Though I cannot provide a diagnosis over the Internet, your symptoms seem indicative of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by unwanted, reoccurring thoughts and repetitive behaviors.
Among OCD sufferers, specifically among those with health-related anxieties such as yours, often no amount of reassurance is enough. In fact, the act of seeking reassurance can make OCD worse. It temporarily decreases anxiety but it reinforces the “seeking reassurance” behavior.
OCD sufferers should resist the urge to seek reassurance and instead endure their anxiety. If an individual habitually seeks reassurance when they feel anxious, then not doing so will increase their anxiety, possibly to very intense levels.
Those levels cannot be sustained. Anxiety always decreases. In that way, anxiety can be likened to the law of gravity: what goes up must come down. Individuals with OCD are unwilling to endure their anxiety. They do everything in their power to escape it. That is a mistake. Anxiety avoided in the short run is only intensified in the long run.
As you stated, “I know the odds of an illness are very remote, and exposure and illness are essentially out of my control.” It is generally believed that individuals with OCD, through their rituals, are attempting to establish control over events and situations that in reality they cannot control.
You can reduce or eliminate your anxiety by focusing on reality. If you force yourself to believe in reality, then your anxiety will diminish.
Beginning therapy was a very wise choice. I would strongly urge you to continue. Therapy can help you to understand and to be comfortable with things that are beyond your control. This wisdom has been shared by mankind since the beginning of recorded history and perhaps before. It is exemplified in the Serenity Prayer, (adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous) “God, grant us the Serenity to accept things we cannot change, Courage to change the things we can, and the Wisdom to know the difference…”
OCD tends to be a progressive disorder but this is not true for everyone. Symptoms may occur on certain occasions or on all, decrease over time or increase. There are effective treatments for OCD including cognitive-behavioral therapy and relaxation training. A specific form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, known as exposure and prevention response, has been shown to be a very effective treatment. Medication can help as well.
I wish you the best of luck. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle