Health & Death Anxiety – Betty’s Story

I suffered from trauma all my life as far back as my memory takes me. From being neglected and abused by my alcoholic mother to being sexually abused and raped by a neighbour from the age of 5 years old and bullied all throughout my school years. I never had many friends and never had someone I could call a best friend. This reinforced in my mind what I had been told so many times growing up,  “You are a horrible person”.  

I started self-harming at an early age, I wanted to punish myself, I felt I deserved it for being such a terrible person. At barely 17 years old, things came to a head, I could no longer cope with all that was going on at home. I had no choice, I ran away to London. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going and no one even looked for me. I was completely on my own. 

Lost and more alone than I had ever been. I couldn’t see my life going anywhere and continually wished my life would just end. After 10 months I had no choice but to return home, but my parents had moved house! When I eventually found them, things were so much worse. My mother’s drinking was completely out of control. I couldn’t cope anymore and took an overdose. Outside in the street, I washed the tablets down with water that was running out a drainpipe. I was found by someone and rushed to the hospital to have my stomach pumped. This was the first of many attempts at trying to end my life. It wasn’t a cry for help I really did want to end the hell that was my life. I became more and more depressed with time. 

There was something good that came from this awful period, I met my husband, we married and had two beautiful children. But unfortunately, my depression worsened when my daughter was 5 years old (the same age I was when my neighbour sexually abused me for the first time). I started self-medicating and once again became suicidal, there was no way of blocking out the torture in my head. At this time, I still hadn’t confided in my husband about the abuse. I still believed it was all my fault and that he would be disgusted with me. I was sectioned under the mental health act on numerous occasions. On one occasion I was put in a locked ward and my family couldn’t even visit me.  The police found me on another occasion after I had run away and took me back. 

I was initially told I had endogenous depression and that it was a chemical imbalance. This diagnostic made me think I was broken in some way and there was no way out. I went through a traumatic cycle of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), tranquillisers and antidepressants they didn’t know what to do with me because nothing helped. This went on for many years with me spending more time in hospital than out. My poor husband and children suffered a lot through this.

I hinted to staff that something had happened to me in my past but it wasn’t until many years later when I was introduced to a psychologist that I finally opened up and told her absolutely everything. She diagnosed me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She worked hard with me over many years to help me through all I had faced in my past.  I was taught coping skills on how to manage the symptoms; nightmares, flashbacks, depression. This is when I developed health anxiety and a phobia of death. 

I now had new symptoms that took over my life. My parents both died in the 60s and I was in my 20’s. As I got older and into my 50s I started to worry in case the same thing happened to me. This quickly escalated until the thoughts took up every waking moment of my life. From the moment I opened my eyes in the morning, I questioned if it was going to be my last day alive. I would picture in my head my family gathered around my bed saying their goodbyes to me. I would obsessively think about my funeral in great detail and be crying before I even put a foot out of bed. The feelings of dread and death would stay with me all day every day causing panic attack after panic attack. 

The attacks were daily and horrendous. I would stop breathing, my breath just wouldn’t come I would have to physically try to force it out, trying to shout to make myself breathe. Each time I was sure I was taking my last breath. This happened several times a day. Night times were even worse. I would wake up panicking, not able to catch my breath and the whole thing would start again. The feeling of dread and the fear of death never left me it was constantly in my head and the pit of my stomach. I thought that everyone must feel the same, how could they not? But they, as I, kept it to themselves. One day in therapy, I asked my psychologist did she feel the same, she said no. This made things worse as I then realised I was different, something was wrong with me and this was me for the rest of my life. 

My health anxiety was also escalating at this time. I was convinced I had cancer or was going to have a heart attack. I felt like a living time bomb ready to be diagnosed with a terminal illness and be told I only had weeks to live. I continually scanned and prodded my body for lumps. I caused areas to become painful because I prodded so much. I brought myself out in a rash itching from head to foot ‘Dr Google’ told me it was kidney or liver disease. So I went to see my doctor. She checked it, gave me cream and reassured me it was caused by anxiety. The rash and itching disappeared before I even got home from the surgery! I replaced that fear with something else and the vicious circle continued. 

My yearly routine blood tests sent my anxiety through the roof.  I couldn’t eat or function properly I would disappear to my bed (sometimes for up to a week at a time) until the results came back. After I got the all-clear, I would have a couple of good days then it would all start again. 

I read somewhere about Nik & Eva Speakman and how they cured people of phobias, PTSD and anxiety. So I eventually plucked up the courage and attended one of their workshops even though I knew there was nobody or nothing that could help me. I was broken, had too much happened to me, no one had phobias and fears as bad as mine. 

How wrong was I? I will never forget Nik saying to me, “Of course, you can be cured you weren’t born like this”.  For the first time in my life, I had hope. I was told that I needed to address the traumatic episodes from my childhood that caused so many negative symptoms in my life.  My life changed that day. I went home feeling optimistic and kind of peaceful. I slept like a baby that night and the next and in fact, ever since. 

It’s not magic, but from that day, I saw things differently. I was told that It wasn’t what was wrong with me but what had happened to me. This made sense. I created a Timeline and put into practice the tools and techniques needed. The heavy load I had carried for so long lifted and I got my life back.

Now my life couldn’t be more different. We have a lovely holiday home in Spain, when we go there, I don’t want to leave I love it so much. If I can overcome trauma, panic and anxiety, anyone can. 

Betty is taking part in an amazing fundraising event to show her gratitude to the charity. Take a look at how far she has come: Betty’s Swimming Challenge