I’m not dying today. At least, I don’t think I am. Well, I thought I was dying a few hours ago. And then there was that incident yesterday too. Or was that this morning? Well, regardless, I was definitely dying then. But, thank goodness, I’m not dying anymore. At least not right now. Ask me again in a few hours.
That’s right. I’ve overcome death about a half dozen times just in the past 36 hours.
Except, I’m not actually sick. I don’t have cancer. I don’t have a degenerative disease. But, I’m always dying. Well, no. It’s just that I always THINK I’m dying. That’s an important distinction!
Perhaps I should back up a sec.
Hello. My name is Melissa and I’m a hypochondriac.
Well, a RECOVERING hypochondriac. At least I’d hope so after all those months of therapy. Mo’ money mo’ problems? Well, after therapy, it’s like “less money less problems.” But that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?
Luckily my moments of dying are much more short lived these days. There were lots of little weird tips and tricks I learned to get me where I am today. Or, as they’re formally known, “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Techniques.” But “little weird tips and tricks” is about the same.
Like this one:
In my second CBT appointment, my therapist, Dr. Lindo told me to “name my brain.”
Already skeptical about the value of therapy, I stifled an eye roll. FML. “This woman wants a forty dollar co-pay for giving me advice to NAME MY BRAIN.” I eyed up the framed diploma and credentials that hung on the wall across from the leather sofa in her cozy office. “Anyone could’ve printed that diploma from the internet,” I thought to myself.
“Naming your brain,” she continued, oblivious to my internal monologue, “is one step toward easing your anxious thoughts.”
“You mean like Larry? Should I name my brain Larry?” I asked.
“Well, no. Something Silly. Like ‘Nervous Nelly.’ That way, when your brain is filling with anxious thoughts, you can just say ‘Oh, there’s that Nervous Nelly again trying to get me all riled up.’ “
Right. Forty Dollars. And that doesn’t even include how much she was billing my insurance.
I went home and told my husband about my therapist’s insightful recommendation to “Name my brain.”
Without missing a beat, my geeky husband said, “Worrying and obsessing and freaking out over every possible thing? Sure sounds like a C-3PO brain to me.”
And just like that, my brain had a name.
Allow me to introduce you to my brain, C-3PO and the health-obsessed thoughts he has. If you’re a fellow hypochondriac, you’ll know all about C-3PO. If you’re not a hypochondriac, well, buckle in, you’re about to get an introduction to the health anxious brain!
Ear starts ringing? Let’s freak out. Stub your finger? Oh, let’s keep pushing on your finger to see if the pain is getting worse in case you broke your finger. Did I just accidentally catch a sun glare and that resulting dark spot in my vision isn’t going away fast enough? Let’s obsess that you just did permanent damage to your vision. A particular word not coming to mind? Or stumbling over your words a bit too much when speaking during a meeting? What if it’s a stroke? Or something like early onset dementia? Keep dropping things? Oh god, it’s the sign of some sort of neurodegenerative disease. (I don’t even know what those words mean!). Did your hand or foot fall asleep? Goodness, it’s ANOTHER sign of a stroke!
But wait! There’s more!
Sudden funny taste in your mouth? Did I accidentally just ingest something poisonous? What if that random stab in my abdomen a few hours ago was the start of an aortic rupture? HOW DO YOU EVEN KNOW THE TERM AORTIC RUPTURE? Or, maybe that recent coughing jag was the result of a blood clot forming in my lungs? And, oh yeah, I know you went to the gym yesterday, but I bet that ache in your calf isn’t actually muscle soreness, it’s a blood clot in your leg that is probably already making its way to your brain. Quick, recite your ABC’s! Make sure your brain is still working.
C-3PO had been doing this to me for nearly ten years. Then, in the summer of 2016, I finally decided to seek therapy. As it turns out, I’m not a hypochondriac. Rather, I suffer from an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Huh. Of all the things I ever thought was wrong with me, having OCD was never one of them.
Needless to say, I did not really believe my therapist’s diagnosis of OCD. Perhaps I wasn’t explaining my symptoms well enough.
“Are you sure that I have OCD? I’m not some weirdo that always has to wash her hands or needs to check if the door is locked or the stove is off. And, I don’t really care if things are nice and orderly. I don’t do weird things. I just have weird thoughts.”
But, once I started treatment for an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, the diagnosis was clear. And I noticed dramatic improvement in my anxiety and obsessions as I started to implement what I learned in therapy.
I thought I’d share my story with the internet. My “journey.” But the word journey makes me throw up in my mouth a little. I’m not sure why. But, it was kind of a journey thing. But it’s a story too. And a journey. Yuck.
Sorry. Got sidetracked. Oh right. Sharing my story with the internet.
Because I know that the internet is the first place we hypochondriacs go when we’re feeling alarmed about a particular “symptom.” Hopefully fellow hypochondriacs will stumble upon my site and not just WebMD and Mayo Clinic and all those random “ask a doctor” forums.
The internet has fed my fear and anxiety over all these years. So, this is my way of trying to give back to the community of health worriers. Sometimes, there’s just no need to worry.
And the rest of this blog will be about how I learned to stop worrying about my health.