Suffering from Health-Related Anxiety, as I do, can be a real handicap. It means that every symptom, every lump, bump, swelling and ache can be blown out of proportion – and assumptions of serious illness settle upon me with depressing speed.
With me, the feared outcome has always been cancer, I think partly because a friend of mine at primary school developed osteosarcoma in her early teens and had her right leg amputated on her fourteenth birthday; partly because female cancers are fairly common in my family; but mainly because my mother also suffered from this insidious anxiety and was, thus, unable to give comfort and reassurance.
I have noticed, however, that my fear level ebbs and flows according to the levels of stress in my life: To put it bluntly, I am more likely to over-react to a minor illness when general anxiety is high – and, during the dreadful year of divorce and house-selling, seemed to be in the doctor’s surgery every week.
This latest attack of HRA has coincided with my decision to start supply teaching – and, more specifically, the problems I have experienced in the classroom and the fact that I have had no jobs this week.
Before Christmas, before moving, I was doing a great deal of unaccustomed physical work – cleaning the house, lifting heavy stuff, packing – and, although I do not now recall what happened, at one point I injured the top of my left hand (banged it really hard, I think) and, for a while, it carried a huge bruise, a bruise which covered much of the surface of the skin.
To add insult to injury, the day I moved in here, I stupidly tried to pull the plastic runner, which had been protecting the carpet between front door and kitchen, out from under a tall, heavy IKEA bookcase. The latter fell on top of me. Fortunately, I was not wounded other than bruises, but I may well have received some of the weight on my left hand. Shocked post accident, such minutiae did not register. I had a friend with me at the time, which was very lucky, and he was able to part case from human!
Since then, I have been aware of a soft swelling covering the bottom half of my left hand. Back in mid-January, I went to the local Health Centre, which I am now a member of, and had my hand seen by a doctor. She confessed herself stymied by this soft lump, had no idea what it was (which, of course, made me fear I was incubating an alien or worse) and, a few days later, I found myself in the local hospital having an x-ray to see if there was a tiny fracture or similar.
Nothing showed up skeletally – so my doctor then arranged for me to be seen by the orthopaedic bods, and I have an appointment in three weeks’ time.
The area aches sometimes, but I have osteoarthritis in my left thumb (I suspect) so it might be connected to that. I also use my left hand extensively on here.
Anyway, the point is this: Prior to last week, I was quite calm about this swelling: Accepted that, if it were something serious, the medical system would not have given me an appointment over a month, as it was then, away, and felt that, although slightly less than aesthetically pleasing, this soft bump was not actually impeding me in any way.
Then came a series of traumatic failures (the way I see it) in a succession of classrooms. To be fair, 50% of my teaching experience has been successful. But I am the sort of person to hold failure more closely to my heart, and to let it bother me perhaps more than it should. This week, as stated previously, I have had no contact informing me about supply jobs – and, although logically I know this probably means that local teachers are hale and hearty and absences few, there is a part of me scared that I am being punished for not being good enough, for failing to control all classes, for getting angry and stressed and needing, on two occasions, another teacher to take over.
Over the past three days, my anxiety about my left hand has gone into overdrive once more. I know this is silly. I know it is illogical. I know that it links to the sudden change in my life and the reintroduction of teaching. But this habit of worry is so deeply-ingrained in my soul that I find it very difficult to rationalise. The fact that I appear, at present, to be a bit of a medical mystery doesn’t help.
But, in my new incarnation, my attitude is very much about facing up to long-held fears – which is part of the reason I signed on with an agency and started teaching once more in the first place – and this health-related one is probably the most invidious, and possibly the oldest, one I have got. I do not want to be run by this fear. I do not want the tyranny of dark imagination to inform my every twinge, every lump. Yes, of course we need to be sensibly aware and get things which are of concern checked out by a medical expert. But the level of distress which physical symptoms cause me, and others like me, is far from sensible awareness and right into the heart of intermittent emotional nightmare.
Maybe I am facing too many fears at once! The fear of cooking. The fear of physical DIY tasks. The fear of hosting dinner parties. The fear of other people. The fears for my health (and that of those I hold dear). The fear of losing control. The fear of pain and collapse. The fear of death. Or should that be the fear of life?!
I have always known instinctively – and long before I knew the actual definition – that I had strong OCD traits in my character – and, in my new life, I am allowing the less destructive manifestations of this to flow freely – because they soothe me, keep the anxiety to a low level and are actually capable of producing great beauty. The two I am working creatively with are my neat freak side and my almost-spectrum need for organised colour around me. Ironically, these two together, working for me and devoid of guilt’s invidious whisper, are creating a lovely home environment and fabulous energy. I am, metaphorically, painting my anxiety’s free and gentle lullaby all over the walls, the furniture, the garden, picking tones which relax and objects which are in harmony with my inner vision. I am making a space which is the antidote to anxiety, if you like – and it works!
Since I moved, on December 20th, my anxiety has been a fraction of what it was in my previous abode – and even after a really horrible day, I find that shutting myself inside my safe and lovely home gives me peace and healing.
The HRA has been dormant for the most part – and I have engaged in many outdoor, physically taxing, tasks, thinking to myself, ‘Whatever this swelling is, it’s pointless keeping my left hand away from work and exercise!’
This recent flare-up is not surprising. In fact, given my highly somatic nature, it would have been amazing if I hadn’t experienced a renewed bout of anxiety. But, with any luck, the orthopods will recognise what ails my south paw and will be able to advise me with regard to treatment (if any) and/or remedial exercises.
There! Now, how’s that for an inadvertently creepy photo? Looks as if I have chopped off someone else’s hand and am displaying it in bloodless glory!