I've been suffering with anxiety for years, but in the past year and a half, it has become increasingly debilitating and isolating.
I was formally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder almost three years ago, although I suspect I've been suffering for closer to 10 years. At the time of diagnosis, the doctor offered to put me on medication and send me to a psychologist, but I naively thought I could manage my anxiety myself. It became a point of pride: even if it took Herculean effort, I would defeat the anxiety on my own. It was a great plan, except that it didn't work. Over the ensuing 3 years, I experienced panic attacks and a decreasing ability to cope with the stresses of everyday life.
It wasn't until I sold tickets at the last minute to a show I was desperate to see because I couldn't face the crowds that I knew I was fighting a losing battle. At the supportive urging of a close group of girlfriends (who have all acted as my psuedo-therapists over the years), I finally made an appointment to see my GP. When I entered her office, I was calm and prepared to explain my situation. Instead, I collapsed into a hot mess of tears and shame. What happened next was refreshing and uplifting, and is testament to what a good health care professional will do when you ask for help.
A great doctor will listen.
As I rattled off symptoms and examples, my GP listened calmly and intently. I never once felt rushed or ridiculed, not even when I revealed my embarrassing phobia.
I was worried that I was over reacting, although with a bit of fresh perspective, I'm sure that every person I'm close to would kindly attest to the fact that I am not, in fact, over reacting about the magnitude of the effect my anxiety has on my day-to-day life. After listening to my concerns, my GP agreed that it was time for intervention, but she did so without making me feel more anxious about my situation.
A great doctor will remind you that mental health is no different than physical health.
I know that mental health issues should be viewed through the same lens as physical health problems. I believe this wholeheartedly. It's easy for me to view the mental health problems of others with kindness and compassion. However, when it comes to my own mental health, I'm markedly less understanding and hopeful. As silly as it sounds, it wasn't until my own health care professional reassured me that treating my anxiety was no more shameful than treating a broken bone that I started to believe it.
A great doctor may offer medication in conjunction with therapy.
I have always been aprehensive about over-the-counter medication. I won't even take a second dose of painkillers for a headache until the dosing frequency outlined on the box, so the idea of going on medication for who-knows-how-long makes me nervous. Plus, in my case, I'm concerned that going on meds seems to be more about the symptom management than getting the source of the anxieties. My GP offered to write me a prescription for anti-anxiety medication, on the proviso that I agreed to speak to a local clinical psychologist. As much as I'm dreading that appointment, I am more comfortable with a meds / therapy combo than I am with going on medication without trying to resolve some of the underlying issues.
A great doctor will ask you to come back for a follow up.
After prescribing some medication and arranging a referral to a clinical psychologist, my GP indicated that she wanted me back for a follow-up soon. It was reassuring to know that she will ensure that my medications are having the desired effect, and that I won't be navigating this journey alone anymore.
A great doctor will offer hope.
Before my appointment, I was feeling pretty hopeless. The hopelessness didn't occur in a really dark, depressed way. In fact, according to my doctor's super scientific and totally reputable questionnaire, I'm not experiecing depression, so let's thank goodness for small miracles! The hopelessness felt more like quiet resignation that I would never quite feel "normal" again. I left the appointment feeling hopeful. Maybe I'll need to try several medications before I find one that works. Maybe I'll be off of them in a year, or maybe I'll be on them for the next ten. But regardless of the direction this path to wellness takes from here, at least I'm on the path now. I've taken the first step, and the hope that brings is enormous.
If you're in the same boat as me, please know that you don't have to suffer alone. Your mental health concerns are nothing to be ashamed of. Go to your GP. Tell them how you are feeling. If you walk away feeling embarrassed or ashamed or unsupported, it's time to find a new GP, because I promise, you don't need to feel alone in your suffering anymore.