30 March 2015

Anxieties past

When a new worry grips me, it not only wipes out any happy thoughts and positive feelings, but all other current concerns, which suddenly seem to pale into insignificance. How could I have been so bothered about those things, when now I have this to deal with?

The reality is that this is frequently no more than speculation or dread about something that might happen. So it was when I became obsessed with the idea that my kitchen radiator would spring a leak. 

It began when I was on my hands and knees, mopping up a wine spillage, and spotted a dot of rust on the bottom edge of the radiator. Peering underneath, I saw that this ran along a whole section of the rim.

My heart started pounding. It was as if the rust had just appeared before my eyes and was spreading like wildfire. I tried to tell myself it was nothing: it had probably been there for ages and was just on the surface. I rubbed a finger over it and while the skin did, indeed, turn orange, there was still rust visible on the metal. How deep did it go?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/
Pictures formed in my mind of it creeping between the two welded edges of the radiator. Creeping up and up until it split them apart and water poured out. Every time I entered the room, I looked for puddles on the floor. Even when I found none, I felt compelled to touch the bottom of the radiator, to be sure it wasn't dripping. 

And so a new anxiety had mutated into a new obsession that had led to a new checking compulsion.

Fortunately, my plumber was due to visit to carry out a non-urgent maintenance job, so I took the opportunity to ask him if I should be concerned. Reassurance seeking is common in OCD sufferers, but ill-advised; the reassuring effect is usually temporary and fails to satisfy the disorder's demands for absolute certainty. However, there was a chance that an expert assessment - if positive - might calm me down.

He glanced at the radiator. 'It looks brand new.' He was clearly bemused as to why I should be worried.

'It's under here,' I explained, crouching down and touching the lower edge...and then I felt it - water! 'Oh no, why is it wet?' I looked up at him, panic-stricken.

'It'll just be condensation,' he said. 'Have you had the window open in here today?'

'Er no...and I did two lots of washing, which made the room quite warm...and I haven't had the heating on.'

He shrugged. Warm air plus cold metal could only have one outcome. 

I felt foolish for even asking the question, but his response did enable me to bring my checking to an end, albeit gradually over a number of days. 

Months on, I can walk into the kitchen without thinking about leaks at all and wonder how that ever became such a huge concern. Of course, a succession of other, equally pointless worries have been and gone in the meantime. If I could only fast forward to a position of hindsight every time a new one surfaces, life would be a lot easier.


delightful dragon said...

Hi Helen. I know exactly how you feel. That sudden panic that spills over you. Yes I know it well. I am a sufferer of Health Anxiety, and worry about virus's. I am not so bad at the moment..I dealt fairly well with my son's verucca which has now finally gone after 3 months!! Mine was triggered in my first pregnancy. I thought I had Listeria, toxoplasmosis and AIDS. I was highly stressed throughout the whole pregnancy x have you had any CBT to help? (KALYPSA)

Helen Barbour said...

Hi Izzy, I get my fair share of health anxieties, too! I'm sure if I'd ever had a child, pregnancy would have been one worry after another. I haven't had CBT, no - I'm thinking of asking my GP for a referral...it's never too late, even after all these years of muddling along.