Have I always been obsessive?
On my post, “Why am I a Hypochondriac,” a reader left a comment a little while back saying:
My hypochondria and OCD–and the hypochondria and OCD of most of my online friends–comes out of seemingly nowhere–it is actually incredible that yours has a distinct genesis.
That got me thinking. Does my health anxiety OCD really have a “distinct genesis?” Can I truly trace all of my health obsessions and anxieties back to the infected gallbladder incident?
Well, perhaps it’s not as clear cut as I thought.
Some Minor Health-Related Obsessions when I was Younger
I suppose I always had some obsessive tendencies. They haven’t always been exclusively about my health. Some have had tangential connections to my health, as I’m about to describe below.
So, here’s a super boring confession: I’ve never done any illegal drugs. Not even pot. Including even when I was a dumb teenager. And not only have I not done any illegal drugs, the thought of doing drugs, even WHEN I was a dumb teenager, has always terrified me.
What can I say. I’m among the tiny percentage of kids who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s that the “Just Say No” campaign worked on.
The thought of all those dangerous things that those substances could do to me was chilling. It was enough to keep me confidently saying no, even in the face of peer pressure. I didn’t want to end up in the hospital or dead simply because I wanted to try some drugs.
So, in that sense, I guess I always had a health obsession.
Here’s another example. I guess the scaring tactics of sex education worked on me as well when I was a kid. I remember watching episodes of Friends when I was a teenager in the late 1990s. And they always talked about sleeping with all these different people. And, fully recognizing that IT WAS A TV SHOW AND NOT REAL LIFE, all I could think about was, “Damn, aren’t these people scared about contracting STDs or getting pregnant? I mean geez, even with condoms, won’t their luck run out soon?” It’s not like I had any moral objection to it, it was solely from a health perspective that it gave me anxiety.
So, in that sense, I was also a bit obsessive about health-related things.
But, here’s the thing. When it comes to not wanting to do illegal drugs or engage in unsafe sex practices, no one would call those things obsessions. They would call them practical. Smart. Safe. Cautious.
But, some things definitely bordered outside of the “practical” side. (About to talk about periods here).
For example, when I was a teenager, I remember some of my girlfriends talking about how they were starting to use tampons instead of pads on their periods. So, I thought I would try it too. But, I remember reading the instructions on the side of a tampon box. And below that, there were warnings that spelled out the risks of Toxic Shock Syndrome.
That was it for me, I never even wanted to consider tampons because of that risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome! Even today, as a grown ass woman, it still makes me uneasy, even knowing how rare it is. (Because, after all, rational explanations don’t necessarily help people who are suffering from anxiety).
Some Non Health-Related Obsessions from Childhood Too
And, looking back on my childhood and teenage years, I had other things that could probably be called obsessions as well. Even as a fairly young child, I had a fairly extreme fear of my house catching on fire, or someone breaking into our house.
I remember asking my mom how Santa got into our house since we didn’t have a chimney. She said, “We just leave our doors unlocked on Christmas Eve.”
Far from being a comforting thought that Santa would, in fact, be able to deliver presents. I thought about how many bad guys must go door-to-door on Christmas Eve to break into houses, knowing that everyone left them unlocked for Santa. For years, I remember being terrified to fall asleep on Christmas Eve. (When I have told this story, my husband always says, “Duh, Santa has a special key!” I wish my mom would’ve thought of that one first!).
By the time I was a teenager, my parents often left me at the house by myself while they would run errands or go out in the evening. I showered in the evenings, so that meant that, when they were out, I showered while home alone. This was such a frightening thing for me. Even though every house in the door was locked, I was so scared that someone would break in while I was in the shower, and I wouldn’t be able to hear them.
I actually would bring a can of aerosol hairspray into the shower with me. I figured if an intruder stormed into the bathroom, I could hurry and spray them in the eyes with the hairspray and try to run away. While I was in the shower, I would fret over any little noise. I would try to keep my sense of hearing heightened, despite the running water. I would constantly peek outside of the curtain because I “could’ve sworn” I heard someone slowly turning the door handle.
Were these things all OCD?
Some of these things, as I grew older, I considered to be smart. All of my “naive, clueless” friends probably wouldn’t be able to defend themselves for a second. I, on the other hand, would practice what I would do if being attacked. In pretty much every location. But, maybe it wasn’t as much “smart” as what it was obsessive.
So, who knows. At the same time as all of this, I never had any fear of things like roller coasters, the ocean (like sharks or rip tides), or traveling to places that some people would consider dangerous. Nope, I enjoyed doing all those things immensely. In fact, during all those times on a beach as a child, I remember being more afraid of jelly fish than sharks!
So, who knows. Maybe I’ve always had a teensy bit of OCD in me. Or, who knows, maybe these were just normal childhood behaviors. Although I was afraid of doing drugs, for example, I was not at all afraid of roller coasters, I knew plenty of people who were terrified of roller coasters.
What about you? Have you always been obsessive about your health? Or, what about other obsessions?
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An interesting question. I initially was like you and assumed my HA had a distinct genesis, an unnecessary stay in a hospital with some horrible bedside manner. However…
After sitting down to really chart things out, I actually remembered a pattern going back to childhood, off and on. While my hospital stay in a foreign land does seem to have turned it up to 11, knowing that this has always been a thing helps.
I actually find it more incredible that some have HA that seemingly comes out of nowhere. For me, yes I was a worrier as a child and more so as a teenager and young adult. But the level of my HA now absolutely has a “distinct genesis”. I watched my Mom battle and die from esophageal cancer for 2 1/2 years. It was the worst thing I have ever witnessed and lived through. My worries before may have included some mild medical concerns, but now, everything, and I mean everything, is cancer. In the last 12 months I’ve been totally convinced, planning my young death in my head, leaving my husband and cat alone without me, totally convinced I’ve had, esophageal, ovarian and breast cancer. It’s exhausting. I think HA can definitely come from, or become much worse, from a specific life changing incident.
I hadn’t put these dots together until recently. I was like you, i had an extreme STD fear when I was young. When I started having sex I was convinced I had HIV for a whole summer until I went and got tested.
What really kicked it into high gear though was that I actually got HPV and developed pre-cancerous lessions in my ovaries. In summary it was about two years of biopsies, paps and ultimately a cone biopsy. That whole experience traumatized me.
Now everything is cancer, everything is death.
And even though my paps have been normal for a while, that yearly pap and the two week wait that comes after is totally grueling.