". It is a fear that can't be argued with, because it defies logic.
So what is to be done about this brain of mine? I seem to have an issue with believing reality as it pertains to certain areas of my life. When confronted with cold, hard facts, my beliefs remain unchanged. This is problematic, as belief tends to influence behavior. I don't want to keep running to my doctor with my crazy claims that I have a tumor, or appendicitis, or some obscure, one-in-a-million syndrome. I know what I look like. I can almost hear his receptionist at the clinic rolling her eyes when I give her my name and birthdate. They know me by voice.
I can fight this like I did the eating disorder. I can not give into the behaviors, even when the thoughts are strong and scary. I can quit researching diseases and treatments, much as I stopped reading diet books and memorizing calorie charts. But I have to ask....will that be the end of it? Or will my anxious mind go from eating disorder...to health anxiety....to something else? Something....worse? It might be worth noting that before I developed the eating disorder I had a pretty fair case of OCD going (checking, symmetry). Before that I struggled with a seperation anxiety disorder, which caused me to believe that every time my mother left the house she was going to die. This is the problem that first sent me to therapy at age 11-12.
It seems to me that, whether it is the eating disorder or my health or whether or not I unplugged the toaster, my brain has a habit of latching on to anxious thoughts and churning them around and around instead of just spitting them out when disproven, like a so-called normal brain would do. I need to find out why I do this. I suspect it is a combination of biology and personality. There must be a therapy that can help (and please dont mention CBT because I have completed enough Thought Records to paper the Empire State Building).
Or maybe the best I can hope for is to learn to live with it?
2 months ago