Monday, 28 November 2011

Hypochondria, OCD and me...

My struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder have confused me recently.

I have struggled with OCD thoughts and behaviours for many years and have defined my actions to be a direct result of this. However, for the past 8 months or so, new and intense feelings have overcome me that I presumed to be resulting from my OCD.

I believe that I may have been wrong in making that assumption.

You see, my psychological world has recently become divided into two polar opposites, a yin and a yang, where the yin represents my internal focus and the yang represents my external focus. It is only in the last week that I have come to realise that there is a big difference in my yin and yang behaviours, and from that understanding I have gained a certain amount of clarity that may help me to fight back against the way I have been feeling.

My yang, or my external focus, has been the central point of reference for defining my condition. It is OCD. It is my thoughts, feelings and anxieties. It is the condition that makes me act in the way that has become familiar, and distressing, throughout the course of my life so far.

Up until a week ago, I assumed my OCD was also the cause of my particular distress where my psychological focus became fixated on internal things.

I should say here that through my OCD I have adopted certain behaviour compulsions to prevent 'bad' things happening to those who are close to me, to those who I love and cherish and would do whatever it takes to keep from harm.

But also, when my focus becomes internal, I fixate on things that might happen to me, primarily, the thoughts and fear of cancer. I check my body and my breathing continuously during these phases, freaking out at the slightest thing that I deem to be different. I attach significance to things that I would not previously notice because I micro-analyse myself, I obsess, and cause myself an enormous amount of anxiety because of it.

I related this obsessing to my already recognised OCD behaviours but something never quite sat right about it. I was never 100% convinced that OCD covered exactly why I behaved the way I did when my focus looked inwards.

I stumbled across an article about hypochondria and was surprised that the definition described exactly how I was behaving.

I have often heard the word and took it to have a negative connotation. It seemed the phrase to be popularly used to aim at people who acted excessively when suffering from a cold, or those who sought sympathy when experiencing the most minor of ailments.

That was my mistake.

It seems that hypochondria is intricately related to OCD and is a recognised psychological condition. The sufferer is convinced that they might have a particular illness or at least obsessed that they may be showing symptoms of that illness, even though doctors, or anyone else for that matter, cannot find anything wrong with them. Cancer is one of the illnesses mentioned by name that is related to those who suffer from hypochondria.

It also states that media coverage and wide-spread attention to the particular illness, in this case cancer, are one of the primary causes that can cause a person to suffer from hypochondriac.

My problems began when I felt that I could not escape the torrent of press articles, television and radio advertisements, printed media, discarded cigarette packs (that in the U.K. are branded with despicably horrific images) and many other sources of reminder dedicated to raising cancer awareness.

I can now understand why my obsessive thoughts began and assign blame for them. I can now remove some of the guilt that I have experienced that those intrusive thoughts and images were from my own doing, from my own mind, and designate blame elsewhere for feeling the way I have.

Like all mental health conditions, hypochondria needs to be understood for what it is, just like obsessive compulsive disorder does, as it is a disorder that causes an enormous amount of distress to the sufferer. I can state that with true, first-hand knowledge and understanding. I will never use the term lightly again.

But for me, the important thing is that I now know what my internal focus is, my yin, and why it is happening. I will bear it in mind if my brain continues to tell me to check and obsess about one particular bodily thing, and recognise that it is a result of my hypochondria, just as my external intrusive thoughts and feelings are due to my OCD.

I feel that I am still a long way from full mental health recovery but understanding why things happen in the way that they do is helping me to fight back, to refocus, and to strengthen my determined effort to become my full self once again.

(Continued on my blog post, 'Mental health and the media')


Kat said...

Those tendencies do occur quite often with OCD. Either way, you should never blame yourself of your mind for any of your rituals or tendencies. You are not OCD, therefore if OCD is to blame, you are not to blame. It is a chemical imbalance just like diabetes. You would never expect someone to blame themselves for something caused by their diabetes. In turn, you can't blame yourself for things caused by OCD.

Tina said...

I agree with Kat. Don't blame yourself for OCD or hypochodria, if you believe that is what is going on. You show a lot of insight and honesty with yourself--that will help you in your challenges!

Elizabeth said...

When you said:
"But also, when my focus becomes internal, I fixate on things that might happen to me, primarily, the thoughts and fear of cancer. I check my body and my breathing continuously during these phases, freaking out at the slightest thing that I deem to be different. I attach significance to things that I would not previously notice because I micro-analyse myself, I obsess, and cause myself an enormous amount of anxiety because of it."
That is me to a T!

I have always suffered from irrational health anxieties and fears. In fact, just last night in therapy, we talked about how all day long yesterday, I was so fearful I was about to have a heart attack because when I took a deep breath, I felt a little sore on my lower left side (nevermind that I had just put up the Christmas tree and had done a lot of lifting of boxes etc.).

My therapist always stresses to me that when I become anxious about a health condition, I become hyperfocused on the part of my body that I am worried about and then I get more anxious. It's a viscious cycle.

Basically, my therapist told me that I take my thoughts way too seriously and give them too much power. That is a hallmark of OCD. Boy, don't I know it!

Elizabeth said...

Oh, and one more thing, I can't read any news story or watch any news story about diseases or germs. If I get involved in that stuff, I become one anxious mess.

The swine flu scare of a few years ago just about sent me out of my mind with anxiety until I quit reading about it.

ocdtalk said...

I think it is hard, in this day and age, for anyone not to fear cancer, whether they have OCD or not. While many of us can just "let the thoughts go" those with OCD obsess, and so it makes perfect sense to me that hypochondria is related to OCD. I'm realizing more and more that those with OCD and those without OCD basically have the same thoughts. It's what we do with those thoughts that differs.

OCDreams said...

You commented by blog about a month ago and I've only just got round to signing in, reading the comment you left me and following you. I've just read this blog entry and found it pretty interesting. I think OCD in general lacks cause and effect, you can sometimes feel like it's your fault that you have OCD and you're too lazy to overcome your behaviours etc. (well this is true in my case as I suffer with obsessional slowness, which means that I never get round to doing what I want to do because I never really psychologically or physically ready). But then there's the aspect where you blame your OCD for how you behave, when possibly if you didn't worry about having OCD so much you would feel more content. I hope you understand what I mean ... I do tend to confuse people.

OCD Anonymous said...

Thank you to everyone for all of your kind words and taking the time to leave comments.

Kat - I do not blame myself now that I understand more about why I (and my brain) behave in the way that I do (it does). :)

Tina - I try to be honest to myself and learn as much as I can about what is affecting me to help me fight back and take control - I feel like I am getting somewhere now!

Elizabeth - It is those fixations that raise the anxieties suffered by people like you and me but understanding that it is caused by hypochondria enables us to rationalise it to a greater degree.

I went swimming yesterday and got a stitch/ache in my back and began to worry but I rationalised it that I am probably a little unfit and using new muscles and remained calm - Today I cannot feel it and am pleased with myself for remaining in control.

I completely relate to what you said about news stories - I avoid newspapers, articles and media related to disease as I don't want to become anxious and distressed about the doom ridden viewpoint of the irresponsible scare-mongering journalists.

ocdtalk - You have hit the nail on the head :) Someone close to me explained it as this:

Thoughts travel through the brain like a cloud would through the sky. A 'normal' non-sufferer would be able to let that thought pass through their brain and out the otherside to be replaced by a new thought but for an OCD sufferer, that thought would get stuck in the centre of their brain an block all more pleasant thoughts trying to get through.

It makes sense to me as my brain. at one point, was so congested with unpleasant things nothing seemed to be able to enter my brain that made me smile or offered me relief from my thoughts - I guess that is why they become described as 'intrusive.'

OCDreams - Thank you so much for getting back to me and following me - It's lovely to hear from you.

I do understand what you mean and it works in a vicious circle doesn't it? You worry about OCD and how it affects you which can raise your anxiety or you try to ignore it and your behaviours/compulsions get out of hand.

Thank you again for commenting and I will try to check by here daily to reply and leave comments of my own - Things are getting really busy with the Christmas/festive season approaching rather rapidly!