Am I ill or anxious? Story. Of. My. Life.
I recently shared a post about the physical symptoms of Complex PTSD (and anxiety) and to be honest, there are quite a lot of them. I posted a tweet recently to find out more about other people’s physical symptoms of anxiety for an IGTV video, so I could share lots of different experiences and not just my own – and the list is honestly endless.
It turned out that the video wouldn’t export from my camera to my iPhone – I usually just use my phone as it’s easier and let’s face it I’m not a profesh, but this time I needed my phone to talk about everyone’s responses. I spent hours trying to get the video to export and it just wouldn’t, with seemingly no rhyme or reason, so here we are with a blog post instead. Technology, eh?
I’ve always been somebody who experiences more physical symptoms than emotional ones (I now know this is very common) and virtually any symptom that you can think of comes up on the list. Everything from nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting and loss of vision to jelly legs, muscle twitching, jaw clenching, numbness and tingling: there are many, many symptoms. Lots of which can be pretty debilitating, especially when experienced on a regular basis.
Loss of appetite is a big one for me and sometimes I know I’m stressed or anxious from this symptom before I’ve even noticed any change mentally. It’s often the first thing to go. So think of it like this: you’ve got no appetite at all and you’re struggling to get anything into your body, whilst getting up and going to work and living your day-to-day life (if able). Meanwhile you’re weak and lightheaded from lack of nutrition or dehydration, experiencing tingling in your lips, hands and feet and throwing up often despite not eating anything (or much). You’ve got brain fog and feel disorientated and you’re burning even more energy just from being in this state of anxiety. Yes, you’re tired.
I feel like lots of people don’t understand how severe anxiety symptoms can be, or that some of them exist. Some seem obviously associated with worry: nausea, shaking, sweating, palpitations. But there are many lesser-known symptoms that I think are important to share. Tingling, numbness, fainting, loss of vision, muscle spasms, headaches, upset tummy, physical pain and tension, tinnitus, migraines, hot flushes and fever-like sensations, muscle aches. Of course it’s different for everyone, but it’s fair to say that any combination of these symptoms is going to make everyday life more difficult.
Anyway – I’ve talked a lot about the physical side of mental illness in my blog now, but I want to talk about a common occurrence that I know is not something only I experience. A symptom will come up and I’ll ask myself ‘is this anxiety or physical illness?’ – and it’s very difficult to know. Then, I worry that I’m coming down with something (absolutely ideal during the Covid-19 outbreak) and it makes everything worse. A great cycle. The way I’m managing it right now is by gaining an understanding of whether my symptoms persist through distraction or not. They usually pass. This is how I know I’m likely experiencing anxiety and probably not a physical illness.
But. When your (sometimes everyday) symptoms emulate that of a virus causing a global pandemic, let’s just say it’s pretty difficult not to worry or overthink.
And from what I’ve personally experienced, symptoms don’t necessarily stay the same. My anxiety symptoms used to be very specific (when I was most unwell, I would say). Now I’ve progressed a lot and I experience anxiety differently. It’s not better or worse – just different (and less frequent thanks to therapy) and new symptoms present themselves all the time. This then creates even more of a ‘this is new, am I ill?’ vibe.
The reality is that the constant presenting of new symptoms as a result of anxiety disorders is flipping exhausting. Then the analysis of them, then the management of them.
Do you often find it difficult to tell if you’re anxious or ill?