Paging Dr Google!

Watercolor_Doctor_Who_by_denalim

As an anxiety sufferer I worry about things many others wouldn’t give a second thought to. The main focus of my anxiety is death, and more specifically, death from disease and medical complications. Never have I been particularly concerned about the risk of death from a fatal car crash or being hit by a bus; events that are quite possible when I’m walking down the street or driving in a car. No; I am concerned about more obscure but just as real risks such as meningitis, cancer, heart attack etc. Hypochondria can be defined as fears that minor bodily or mental symptoms may indicate a serious illness, constant self examination and self diagnosis and a pre-occupation with one’s body. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypochondriasis)

While I cannot deny I have suffered (and presently suffer) from elements of hypochondria, it seems my anxiety has now progressed and refined itself in its manifestation leading to a more specific disorder known as “Illness Phobia”. Illness phobia includes symptoms such as ruminating endlessly about the disease (or death), avoiding anything in the way of radio, tv, newspaper or magazine coverage on the subject, or very occasionally obsessively collecting information. (www.anxietycare.org.uk/docs/illness.asp).

This sums me up quite well. While I’m not committed enough to have one illness of focus, I fear any fatal disease, and my focus varies according to situation or circumstance. For example, my disease of the month is currently Hantavirus, after an extreme cleaning spree following the discovery of a lovely family of mice residing alongside us in our family home. Being an intern of Dr. Google I (thankfully) discovered that Australia and Antarctica are the two countries exempt from Hantavirus (although this may be debatable as Australian rodents have tested positive to the Hantavirus antibody and the view that the disease may be misdiagnosed). However, my medical studies while enrolled at the University of Anxiety has allowed me to become quite educated in other areas of disease and illness such as Leptospirosis, Meningococcal, and serious complications such as meningitis, encephalitis, kidney and heart failure and sepsis. I am also informed on pregnancy related risks such as pre-eclampsia, HELLP syndrome, placental abruption, uterine rupture, DVT, amniotic fluid embolism, listeria and toxoplasmosis.

Just as the definition of Illness Phobia describes the sufferer either avoids exposure to information or obsessively collects information; and I have done both. I am unable to read magazines such as “Take 5” and “That’s Life” as they publish real life stories of people’s near death experiences or situations of fatal or terminal illness; and as such evoke the Dr (or phobia sufferer) in me to begin obsessing over every spot, freckle and mole on my skin and slight ache or pain in my body. Alternatively my phone is filled with screenshots of lists of signs and symptoms of various diseases and disorders and my brain has categorically stored summarised overviews on prevalence, treatments and mortality rates.

So, what do I make from all this? Firstly I always believe it is better to be informed. Yes, it is undeniable information can heighten my anxiety and strengthen my obsessive phobic thoughts; but I would rather be aware of these signs than potentially put myself or my children at risk by ignoring warning signs that may mean the difference between living and dying. My youngest son recently had a bout of bacterial pneumonia and had it not been for my over-anxious mothering, worried call to the state health information helpline and a frantic visit to casualty for prompt admission and treatment; my son could have possibly died (actual doctors with real degrees told me as such).

Secondly, while living with anxiety and phobias can be mentally and emotionally exhausting and limit my ability to fully enjoy things in life, I am thankful that I am able to identify my fear or phobia and manage it accordingly (and at times laugh at it’s absurdity). There was a point when I believed I was ‘crazy’ and let my anxiety overcome me to the point where it was debilitating and affected all areas of my life; and I once thought I would always be that way. I now know this is not the case. I recognise that I will have good and bad days, my weak and strong moments, times when my management strategies work and times when they fail; but I will NEVER let anxiety overtake me again.

I am still determined to live my life not without fear but despite fear.

I look at the positives that come from having anxiety and illness phobia, such as having a clean, rodent free home(!); two happy and healthy children and a near completed degree in “Self-Diagnosis in Death-Related Disease and Disorder”, all thanks to my colleague Dr Google!

If you or someone you know needs assistance in dealing with depression or anxiety contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or at http://www.beyondblue.org.au.

Image Credits: http://www.lexiconin.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/cyberchondriacs.png

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