The other day, I was staring in the mirror, straightening my hair when I noticed something alarming. I strained my body over the bathroom counter, pressed my face a breath away from the mirror and instantly started sweating; one of my pupils was bigger than the other! Rapidly zooming my glare from one eye to the other I noticed, my left eye looked normal but my right eye appeared as if it alone had taken a trip to the eye doctor for dilation. Taking a deep breath, I tried not to panic – but that effort was too little, too late. Anxiety dug in it’s heels and overwhelmed me.
I have what I like to call a “special” body. Sometimes I say that lightheartedly with a chuckle and an eye roll, and other times I say it through gritted teeth. Through the past 7 years, I’ve struggled with the results of a hypermobile body. I’ve had painful issues with both clavicles, my right hip, ribs and forearms; but I’ve come to terms with it. I’ve chosen to accept my body for the oddness that it is, and learn how to care for it better. In this moment, with one owl-eye, the resigned acceptance of my “special” body disappeared. I was frustrated, confused, and rudely greeted by the all-too familiar symptoms of anxiety – instant sweat (in a heavy bout), shallow breathing, and panicked, unrealistic, thinking.
Someone without anxious tendencies might look at uneven pupils and think “hmm.. that’s weird. I wonder if my eyeballs have always been like that.” Or, quite honestly, they might not even notice. And then there’s me – hyper aware of my body, sometimes to a fault, rattled and thinking “I probably have a brain tumor.”
The combination of anxiety and a tricky body can easily be a recipe for disaster. But through years of experience, I’ve learned one sure-fire way to quiet anxiety.
The most distinguishable characteristic about anxious thinking is that it is not rational. It’s like all of a sudden all of your logical, mental warriors take a nap, and in rush the crazy ones – the ones that say senseless things like “Something is definitely wrong with you.” “It’s probably life-threatening.” “Remember that one terrifying thing you googled – yup, that’s what you have…” “This is serious… definitely serious.”
When I’m struggling with these absurd thoughts, the last thing I want to do is admit them to someone else. To bring a “normal” thinking human into my unreasonable cloud of thoughts feels humiliating. But here’s the thing – speaking anxious lies out loud is one sure-fire to take away anxiety’s power. Instead of giving in to the temptation to shut myself in with my irrational, panicked thinking, I’ve learned that the first thing I need to do is reach out.
Frozen in front of my mirror, freaked by my huge pupil I took a deep breath, exhaled loudly and rushed downstairs to find my husband. With wide eyes, I showed him my pupils and exclaimed, “What’s wrong with me?” Tenderly, Chris talked me off the ledge. He assured me I wasn’t going to die instantly, and spoke truth over me reminding me my enlarged pupil was most likely related to the tightness in my neck and headache I had been battling that week.
The only way to combat the lies of anxious thinking is with truth. And when we can’t speak truth to ourselves, we have to invite others in to do so.
After inviting my husband to speak truth over me, I decided to take it one step further. I called my eye doctor. Another one of the lies that anxiety likes to sell to health anxiety sufferers like myself is “Don’t call your doctor – he’ll only affirm you of the impending doom that you are fearing!” Let me go ahead and say a whopping, “FALSE!” to that one.
I’ve realized that staying better in touch with my health professionals through yearly checkups, or asking questions when I’m concerned has helped me keep my anxiety at bay. Case in point – my eye doctor graciously encouraged me not to panic and made space in his schedule to see me the next day. At my appointment I found out that my uneven pupils are simply another anomaly in my body. He affirmed me that it was most likely a consequence of my headache and encouraged me to just keep an eye on it - no pun intended ;)
Leaving the eye doctor, I felt 100 lbs lighter not just because I was assured that I was okay, but because I had taken a pro-active step to take away anxiety’s power. You know what I did next? Went home and popped a bottle of champagne because moments of victory over anxiety deserve to be celebrated.
If you’re a health anxiety sufferer like me, my prayer is that you would be encouraged by these 3 things:
- YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Need to be convinced? Shoot me an email – I’d be happy to give you plenty of examples of the crazy things I’ve had anxiety over.
- Speak your anxiety out loud – We can combat anxiety's lies with truth - admit your anxious thoughts to a friend or a family member and invite them to speak truth over your mind.
- Your doctor is not your enemy – Throughout the years I’ve built a team of medical professionals (physical therapist, chiropractor, masseuse, eye doctor and dentist) who know that I have a “special” body and they understand my struggle with it. They don’t roll their eyes at me when I admit a weird question, they kindly explain what they see and assure me that my “special” body is not a weakness. Have a doctor who doesn’t make you feel comfortable? Find a new one. They should be there to support you.
Anxiety is a real jerk - but we don’t have to be willing victims. Stand your ground and invite others to help you take away its power.