Myself being care free in San Francisco before the pandemic

Kirsty Massey pushes the barriers of her comfort zone to discuss the how it truly feels to suffer from health anxiety issues amidst a global pandemic.

Think back to a time where we could meet up with friends and go for a pint at the local pub. We could go shopping just for something to do. We could travel the world, experiencing new cultures and seeing sites with our own eyes rather than pining through a phone screen. All the things are experiences we took for granted at the time.

Mental wellness is something else that people take for granted, with yet another lockdown contributing to the recipe for a mental health disaster.

I can’t put my finger on exactly when I realised that I had health anxiety, but all I can tell you is that it comes with a shed load of embarrassment and is a subject that I usually only feel comfortable talking to people I trust about.

When I got diagnosed with health anxiety and panic disorder, it was almost a sigh of relief to know that there actually was something wrong – I wasn’t just going crazy. That being said, I’m not the type of person to let it take over my life or define me, and there’s not many people that know about my struggles.

I was always worried that people would view me differently if they knew, but then I realised that all the people that know me without knowing about my anxiety wouldn’t be seeing a different person, just another part to the ‘party animal’ Kirsty they already know.

I think this is why, more often than not, I don’t get taken seriously when I tell people that I feel like I’m going to have a panic attack or I’m scared. People that don’t know about my battles find it hard to believe, but the few that have seen it in full swing can vouch for how much of a reality it is.

“Oh so you’re a hypochondriac?”

Hearing others say things like this isn’t helpful at all and people need to be made aware of what they’re saying. Being called a hypochondriac has always had bad connotations for me, and almost makes me feel guilty for being mentally ill, but I’ve come to realise it’s something that you can help.

“you convince yourself that you might not make it out alive”

So what does health anxiety entail? Your average Joe would be going about his day and then maybe they’d feel a little fatigued and start to feel a little sick because they’ve not eaten yet. Logical explanation of why you feel a bit run down and sick – you’re hungry.

Take my thought process. I feel tired and sick which my brain intensifies past the point of being just a little tired and sick, and then I’m almost making myself feel worse. I begin questioning and over-analysing the feeling. Why am I feeling like this? Did I eat something funny? Is this the first sign of a stroke? My heart is having palpitations – I know that’s not normal. Maybe I’m about to have a heart attack?

Once these thoughts get triggered, it’s almost impossible to stop them. Anxiety will consume me in that moment and I become hyper-aware of every single sensation in my body.

I over-analyse everything, leading to a self-diagnosis of an illness that I probably don’t have; but in that present time, it feels very real to the point of convincing yourself that you might not make it out alive (it does genuinely sound ridiculous when you say it out loud, but your brain is a powerful thing).

In the first lockdown, I began having panic attacks daily, sometimes twice. I would sit and cry and gasp for air whilst clutching my throat as it felt like it was closing up, my arms and legs would go numb through sheer panic and my hands would start tingling. Thinking back to that time isn’t enjoyable at all.

This is the reality of having health anxiety in a pandemic; it wasn’t necessarily because I was worried about catching Coronavirus because at this point I was convinced that I’d already had it. It was more the fact that I was holed up inside and I simply had so many free hours of the day for my brain to pinpoint parts of my body that were malfunctioning with nothing to distract me from overthinking – it was fuelling the fire.

Hundreds of thousands of people are dealing with some form of anxiety, some of which may have even sprouted during the lockdowns. It’s so easy to look at someone and think that their life is perfect and that they have no problems; I think I do a good job at hiding my struggles from the majority of people.

Lockdown isn’t fun for anyone and everyone’s struggling in one way or another. Be kind. Be considerate. Ask if someone’s okay and mean it. Reach out to a friend that you haven’t heard from for a while.

Believe me, these little gestures seem like nothing, but they really do make a difference. Showing that you care and that someone is there can help more than you know.

More importantly, if you’re finding it hard yourself, then don’t be afraid use this time to seek help. I’ve been getting it for a while now and even though it’s hard to start this journey, everything does end up seeming a little more promising with time.

Make good decisions this lockdown and look after yourself as a priority.

By Kirsty Massey