July 2021 was the worst month I have had in a LONG time. It all started with a routine check up in my new GP in West London, and snowballed from there.
It snowballed fast.
However, the following weeks have been the best I have felt in years. And I want this post to demonstrate that sometimes we need to battle through the storm to see the rainbow.
This battle was primarily with OCD, anxiety and depression.
The main cause of this has been withdrawal from alcohol and changing my diet.
The events leading to my anxiety attacks
In mid June I was told to isolate for nine days. I am pretty introverted, so this didn’t really bother me.
I made sure to avoid junk food and alcohol during isolation, as this has been a problem for me over the years.
If I started on day one it would be a non-stop binge until I was free again. I have always struggled with self control.
I did have some, but in small doses.
However I was free to leave the house on the 27th, and my birthday was on the 30th. Any socializing originally planned during the time I was in isolation was pushed back and crammed into the days between 27th and 30th.
I tried to keep these relatively sober, but that didn’t happen…
I must have had 16-18 pints in the days leading up to my birthday, meaning my birthday was destined to be full of dread and anxiety as the alcohol wore off.
On top of this, I remembered that I had my GP check up booked for 10am on the 29th. So that was going to be fun.
My GP appointment and the start of my anxiety
My check up involved a urine test and having my blood pressure checked.
I was sweating from the hangover and also nervous because I hate hospitals.
‘Your blood pressure is high’, my GP said in a pretty cold manner. ‘Reduce your salt‘.
I nodded frantically like a kid being told off in school. Hoping she wouldn’t say anything that would trigger health anxiety that would be disastrous for my ever present health-OCD.
I gave her my urine sample that I was asked to do by the receptionist. I knew this wasn’t the best one I would ever give because of recent my binge drinking.
‘Do you know there is blood in your urine?‘ she said after stirring the container and checking the colors.
That was it. I became a nervous wreck.
‘R… Really?!‘ was the only response I could mutter as I started to become even more agitated.
‘I will send it off to the lab, contact us back in a week.’ She said.
I knew I was going to have a weeks-worth of anxiety and racing thoughts.
For some this would be a small inconvenience. For me it felt like a punch to the stomach, punishment for my poor diet not just around my birthday, but throughout my twenties.
I needed water before I was going to faint. I was seeing stars and I can’t even remember leaving her room.
My anxiety can go from 0-60 in an instant. I barely gave her a goodbye as I hurriedly left the room in a daze.
A week of catastrophizing
The following week was mental torture. I can not look on the bright side of these things, I usually only fear the worst. I cannot relax until I have had the results and have always been like this.
Whether this is more OCD, anxiety or a combination of both, I don’t have that off switch in my mind. I will hopefully find out as I have CBT booked for around September 2021.
‘It will be okay’ isn’t a sentence I usually say to myself.
My 9-day isolation period ended just as my holidays from work started, I booked to spend two weeks up north with my mum and sister. After my GP trip I decided to cut out sugar, salt, alcohol and caffeine cold turkey* out of fear it was ruining my body.
I suddenly became terrified that my poor diet was killing me.
I have always struggled with motivation to change, now my anxiety was inspiring that change.
*I would advise anyone reading to NOT do this. Speak to a health professional if you are looking to cut down on anything as withdrawals can be very unpleasant at best, and can even be life-threatening.
The first few days of my detox were horrendous. The depression and anxiety was crippling, I just wanted to sleep to escape the feelings.
I kept needing the bathroom as a result of anxiety, this convinced me that I had symptoms of something more sinister. As I said before, anxiety can snowball into more and more worry and now every little pain was something terrible.
The panic attacks happened at the worst times
On the train home to Durham to see my family, I had the worst panic attack I have had in a long time. I stupidly started googling what may cause blood in urine and of course got the most severe diagnosis.
I became convinced with everything I read.
This caused me to shuffle frantically in my seat and start to lose consciousness. I took my mask off and started to hear a buzzing sound. Stars filled my eyes. I laid down on the two seats I had free (thank goodness for social distancing) and just tried to breathe.
I was on a fast moving train. There was nowhere to run and it felt more like a prison for the ten or so minutes it lasted. It felt a lot longer.
Thankfully due to Covid, my train was accepting table service by scanning the QR code on the seat in front. I bought water which helped and I held my composure until I arrived in Durham.
But that moment was terrifying. Not to mention what I must have looked like to other passengers.
It was nice to see family on the other side of this journey, but it only kept anxiety at bay somewhat.
Being home was a nice distraction, but things kept triggering anxiety
I started to feel better with each passing day.
The withdrawal symptoms were wearing off, however anxiety stayed strong as I was worried about being told I had an underlying issue from the doctor.
I decided to go to a friends house one night for a couple glasses of wine with food and football, what’s the worst that could happen?
Surely it would be good to not quit alcohol too cold turkey, instead let my body adjust over time. Plus it would be nice to get out and distract myself.
It was a nice evening. I started to feel more relaxed. Alcohol is calming temporarily, but this doesn’t last and often makes things worse in the long term.
During my second glass I started to feel a bloated feeling in my liver area. This of course was a concern to me. This swollen feeling stayed for a couple days and only added to my worries.
I was fully convinced my liver was failing on me, I had never felt this before.
I got some relief after the feeling went away, but now any kind of pain or discomfort in that area had me worrying. Any small pain would result in hours of anxiety. And every time this happened the anxiety seemed to get worse.
Getting my results
Finally, seven days passed and I felt it was time to call the medical center.
I was on the phone for ONE AND A HALF HOURS before it was my turn in the queue. It is safe to say this felt a lot longer.
I was caller number 11, and I am not sure what conversations the other patients were having but they seemed to be never-ending.
Finally, the automated voice and hold music was replaced by a real person. I grabbed my phone and told them I was waiting for test results.
‘Oh, your results came back the next day. They’re fine.’
I punched the air like I won the lottery. The anger I had for being in queue for so long disappeared and any other stresses started to fade away.
That was it. All that worrying for nothing?!
I should have been more optimistic the whole time, but I had such awful anxiety and low mood, good news didn’t seem like a possibility.
My body felt like it was in survival mode. Detoxing from over ten years worth of binge-eating and drinking had my body feeling all sorts of changes in these two weeks, so the timing wasn’t the best either.
But this moment proved that what I fear doesn’t always confirm what is real.
But the anxiety slowly built up again
As my withdrawals persisted, so did some shooting pains in my liver. This was also true for other areas of my abdomen, I had a burning sensation for the first two weeks after going sober.
I started to again (stupidly) diagnose it as my liver healing, which at least had me in a better mood. The recent results gave me some positivity.
But as soon as a wave of anxiety hit, this optimism turned to pessimism. A sense of impending doom would take over.
I got back to London and these pains persisted, and on a quiet Saturday morning I woke up with instant anxiety. The kind that almost feels like it was waiting for you to wake up.
I understand this anxiety is probably just alcohol withdrawals, but my health-OCD had me worried about my liver again.
My OCD would ride with my anxiety and have me thinking the worst again about my health.
I called my GP and the reception told me I had to book online, but this was only possible during the week. I said I would wait until Monday.
However on Sunday morning I had a worse wake up with anxiety and I felt I needed to get to a walk-in centre. The intrusive thoughts and worries were just too much, I felt like I was going to lose control.
I was having similar panic attacks to the one on the train.
I found a hospital taking walk-in’s just north of the river, Charing Cross Hospital.
I didn’t plan this very well…
Lesson: Charing Cross Hospital is no-where near Charing Cross Station. Turns out I headed way too far east and needed to come back on myself. But I did have a lovely quiet walk to Piccadilly in the morning sun and made my way there on the Piccadilly Line.
I sat outside a cafe when I got there, contemplating whether I was wasting their time. I spent about 30 minutes with my thoughts, wondering if my pains were my imagination or whether it would be something I would want checking.
A regular appointment wasn’t possible for another few days at least.
I then asked myself, how many people decide to head to a walk-in center, sitting outside of a cafe for 30 minutes worried about having liver disease/failure?
If it wasn’t for my physical health, I sure should see someone for my mental health. Plus I had cut out a lot of things I had consumed daily for years, and this was having some real effects on my body.
The experience in the hospital
I saw the A&E doors. I also saw a doctor outside having a coffee.
‘Sorry to bother mate, is there a walk-in centre here?‘ I asked.
‘There is, let me take you to the doors. I’m Carlos by the way.’
We exchanged a few words and he instantly made me feel better for being there. He took me to a security guard, gave me a farewell and security took me to the reception. What a nice guy!
I had my blood pressure taken in the waiting area, which was now ‘perfect’. A contrast to what it was only a couple of weeks ago.
A good start.
At least my detox had a positive impact on my body. My temperature was good and I felt a little more at ease.
I then talked briefly to someone that learned about my liver pains and withdrawal symptoms and then walked me to the area giving blood tests. This involved passing numerous people coming in and out of surgeries on beds which sent my heart rate up a little, but also put things in perspective.
My bloods were taken, I sat for what seemed like an eternity and waited for my results.
Speaking to someone was a huge weight off my shoulders
My healthy blood pressure helped me to remain calm and got me through. I then spoke to a doctor and she was amazing.
She sat with me, listened to my worries and then started to reassure me about everything.
My results came back normal. I had just as much relief as after my urine test result. She examined my body and she asked how I was feeling after the withdrawals and new diet.
She asked about my OCD and Tourette’s, she also asked about my mental state. It was in this moment I started to feel more relief and actually, felt pretty emotional.
What I felt was going to be either a terminal illness or being diagnosed hypochondria, was in fact a lovely conversation with an understanding specialist. One that understood that my neurological disorders were causing severe stress and that I was sensible for coming in after such a radical change in lifestyle.
The hospital service was amazing
As I waited for the paperwork, I was even offered tea and a sandwich from another worker. I have never had this before! The service was equivalent to that of a hotel in the way they made me feel and each department helped me find where I needed to be in person.
I politely declined the offer.
The doctor kindly printed out the paperwork with my results that were also sent to my GP.
The whole experience was overwhelmingly positive. Not just because of my results but because I learned that the mental stress I was going through was just as important to tackle any other issues.
Mental health needs to be made more of a priority for sure. And even if hospitals are better equipped to deal with physical emergencies, there should be no shame in seeking help for mental illness or neurological disorders when you seem it is necessary. If you can’t hold on to your next GP appointment, phone a non-emergency line or a suitable organisation.
If you need to go to a walk in center, do it. I have twice and both occasions I have saved myself from myself.
I never felt that I shouldn’t have been there. The care I received was great, and it gave me reassurance I desperately needed. There have been times when I didn’t want to live through anxiety, and this was becoming one of those episodes. They saw this in me.
Anxiety was much easier to tackle from this moment on
Time started to slow down, and I was able to take one step at a time.
Before this I was having multiple intrusive thoughts all at once. I was convincing myself I had different diseases in different organs instead of focusing on one organ and rationalizing what may be causing pain. The worst case scenario would probably be a fault in one isolated place, and I would get treatment for that.
That is if there is anything at all.
This would be just as irrational in any other moment, such as driving a car. I wasn’t just worrying about breaking down or crashing… instead I was convinced the wheel was about to fall off, my brakes were going to fail and a truck was going to hit me all at once. Right before swerving a moose as a plane emergency lands ahead of me during a flash flood.
This is how anxiety and OCD can catapult us into major panic attacks when really we should focus on one thing.
In fact, none of these are probably not going to happen anyway.
My thoughts after this experience.
Speaking to someone about these worries is much better than secretly suffering. Although I wanted to avoid going to see someone I am now free of worries that would still be plaguing me.
I now know I am healthy instead of having to worry the what if’s. And on top of that, seeing someone about a problem earlier is much better than delaying it and it being a bigger problem later on.
And my pains have seemed to fade away. The physical withdrawal symptoms have pretty much gone, I am still living with some anxiety and low mood. But anxiety might always be with me.
I do believe we can become hyper aware of feelings when we want to have them, a little like a placebo effect.
If I am convinced I have a liver problem, I am going to feel every single thing happening in that area. And due to fear being such a strong emotion, it is always going to be a feeling that something is wrong.
What was dread and anxiety yesterday is now relief and a new feeling of health. The brief fear of being in the waiting room is well worth being told that everything is fine. And even if something came up, it is a relief that it was caught early.
Don’t let anxiety keep you from seeking help, and don’t worry about being ridiculed as a result.