Health Anxiety - A Mother's Story

Many thanks to our guest blogger Lucie Llewellyn.

Life was going swimmingly. I was happily married, with no money worries, a nice house and two well brought-up, happy and intelligent kids! My eldest daughter was doing her first year of A-Levels and my youngest was doing her first year of Secondary School. Everyone was getting on with their lives, everyone was doing great, everyone was happy. Life was pretty darn good. Little did I know, that my perfect life and family was about to come apart at the seams, all from just one phone call.

The call came, one afternoon, from the College that my 17-year-old daughter attended. She is having a major panic attack. Panic attack? But my daughter doesn’t have panic attacks?? After some Mother-Daughter time and a long heart to heart, it turns out that she does, and has been having them for a while now. 

But how did this happen? What did I do wrong? Am I at fault here? When did I take my eye off the ball and how could I not notice that my girl was suffering? Truth is, I didn’t do anything wrong. My girl was just pretty good at hiding how she was feeling from me, from all of us, but why? Well, she felt stupid, was embarrassed, ashamed even, that she was feeling the way that she was and, like many others her age, she didn’t know what to do or how to reach out for help. 

So, I had to face it, my daughter suffers from anxiety. However, her anxiety is a little different to anxiety as I understood it. She suffers from Health Anxiety, or Hypochondria as others may know it.

From conversations with my daughter I learnt that this all started when she was in Year 10 at Secondary School, and has been slowly getting worse over the years. It was during a tough PE lesson when she felt she couldn’t breathe and couldn’t get enough air into her lungs - there came her first sensations of panic and fear over her health. What followed on from that was months of doctor visits, tests, scans,  and she was eventually given the all clear and discharged. That was the end of it. At least for me, and I assumed it was for her too. 

However, I couldn’t have been more wrong, what followed for her was a deep-seated fear that stuck with her. A constant worry that something was seriously wrong with her.  Some illness, some disease, some undetected health problem that was going to suddenly end her life. From then on in her days became marred with overanalyzing every ache, every pain, every sensation that her body feels.  ‘Googling’ her symptoms and carrying out numerous body checks such as checking her pulse and then constantly seeking reassurance that what she is experiencing and feeling is normal. Her nights became spent lying awake, trying to turn off her negative thoughts, trying to stop herself from noticing her heart beating in her chest, trying to ignore the sensations that are causing throughout her body as a result of the anxiety that has built up. Praying that no panic attack would follow and willing herself to please, just go to sleep. 

What once was a pretty, happy girl, surrounded by friends and loving her life has become a tired, shell of her former self weighed down with worry and struggling to sleep, to function, and to find any joy in her life. This is not the life I wanted for my daughter, this is not the life that I envisaged for her.

As a Mother my job, since the day she was born, was simple, keep her safe and keep her from harm and worry. If I could take away her struggles I would, if I could rip that worry from her head I would do so, but I can’t. I was powerless for probably the first time in her life. But I soon came to realise that I do have a role in all of this. My role is to be there for her, to provide her with someone to talk to, to listen to her fears, however small they may be, to be that person that she seeks out for reassurance and walk alongside her as she figures this all out.