• Emily Stetzer / 0 comments

My OCD & Health Anxiety Landed me in the Emergency Room

It started Wednesday afternoon.

I was in the middle of a Zoom interview when I noticed I was short of breath as I walked two ad executives through my career in advertising. Of course, I could say, "I thought nothing of it," but that would be a lie. I thought about it. A lot. I was hyper-focused on my breath. Later that evening, I was sitting on the couch and became more focused on it.

This time I was sitting on the couch watching TV. I had no real reason to feel out of breath, except for the fact that I was also reading a rather frightening New York Times headline: “More Young People Than Ever Will Get Colorectal Cancer This Year.” What does this have to do with my breathing? Absolutely nothing. With anxiety? Everything.

As the evening went on, I tried to distract myself with TV, Wordle, and Instagram. My mom calls me and my sister before bed every night to ask how our day was and to say goodnight. Tonight was no different.


Part of me knew I didn’t need to share this information with my mom, but the other part wanted to be reassured that I was okay.


“I feel like I’m short of breath,” I told my mom. “You’re short of breath?” she asks. From that moment on, I knew that was a mistake and that I was blatantly giving in to my OCD. I then tried to rationalize to her (and myself), “I think I’m fine, I think I’ve felt like this before, I think I’m just overthinking it.” We hung up the phone, and my mom called back, “Do you think you should go to the emergency room?”

She was supposed to reassure me that I was fine, not suggest the literal ER.

“Oh my god, I do not need to go to the emergency room. That’s ridiculous. It’s midnight.” She said okay, and we hung up. My dad calls next, “Maybe you should sleep in Lindsay’s room tonight.” Are you joking? I expected my mom to overreact, but for my dad to express his concern brought me to another level of anxiety. “Sleep in Lindsay’s room?!” Now I start to cry, “Why would I need to sleep in Lindsay’s room?! So she can make sure I don’t STOP BREATHING?! What am I supposed to do?!”

To be clear, I’m not saying it’s my parent's fault for making me go to the ER at midnight. I should have known I would worry them by telling them I was short of breath, and I could just as easily have said, "I am fine, I am not going to the ER." But I wasn’t 100% sure of that.


I walked into the ER, hysterically crying, partly because I was nervous there was something seriously wrong and partly because I knew I didn’t need to be there.


It was 12:30 AM, and I knew I would be there for hours. Not to mention, there were so many other things that would trigger my anxiety: sick people on beds in the hallway, people who were living on the street seeking shelter from the rain, and disgruntled patients yelling at the nurses. And there I was — sitting on this bed in the middle of it all, completely fine, trying so hard not to touch anything or anyone around me. I had zero energy left, even to try not to give in to obsessions and compulsions.

My OCD was having a field day.

I knew this little binge would affect me long after I left that hospital, and that made me even more upset.

Anytime a nurse, a PA, or a doctor came to talk to me, I just started crying. I could barely get out the words when asked what brought me there. “I’m feeling a little out of breath, I have asthma, OCD, and anxiety and I told my parents who were worried and so here I am.” I’m not sure why this was such a difficult question to answer. I guess it’s equivalent to when someone asks, “Are you okay?” when you are clearly not. It automatically results in more tears.

I was there for 4 hours. Most of the time was spent waiting. The rest was spent getting a chest x-ray, an EKG, oxygen levels checked, a COVID test, and a cup to pee in to rule out pregnancy. Putting yourself through all of this, while in the back of your head, knowing you are 99% fine, feels as insane as it sounds.


But here was my thought process:


“I am probably fine and nothing is wrong. I am pretty sure I am just anxious and hyper-focused on my breath, which I have been before. But the possibility of this feeling being indicative of something wrong was not ruled out. I would rather spend hours at the ER than not do anything and potentially die.”

How do you argue with that logic?!

How the hell do you decide between, “I’m probably fine, I’m gonna go to bed,” and “There could be something very wrong that could result in my death?”

I suppose those without health anxiety and OCD can feel more confident that they know what’s going on in their bodies. If everyone thought the way I thought, the ER would be much busier than it already is.

What I so desperately needed was a gauge. The ability to responsibly decide when it’s nothing vs. when it’s time to go to the ER was not something I had. 


And I know there are tons of people out there who feel the same.


I wish I had an answer for you all.

My advice? Try to be as truthful to yourself as you can.

Other than that, I am not at liberty to give anyone medical advice. All I can do is offer my support and my experiences.

I see you. I know how you feel. I know how hard it can be to resist googling symptoms. I know how tempting it can be to call a doctor or drive to the emergency room. I know that there is a part of you that knows you are okay. And I know that there’s also a part of you that fears you are dying.

And because I am not a therapist or a doctor, I highly recommend seeking therapy for health anxiety or OCD. In the meantime, here’s an extremely generalized piece of advice to help you navigate a situation like this: Listen to your body and trust your instincts.


As you could’ve guessed, all tests came back normal, but this event has affected me long after I left that hospital.


Even as I’m writing this. Of course, I carefully chose the words “all tests came back normal,” instead of saying “nothing was wrong,” because what if there is still something wrong? 

While I didn’t get to bed until 5 am that night, it wasn’t just the lack of sleep that left me feeling exhausted. There was shame, embarrassment, and leftover cortisol running through my body.

Now, it’s been almost a week since I went to the ER. Today was the first day I could bring myself to wear the sneakers I wore to the hospital that night (I haven’t touched/looked at the jacket I was wearing). I’ve bagged up my clothes like they were covered in the plague and haven’t been able to do the laundry just yet. I’ve been avoiding the discharge papers that are sitting on the entryway table of my apartment because if I touch them, I’ll have to wash my hands. Again.


You might be thinking,

“How come you aren’t practicing what you preach to help with your anxiety and OCD?”


The answer? I am.

I wouldn’t have been able to walk through the ER without reminding myself to “brave the uncomfortable.

I wouldn’t have been able to sit and wait for the test results to come back without remembering to “embrace uncertainty.

I wouldn’t have been able to shake off the regret of going to the hospital and wishing I could change the past without “I let go of what I can’t control.

And I wouldn’t have been able to share this story with you all without reminding myself “it’s okay to feel how I feel.


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