"When my daughter was 6 weeks old, I went into organ failure, and they couldn't diagnose me. They didn't know what was wrong with me," Toni Street recalls at the start of this episode of the "We Need To Talk" podcast.
The host describes that time of her life as "exhausting" and "scary". "Your mind doesn't go to a great place," she adds.
In this episode of "We Need To Talk", Toni Street talks to registered health psychologist Juliet Ireland, a person she wishes she'd met a lot sooner.
Toni has experienced illness anxiety (also known as health anxiety) several times throughout her life, and she wishes she'd met someone like Juliet Ireland a lot sooner.
Juliet specialises in coping with illness anxiety, a specific mental condition that can affect people struggling with illness but also people who are not yet experiencing an illness, other than the anxiety itself. The reality is that you don't have to have a health condition to suffer from health anxiety. You can be, for example, worried about Covid-19 or about getting any other illness - and your illness anxiety is just as valid.
The expert talks about how common it is to experience feelings of illness anxiety, especially in times of pandemic, and how professionals like her can make all the difference for people going through different health issues.
Juliet was one of the first health psychologists to qualify in New Zealand and she helps bridge the gap between physicians and patients, as well as their whānau.
In this conversation, Juliet shares tools for dealing with illness anxiety, including naming and acknowledging what is going wrong for you, rather than focusing on "the unknown".
"Focus on what you can do, what's within your control," she adds.
"Switch off devices, switch off social media, switch off the news, especially when we're feeling really uncertain and really anxious - even if just for a day. Just to be able to focus on other things, and to ground yourself, can be really helpful."
Illness anxiety can also lead to feelings of loss and grief. This can be associated with feelings of loss of health, loss of trust in your body, or loss of the future you were expecting to have, the expert says.
Toni knows those feelings well and speaks candidly in the chat about feeling "cheated out" of time with her baby daughter, "of those blissful few months".
Listen to the episode here.
To listen to more episodes of We Need to Talk, click here.
To follow the Herald's full Great Minds series, click here.
WHERE TO GET HELP
If it is an emergency and you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
For counselling and support
For children and young people
For help with specific issues
Alcohol and Drug Helpline: Call 0800 787 797
Anxiety Helpline: Call 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY)
OutLine: Call 0800 688 5463 (0800 OUTLINE) (6pm-9pm)
Safe to talk (sexual harm): Call 0800 044 334 or text 4334
All services are free and available 24/7 unless otherwise specified.
For more information and support, talk to your local doctor, hauora, community mental health team, or counselling service. The Mental Health Foundation has more helplines and service contacts on its website.