Help with Health Anxiety
March 5, 2012 5:59 PM   Subscribe

Help me help my partner move past his health anxiety.

My wonderful partner has been suffering from intense health related anxiety for 5 years. During that time we have had a second child, lost my father to cancer and dealt with his parent's marriage imploding. I spend much of my energy trying to make sure he is okay. However, my techniques are not effective. Usually I say the wrong thing, mostly I am just not a doctor or a psychologist. He is scared all of the time. His anxiety and subsequent anger are taking over our lives. He is an amazing and loving man, a terrific and enthusiastic father and the love of my life.
Unfortunately I am sinking. I cannot handle this anymore. I never know what kind of partner I will wake up next to. After taking care of two young children all day, when he gets home from work, or on the the weekends he often really requires my support. Sometimes I am able to do this, and sometimes I am angry about it. There is no room in my life or my mind for myself. I am so sad and feel so lost and trapped. He just saw his doctor today and will be undergoing some tests for an issue he is concerned about (which of course may be legitimate). So now I look ahead and all I can see is my own quiet worries that something is wrong, his loud worries that he is dying, and an endless cycle of stress and fear and anger.
We only have so much time in this life and i don't want to spend it this way. He is on anti anxiety meds but is not seeing a therapist (grrr). We have a wide and loving support network, but I still feel utterly alone.
Please help us
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I know you posted this anonymously, but... is there any way you could show this to him?

He obviously needs therapy! So the answer is "whatever it takes to get him to a therapist."
posted by kavasa at 6:10 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Help me help my partner move past his health anxiety.

I am sorry to hear that your partner is this ill with his anxiety disorder. I also have an anxiety disorder, and I have had periods in the past where it's been just as severe for me as it sounds like it is for your husband, as well as periods where it's been significantly more so.

I'm just mentioning this to say that it's not okay for him to use you as the target of his anger. Having an anxiety disorder does not mean he's not in control of or responsible for his actions. It is also not okay for him to use you as a kind of permanent crutch in lieu of getting real treatment. Particularly when that is so detrimental to your own well-being.

It is okay for you to stop giving as much as you have been giving, and insist that instead, he go to a therapist, and go back to his psychiatrist to see if his medication can be adjusted. IMO, that's the only way to really help him at this point. It's clear he needs way more than a reasonable amount of emotional support from a non-professional, which is all you can give.
posted by cairdeas at 6:11 PM on March 5, 2012 [8 favorites]

Unfortunately I am sinking. I cannot handle this anymore. I never know what kind of partner I will wake up next to....There is no room in my life or my mind for myself. I am so sad and feel so lost and trapped.

Have you told him exactly this? If not, he needs to hear it. If you have, what was his response? An amazing and loving partner does not hold his family hostage with his anxiety, fear and anger.
posted by OsoMeaty at 6:41 PM on March 5, 2012 [9 favorites]

Is he eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly? Therapy and medication are the default MeFi answers, but anxiety often responds well - incrementally and sometimes almost imperceptibly - to small, regular, positive changes in diet, rest, and level of physical activity.

I've dealt with anxiety for most of my life, including several bouts with acute hypochondria - it is much, much easier to deal with (to the extent that I can put it out of my mind for months at a time) when I am taking good care of myself.

If he's not being attentive to these things, you might be able to convince him to change in the interest of protecting his health more generally.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:53 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you need to tell him that his anxiety is hurting you, and that he needs to seek therapy for it.

In the meantime, how about therapy for you? Take care of yourself. You have kids depending on you.

Good luck.
posted by elizeh at 7:55 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I spend much of my energy trying to make sure he is okay.
Stop doing this. Don't check on him, don't indulge him, if he starts telling you have worried he is about his health, shut him down, you don't want to hear about it, if he wants someone to talk to he can go to a therapist, if he doesn't stop, leave the room.

It sounds unsympathetic, I know but ultimately, sympathy isn't going to solve the problem or get him to get the help he needs. You have to put your foot down, he either gets help or shuts the fuck up because you're not going to put up with it any more. Don't punish the undesirable behaviour - don't yell or cry or threaten, just ignore it, leave the room or mentally tune him out if you can't leave the room (eg. in bed at night or in the car) and be extra nice and attentive when he is not being 'normal' (ie not worrying about his health)

Ignoring him is unlikely to make his anxiety go away but it may lessen it because he no longer has someone to indulge him and be a sounding board for his fears. It should make it affect you less and might help him to realise that if he wants to talk about it, he should be talking to a professional who can offer more than just platitudes.
posted by missmagenta at 2:01 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have serious health anxiety issues as a component of my OCD. It has taken over my life for years at a time, and I've just started getting out of a serious relapse. I'm doing all right now. My relapse resulted from just the kind of life stressors that you describe going on in your lives. Here is my advice:

Believe me, he doesn't want to live like this, either. His brain is misfiring and telling him that risk is all around him, and that if he stops worrying for one second, he'll miss the risk that will affect him and/or his family. He is not deliberately torturing you. He's mentally ill - and unfortunately, his illness is severe.

You should tell him how badly this is affecting you, in as explicit terms as possible. It's very difficult to convince some people to get the proper treatment, but that kind of revelation can be a big motivator. Yes, it will help him if he takes better care of his health and gets exercise and etc. But I tried all of those self-help tactics for a year and a half, before I finally gave in to just going to the freaking doctor for pills and therapy. Life changed within a few weeks.

I don't believe that "putting your foot down" or "refusing to indulge him" are the right tactics. He doesn't need anyone to be mean to him right now, or to try to punish him in any way. You definitely shouldn't engage with the anxieties, but do it kindly and firmly. If he's like me, he may secretly hate himself for his own actions, and fear everyone will leave him because he's "crazy". My mother used to try the tough-love approach with my health anxiety, and it just sent me into deep despair that not only did I have a horrible disease, but I was also crazy and no one loved me because of it.

Just remember: He's not trying to be a pain in the ass -- he genuinely cannot help his health anxiety. He has a psychiatric problem, not a behavior problem. That doesn't mean you have to put up with it, but it does mean you have to choose the right tactics to help end the suffering for both of you.

Whatever medication he's on right now is not good enough. It's not the right dosage, or not the right one for him. That needs to be addressed soon. My medicine has given me the mindspace to start working on the foundations of my health anxiety, and it's made it much easier to get anything out of therapy.

So when he's at the doctor getting all these freaky tests, he needs to say, "My medication isn't working. I still feel awful." After he's gotten onto something that quells this anxiety a bit, start pushing him toward therapy. This may take a lot of trial and error, but it will be worth it in the end.

Good luck.
posted by Coatlicue at 5:24 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Book a joint consultation with his/your doctor and explain to the doctor how his anxiety if affecting your life and you need professional help. At a minimum, his meds need to be adjusted and he has to commit to heavy duty therapy. He also needs to take steps to repair the damage he has done to your family. I am sorry this has been so difficult for you, if he is willing to take responsibility for his health and his behaviour then this is something you can get through together.
posted by saucysault at 6:34 AM on March 6, 2012

I exhibit a lot of the same behaviors as your partner. I probably have generalized anxiety disorder and I frequently become obsessive about health concerns. This manifests as: constant worrying/catastrophizing, self-diagnosing various conditions, obsessively reading PubMed abstracts and online discussion forums focusing on specific ailments, acting cranky and pre-occupied at home, complaining about physician incompetence, etc. And I have no doubt my wife occasionally feels the way you do. This behavior tends to flare up during times of stress (for example, right now, when we have a new baby at home)...but usually resolves after a few months, regardless of whether or not I take any steps to address it.

I also happen to have an actual (i.e., diagnosed) chronic health condition, but whatever--that's just a coincidence. For whatever reason, whenever some new symptom pops up, I start down the same road. It sucks, and like Coatlicue suggests, I don't want to be this way, and frequently kind of hate myself for it (and can be so self conscious about it, that I hide my obsessive worry and associated behaviors from those around me (for example, deleting my hypochondriachal browsing history on a regular basis)).

I think you need to: Remind him that you take his health concerns seriously and that you're not going to like, leave him if by some chance he gets sick. But that he just needs to trust his doctors at a certain point. Tell him what you've written here and really stress that his behavior is negatively impacting your family and relationship. Restate his need to go talk to a professional and be pretty forceful about that.

He's dealing with a form of mental illness that is not all that uncommon and is totally treatable. He needs a nudge. And thank you for the nudge!
posted by bennett being thrown at 11:40 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

My husband has gone through something very similar.
A few things that have helped:
CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) can teach techniques for dealing with anxiety and obsessive thoughts


Staying busy!

He definitely still has anxiety, but it's better managed now.
posted by PrettyKnitty at 5:44 PM on March 6, 2012

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