Spoiler alert: I’m not dying. Not today at least.
Unless I get hit by a meteor or mauled by a pack of chipmunks or suffer a poisonous spider bite as I grab a handful of raspberries for my morning cereal — which I could totally choke on and die from, due to asphyxiation.
While the odds of these things actually happening are very small, anxiety takes even the shittiest odds and turns them into winning Power Ball numbers for certain death in my mind.
Telling me (or anyone with anxiety) not to worry is like telling Earth to stop spinning or the Kardashians to stop taking selfies. Some forces are simply too big to control.
And, yes, of course everyone worries — that’s what makes us human, after all. But when the human condition turns into a debilitating, energy- and time-sucking illness, worry turns into anxiety which then turns into “this bump on my ear will be the reason I die.”
Some anxiety produced aliments are real. Like the ulcers I used to get in college. Or the cold sores I keep in check with a daily dose of herpes medication. Fun fact: Valtrex also suppresses the virus that causes stress-induced explosions on my face. I can even intensify the symptoms of my GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) just by using my brain. My body becomes an inflammation station of bleeding sores and throat clearing. The throat clearing is especially dangerous when sharing a hotel room with my kids, who with one poorly timed cough will wake up for the duration of the night — if the acid reflux doesn’t kill me, my partner will.
Other ailments seem tangible enough to force my partner to look into. Like the time I had her check my head for lice after I’d already spent 30 minutes washing and combing my hair with a nit brush. Even after assuring me she only saw hair on my head and a bright pink scalp from all of my scratching, I had a hard time believing her. I only felt a bit better when she reminded me that she would shave my head for me in the event that she did see lice; after all, we share a bed and if not for my sake, dousing my bald head in lice shampoo would benefit her, too.
Most of my problems can be found on WebMD, yet when I overcome my anxiety to make a doctor’s appointment, I leave with no real diagnosis nor respect of the medical professional who just listened to me explain that the spot on my uvula was not there the last time I looked at it in the mirror. (Also, don’t Google uvula to be sure you spelled it correctly because you can’t un-see the images that show up in the search results.) I know my uvula, and I am still not convinced I am just seeing saliva glistening in the light of a flashlight.
Nor am I convinced my nose is not growing or trying to pop out a new growth. My dermatologist has explained that new moles appearing on my body is totally normal. So are the random bumps and rashes I get periodically, for which I have been given creams and brochures. I blame anxiety and years of wearing only a t-shirt as sun protection when I was a child for all of these mysterious abnormalities.
But should my newly acquired growths itch? Tickle? Feel like a hair needs to be swiped off of my face to stop the incessant sensation of something being there? I didn’t think so, either. My normal dermatologist was not available for this emergency, so another doctor declared my skin to be fine, just irritated from my constant touching. He seemed close to retirement and I think I may have pushed him over the edge when I asked him if I had nose cancer.
It’s hard to know which comes first, the anxiety or the anxiety-induced ailment that my brain has caused. The lump on my neck, which the doctor insists is just my neck, seems to be benign. The dry mouth was cleared up with water and gum. And the irritable bowel syndrome worked itself out. I think I just had bad milk.
But the heart attack I had was real.
Okay, so I didn’t have a heart attack — but if I had, it would have felt exactly like what I was experiencing on the day I called my partner and told her I was having a heart attack. She told me to call 911. When I told her that was silly and too expensive, she told me to go for a walk and have a beer. I bundled my toddler twins into their stroller and went for a long walk, but I was pretty sure the extra effort on my heart wasn’t good for my attack. And the beer gave me heart burn, which was a sure sign that a stranger would find me lying on the street with two babies crying for their mama.
By the time my partner got home with our third child, I had worked myself into such a frenzy that I decided to drive myself to the walk-in clinic to rule out heart disease. I felt incredibly guilty for leaving my partner with our three young children, but I needed to know I wasn’t going to die and leave her for the rest of her life with children who would grow up never really knowing their other mama. And what a shame to not get to know someone who is capable of spotting uvula disease.
After a couple of hours of waiting and describing my symptoms to a nurse and doctor, an electrocardiogram test (EKG) was performed and I was sent home. I was fine. I was relieved I wasn’t dying, but I was embarrassed that I thought I was. The truth about a heart attack is that the symptoms are a lot like a panic attack. If the American Heart Association was smart it would link to WebMD’s section on Anxiety and Panic Disorders. I could have saved myself a few hours and an unnecessary co-pay, but there is probably some sort of liability about telling heart attack victims that they are just anxious.
But that’s the thing with anxiety. It feels as serious as a heart attack, but to others it looks like I just need to relax and stop worrying so much. If there weren’t so many stigmas around mental illness, perhaps my brain wouldn’t conjure up actual physical signs to show my internal struggle. Or perhaps the floating thing I see when I close my left eye really is the first sign of an aneurism and everyone will really wish I just had anxiety. Because living with anxiety and other mental illnesses are really hard and we all deserve the love and compassion that comes with the diagnosis of Chronic Nose Growing Syndrome.