When I was eleven, I developed an anxiety disorder which manifested itself primarily as hypochondria; with depression as its cousin companion.
I was not, however, the stereotypical sort of hypochondriac child that one associates with verbally fretting over every ache and pain, scrape and bruise; analyzing each sniffle and cough; feeling for lumps; or sighing and fainting with weakness. No, I was nothing like Colin in The Secret Garden. At least, not on the face, that is.
I kept it all a big secret.
But there was no garden to draw me from my prison. The obsessive-compulsive need to check and re-check, to console and re-console, was the driving force of my thoughts. I lived with nauseating fear and anxiety for years on end, and the most anyone ever noticed was that I was “too quiet,” “too serious,” and “ought to smile more.” They saw my shyness; they did not see my affliction. Inwardly, I was miserable and crippled.
To cope with the anxiety and depression, I turned to food for comfort, and by the time I was 15, I was 50 lbs overweight. I hated my body and my self-confidence was next to nil. But the Lord saw fit to redeem me from this food addiction and I was able to lose the weight over the next couple of years by changing my eating habits. The hypochondria, however, continued unchecked all throughout my teen years but subsided to a relatively tolerable level during my early twenties. It was still an on-going struggle in those years, but wasn’t as severe as my teens. When I was expecting my third child in early 2010, I experienced a major regression.
It felt like I was back at square one: thrust into the psychological nightmare that was my teens.
At this time, a plan I had pursued for many years suddenly became an impossibility, and though I won’t get into the details concerning that here, suffice it to say, the grief that came with the loss of my dream, along with the physical discomfort of early pregnancy, soon caused me to have stress-induced ocular migraines—something I’d never experienced before. (An ocular migraine is when you suddenly see swirls or splashes or prisms of color in your field of vision.)
And that’s what triggered my regression.
See, here’s the thing: Hypochondria was always the predominate way my anxiety disorder manifested itself. (For those who don’t know, hypochondria is an irrational fear of serious illness.) So, until I had a diagnosis—that the migraines were harmless—you can well imagine all the worst case scenarios I came up with trying to understand what was causing such symptoms. It felt like two hands had closed around my neck and were squeezing tighter and tighter.
My whole world went dark.
Unfortunately, the way hypochondria works is that even with a clean bill of health, you still irrationally fear the worst is going to happen anyway, and you become obsessed with that particular fear. What’s more, if the feeling of impending doom doesn’t have something to latch onto, you subconsciously find something for it to latch onto. And so you’re always going from one fear to the next, waiting for the other shoe to drop. I continued in this nervous state of mind all through that spring, and well into the summer.
So, how is an anxiety disorder debilitating exactly, you might wonder? Well, it’s like living in chains. Every aspect of your life is hindered by it. Your pursuits, your relationships, your walk with God, even recreation. No matter how much you try to have fun and distract yourself and lighten up, it’s always there, always a tightness in the throat, always an undercurrent in your heart and mind, threatening at any time to well up and drown you. It makes you physically weak and cold and shaky. You wake up each morning and the anxiety hits you afresh like a crashing wave. And once you become enslaved to anxiety, it honestly feels like there is no possible escape.
Unfortunately, I was unable to enjoy pregnancy in such an anxious state of mind, and I struggled with the physical discomfort of it. I felt like I was just crawling through each day, weighted down by heavy burdens. Of course, I wanted to give my burdens to God, but I didn’t know how to make that a reality. It was as if they were glued to me.
Yet through it all, God did not abandon me. Instead, He rescued me not on my timetable – but on His. Psalm 40:2 says, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”
Early signs of healing came while I was on vacation at the family cottage during that summer of 2010, while I was still expecting. I had a growing sense of exasperation, of enough is enough. In my darkest moment I remember telling myself, “Look, you have got to get better—or go mad. If you continue down this road, it will only end in madness.”
A sudden vision came to me at the cottage, in my mind’s eye, of standing inside a black cave. The only light in there was from the narrow opening of the cave, which was above and away from me by a distance of about two meters. I would have to climb up and then out, to exit the cave . . . but the problem was, my feet felt like they were encased in cement. Nevertheless, I pondered the vision over the next little while.
A couple of days after having this curious vision, I woke up with an idea, an idea that was the fruit of several months of reading books on anxiety, studying and memorizing Scripture, and praying for guidance. I said this prayer: “God, I give you these fears of mine—I put them all into your Hands.” Now, of course I had prayed this way before, there was nothing new about that. But what was going to be different this time is that I wasn’t going to limit the prayer to only once a day. And this is crucial:
Whenever I tried to retrieve the burden from God (as indicated by mounting anxiety) I would immediately give it back, even if I had to do that several times a day. In this way it was a lot like the practice of forgiveness. Sometimes you can forgive someone just once and that’s all it takes, but other times you have to forgive a person again and again, seventy times seven. Giving my fear to God only once a day had never been enough, for I almost always snatched it back again.
The second thing I did, in conjunction with this, was to begin thanking God for specific moments rather than only for large things or entire days. See, most days were a struggle for me, very oppressive, and the negative always seemed to outweigh the positive.
Many years prior to this I’d read a book called, “The Maker’s Diet” by Jordan S. Rubin. In it he shared the story of how God had fully restored his physical health from a near death state. But long before his strength returned, he began looking for brief moments in the day when he felt well, even if it was only for a couple of minutes at a time. And when he found them he would say, “In this moment, I am well.”
So, in recalling this, I began searching for moments of joy even if they were sandwiched with suffering; and even if they were only a few seconds long. Things like the kids doing something cute or funny, a good book or TV show, having a treat, a fun time with family, a cool breeze on a hot day, a lovely scent or view, a happy memory, a friendly face, time with God—anything good. I would then pray and say, “Thank you, Lord, for this moment.”
The result was that at the end of the day, I could remember several moments that I had thanked God for, and I felt a new-found sense of gratitude and lightheartedness in the recollection of them. And as time passed, it was these little moments that stood out in my memory—eclipsing the negative. And even though the negative still seemed to be of a larger quantity, it was these brief moments of joy throughout the day that I was trying to focus on now . . . and so they became like beams of light: casting off the shadows around them. I began to have a taste of what a peaceful heart actually felt like; something I had only been able to imagine before.
The third and final thing I did at this time—again, in conjunction—was just as crucial as the rest:
My mother had given me a stack of used books, one of which happened to be about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I read it out of curiosity, and quickly realized my hypochondria was fueled by OCD thinking patterns. Any time I had an anxious thought, I would try to rationalize myself out of it by going through a list of reasons and facts as to why I shouldn’t be worried. This would give me relief for all of 5 minutes—and then the cycle would repeat. I was going through these mental gymnastics several times per hour, so we’re talking as much as a hundred times a day. Up until then, anytime the anxiety would rise to an intolerable level, I was compelled to go through this ritual of “self-reassurance.” Suffice it to say, I was spending far more time trying to reassure myself, than I was spending in prayer.
So, this book, written by a Christian psychologist, said that the way to loosen the bonds of OCD is to view the rituals as an addiction that needs to be stopped. When you feel anxiety rising, instead of performing a ritual to calm yourself for a few minutes, you have to just let yourself feel the raw anxiety without using a ritual to numb it. Instead of telling myself all the logical reasons why I shouldn’t worry, I would instead simply say, “It’s in God’s Hands.” But the key was that I was not to reassure myself any longer—and this makes sense from a Christian worldview. It’s not our job to comfort and soothe ourselves. Jesus said, “Come unto Me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.”
We can not know the future, and the desire to feel security regarding the future is one that God does not fulfill. I wanted something I couldn’t have. For if we knew our future days to be secure, the temptation would surely be to make this world our home. Instead, God wants us to trust Him, waiting for our true country . . . without knowing what will happen in the meantime.
I continue to use this method to this very day. If I feel some anxiety and catch myself on the verge of doing any mental reassuring (not just concerning health, but any fear or worry in life), I view it as a temptation and I forbid those thoughts. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says to “hold every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” The only consolation or reassurance I allow myself is to go and pray and put my fear and anxiety in God’s hands—whenever necessary—remembering to do so with thanksgiving as well (as it says in Philippians 4:6-7). No trying to cheer myself up anymore or rationalize away the fear (it can’t be done!).
You can not pep-talk yourself out of anxiety. I had spent 18 years of my life trying to cope that way, and it never worked. Ironically, it only made the chains tighter! It’s a trap.
Well, after only a few days of employing these three methods, I realized that in the vision of the cave, which I could still see in my mind’s eye, I was now a little bit closer to the exit: the vision had actually changed. And several days after that, I saw myself at the opening of the cave. I stayed at the opening for quite a few days longer, perhaps even a whole week, unable to step my foot through it . . . only able to peer out. But I had hope now. Eventually I did step through the opening, but only one foot at a time. Then I stood outside the cave for several more days. (I just seemed to wake up each morning with an altered image of this vision!)
For the rest of the summer I continued with, 1), the daily prayers of putting my specific fears in God’s Hands whenever necessary, 2), thanking God for specific moments during the day, and 3), refusing to reassure myself ritualistically.
Gradually the anxiety began to lessen quite noticeably, like receding waves. I could feel the difference physically. There was a sense of being able to breathe better, and the darkness began to lift around me. The chains were loosening. I felt stronger.
In time I reached the point where I was standing several meters away from the cave, and then finally, 50 feet . . . then 100 feet away. Today I can still recall the vision in the form of a memory, but it looks like a painting of a cave far far away.
By the time my child was born, I was no longer enslaved by an anxiety disorder.
Incidentally, my name, Rebekah, means “to bind” in Hebrew. I came to see myself as being like the widow with the hunchback whom Jesus healed on the Sabbath. The Bible says Satan “had kept her bound for 18 years”—just as I had been. Then, Jesus healed her.
In the following spring of 2011, I did experience a relapse that lasted a couple of months: almost like a test to see if I’d really been healed. Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Unlike the year before, I was now fully armed, and holding to this verse, I employed the same methods I had used the previous year—and I recovered. I was no longer stumbling around in the dark—my eyes had been opened. The devil had lost his foothold.
The peace and freedom God has blessed me with these past three years is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. (At least, not since I was a young child.) And the difference between those 18 long years and the last three years is that even during times of reprieve, the grip of anxiety was still there, lying low—but these last three years it’s just simply not been there. God had released me from a yoke of slavery.
Please, don’t get me wrong though. It’s not that I no longer have any trials or hardships in life, or that I no longer feel fear, or struggle with depression from time to time . . . I do. I find it difficult to cope with all the suffering in the world. I feel the emotions of others quite palpably; like they are my own. As I was in childhood, I remain sensitive to the aura of each person and tend to be retiring and demure in person; “shyness” still the main charge against me. There are times when I’d like to be a sunny, vivacious kind of personality (a characteristic I admire in others), but I’m a dyed in the wool introvert and bookworm.
Yet thanks be to God: I am no longer mastered and crippled by anxiety.
I feel it important to add, for clarity’s sake, that I am not in any way opposed to the use of medication to treat anxiety and depression. In fact, had I not been delivered from anxiety when I was, I most certainly would have proceeded with this avenue. I view my healing as a gift from God rather than my own doing, but I know that He doesn’t always deliver everyone in this lifetime; just as some are healed of diseases while others are not. We don’t know why, His ways are not our ways. We all have a unique walk and calling in life, and sometimes God reduces suffering through the use of medication rather than cognitive behavioral therapy: this too is a gift. 🙂
32 thoughts on “Diary of a Former Hypochondriac”
This is my struggle right now. I have been looking for something that could actually relate to how I feel, and I wanted to let you know that this has been helpful. I understand your vision very well! I will be working more on my prayer life and leaving these fears at His feet and not pick it back up. I wonder if I will ever be able to accept an uncertain future, but I can try.
It is so wonderful to actually find someone who has struggled through what I am struggling with my right now. Thanks for sharing some of the methods you used and also sharing how it is ultimately up to God and how He is sovereign over this. Thank you Rebekah, it’s nice knowing I’m not alone!
I , too, am glad I ran to this post as I am realizing that I have been suffering of the same thing for several years now.
I am curious about the book you posted about, could you share the title and author?
Thank you very much for this post – you have no idea how helpful it has been!
I am 16 and have been suffering with anxiety and hypochondria since I was ten, it has got worse recently and I really needed this. I have books on anxiety but none from a Christian perspective and none from a personal experience so thank you. I pray everyday but I felt like I didnt really know what I was praying for, this has really helped me. 🙂
I am 76 years old and at the age of 5 years old I was afraid every day that I thought I will dying. I would spend hours thinking I was smothering. I stayed scared of death. My brothers and sisters would make fun of me and tell me I was crazy I would think nobody would every like me because I was crazy I would have what my mother said was my nervous spells. I got married at 19 years old. I have 4 children. I have been a christian since I was 5 years old. I started going to a social worker and she said I had ocd. Bad thoughts comes through my mind about God and I thought I was the only one that had bad thoughts but 7 years ago I bought a computer and found a post about christian ocd and I am feeling better now. When the bad thoughts come through my mind I know I didn’t want them and kept of praying and now I can comtrol them. I had soft pallet of the mouth cancer 6 years ago and God healed me. I still eat with a feeding tube and can’t hear out of my right ear and no saliva glands from the radiation and chemo. But I still go to church and I thank God every day for healing me. God has been so good to me. Praise The Lord.
I would like to get an e-mail from someone that has had these problems. God Bless
Thank you for writing this post! I want that freedom.
My name is Rebecca as well except it is spelled differently. I go by Becky and always have. I have severe anxiety and severe hypochondria. I liked reading this. Will try it
I am too going through the same feelings and was looking for many alternatives to help me calm my anxiety. Ive always known to leave it to God but I never really felt I fully believed so I expected the worst all the time. I still do. Coming across this unexpectedly is how I know to never doubt him again because I truly felt alone on this. Knowing that other Christians are going through this and advising each other is such a blessing and I thank God soooo much for this. This is truly amazing advice Rebecca!
Thank you for this. I felt to alone. I felt shame from feeling like I didn’t trust God enough to say I struggled with it. Thank you for showing me there is hope.
My heart goes out to all who suffer from this disorder. I suffered from panic attacks for years, medication was not the answer for me but 100% commitment to biblical belief and faith and trust in God. I now live a happily married life and I am committed to Jesus Christ. I was hopeless and at the mercy of counselors who relied on medication and theories of what was wrong with me. But God is the creator of the mind body and soul, wonderful counselor. It worked for me and it’s not my intention to offend anyone here, never give up.
I want to thank you for this post. I was doing a search because my husband is suffering from what I think may be a form of hypochondria. What you said about not trying console ourselves…about trusting God and praying and giving it to Him every moment as much as is needed…WOW, going to be praying and meditating on that advice. That is powerful I think. Not just for my husband but for me as well! Thank you for sharing your struggles!
Thank you so much for your words and willingness to share your story. I am struggling with the same issues after having my second child. God Bless you, and all the amazing work your doing through Him.
I am also struggling since my second child….how is it going for you….did it finally go away….were you able to use this advice and these three steps? Thank you…God Bless You All for sharing…it feels good knowing I’m not alone….especially being Christians!
Thank you so much for this. I was nodding and crying all the way through reading this. It resonates with me so much and I feel you’ve given me tools to challenge my current thinking.
Hi Emma I’m so glad to hear this blog was useful to you and I really hope the tools help you as they did me. I wish you all the best!
Thank you for sharing your struggle and victory. I am to the point of using medication, but I am going to try your strategy. Counseling isn’t helping as I had hoped and it seems like there is still a missing piece. Maybe this is it. I am thankful to have found thiS post.
Do you happen to have the name of that book on OCD mentioned above?
Hello Andrew 🙂
I’m so sorry, but it’s been so long since I read that book that I no longer recall the exact title or even the name of the author. It was a dog-eared paperback from a thrift shop with underlined/highlighted sentences. I tried doing a Google search with no luck.
What is the name of the book on OCD that you read? I would like to read it. Also, Would you be willing to have a phone conversation with me? I am going through this exact same thing but have not had breakthrough yet.
Unfortunately, it’s been so long since I read that book that I no longer recall the exact title or even the name of the author. It was a dog-eared paperback from a thrift shop with underlined/highlighted sentences. I tried doing a Google search with no luck.
If you’d like, we could talk about this via email. My address is bekah at bekahferguson . com
You should write a book about your experiences with hypochondria. Especially for teenage girls? That’s where it seems to start. I am looking for something for my daughter and can’t find anything but I’ve printed out your story which I think will be helpful. Thanks for sharing so personally.
Hopefully it will be helpful for your daughter in one way or another. 🙂 Hypochondria and anxiety go hand in hand. I find by managing general anxiety, I am also less vulnerable to hypochondria. Or in other words, when I’m most tempted by hypochondria, it’s usually that my general anxiety is high. Hypochondria seems to be a diversion from what’s really going on – if I become fixated on a health concern, I’m in effect suppressing what is REALLY causing me anxiety.
Yes, I’ve noticed that with her. Especially at the moment when the world is in high anxiety! Thanks.
This is the first time I could relate to any material on hypochondria from a Christian perspective. I trust that God will do a mighty work in my life as He has in yours. Just when I started giving up hope of ever seeing the light again. Being burdened with this is extremely difficult and debilitating and I know this is not God’s portion for my life. May I be healed and set free just as you have.
Thanks for you comment, Ilanie, I’m always so touched to hear that someone has been blessed by reading this. I wish you the best and really hope you’ll be able to experience some peace and freedom with these tools in hand! 🙂 It’s a tough time right now especially with a pandemic going on. Hypochondria seems to be more of a temptation during times of greater stress. I’ve found that when I’m anxious/upset about something else, my mind occasionally tries to channel it all onto a health concern as a way of “taking a break” from the actual thing that’s upsetting me. It’s a diversion. So whenever I find myself struggling afresh with some new or old health fear, I ask myself: is there something else you’re upset about right now that you’ve been suppressing? By addressing THAT, by facing it, praying through, etc, the temptation to hypochondria subsides.
Thankyou for sharing your story. I have been suffering severely since the birth of our 4th child (and at the same time lost my grandpa suddenly and we’ve just moved house). Physical issues from pregnancy haven’t gone away and I’m having an MRI in a few weeks to see where the issues stem from (varicose veins). Of course I think and imagine the worst. Please pray that I can summit this to God. I will use your three points also. I hate that this consumes my mind all day. I want to give all my energy to my family, not my health issues. Thankyou
Hi Bec, thanks for commenting! 🙂 It sounds like you have a lot on your plate right now: childcare, grief, adapting to a new home, and physical ailments to boot. Anyone would feel anxious and stressed under such circumstances. I know when I’ve got a lot of burdens, or one really big one, there’s a greater “temptation” to fret about my health. I’ve mentioned in some of the other comment replies as well that nowadays when hypochondria tries to rise again, I take it as an immediate clue that something is really upsetting me that I’m not dealing with / facing – probably due to suppression. So I take a closer look to find the real problem.
It’s tough though when you’re in that state of limbo of getting a test done (your MRI) and then having to wait for the results – the imagination can be so cruel – and it can feel impossible not to obsess – it hangs over your head. But one thing I know from experience again and again, is that a clean bill of health doesn’t make the anxiety instantly evaporate, so now’s the time to start with trying new methods of anxiety management – and then when you do get your results, hopefully you’ll be able to keep moving forward with greater freedom.
Wishing you the best,
Thankyou for your reply, you make some really good points and suggestions that I haven’t considered. I’ll take stock of everything and look at my anxiety management and what is triggering it in the first place. Thankyou!
This is the best thing I’ve read on hypochondria.
I have not only had all of the above, but also intrusive thoughts.
I wake up in the morning with a sense of impending doom right when I open my eyes.
It is so good to know that I am not alone and that I am not a crazy person.
Hi there 🙂 Thanks for your comment! I know that feeling of impending doom all too well. It can be such a burden.
I just read your story and it is so familiar. I have suffered with anxiety and hypochondria for 41 years. There have been times when it hasn’t been bad. I have been hospitalized 2 times with this because I have spiraled out of control. The last 3 years it has been terrible. I have prayed many times about this and have given it to God only to pick it back up I felt comfort in how recovered from this I am going to try what you did