The Poison is Fictional, but My Brain Needs an Antidote.
February 26, 2011 6:55 AM   Subscribe

I'm under the impression that I have some sort of clinical, WAY beyond rational fear of being poisoned. My food, my drinks- even the air itself seems to be conspiring to kill me day in and day out. It's begun to interfere with my normal daily life. Is there anything I can do to overcome this? Anything to keep me from staying up half the night on account of panic attacks?

Where to begin? It started out of nowhere about two years ago. Practically overnight. For the life of me, I can't figure out what might have touched it off. In the beginning, it was no more than a bit of silly caution. I got a little bit less comfortable with handling automotive fluids, and heavy cleaning liquids, but nothing serious. Gradually, I've come to the point that I can no longer be near these things.

For some perspective, here's what happened between me and water. It was a private thing at first. Nobody noticed, and I didn't try to hide it. I'd drink tap water at home, but when I went out, I started drinking bottled water when it was available. You know, the kitchen water might not be good. Or the glasses might not be clean. Have some industrial grade (poisonous) dish washing residue on them. Or some guy with a fatal disease breathed on the it in transit (later stages). Then I started filtering my water at home. Some unknown was assuredly poisoning the city water supply, and the only one who was going to be affected by it was me. Then I stopped doing that too. Can't even do water fountains anymore. I'm at the point where I don't drink anything that's not bottled. Especially water. That's a problem because it's A. Unhealthy and B. Expensive. And even then, if I think the water tastes a little off, or the bottle is a little misshapen, or the seal doesn't crack just right, I pitch it. Chemicals might have gotten into a batch at an undeclared incident at the factory.

Food went more or less the same way. It used to be that i'd just be a little wary of certain things on my plate. Even less rational than the water thing. It was never something I could put my finger on- just a general feeling of unease about some random thing I was eating.

I alternate between believeing that people are poisoning me accidentally, or on purpose- which makes things difficult when your girlfriend makes you a cake for your anniversary, and after you take a few bites, you have an anxiety attack in full view of the world. Not that I would have any reason to suspect she would have done that. And then, if she made something later, I'd eat it gladly! No problems at all!

Recently, I've begun to believe less that there is strychnine in my soup, and more that I'm going to be horribly allergic to some ingredient I haven't tried before, which makes me afraid to try new things. That sucks a lot, because trying new foods was one of my favorite hobbies. The other problem I have is with the man-killing bacteria or diseases I dream could be present in my meals. As a result, I'm not eating as much as I probably should be.

Very recently, I've come to believe that any smell that I find unusual in the air is almost certainly a noxious gas that will overwhelm me if I don't get indoors immediately.

These things, I get worked up about, but can ultimately sidestep. (Even if sidestepping them is something ridiculous) The worst of it all comes by night. Sometimes, it happens just as I'm about to go to sleep in my bed. Other times, I'll wake up. And sometimes, I'll just be out and about. The symptoms are always different, but it always ends in a panic attack. My chest tightens, my face feels numb, I feel weak, I cough, feel sick to my stomach, etc., and my mind races trying to figure out what could have done this to me during the day, until I've worked myself up to the point that my head is begging me to go to the emergency room. But I don't. That would be ridiculous. At least run to find someone to freak out to! But I don't want to bug anyone at three in the morning. The only way to remedy this is to stay up until I'm so exhausted that I can't stay awake anymore.

Don't get me started about radiation poisoning.

Okay, now that you have some background, here's the thing: I don't actually believe any of these things. I know they're (mega) irrational, and in my head I know exactly how absurdly I'm acting. I get to the point of hysterics, and there's nothing I can do to stop it, and all the while I'm cursing myself because I know I'm not really poisoned. People who reach out to me tell me as much, but it doesn't help at all. It can't be reasoned with. It defies any sort of concrete logic you throw at it.

I'm trying to get help for it, but it looks like I won't be able to for some time. Does anybody have any tips? Any little thing would be appreciated. I remember when I wasn't like this. I don't want my life to be like this now.
posted by Krazor to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: TL;DR How does one overcome fear of being poisoned and associated crippling anxiety.

Note: I've tried meditation, and I just can't keep my mind quiet enough to get any results. Not even my favorite music really helps.
posted by Krazor at 6:58 AM on February 26, 2011

This is textbook obsessive behavior -- one of the hallmarks of obsessions is that you know they're irrational but that you can't stop acting on them. Medication and therapy are the obvious choices here, though you say you can't get help for some time. You might look into cognitive-behavioral therapy. There are some self-guided books, though most focus on depression and anxiety. I would see how quickly you could get in to see a mental health professional (or even a GP who could prescribe some medication until you can get in to see a therapist).
posted by proj at 7:09 AM on February 26, 2011

To conquer fear, you must become fear!

(Ok, I've been waiting ages for an AskMe where I can use that as my opening line.)

In seriousness though, it sounds like you need to force yourself to be exposed to that which you fear - eg, drink tap water from someone else's house even though it frightens you. You need to force yourself the hard way into not just knowing that your fears are irrational, but doing what scares you so often that the fear/panic reaction goes away. When I was learning to fly I used to dread spin training but after you've done it so many times, your rational mind which knows the truth about aerodynamics etc takes over and you learn how simple and easy it is to recover from, and that the wings aren't going to be ripped off etc etc. The fear goes away...

I think the same might work for you.
posted by dougrayrankin at 7:10 AM on February 26, 2011

I am quite confident you have a form of OCD or moderately severe anxiety disorder. No amount of self analysis, rational analysis or objective feedback is likely to modify this. Stop trying to figure out how/why you are preoccupied with these thoughts. Make an appointment with a clinic/person who specialized in treating OCD and give your self at least a 2 month trial and medication until you find what works. Research very strongly suggests this has a genetic basis and is a function of biology. Give yourself a break, stop thinking this is something you can/should control or that you or or significant others "caused" this. You may have to try several medications (some of the old line SSRIs can be quite effective). This is not a problem that is likely to respond to general counseling or psychotherapy. Find someone who has solid credentials in treating OCD or severe anxiety disorders. There are a number of good self help books that might be assistance and complement other treatment. Start with the National advocacy organizations for OCD or anxiety disorders. Avoid looking for magic and quick cures. It is very treatable but takes work, patience and a bit of time. If you want any additional info. please feel free to contact me at the email listed in my profile. Best wishes.
posted by rmhsinc at 7:21 AM on February 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

Textbook anxiety (OCD is in that category, actually.) Get thee to a medical professional. If you're really in Austin, here are some phone numbers to get you started.

If you cannot see a medical professional (though in your case I would say you should be looking at "I'll go to therapy instead of eating out this month" level sacrifices to do so,) I recommend looking into mindfulness/meditation (just giving yourself tools to head off panic - this may not work for you without medication) and reading books on anxiety, all of which can do a much better job than I can of explaining why you need to prioritize getting help, and can offer you lots and lots of mini strategies to get you through the hopefully very short time before you do so.
posted by SMPA at 7:38 AM on February 26, 2011

Until you can get professional help, I recommend the Anxiety and Phobia Workbook.
posted by desjardins at 7:54 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yep, nthing OCD. As rmhsinc says, wondering why you have these thoughts is unproductive, and you probably need to seek professional treatment at this point (some people with food-related contamination fears can become ill from malnutrition if the symptoms continue to get worse and they don't seek treatment).

Look up some local providers through the OC Foundation, or just search for local clinics that specialize in OCD. You will want to be sure they are using some type of exposure-based therapy (the terms to look for are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and/or exposure and response prevention (ERP)).

The great news is that OCD responds very well to CBT/ERP. Best of luck to you!
posted by Bebo at 7:55 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm trying to get help for it, but it looks like I won't be able to for some time.

Because you've found a resource, but there's a long waiting list? Because you're short of money? Because you're too busy with other things? Have a family that stigmatizes psych issues? Perhaps instead we should be looking for strategies to help you overcome whatever barrier makes getting help a not-immediate thing. ( Check your memail.)
posted by mumkin at 8:09 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am a huge fan of the OCD Foundation. Find a free support group here.

Also, there's a hilarious novel/memoir about a person with OCD with contamination fears (which can make taking OCD meds tricky), let me find it ... Just Checking. I think you would really like the book.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:09 AM on February 26, 2011

Another good book for dealing with these symptoms is Brain Lock.
posted by thebrokedown at 10:11 AM on February 26, 2011

In the meantime, give meditation another shot ... but look into mantras. It's something to repeat/focus on when you can't quiet you mind. I find them extremely helpful when me brain gets spinny. "healing mantras" by Thomas Ashley-Farrand is a great help. Might also help when you feel the panic starting.

Also, a little yoga everyday. Even just a little. My easy 22-minute tivoed "workout" helps in a way I genuinely don't understand.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 2:26 PM on February 26, 2011

Yeah, sounds like your standard hard-core OCD/anxiety. It's a real bitch. Trying to "power through" this on your own is like trying to use will power to overcome diabetes or a broken leg. It just won't happen. Get yourself some good professional help, please.

I've been there, although for me it was fear of poisoning by proxy (everything is potentially lethal for my baby, so I have to carry her in my arms at all times and not let her touch anything). The worst is the feeling that you'll never be safe, that there's no safe place left in the world. I got help, and it helped. I hope the same will work for you.
posted by math at 4:49 PM on February 26, 2011

Hey Krazor,

How's this going? I'd love an update.

I've got the same problem. I found this thread because I'm currently sub-conciously convinced I've got food poisoning, despite consciously being fairly certain I do not. I get these panic attacks, always food-poisoning oriented, a few times per week. It's awful, and I always chalked it up to a severe anxiety disorder - I never realized OCD might be part of it. But, now that I think about it, a lot of my weirdness makes sense in an OCD framework.

Months after the fact, I think this thread is going to help me. Thanks all. And I'd love to hear how you've been doing, Krazor.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 11:02 PM on April 16, 2011

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