I wanted to kill myself after getting addicted to googling my illnesses

Cherelle Farrugia, Fairwater, Cardiff, who talks about her struggle with health anxiety and addiction to internet searches on health issues. Pic: Rob Browne/Media Wales
Cherelle Farrugia believes her obsession began after the birth of her daughter (Picture: Media Wales)

For eight hours a day, mother-of-two Cherelle Farrugia would scroll through her phone looking for the reason behind any new pain, ache or twinge.

The 28-year-old had become so addicted to Google that she ended up trying to kill herself.

Cherelle, from Cardiff, has now opened up about her severe health anxiety – previously known as hypochondria – which she now realises was made worse by the constant searching and the rabbit holes of worst-case scenarios that she came across.

She believes her problems were triggered by the birth of her daughter, Willow, three years ago.

She said: ‘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.

‘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 Farrugia, Fairwater, Cardiff, who talks about her struggle with health anxiety and addiction to internet searches on health issues. Pic: Rob Browne/Media Wales
Cherelle would use her phone for eight hours a day to research worst-case scenarios (Picture: Media Wales)

‘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.

‘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.’

Cherelle slowly began to improve and had designated ‘worry time’ when she would spend five minutes to ring her doctor or get reassurance about her mental health.

But then she became pregnant with son River and the spiral began again. She thought she had a brain tumour or aneurysm and ended up having stress-induced seizures.

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.’

Cherelle is now using the coping techniques again and has started a video diary sharing her experiences.

She added: ‘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.’