by Kamrin Baker
The first time I vividly remember my medically-triggered anxiety taking over my life was during the early stages of puberty. I was 10 or 11 when I walked into my mom’s room in the middle of the night, my eyes droopy from anxiety, but my movements hurried enough to startle her awake.
“What?! What is it?” she snapped up in bed.
“Mom, I think I have breast cancer,” I said, catch in my throat, tears on deck.
“Oh my god, sweetie, no, your boobs are just growing in.”
The world stopped, and I knew she was right in that instant.
She giggled a little, finding it innocent and sweet that I had jumped to the worst conclusion. I sauntered back to bed, more at ease knowing that I was just becoming more of a woman—truly naïve about all the other things that womanhood also entails.
But then it kept happening. I had the stomach flu a few months later and—I shit you not—laid in my twin bed, playing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” ready for the most dramatic exit out of the universe. I thought I was going to die because I couldn’t stop pooping and my stomach cramps were so alien.
I thought I was going to die because I was so afraid of dying. The fear constricted me in a way that only allowed my imagination to go to one single destination: death and decay.
After that, every doctor’s visit was an elevator ride to hell. My hands shook, my palms sweat, and my demands for peace and quiet became more entitled and extravagant than a toddler’s when they’re getting their first flu shot. To this day, every time I vomit, a panic attack holds my hair back over the toilet.
I associate all things medical with anxiety—even when it’s as simple as a headache. What if it isn’t just a headache, you know?
Vaccinations and simple measurements like blood pressure and urinalyses turned into major life events. I’d joke about the receptionist handing me a balloon on my way out, the doctors framing my Gardasil needle to show everyone else how brave I had been.
My pediatrician was calm and patient, always asking what I needed and not pushing me too quickly. I appreciate finding professionals who put me first, I am indebted to my mom for always holding my hand and telling me to breathe, and I am more informed about myself because of the fears that have spun my intuition into relentless doubt.
I’ve always self-labeled my condition has hypochondria, but I also despise scheduling doctors appointments and actually knowing what the deal is with my body. I’ve never been professionally diagnosed with anything beyond my anxiety disorder, but I imagine more lies beneath the surface. I wonder if it stems from a kind of self-depreciation, believing my body is less than it really is and assuming the worst, the most hateful, of myself.
I have never been severely unwell beyond my anxiety and panic disorders and a handful of nasty sinus infections. I have never had to undergo surgery—until my wisdom tooth extraction coming this March. I am extremely privileged and do not have to worry about healthcare. I have no reason to be afraid of doctors, of my own body, but yet, it is the most intoxicating fear I house.
At 20 years old, I am ready to end the fear of having something wrong with me. This is a toxic concept I have kept afloat for years; that just because something hurts or I need to take a pill must mean that something is inherently wrong with me—that having something wrong means I am automatically unworthy of life, of happiness, of inner peace.
It will take a while to fight a doctor who tells me I have “white coat syndrome,” to stop subscribing to the nasty habit of Googling my symptoms, and to trust my body to know what is right.
Currently, I’ve been experiencing some pelvic and abdominal pains. Here is a list of things it could be, according to my brain, from worst possible to most simple:
-An ovarian cyst
-A hormone imbalance
-A pulled muscle from yoga
-A gas bubble
-Just having to poop
The worst part is that my anxiety makes all of my symptoms even more inaccurate and unbelievable. Is this real, or am I playing tricks on myself again?
The work that goes into fighting these fears is astronomical. I remind myself that it’s a form of self-care to get vaccines and go to a checkup even though I don’t want to. I reiterate that I must take care of myself in ways that aren’t pretty, that quite literally include blood and gore.
I don’t care if I have to bring in my own tapestry and speakers to make a doctor’s environment more tolerable. I don’t care if I have to start by having the nurse come to my car before an appointment. I don’t care I have to scream and cry when the needle hurts. I don’t care that I’m 20 years old at the building block station in the waiting room.
I will do what I need to do to take care of myself.
This story is not only a little piece of a lifelong mental illness memoir, but it’s a doctrine of what I will do in the future.
I will work to find doctors and professionals who understand me and want the best for my success.
I will expose myself to medical treatments and experiences that will make me braver.
I will regularly take care of myself in and out of a doctor’s office, because this one body is all I have.
I will talk to myself like I need to be spoken to. No more “I hate my body” and much more “my body is telling me something I need to hear.”
That being said, I will not waste my time listening for threats to my health and wellness. I will live my life despite fear.