Anxiety can be a familiar and unwelcome companion to those with illness. Whether it's the sudden headache that sends you searching online for possible diagnoses or the agonizing wait for test results, worrying about your health can be almost as bad as illness itself.
A little bit of worried-well behavior is not necessarily bad,' writes Anne Polta on her HealthBeat blog. 'Sometimes it can prompt people to take necessary action. Sometimes the patient even turns out to be right.' But often, especially for those with new or vague symptoms, an online search for answers leads to anxiety and sometimes requests for unnecessary tests. However, 'I don't think we'd want to return to an era when patients were told a minimum of information and paternally advised not to worry,' Polta says.
Jackie Fox at Dispatch from Second Base couldn't agree more.' She writes, 'I have often said that telling us how we should feel about our diagnosis is like telling us we should be six feet tall or have brown eyes. The same thing can apply to worrying. Some of us are just wired that way....'' For those in the midst of treatment, worrying over lab results, worsening symptoms or the possibility of a recurrence can cast an even greater shadow over one's life. Jackie discusses her own personal approach to worry: 'Some' of my online buddies' have shared' their fears of an upcoming oncology visit or blood test, and I've thought of reaching out the same way, but I can't bring myself to do it.' Her tendency to worry and not share is just part of who she is.
Even those who aren't prone to anxiety aren't immune from it either. Blogger WarmSocks recounts a recent appointment with her rheumatologist where she went in relatively worry free and left wondering what to make of a rash. "I waltzed into the appointment' feeling great.' A few sore joints here and there, but nothing worth mentioning.' By the time I left, I sat dejectedly in my car and sighed.' What did I do to deserve this?"
How we react in the face of anxiety over illness is personal and can vary from one situation to the next. As Jessie Gruman writes in Appointment in Samarra: Our Lives of Watchful Waiting, ''people respond to such uncertainty in very different ways.' Some shut it out'Some of us find the idea of waiting in the face of an impending threat is too passive a strategy and we take matters into our own hands'The manner in which we watchfully wait may shift as the meaning of our illness and its threat change over time.' Despite our varied responses, however, we share more than just an undercurrent of anxiety.
Whether it's worrying about the onset of an illness or worrying about the decision to end treatment, the waiting and uncertainty can indeed be the hardest part.