I’m currently sitting in Starbucks with a mug of tea; my humble reward for doing the thing that I hate the most. The thing that still fills me with fear every few months, even though I’ve had this debilitating illness for almost 5 years now.
I successfully attended an appointment with my GP.
I didn’t cry. I didn’t crumble. When I sat up in bed this morning thinking of ways to avoid the situation I still managed to get up and get dressed and show up. I did it.
For many people, a visit to the doctor is merely another note on the calender and nothing to get upset about. For me, it’s an ominous reminder of all my flaws and weaknesses. Whilst everyday I try to remind myself of how far I’ve come with my social anxiety, food issues, low moods and use of alcohol, there is nothing that makes me feel more of a failure than sitting in front of a stranger and asking for help.
The fear starts weeks before the appointment, knowing that the day is coming when I’ll have to use the phone. In the UK the health service is under so much pressure that the thought of just making an appointment is enough to send me spiralling. Most practices prefer the ‘on the day’ system where you phone at 8.30am and stay on hold until you’re lucky enough to speak to someone on reception, who will then assign you a slot which more than likely doesn’t suit you. If you dare to suggest another time slot then you’re made to feel as though you must not really need the appointment so generally you have to take what you get and pretend to be grateful. This often leads to more anxiety as I might have to ask for time off work to get there in time.
The whole affair makes me feel like an animal being herded to the slaughter, and all the while I’m trying not to have a panic attack because talking on the phone is one of the things that triggers my anxiety.
One of the things that really helped me when I was first seeing my GP regularly about depression was seeing the same person every time. Finding someone who I felt really empathised with my situation was a great comfort to me for years when I was feeling at my worst.
Do you know how exhausting it is having to tell someone you’ve just met about the most painful period of your life over and over again? The hardest part was knowing that the more detail I could give the better, and that meant rehashing all the gory details about how awful I felt for such a long time. After waiting for weeks to see a doctor and spill my guts about this stuff, I was often met with a blank stare and the usual “Come back and see me in a few weeks if you feel any worse”.
Since I’ve moved to Birmingham I’ve had to register with a new practise and find a new GP. I’ve been avoiding it really, but when I ran out of medication I had no choice as they won’t issue anti-depressants as a repeat prescription. I’ve seen two GPs since I’ve been here and neither of them seemed particularly kind or caring, but maybe I’m just oversensitive.
Recently I was put on a new contraceptive pill and it’s affected my mood quite dramatically. Today I had to explain to the doctor that it was making me uncomfortable because of the fact that I already have depression, and she asked me what I thought the solution was. This is probably a great technique for most people who google their symptoms before a visit and turn up with a list of what drugs they want, but for me – someone who struggles to make decisions on a daily basis – it wasn’t helpful.
I walked out with a new prescription and as I felt a sense of relief wash over me, I glanced down at the printed slip crumpled up in my hand. One month of anti-depressants. That’s just one month until the process starts again. I slipped out of the surgery with a small sense of pride and a head full of anxiety for my next visit.
How do you cope talking to your doctor about mental health?