Insomnia and hypochondria can go hand in hand. For me in particular, they tend to feed each other in a vicious cycle: lose sleep, worry about health, lose more sleep, worry more, and on and on. I also think hypochondria begins very early in life, often fueled by our observations and experiences as children. Such is the case for me, at least.
Illness and disease were not taken lightly in my household. As a pre-teen, I remember when a new vaccine came out that would supposedly prevent a certain cancer; I was taken to the clinic immediately to get this magical shot. I also distinctly remember a conversation I had with a family member when I began experiencing hormone issues in my teens. After repeatedly questioning if my doctors really knew what they were doing, she expressed her desperate concern that I might have some kind of tumor causing the problem: “I just wish we could put you through a scanner to tell us everything that’s wrong in there!”
Our hypochondriac culture calls these behaviors normal. After all, parents love their kids and want them to have optimal health, and we as humans naturally want to care for our bodies the best we can. However, I’m realizing that sometimes our desire for (or obsession with?) healthy bodies and healthy kids can manifest into incredibly unhealthy worry.
One of my best friends from high school recently earned her medical degree, and she tells me the most hysterical stories of hypochondriacs coming in for ridiculous concerns. She sees at least 10 of these worriers per day, and she also says 80 percent of her job as a doctor involves reassuring people that they are perfectly fine.
Of course I believe that we should address our bodies’ physical and medical needs, but when do we say “enough is enough” and leave our poor doctors alone?
The Horse, Not the Zebra
I personally struggle with hypochondria, along with another self-diagnosed issue I like to call WebMD Syndrome. The syndrome goes like this: Something seems abnormal with my body, I Google my symptoms, then WebMD convinces me at least five major diseases have taken over simultaneously. With insomnia dragging on for a couple of years now, I’ve gone through this process many times and visited a number of doctors to ask what in the world is physically wrong with me.
They’ve determined some hormone issues exist—nothing new there—and I’ve been working with a specialist to correct those for several years now. But here’s the kicker: everything else shows I’m perfectly normal. My lungs function well, my heart functions well, my basic labs show nothing abnormal, and my weight and BMI fall within a healthy range. From my doctor’s point of view, my body runs like a well-oiled machine.
Now, could I go further with the testing? Sure. In fact, that’s what I’ve been wrestling through during the past several weeks. I could go to doctor after doctor, looking for anything physical that modern medicine can fix. Sleep studies could tell me if my legs or muscles unconsciously activate at night, or if my breathing stops momentarily, waking me up. But my newly licensed doctor friend shared some powerful medical wisdom for me to keep in mind: expect the horse, not the zebra.
In my situation, that means I can expect a long history of hormonal issues probably affects my sleep to some degree. It means the recent stressors in my life—first a new marriage, then poor job security, then employment change, then major work-related stress, then job termination, then a new home, etc.—have probably contributed to the problem as well. It means dealing with unresolved conflict and tension dating back to my early years may affect sleep, also. And finally, the biggie: fear and worry over sleeplessness itself likely keeps me from sleeping more often than I’d like to admit. Insomnia, you are such a cruel, double-edged sword.
All signs point to mental health and hormonal issues for me. I don’t snore loudly or gasp for breath at night (my husband has confirmed—and I recently recorded myself—*guilty grin*). I don’t restlessly move my legs at night (also confirmed). I do notice my sleep worsens during periods of emotional stress and change, or when I’m PMS-ing. Like I said, the horse, not the zebra.
Living in Freedom
So much of insomnia is a mental game. Once I go down the thinking path of “Oh, I must have this,” or “Oh, maybe it’s this,” it causes unnecessary worry and makes sleep much worse. I’m still learning how to let these thoughts go. I dread the idea of being that girl who comes to the doctor convinced her headache is brain cancer, or that a large pimple is a dangerous cyst. (Both true stories, courtesy of my doctor friend.) And I really dread the idea of being the girl who worries herself sick.
Instead, I want to live in freedom. I want to trust that God has a plan for me, that He will make it apparent when I should seek out a doctor’s help, and that He would give me peace when worry takes me down a road I should avoid. Though I’m not great at it, I’m trying my best to give God the reigns and let Him guide my medical decisions, rather than act out of fear.
Confession time. I actually did have a sleep study scheduled for this week. Though I was apprehensive about my decision, as it is way out of character for me, I’m proud to announce that I have canceled the appointment. It’s my way of mentally switching from “But what if sleep apnea is my problem?!” to “OK, God. You’ve proven Yourself faithful so far with the track I’m on. Make it obvious to me if You want me heading in another direction.”
Maybe He will guide me toward a sleep study sometime in the future. Perhaps He will take me down the hormone replacement therapy track. Or maybe He wants me to continue facing my fears, managing stress, addressing mental health issues and relying on Him for my needs.
Maybe it’s time for me to finally let go. After all, I never truly had control in the first place.
Peace and blessings,
Kat, (semi-professional) insomniac