Constantly Aware: OCD, the Body and Health Anxiety
This drawing by fisserman that I found in flickr is very true to my experience of the confluence of body sensations and mental awareness of those sensations, and my OCD. This week I've had tension and twinges in my chest, and my mind latched onto the symptoms. I find it very frustrating how certain bits of dialogue will shoot to the surface, like my doctor asking a few weeks ago if I was having any chest pain when I went in for a blood pressure check. What frustrates me is the almost immediate compulsing about whether I answered her question wrong, or that I have made a mistake, or exactly what do the sensations feel like?
And then I feel temptation to assign meaning to the symptom and the phrases both circulating within in me--a sign? a warning? a condemnation? My feared consequences are multiple, from fear of having a heart attack or dying, to fear of being judged harshly if I turn out to have ignored serious symptoms, and finally the fear that the vigilance about how my body feels will accelerate, get worse, and I will be haunted by the obsession, and that the vigilance will make me notice the sensations more, and it will snowball.
My compulsions range from checking my body--poking at my chest, watching how I sit or stand, to mentally checking my narrative of these sensations, ie. when did they start? What do they feel like? Am I really feeling them? I have resisted the impulse to search on the web, which is one reason this hasn't turned into a full blown OCD crisis, but more of a nagging, gnawing presence. What has helped is knowing that I can't establish what will happen in the future, that it's not my responsibility to do that. If the sensations persist or get worse, I will deal with it then. Or that it's too soon to know if the obsession will haunt me, or pervade everything I do and erode my enjoyment of life. I say this with gritted teeth, but it's true.
I am continuing to do things that I had planned to do, rather than retreating to reading, or otherwise freezing my life while trying to figure out the symptoms. I see my therapist on Thursday, so yay for support! Leonard is the first to say that having body sensations adds a layer of intensity to health anxiety OCD. There's something "there" and it intrudes on consciousness. My best guess is that all the time I'm spending bent over my worktable in my art studio is contributing to tightness in my chest muscles. My OCD would really like to know absolutely for sure that it's not a heart attack, and all the old "you are worthless and despicable" stuff gets mixed in as well, like "you'd better diagnose yourself perfectly or you are unredeemable."
I am feeling better the last couple days. I can tell I'm still vigilant--questions like Will the sensations come back? Get worse? but I know this pattern. I've experienced it many times how certain feelings in my body are more likely to trigger obessions than others. When I get a headache I do not usually obsess I have a brain tumor. If you have a desire to reassure me, I can understand that, but I'd rather hear about how you cope with health anxiety, and what has helped you.