The House of Hypochondriacs

I saw the advert for this Channel 4 programme a week ago and didn’t really think anything bad about it and decided to watch it. Last night it was on and I was extremely disappointed in it. It portrayed people with heath anxiety or HA (the term hypochondriac is a bit derogatory I believe) as a burden on the health care system and basically just a nuisance. Rather than highlighting the condition to people who don’t suffer it, it just led to people bashing them and calling them ‘selfish’ on social media. Dr Christian said that these people ‘visit the GP when they are well’. How dare he say that. They aren’t well, they just aren’t physically ill. People will mental illness should be treated exactly the same as someone with a physical illness.

It was also to my surprise that there was an Emetophobia sufferer on there. Ok so I can see how they said Emetophobia was similar to  HA in that it is a fear of getting ill – just a specific illness, but other than that, it isn’t the same at all. If anything it is more like OCD than HA. The Emetophobia sufferer never went to the doctor’s even if she was ill due to a fear of catching something that would make her sick. She had lots of rituals to stop herself catching something (like using gloves to open packing. (I still take something from the back of the shelf to make sure it hasn’t been touched)) and clearly spent her life doing these compulsions to stop the obsessions. I know this for a fact as that is what I was like. I was diagnosed with OCD before the word even recognised Emetophobia.

I had to stop looking at social media as the comments I saw were awful. One suggested that the Emetophobic lady should see what the factories were like that her food came when it was shown that she used gloves to open the packaging. What is that meant to achieve? Do they think that it is a laughing matter and that seeing that will make her better? I guess they think she was just being stupid. In an age where mental health charities are working hard to get rid of the stigma of mental illness, this belittling programme just put the fight back a few years by making it something to be laughed at – even the music that accompanied the show had a comical tone to it.

Someone on No More Panic asked why someone with OCD (or Emetophobia as she actually had) would be on the same programme as those with HA. That is a very good question. That would be like putting on a programme all about recovering from heart attacks and then adding a person who suffers with acid reflux disease. They both cause chest pain but they aren’t the same thing! This was just bad researching by the programme makers. They read that Emetophobia was about a fear of vomiting and put two and two together and assumed it was the same as HA.

Speaking of acid reflux, that was another small part of the show that really got to me. They suggested that people also go to the GP to ‘waste’ their time on simple things like acid reflux and constipation and that they should just see the pharmacist about that. I have suffered with gastroesophagus reflux disease (GORD) for 10 years and I also have IBS. These are another two disorders that have charities etc. trying to get people to understand better and to take away the stigma that it is ‘all in their head’ but this programme once again took away the work that they have been doing. Of course you should go to the GP with acid reflux or constipation! They could be a sign of something serious going on from a hiatus hernia, stomach ulcer, bowel obstruction to cancer.

This programme by channel 4, along with other similar titles like Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners, just adds to the stigma that people like me have to face each day. It is programmes like this that make me want to fight to get these real illnesses taken seriously and for sufferers to be given the same respect as those with physical illnesses.

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Finally an answer!

So after 10 long years I have finally found out what is causing my stomach problems and it is not anxiety as I have been told my numerous doctors!

10 years ago I started feeling really sick every time I ate and had a really sore throat. At the time I tested positive for Glandular Fever (Mono) so they put it down to that. I was given pantoprazole to stop the production of stomach acid but it didn’t really help. I suffered like this for months and was finally given an endoscopy 6 months later. They couldn’t find anything wrong with me at the time and told me it was just my anxiety (like they always do!). In the meantime I meant by now husband and got on with life despite feeling sick all the time.

In 2008 it came back with a vengeance and I was really ill. I lost a so called best friend because of this as she could put up with me being ill all the time. Fortunately my now hubby put up with me! I went back for more tests in 2009 but failed two endoscopies. The first one I opted to not have the sedation (like I did the first time) but I was too scared and knew what was coming so I didn’t do it. The second time I had the sedation but apparently I kept moving the camera away from my mouth so the doctor stopped it for my safety. I eventually had a barium swallow which showed I had reflux and was told to take strong anti acid medications (which I was already on and didn’t really help) and that it was all caused by anxiety! This enraged me! I knew that anxiety made it worse but I also knew that it wasn’t caused by anxiety. I know my own body more than anyone else and I knew that I wasn’t making myself this sick. Now it is true that emets do make themselves feel sick a lot as part of the phobia but I knew this was something different. Mainly because it wasn’t always nausea that I was feeling, sometimes it was just like my food wouldn’t go down.

I wasn’t satisfied by this diagnosis so I asked for a second opinion. Unfortunately by this time I had changed jobs and no longer had my private medical cover so I needed to be seen on the NHS. I saw the gastro doc quite quickly and he wanted to do another endoscopy and colonoscopy (I have IBS). But I said I refused to do it unless I was under a general anesthetic. Because of this I ended up waiting another six months and didn’t have the tests until early 2010. Bare in mind that the symptoms started at the end of 2008 then you can see that this was a long time. By the time I had the tests my symptoms had died down a little and I wasn’t as bad. That meant that he didn’t find anything. Unfortunately I missed my follow up appointment but he just told the GP to keep me on the anti acid medication and that was that. So I was just told to live with the acid reflux and get on with my life!

I got bad again in 2012 but my GP refused to send me to a specialist again as I had seen them twice before and they had never found anything. I had just got married at the time and they told me it was probably down to anxiety (there’s that word again) and put me on stronger anti anxiety medication and again told me to get on with life! This happened again at the end of 2014! I was so ill then that I spent in total about a month off work. But again I was told it was my anxieties and was prescribed many different anti-anxiety medications. I kept telling them that this was real but they refused to believe me.

I left it for several months and then went back to the GP at the end of May to give them an update on my mental health (Thrive has nearly cured me) and asked some general advice about women’s things! I did this so they knew that I was no longer in a bad place mentally and they commented about how good I looked!

Then last week my hubby and I went to see the GP about my stomach. I told them that I was hungry all the time and that the acid really bothers me. He gave me advice on what to eat (yeah like that will help. This was gnawing hunger pains not real hunger) and said the acid was probably just something wrong with the way my body worked and to just ignore it. I was furious! I have been ignoring it for 10 years and it doesn’t make it go away. I can’t eat normally ever and I can’t remember the last time that my stomach felt ok!

My hubby and I talked and decided that I should just contact a private gastro doc which I did at the end of last week. I managed to get an appointment really quickly with one and saw him on Monday. He felt my stomach and said he wanted to do another endoscopy and colonoscopy (oh joy!). I had these yesterday. He came to see me when I was in recovery so I am questioning whether I actually heard him correctly but he told me everything looked normal apart from a small hiatus hernia. I spoke to the recovery nurse and she said that most people over 60 tend to have hernias there and that they only affect you if you are getting acid reflux. I felt relieved that there was actually a physical reason I am getting these symptoms but also a bit scared that there was actually something wrong with me.

I don’t get to see the specialist again until 2 weeks time but I have looked up a hiatus hernia and it certainly fits what is wrong with me. But my main question was how could they have been missed by all those other tests when I have had the same symptoms for 10 years? My Mum suggested that maybe I just had acid reflux before and that having that caused the hernia but according to all the literature that is on the internet (including the NHS site and Mayo Clinic) is is a hernia that causes reflux not the other way round. On those pages it talks about two types of hernia but the main one is called a sliding hernia that isn’t always there. Sometimes the stomach slides back under the diaphragm when there is less pressure on the stomach. So my only thought it perhaps this had happened when I had my tests before which would tie into the fact that my symptoms  weren’t as bad at that point. But obviously I don’t know if that is the case and I will ask the specialist when I see him in two weeks but I really do feel hard-done-by here y the GPs and other specialist for telling me for ages that I was creating these symptoms with my anxiety when I knew there was something physically wrong with me! I guess I will wait and see for when I talk to the specialist. The next question is, how so I get it fixed?….

P.S. Just had another thought. A hernia can be caused by excess pressure on your stomach from being overweight (I have been in the past and was in 2014), wearing tight clothing (my trousers are really tight when I get bloated), straining to use the loo (I do all the time and my reflux is worse after I go) and any other pressure to the stomach. I wonder if my emet trait of stopping myself being sick (which I did just after I got married in 2012 – before the previous flare up) actually put the pressure on my stomach and caused the hernia to go out again?