Here is Alex's story. She has said she is happy to chat with anyone who feels they are experiencing similar feelings so if you would like to reach out with her, please email back to SMASH and we will put you in touch...
I have always been a bit of a worrier but about 4 years ago, after a minor health scare, I really hit my lowest ebb. I began to obsessively check my body for lumps, bumps and abnormalities - in fact, that was what the majority of my time was spent doing. I thought about nothing else - even when I was at work, or on holiday. I suffered regular panic attacks and every day, in my mind, I was dying of an horrendous disease. On average, I would attend an appointment at the GP every week, where they would reassure me I was healthy and send me on my way - this reassurance lasted merely a couple of hours before the next worry set in. I questioned the things I’d said to them ‘did I tell them everything?’, or started querying their capabilities as a doctor.
Even though I rarely saw the same person at the practice twice, it reached the point where they could see by my notes that something was clearly very wrong with my mental health. It was the end of yet another appointment and the doctor asked me ‘is there anything else that you would like me to check while you’re here?’ - realising he knew I had a problem, I broke down. After different tests and a range of questionnaires, I was diagnosed with Health Anxiety (or Hypochondria as it is known to a lot of people) and was advised to attend CBT. I struggled at first. Talking to a stranger in a clinical environment about your deepest worries - things that you’re not even comfortable telling your closest friends - it’s hard. But after a few weeks I started to open up and really began learning. My therapist helped me get to the bottom of why I thought the way I did and taught me how to rationalise and externally focus, so I’m not constantly obsessing over my body. That’s where exercise comes in - I have found that there’s nothing that works better to keep my mind occupied.
I must admit though, that until I joined Fitness First Angel a couple of years ago, I didn’t enjoy going to the gym. I did it because I had to and it helped mentally. Now, I love it and SMASH has quite literally changed my life. The community spirit, fun classes and the fact that it pushes me to do things that I would never have dreamed of doing in the past (a 10k run) is incredible. I used to also be embarrassed to talk about my Health Anxiety, especially as the term ‘Hypochondriac’ is thrown around so flippantly and almost in a derogatory manner when someone is worrying about their health. Hypochondria is a real thing and it is life changing. It is desperately debilitating. I know that I will never be cured of it, but I feel certain now that it won’t ruin my life, which three years ago was not something I believed. I still have bad days, weeks and months, as I’m sure we all do, but SMASH - you have really helped me. You are amazing.. and as cheesy as it sounds (Sorry - Ash, I know you’re vegan) thank you for opening this world up to me. I would love to encourage anyone who has experienced similar worries, or who would just like to chat about Health Anxiety to come and find me - I’ve now finally realised, it’s so much better to talk about these things.. it’s not anything we should be ashamed of. We should all work harder at mindfulness - to better ours and everyone else’s mental health xx
Thank you Alex