Trauma and Health Anxiety

During 2020 — when the pandemic began — I developed what I call extreme health anxiety. Living with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) just made it all the worse. I lived (and still live) in New York City, which, in the early days, became the epicenter of the Covid virus.

At that time, I was still cleaning my groceries with Clorox wipes and double masking outdoors. The anxiety was real — and valid. The anxiety started as what I would call "normal" worry. I worried about myself, I worried about my partner, I worried about my parents, I worried about my brother, and I worried about my friends. I worried about the world and my city. Everyone was worried — and for good reason.

A surreal and dark time

I'd read the news about the virus numbers and the bodies in bags and nearby buildings being turned into makeshift hospitals, and my blood pressure shot through the roof. I'd watch videos of people crying and clanging pans together to celebrate the healthcare workers. Like everyone else in the world, the pandemic became all-consuming. It was surreal and dark, and I am sure I'm not alone in experiencing 2020 like this.

Shifting anxieties

But as the pandemic went on, and as I got eventually got very sick with Covid (and then long Covid), the anxiety stopped being about the virus itself and morphed into overall health anxiety. It's like the circumstances changed by my body never felt safe again. It had learned to just "be" anxious. It stayed in that mode.

I worried about death. I worried about what it meant to die, to be here one moment and then gone the next. Late at night, laying in bed, my mind would spiral — thinking about what could go wrong inside my body. I worried about the fragility of the human body, so that any time there was something slightly wrong with my health, it sent a "panic" signal to my body. My heart would race and my palms with sweat. Intrusive thoughts about any little symptom would take over my mind.

This is where AS comes into play

An AS flare-up would send me into an anxious downfall. I felt completely out of control like my body could betray me at any moment. The thing is, being alive means having to contend with a body that sometimes isn't perfect.

I have a disease and I have to accept that, even if the anxiety doesn't want me to. I’ve had to learn to accept that, for whatever reason, the pandemic made me hyper-vigilant about my health in a way that isn’t comfortable, and in ways I now have to unlearn. I am safe in my body even if it's not "perfect."

Sometimes, it takes some time and reflection to realize how traumatic events actually impact us. Sometimes the trauma rears its heads in strange ways. Sometimes it might even feel silly. But your feelings and your reactions are valid.

How did the pandemic affect you emotionally? Did it have an impact on how you perceived your health or AS?

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