When You Want to Go to the Doctor but Anxiety Doesn't
For most people, going to the doctor is a simple interruption in their work day or day off. It’s a simple, “I’m here for a checkup.” It’s a boring two-hour period of waiting for a doctor to speak to you for 15 minutes before sending you on your way. For someone with a mental illness like me, it can be absolutely terrifying.
I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. For me, going to the doctor means an unavoidable panic attack and my entire day is ruined. Before I got married and got insurance, I hadn’t been to a doctor for over six years. I finally got to see a doctor about two weeks ago. I was so excited for this appointment because there are so many symptoms I’ve been experiencing that hadn’t been addressed. I was ready to tell my doctor about my mental illness and I was ready for treatment. That was, until the morning of my appointment.
When I woke up, I immediately remembered my appointment being in about three hours. For those three hours, I couldn’t sit still. I was going from the living room to the kitchen, aimlessly wandering the house, until it came time to get ready. My head started pounding and my chest felt light, as though all my organs had teleported outside my body. I got in the car and drove to my doctor and on the way, listened to music to cool me down. Unfortunately, this did not work.
My doctor is on a military base, so when I gave my ID to the man at the gate, my hands were shaking and I was sweating profusely. I walked into the facility and was so absent-minded I circled the building several times before finally finding the stairs. When I found the location of my doctor’s office, I gave my name to the woman at the desk and sat down. They called my name: “Cranston. Cranston. Mrs. Cranston?” I zoned out before finally answering “Here!”
The next 30 minutes were torture. Every question the nurse asked me went over my head. I felt stupid. The nurse seemed not to notice, however and left to get the doctor. I waited for what seemed like an eternity, carefully rehearsing what I was to tell the doctor. I sat on that table fidgeting, shaking, sweating. I attempted to do the breathing exercises that had been pounded in my head by previous therapists, but nothing was working. I was starting to have a panic attack and needed to stop it before someone came in and saw it. I took a few more deep breaths and reminded myself this was just a primary care physician and she wasn’t going to do anything or say anything to me I couldn’t handle. My experience with doctors is not a good one, so my nervousness was warranted in my head.
Finally, I relaxed enough to take a deep breath right as the doctor walked in. She seemed rushed in her examination, but I promised myself not to mention mental health until the end of the appointment. In my experience, when I’ve mentioned having a mental illness early on in the appointment, everything else I say was written off as a symptom of my mental illness and excused as a false symptom. This is the most frustrating experience for an ill person.
She asked, “What types of symptoms are you having today?” I responded with, “I….I…..I have….” before tears began to run down my cheeks. I gasped at my own emotional display and looked to the doctor to check her reaction. She reassured me this was a simple check up and I shouldn’t be nervous. She handed me a tissue, told me to take a deep breath and asked again. This time I answered completely, but forgot half of what I had rehearsed and had to randomly blurt out symptoms throughout her exam. When I mentioned mental illness, she immediately referred me to a behavioral health physician that could help me. Success!
Going to the doctor is not a simple task and it takes a lot of willpower for someone like me. I can’t count how many doctors appointments I’ve cancelled because my anxiety was too overwhelming.
For the rest of the day, I felt defeated, weak and depressed. I try to get my doctor’s appointments as late in the day as possible so I don’t spend all day depressed. It’s difficult to feel achievement or happiness after an appointment, even one that goes very well.
Hopefully one day I will become more comfortable with doctors and will have an experience that proves to me they are not there to judge, ridicule or expect the worst from those with mental illnesses, but as of today, my feelings stand strong. I have another doctor’s appointment next week and I guarantee I will feel the same, but I will survive. Because I am strong and I have all of you to tell me so.
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Thinkstock photo via utah778.