Mother-of-two, 28, tried to take her own life because she was addicted to GOOGLE after suffering severe anxiety while searching health symptoms
- Cherelle Farrugia, from Cardiff, would spend up to eight hours a day Googling
- The 28-year-old would convince herself she was suffering life-threatening illness
- Cherelle’s searching ultimately caused her to suffer seizures and attempt suicide
A mother-of-two tried to take her own life due to her ‘life-destroying’ addiction to Googling health symptoms.
Cherelle Farrugia, from Fairwater, Cardiff, would spend up to eight hours a day searching the internet for various medical diagnosis.
The 28-year-old said she would panic over mild aches or pains and convince herself she was suffering from life-threatening illnesses.
Her addiction got so bad her family took her phone away and changed the passwords to their computers – only for Cherelle to walk to the library.
Cherelle’s worries did not ease and the searching ultimately caused her to suffer seizures before she attempted suicide just six days after her son was born.
Cherelle Farrugia, from Fairwater, Cardiff, would spend up to eight hours a day searching the internet for various medical diagnosis
Cherelle said she had suffered from mental health issues in the past but that her obsession coincided with the birth of her daughter Willow three years ago.
She said: ‘I’ve always had issues with my mental health but it was the birth of my first child that triggered it.
‘I’ve always been anxious, just not about my health, but I think when I became a mother it was very much that responsibility of “oh my goodness I’ve got to stay alive”.
‘I saw my mum lose her own mother and what that did mentally and I think that was what triggered it, the responsibility of being a mother and being obsessed with this idea of me wanting to be around for them forever.
‘After I had Willow, my first child, I think about two weeks after I had her, I found a swollen lymph node in my groin.
‘I decided to Google it, which is not something I’ve ever done before – in the past I would just ring the doctor. That was literally where I made my first fatal error.
‘I remember that day I Googled for about six hours non-stop while I was breastfeeding, just reading, reading, reading and I convinced myself that I had lymphoma.
Cherelle said she had suffered from mental health issues in the past but that her obsession coincided with the birth of her daughter Willow three years ago
‘That was the start of it. For about three months I was very, very mentally unwell.
‘I was convinced I had lymphoma, I had multiple scans, paid privately, paid hundreds to get this thing checked out and everyone said “no, it’s fine”.
‘I started writing letters to my daughter, I was putting together photo albums because I really, truly, believed my own delusion.
‘I’m a relatively intelligent person but when it comes to health anxiety there’s no logic.
‘It feels like tunnel vision, you zoom in on one thing and there’s no room for anything else no matter what doctors say.’
Cherelle would search one disease after another including the symptoms, treatments, survival rates and any other information she could find.
She said: ‘I would Google every chance I could.
‘I feel ashamed to say it but I’d neglect other things, the washing wouldn’t be done, the dishes wouldn’t be done because in my mind, my priority and the way I used to look at it was I needed to figure out what was wrong with me because no-one else believed me and I had this responsibility to figure it out for myself.
‘Maybe one out of 100 times you read something that calms you down but you don’t leave it there, you don’t stop, you read more and more and more.
Cherelle would search one disease after another including the symptoms, treatments, survival rates and any other information she could find
‘Every time I would know Googling isn’t really going to help me but because of that glimmer of hope you continue to do that.
‘It went from the lymphoma, I eventually let that go, then it was breast cancer.
‘I’ve gone through almost every cancer there is, even the ridiculously obscure ones that just don’t happen in women of my age like pancreatic cancer, neurological diseases, rare illnesses, rare infections.
‘Whatever symptom I had at that time I would Google it and attach myself to whatever illness I thought it was.
‘I’d say things like I’m going upstairs to have a bath and I’d be up there for about two hours because I’d be Googling.
‘On an iPhone you can see how much time you’ve spent on there and at my worst it would be eight, nine hours a day.
‘That went on for a couple of months until my family had a bit of an intervention, they took my phone off me.
‘I was a 26-year-old mother but I had my phone taken off me, they changed the password to their own phones, to the laptop.
‘One day I was so desperate I walked down to the library to Google, I was that obsessive because I didn’t have access to anything else.
‘It was like taking alcohol from an alcoholic, I was shaking, I was having panic attacks.
‘I understand why they did it, they were at a place where it was getting ridiculous, but I now know from experience that it’s probably not the best way to do it.
‘My mum bought me a £17 phone, it looked like a drug dealer phone’.
For a six-month period the situation regained normality due to techniques such as ‘worry time’ – a designated five-minute period Cherelle would give herself to ring the doctor or to seek reassurance if she felt her mental health had started to worsen.
But, when she became pregnant with her son River, Cherelle’s anxiety began to spiral again due to health complications that doctors could not investigate properly until the baby was born.
The mother-of-two became convinced she had a brain tumour, or brain aneurysm, despite an angiogram finally proving otherwise.
Cherelle also suffered from seizures brought on by extreme stress.
She said: ‘I became really, really bad to the point where I was in the hospital every single day. I was under the crisis team, I was on diazepam because I just couldn’t function.
‘As soon as my son was born, when he was six days old, I tried to take my own life.
‘I was convinced it [the aneurysm] was there, I was convinced it was going to kill me and because of that I decided I didn’t want my family to find me dead on the floor because this aneurysm had burst.
‘Really, genuinely, health anxiety nearly took my life, it sounds a bit dramatic but it got that bad.
‘The help from all the teams was brilliant but I was just so unwell. I think in hindsight I probably did need to be sectioned but they wanted to take me to England with my son which meant my daughter couldn’t come and I didn’t want to do that.’
By sharing her darkest moments, Cherelle wants others to know just how serious health anxiety can be and how recognition and understanding around it is vital.
She also wants those who are suffering from it themselves to know things can get better even after hitting rock bottom.
Over the last year Cherelle has gone from strength to strength with the help of counselling and mindfulness and has left Google behind in favour of a toolkit that helps her daily.
She said: ‘I’ve been good for about a year now. I think for me hitting absolute rock bottom and being suicidal, I know it’s weird to say, but it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
‘What scares me more now, more than any disease or illness is being back in that place. Being so low, I found this strength I didn’t know that I had. I just said ‘enough, no more,’ that kind of thing and now I don’t Google.
‘I’m not doing any of those safety behaviours, like checking, Googling, asking for reassurance because that doesn’t help.
‘I just do a lot of mindfulness, I do my very best to feel grateful for every day.
‘If I feel myself going a bit downhill I talk to people.
‘I just treat myself with a lot of self care really, I go on daily walks, I eat better, I make sure I get enough sleep, or as much as I can with two toddlers!
‘I just really try and take each day as it comes and I think for me fundamentally it was hitting rock bottom that opened my eyes.’
As part of her journey Cherelle started a video diary to make a note of her thoughts and feelings.
Since then she has launched a YouTube channel that receives thousands of views, sharing her own experiences with health anxiety and speaking to others about managing their mental health challenges.
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