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April 12, 2012

My battle with anxiety and hypochondria



Was browsing the dictionary (yeah - that's how I roll) and came across this:
Psychiatry: a person suffering from or subject to hypochondria. 
A person who talks excessively about his/her health.

Whew - that was a close one. Thank God it didn't say anything about a person who types blogs excessively about his/her health. Great! 

Okay - I think I may be a hypochondriac and I worry excessively about it. Wait - FOK - does that also make me obsessive compulsive, obsessive compulsive, obsessive compulsive? (sorry - whenever I type obsessive compulsive I have an incredible urge to type it several times)?

 I know what you're thinking. How could someone who publishes in Men's Health magazine be a hypochondriac? (note: this issue contained my fascinating and informative article entitled - If you Don't Feel Cool - At Least Look Cool - it's a good read, although I believe after the photo shoot a more appropriate title would have been Self Sterilization Through Speed Bumps). 

Anyway - it's true. Or, at least I worry about it being true. I might be - already be - could be - a hypochondriac. There are many signs that I have this affliction and I don't think I can just chalk it up to old age.

Did You Find Anything Right With Me? I know it wasn't always this way. There was a time in my life where I never gave a thought to illness, death or any other of the morbid topics that can contaminate one's mind. In fact, the only reason I ever went to the Doctor was too try to pick up on the nurses (hey - don't knock it - in those days a Doctors' visit was cheaper then a bar tab).

Moving on. It started when I was about 35. That's when I had my first panic attack (did I mention I suffer from an anxiety disorder?). It was not a pleasant experience.  Heart palpitations, sweating, dizziness and nausea (I may be confusing these with what the nurse was feeling - but I'm pretty sure I had those symptoms too). Anyway, I went through about a dozen Doctors (and an equal number of medical tests) all failing to diagnose me with what I knew had to be wrong with me - heart failure. Finally, when no emergency room would take me anymore, I ended up at a local walk in medical clinic and a very  wise nurse practitioner gave me a pill and told me she would be back on fifteen minutes.

It was a miracle, within moments I was feeling better and was certain that this kind nurse had finally found the cure to my heart ailment (was it nitroglycerin? - perhaps a blood thinner?). Nope, turns out she slip me some XANAX. Now, why I appreciated the relief, I think I would have been better off if she would have lied and told me that it was a miracle cure for heart problems that I only had to take once and now was cured for life. See, the problem with people who have anxiety is that they never believe a non-medical diagnosis anyway. Within a day I was relatively certain that the nurse. although well intended, had missed the root cause of my illness and that the XANAX was merely a tool to get me to calm down enough to have the mindset required for me to rationally research my underlying disease or diseases.

Soon enough, the worrying resumed.

The next step was too prove all those foking medical experts wrong. So. I decided to test the limits of my body (note: not all limits of the body are the same - turns out my limit was right around a twenty minute mile) and run on the treadmill for as long as I could last . Damn - I survived! The heart worked great. Although, I did develop a rather nasty looking sore on my right toe. Perhaps a rational person would have chalked it up to running for an hour in shoes that they got from Payless at the Two Pair for Six Dollars sale. I on the other hand was convinced that I had developed a rare form of toe cancer (hey - don't laugh - there has to be a patient zero for all diseases!)

Overtime, as I put more of myself to the test and didn't drop dead, I slowly came out of the funk. Normal life resumed and once again I was a fully functional human being.

I Think I Have Flu Cancer of the Heart However, it wasn't long before the gloom and doom health thoughts (along with those nasty little panic attacks) re-entered my otherwise perfect life. In other words. mentally over-reacting to any abnormality or symptom.

Okay - I'm exaggerating just a little bit. I am after all still a manly man (although I do so like the curlers) and I have been able to manage quite well through most illnesses. However, I do have an unhealthy preoccupation with fatal diseases. Well, as is the case with most hypo-anxiety folks, predominantly two; cancer and heart failure. For some reason other diseases like kidney failure don't bother me (maybe it's because I urinate every fifteen minutes - hmmm, let's keep that to ourselves). I think it's cancer and heart because those are the ones that you can't see and those are the ones that are on every symptom chart on the planet.

So. who is to blame for this malady of mine (that is, other than me)? A likely suspect is my optometrist. Turns out he has a relatively sinister since of humor and it was until recently that I discovered the true meaning of his eye charts what a fokker).

Aside from Doc Ne'er Dowell, I think it is relatively easy to identify the culprits - TV and the Internet.
foking thing that caused medical problems in the prior decade is all of a sudden good for you. To boot, you have the endless advertisements from class action lawyers suing for all cancers known to man. Everything from asbestos to sugar now has some link to cancer and there is no shortage of lawyers, along with their television commercials, suing for damages.

Have you been exposed to oxygen? If so you may have been exposed to air cancer. Call the law firm of Soohappi, Soohappi and Scruem to ensure that you and your loved ones get what they deserve. Although, you'll probably be dead by the time the claim is paid - but at least your loved ones will get a lot of cash. 

So, if you watch television for a couple of hours a day. you are assured of being inundated with disease messages - and that doesn't even count celebrity deaths and the endless list of side effects for every drug commercial.

And what do us anxiety based people do now after we get our full dose of media death messages. We check the Internet of course for any symptom we have to see if it is heart failure or cancer. Of course, it's both.

There have been a proliferation of medical self help medical sites, most notably, WebMD. You can search any and all symptoms you have a get a probable diagnosis within nano-seconds. The problems is that in order to protect themselves from litigation (believe me, you don't want to mess with Soohappi, Soohappi and Scruem), they need to be a little more draconian than your average doctor otherwise would be. In other words, every symptom you have generally will yield some form of cancer or heart disease amongst the list of possible causes.

Let's say you're lying in bed, just watching a little TV as you set your hair so you can have that bright and bouncy look the next day. Unbeknownst to you, the curler heater was out of whacked and as a result they are much hotter than needed. As you watch a news report on the increase in heart attacks from obesity, you feel your protruding belly and start to sweat as the curlers heat your scalp. The sweat alarms you - your heart receives adrenalin and starts to pump more quickly. You run to the computer in a panic, now out of breath, you launch the WebMD symptom checker tool and find out basically you are dying.

Now I don't blame WebMD and the like from overdoing it here - it's just a web service and they probably would not be best served by telling you to check the heat of your curlers. It's just that it's not good for the hypo-anxiety folks of the world.

See, our brains don't work like normal folks as we have nerve synapses directly connected to our fight or flight response - or is it more commonly know is - the death center of the brain.

It is pretty much an involuntary reaction and it is always an over-reaction to some form of stimulus (sadly, not the good kind of stimulus) such as a rapid heart beat, unexpected sweat, a moment of dizziness, and/or crap we see on TV or read on the Internet. You can always tell when this has occurred in a hypo-anxiety person by their facial reaction (depicted here on the left). Sadly, normal people don't understand this condition and will use comforting phrases like;  get over it you pussy, what are you - a candy ass?, take an aspirin you foking weeping willow, etc. Despite their obvious good intentions, these phrases do not help the hypo-anxiety person come out of their funk.

That's because of the Anxiety Nodulewhich is located in the WTF?portion of the brain. As seen in this recent MRI of my brain on the right (yes, I was smoking at the time) the Blog, Food and Sex portions of the brain are located on the outer rim of the where the nerve bundles are less dense. That's because it does not take much in the form of brain cells to partake in any of these activities. Conversely, the WTF? portion is located nearest the center where there is a greater concentration of nerve synapses.

For a normal person, when a disease symptom is noticed by any of the senses, the neurological reaction is a rational process whereby the most likely causes are brought into the cognitive process and a normal course of action is pursued. For example, blowing off the symptom. However, for a hypo-anxiety sufferer, the Anxiety Nodule rooted deep in this region causes aWhat the Fuck is Wrong With Me neurological reaction. Panic ensues.

I know the science is a bit complicated, so I put together a chart below to demonstrate the difference between a normal person spotting or sensing a symptom versus that of a Hypo:


Although the clinical explanation I offer above is obviously based on very solid science, it does not explain why some folks are afflicted with this disorder while others are not. To see if I was alone, I Googled famous hypochondriacs to see if there was some common denominator. I did find a top ten list (toptenz.net).  Three of the folks I never heard and I am tired so I did not research them. The remaining seven are:

  1. Howard Hughs
  2. Florence Nightingale
  3. Tennessee Williams
  4. Andy Warhol
  5. Hans Christian Anderson
  6. Adolph Hitler
  7. Charles Darwin

Aside from the fact that I couldn't figure out how Woody Allen didn't make the list, it did strike me that these are all very different types of people. What could we have in common - lack of faith?, fear of death?, over active Sex Nodules? I know I have all three of these (just ask Mi Esposa) but I cannot confirm if these other folks share these characteristics - and since they're all dead, there's no way for me to find out.
Let me clarify one item. I don't have so much a fear of death as a fear of dying from disease. I know everyone dies. I just think I'm too much of a chicken shit to go through the disease death spiral. I'm not asking for much here either. I'm perfectly okay with dying if I hear any of the four following phrases immediately before I go to the hereafter:

  • Fore!
  • Beep Beep!
  • Oh My God - Don't Stop! 
  • Jackpot!

In my view, not too much to ask.

I dunno if I ever really will find the answer. I do know that I have picked out my tombstone - you know, just in case I die after someone tells me get over it you pussy. 

I got to stop typing now - I'm not feeling so good.