I mentioned in my first post all the delightful symptoms that have accompanied my anxiety. I live with one or more of them on a daily basis. On a good day they’re frustrating and annoying. On other days they’re close to debilitating.
It’s been so hard for me not to experience them and fear the worst. I have to live with that uncertainty every day. Is that tingling in my face the first sign of a stoke? Are my dizziness and headaches the warnings of a brain tumor? Are my stiff muscles the beginnings of ALS or MS? Are the tremors and twitches the first stages of Parkinson’s? It doesn’t matter how low the risks are for me, my mind continues to go whatifwhatifwhatifwhatif over and over.
It doesn’t help that I am forced to be in a book club as part of my job, and a lot of these books have the same theme: brilliant, successful woman ignores the warning signs until it’s too late and she is diagnosed with a fatal illness. Why are SO MANY of these books around, and who actually enjoys reading them? In the six years of being part of my book club, I have read the following: woman develops Alzheimer’s, woman develops Huntington’s Disease (and kills herself), woman develops brain tumor (and dies), woman has stroke that paralyzes her, woman has fatal breast cancer (at least two books with this theme!), woman dies of 19th century consumption, etc. etc. And these are just the ones where women are one of the main characters. There are countless more where secondary women characters die just to move the plot along. (Many of these authors are men.) Why do authors take so much glee in killing off their female characters with awful diseases?
On top of that, there’s a whole genre of “rare illness” stories that can be found in women’s magazines everywhere, where real women write in to tell the horrible symptoms they experienced and the debilitating, often fatal illnesses they’ve developed. You know the ones: “I was a young, healthy woman, vegan, ran 10k a day, never showed any signs of anything until the day I had a seizure out of the blue in the grocery store, and it turned out to be a TERRIBLE MYSTERIOUS DISEASE and now I have to be spoon-fed by nurses for the rest of my life.”
With all these tales of health caution in mind, it’s difficult for me not to take my anxiety symptoms seriously. As someone who wants everything to be “just right” all the time, I find it so hard not to focus obsessively on what feels off in my body. But that is exactly the wrong thing to do.
Remember the Simpsons Halloween special where the ads come to life and the only way to stop them is “just don’t look?” The same applies here.
It’s hard as hell, but no matter how scary the symptom feels, the best way for me to make them go away is to just ignore them. I mean, if it was something really serious, I’d obviously get help. But as for the aches, twitches and jitters, focusing on them makes them worse. My heart will start racing even faster, or my neck will get even more tense, or my twitches will get even more twitchy. The only way to beat it is to try and distract myself. I have to accept that I have the symptoms, make myself comfortable (sometimes it involves a heating pad or ibuprofin), and do something relaxing like reading or watching TV. If I try really, really hard to ignore it, it WILL go away, or move somewhere else on my body.
This isn’t always successful for me, especially when my mind is really racing. But it is comforting to know the symptoms don’t always win.