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Stress/Anxiety or Serious?

By Anonymous December 19, 2015 - 10:14pm
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Hi. So, you can call me M. I don't usually do this, mostly because I usually don't believe in internet searches for illnesses. In my experience, it usually ends in hypochondriasis and self-diagnosis. But this seems really nice and legitimate, so I'll give it a go. Okay. Thanks for listening.

Physical: I'm 20 years old, 5"5' and 160 pounds. Caucasian female. Not sexually active (ever). Non-smoker and drinker.

So, hi. I'm a sophomore on a pre-medical track at a top University. School is difficult and I've always had issues with anxiety. In high school, my teachers used to tell my parents that I could teach the class, but for some reason, I couldn't do amazing on exams. I worked harder, and eventually got over it enough that I could relax and get the questions right; because I really did know them, but anxiety would take over and my sympathetic nervous system would activate like that (finger snap). I would sweat like crazy, could breathe, think, and my breathing would hitch. I felt like running out of the room or crying. So when college came around, I was excited to start off with a good GPA to get into a good Medical School. Until the first exam rolled around. I went straight back to stage 1. I had studied two weeks in advance, made flashcards, quizzed myself, but when I entered the exam room my nervousness was shot. I couldn't breathe and suddenly couldn't think. I ended my freshman year with a horrible GPA. And all I can ever think about is how I won't get into a top medical school, won't get a good job, and won't end up with the life I so desperately wanted because I screwed up at 19. I noticed that I had gotten bad when I said to my roommate "A, the pitcher is half empty." She looked at me like I was crazy and then I noticed it. I always say "half-full". Always. No matter what it is. I'm a huge optimist and love life and people and learning new things. But after a week that kept beating me down, I suddenly lost it somehow. I found it, but I'm worried I'll lose it again to stress. So... that is my history with anxiety.

I've had headaches for a very long time. But the past two years, they never seem to go away. I hate fluorescent lights, so I tend to study in spots with soft yellow lighting that's easy on my eyes whenever I can.I don't use my phone late at night when all the lights are off, nor my computer. Lately, they've gotten worse, namely this past semester. I knew when my bottle of Excedrin rolled from my backpack down the stairs of the lecture hall that I was having issues. Advil and Excedrin are usually my "go-to" over the counters. But recently, they're not doing the job. Usually, I get headaches that center on the left side of my head, near the front. My migraines go from my temples to the rest of my head. And when I get these headaches, I've noticed that I'll have a runny nose, almost as if I'm sick, but I'm not actually sick. I grab Kleenex or the dining hall napkins and wipe it all up normally, as it leaks out. Sometimes, I'll get dark spots in my vision and I'll sway a little, but that clears pretty quick. It's like when you get a camera flash and it takes a second to "un-see" it. It goes away if I stand still (I've had that for a long time). I was diagnosed as iron-deficient anemic when I was 15 and put on birth control pills to control the heavy bleeding I was experiencing. I've switched brands many times. My weight has always been fluctuating. I go between being a size 5 to 7 to 10 and back again. I have a healthy diet (I was semi-vegetarian for a year and a half) and am pretty active. Campus life keeps me busy and walking (sometimes running) to class helps me stay active when I can't take a late-night/ early-morning jog or go to the gym with my roommate. I eat fruit and veggies at every meal and obtain from soda (I sometimes sneak in a Starbucks coffee when I have a paper due). I fluctuate with problems with lactose intolerance. Last year, I couldn't touch ice cream without running to the bathroom and this year, I'm fine. Although the past two months, I haven't been able to handle dairy at all. When this happens, I take the lactose-intolerant tablets before meals, which instantly helps. I also, not sure if this is unrelated, sometimes get a odd ghost pain that's sharp on my right side when I'm walking, between the end of my ribcage and my bellybutton. It's alleviated by pushing pressure on it and goes away as soon as I forget about it.

Last year, I went to the campus health system building to have an EKG run. The previous week, I had chest pain that wouldn't stop. It hurt so bad, I thought it was a heart problem, but I took some tums (which didn't help) and said it was heartburn. But as it continued and got worse, my parents prompted me to go to the place because both of my grandfathers passed away at 40 from heart issues. One from a bypass infection, the other a heart attack. So I went and they ran it and it came back normal, but I felt fine when they took it. They said it was most likely costocondritis and to take Advil regularly. Now, almost every other night, I'll have to bend over and put my teeth together in pain and Advil does nothing. I'm still regularly stressed and know that headaches and chest pain can come with that, but this has been ongoing for a while and (from my *flinch* internet research) costochondritis goes away in a few weeks and this has been severe and well over a year. And my headaches have been going on for 4+ years, before college, but picked up recently. I'm just nervous about it all because, even though it was finals and I was under stress, my emotions have been wild. This past year, I've become really irritable and had an emotional rollercoaster. One minute, I'm walking with no expression or feelings and the next, I feel like crying and crying and crying. I got to the dining hall and every loud noise made me scowl and want to scream at whoever was talking loud or laughing. I found myself even during the summer getting irritated and in a mood that would make any and every light question feel like an inquiry; I cry randomly and get into "moods" that are not like me. I often forget things as well, such as names and what I meant to Google when I pull it up.

I don't want to sound like a hypochrondiac. But with the nose leaks and sudden emotional changes with my headaches, I'm starting to question if this is normal for me or not. I think I'll have a nosebleed, but it comes back clear. And I'll go through these mood swings that are so not "me". So, I thought I'd write down my entire (albeit brief) history to get a better scope of things. I never know what helps determine a good diagnosis, if I left something out, it might be an "oh!" moment to someone. I don't know. Thanks for the help, it means a lot. Happy and safe Holidays to all!

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Hello and welcome to EmpowHer,
I feel so sad after reading your post because it reminds me so much of what I went through late high school and college. I can't give you a direct diagnosis; but I can tell you some answers I found from experience and also some other possible causes.
First of all, anxiety does not start with the body. It starts in the mind, then effects the body. In your case, (as with mine) almost all my physical problems (which included anemia, just as you had) stemmed from psychology.
This is not to say you problems you "made up" or "nonexistent." What I'm suggesting is that, if you do not address your anxiety as a psychological problem you will never be physically healthy, no matter if you eat well, exercise, never drink or smoke, take medication etc.
So, first of all you need to speak with a therapist. I know it sounds cliche, but trust someone who's been there. It is the only thing that can help you deal with the pressures of going to a top medical school, getting a good job, reaching your goals, pleasing your family, not failing etc. You must learn how to mentally approach your future in a healthy way, because your anxiety is presently destroying your health; and taking medication is not going to fix that!
To summarize:
Right now, you're suffering from extreme psychological pressure and it's causing health problems. So, it is senseless to treat the symptoms when the root cause is still present: anxiety. Anxiety starts in the mind. So you must first change your psychology, and your physical problems will start to mend.

December 20, 2015 - 12:59pm
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