This is going to be written stream-of-consciousness and without my usual attention to detail. It’s not to say it will be poorly-written, just quickly and without pretence.
I have found a way to circumvent my health anxiety. Everyone in the world knew about it but me.
No, that’s not right!
Everyone, including me, knew about it but I didn’t believe it would work. No, that’s also not right.
Everyone, including me, knew about it and I tried it on occasion and it proved to be right sometimes but not always, therefore it was suspect. <<< There. Fixed it.
What is it?
It is called by many names: Desensitisation, Immersion (or Exposure) Therapy, Being Proactive About Your Health, Putting on Your Big (Girl, Boy, Person) Panties.
Here’s how a professional would describe it:
- A fear-hierarchy is created: the patient is asked a series of questions to determine the level of discomfort the fear causes in various conditions. Can the patient talk about the object of their fear, can the patient tolerate a picture of it or watch a movie which has the object of their fear, can they be in the same room with the object of their fear, and/or can they be in physical contact with it?
- Once these questions have been ordered beginning with least discomfort to most discomfort, the patient is taught a relaxation exercise. Such an exercise might be tensing all the muscles in the patient’s body then relaxing them and saying “relax”, and then repeating this process until the patient is calm.
- Next, the patient is exposed to the object of their fear in a condition with which they are most comfortable – such as merely talking about the object of their fear. Then, while in such an environment, the patient performs the relaxation exercise until she or he is comfortable at that level.
- After that, the patient moves up the hierarchy to the next condition, such as a picture or movie of the object of fear, and then to the next level in the hierarchy and so on until the patient is able to cope with the fear directly.
- Although it may take several sessions to achieve a resolution, the technique is regarded as successful. Many research studies are being conducted in regard to achieving immersion therapy goals in a virtual computer based program, although results are not conclusive. Source: Wikipedia
I want to be clear. I have DONE all the listed steps with therapists about all my many and myriad fears – mostly to do with my health. It was helpful, but had the nasty side-effect of prolonging my natural trait of over-thinking.
I remember a particularly scary trip to the dentist after having not gone for years (for financial reasons – I was normally NOT afraid of the dentist). In my mind, I drove past the dentist office, parked in the lot, walked to the door, many, many times in an effort to desensitise myself. I went in person, same deal. That first visit – ten years ago now – was epic. They have big notes in my file about my anxiety because I was shaking so hard it was hard to work on me. Once, I came for an appointment and couldn’t stay. I was sick with worry. Literally. Health anxiety can be *that* seriously debilitating. And yes, I see my dentist four times a year now, like clockwork. Still scared sometimes, but I do it afraid.
Desensitisation hasn’t worked so well for snakes. I tried it. I’m still FREAKING AFRAID OF THEM.
But I digress.
Here’s the thing…
Maybe it’s that everything in my head has finally caught up with me…
Or that I’m older and wiser…
All I know is that … for reasons I don’t fully understand… something in my head has *clicked* and some specific things that have previously scared the be-jebus out of me… no longer do.
And yes, this all fits together. Keep reading…
It all began with the step counter on my phone. If you’ve been following along, you know that I began (yet another) health journey about a month ago. I was, at that time, a potato, whether on the couch or in bed. Part of it was due to the pandemic. Part, to my natural love of all-things sleeping. And then, depression and anxiety, which played along the edges of my mind and sometimes jumped smack in the middle.
Once I opened that health app on my phone, I couldn’t help but notice there were many other options to the step counter. One of them is weight, another is blood pressure. Both are long-standing nemeses of mine.
My doctor had asked – years ago – that I get a blood pressure monitor, which took me… no kidding… three years to do. Because of lipedema in my upper arms, I do better with a wrist monitor. I remember taking that thing out and making my husband look at the screen for me because I was so afraid. Sure, I had “white coat syndrome” (being afraid at the doctor) but it didn’t just happen in her office. It happened at home! I was scared “to death” to see my own readings. And they were high, even with my meds. Yep. Scared. To death. <<< Yikes, the language I use matters. But again, I digress.
The next time the machine came out was because our doctor asked my husband to take his blood pressure during a video appointment. The batteries were dead. So, uh, yeah. There ya go.
The bathroom scale was something else I found frightening. On occasion, I would weigh myself, and maybe go through a phase where I’d do it once a week or month… or never. I wasn’t scared … to death… but I was embarrassed, humiliated, angry at myself…
Back to the app. At first, I used the app to count steps. Next, I added a headphone notification if my headphones got too loud for safe hearing. After that, I realized all the neat stuff and trimmings… like how many times you’ve fallen, symptoms you’re having and glucose levels!
One thing to note: It’s just a record of those things… not a diagnosis or judgement. Because, for example, I would never add a symptom if it gave me possible reasons/diagnoses. That would be crazy-ass for someone like me!
Then I saw it: Blood Pressure. I gave it some thought… not for a long time… for seconds… and like I say… something *clicked*…
I went and got the machine. I had issues getting it on right. My blood pressure read incredibly low. I had it on wrong. I watched a YouTube video about using it. I tried again. Better, but still obviously incorrect. Finally, pay-dirt. 130/ 78. Heart rate: 60.
The next day, I was so excited to try again… and the next day…
I’m keeping it next to my side of the bed to take my BP every morning and put it into my app.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that DOING IT whether afraid or not- whatever IT is – has helped me move forward.
Propulsion is important here… the momentum… because… I will be honest in saying that I fear if I stop, I will revert backwards. So, it’s ***very important*** that I KEEP IT UP.
Have you tried ways to overcome your fears that have worked for you? I’d love to hear about it!!