Around this time last year, I got a cough. I had never been one to get overly worked up about illnesses. As far as I was concerned, at Kenyon the only cure for the Krud is complaining about it for a week. So I did. And then another week. And then another week. And then it was summer. It was only when my parents asked me about it that I realized that while I was now walking around in shorts, when I had first started coughing I was bundled up in my puffy coat and could see my own breath. Coughs are not supposed to last for three months.
To this day, I’m not sure what made this visit to Web MD different than any other time I perused it in high school. I knew how it usually went down:
Sneezing. Watery eyes. Itchy throat.
Headache. Fatigue. Runny Nose.
Missing left foot.
I’m one of those people that doctors probably find really obnoxious in that I like to bring my own heavily internet-researched theories to the table. So I just thought I would look up my symptoms so my doctor would think I was really responsible and mature and put-together instead of talking to me about STDs.
Like I said, I’m not sure what makes this particular internet search different. I sometimes wonder, if I had done it at any other time in my life, would things would have turned out differently? But from that moment on, I was hooked.
The doctor told me I was fine. He listened to my breathing and asked a few questions and deemed my symptoms as allergies and I was sent on my merry way to enjoy the summer before me. But things just got worse.
I don’t mean my cough. It wasn’t about the cough anymore. It was something inside of me that kept me up until three in the morning looking at forums and Yahoo Answers and WebMD descriptions of terrible, terrible illnesses that I thought, knew, I had.
Because that’s the thing about this problem. You don’t think of yourself as a hypochondriac because over and over again you tell yourself “It’s not hypochondria if you’re right.” And I was positive I was right.
Throughout the summer, I went to the doctor about three or four more times. By the time I was back at Kenyon, my anxiety was the worst it had ever been, to the point where I think my body just broke. On my first day back, I lost my appetite and didn’t eat. The thought of food made me gag. This went on for three more days, and elicited my first of many trips to the health center that semester, where the very nice woman put a stethoscope to my stomach and said that she could hear how empty it was. She said this kind of mental-eating block usually only happened when people were experiencing grief.
Still, she ran some tests. By this time, I had probably had about seven vials of blood drawn. I had had an X-Ray. And I had been put on several different types of medication, from heartburn to Zyrtec, to see if it could fix what I said I was feeling. None of them worked. I just wanted a magic pill that would make all the bad things go away. But every single one of the tests came out clear. On paper, I was perfectly healthy. In my head, I wasn’t.
It wasn’t until right before Thanksgiving break that things changed. As I was getting ready to go out for the weekend I had my normal alone-time thoughts. No matter how much fun I have tonight I’m still sick. No matter how I look in pictures I’m still sick. No matter how well I do on this paper I’m still sick. No matter how I get my hair cut I’m still sick. No matter if I get into my abroad program I’m still sick. Sick. Sick. Sick.
Until finally a new voice spoke up. I can’t live like this anymore. And I really couldn’t. I was crying most of the time I was alone, spending early mornings and late nights just Googling and clicking and getting deeper into the internet’s labyrinth of health woes. When I was in a group of people I would just tune out and stare into space and get mad at myself for not having fun.
So when I was home for Thanksgiving I went to the doctor for the last time. Everybody is different, and what worked for me may not work for you. I’m not telling everyone who feels anxious to go get medicated. This was my doctor’s first attempt at trying to make me feel better. And for the first time, I got a magic pill that made the bad things go away. Not only did my anxieties fade within a week, but my “health problems” disappeared. I had gotten myself into a cycle. My anxiety was so severe that it was manifesting itself in physical symptoms that I would then get anxious about.
Looking back on those four or five months, I know I had a problem. I was never relaxed, always on the verge of breaking down. But when you’re in that situation, you don’t know that what you’re feeling isn’t normal. All I know, both then and now, is that I was in absolute hell. I really urge anyone who is having problems with anxiety, health-related or otherwise, to speak up. Tell your friends or call your family. Don’t hold it in like I did. You will only feel worse. Speak up and breathe and you’ll be fine, I promise. It’s not the end of the world.