I promised myself I would keep up with this writing – no three month breaks or anything like that, which is a habit of mine that I’m quite aware of. I’ve had time to write the past few days, but I was waiting until I felt that I had to talk about a particular subject. Now I’m thinking that this might be the right time to talk about something I hate talking about. How do I go about this? Ugh. Okay. If this were an essay, it would be called…
“The Shame and Embarrassment of Anxiety and Depression: How Mental Disorders Hinder You from Finding a Proper Diagnosis for a Variety of Other Issues You May Have.”
Whew! I miss writing essays, actually.
I want to start by saying how much I appreciate my primary care doctor. I’ve never been afraid to reach out to him about this new symptom or that, never felt judged by him, and I know that he understands my concerns and wants to find an answer as badly as I do.
However…once upon a time, very early on, he suggested anxiety was a factor in my pain and fatigue. I had no reason to oppose this suggestion, so I started taking a daily anti-anxiety/anti-depressant. I took that pill every day for somewhere around four or five months and then wanted to stop, for two reasons:
- It wasn’t helping my physical symptoms.
- It was ruining my social life.
I included the second reason to keep it real, here. My priorities at the time were…not the best. I was trying to maintain what had become my normal routine this particular year of college, which included going out a couple nights a week, but found that the medication and alcohol really did not mix. I would go from feeling fine to feeling like I had taken 12 shots in about five seconds. I lost my ability to gauge how I was holding up on a night out, and it was all sorts of disastrous. If the pills had solved the issues they were meant to solve, I don’t doubt that I would’ve been happy to give up my silly/destructive college nights out. However, they weren’t helping, so I quit the meds cold turkey.
For three months, I was an absolute monster. I was rude to my roommate, my friends, and my then-boyfriend for no reason at all. I gained weight, my acne went wild, my legs itched nonstop and my mood was all over the place. I was struggling, and I loathed myself. I would take the pills here and there to try to get my normal self back, but every time I’d try to stop again, the same thing would happen. I did eventually rid my system of the pills altogether, but I don’t think I was really myself again until that summer.
Fast forward to last year, September or October 2017. At this point, I’m a year and a few months out of the kidney surgery that my urologist hoped might solve all of my problems. It did not. I somehow have more problems. Aside from developing fun, new symptoms, I’ve also spent the last two years coming to understand how to manage the anxiety that, as it turns out, really is a part of me. I’ve read a fair amount of fantastic self-help articles and even started opening up to a few close friends about everything. This time last year, I remember being excited to see a rheumatologist for the first time in a long time, and full of hope that she would recognize the connections between every strange thing my body does. You see, doctors are often telling me they haven’t found anything as if it’s good news. When you know something is there, you want them to diagnose you! Only when you acknowledge the problem can you address it the way it needs to be addressed, and I just want to know how to be good to myself.
I waltzed into the rheumatologist’s office very, very prepared. I’m the nerdiest patient she’s ever seen. I have lists, I have dates, I have everything she might possibly need. And it went something like this:
Doctor: (after looking through all of my paperwork and listening to my account of the past four years) “You were on Lexapro?”
D: “Why did you stop taking it?”
M: “It wasn’t helping.”
D: (long pause) “I’m not going to do the [blah blah] test. (This was a blood test that would check for certain immune system issues.) It’s expensive and I don’t see a real need to do it.”
D: “Sometimes…(she inches closer to me to really drive this point home)…we do something and fix the problem, like how you had the surgery, but we still think the problem is there. We still think we feel the pain. But really, the problem is fixed.”
D: “I’m going to prescribe [well-known anti-depressant/anti-anxiety pill that I do not want to name because I’m sure it has helped loads of people but boy oh boy did it not help me]. We’ll see if that doesn’t take care of it.”
And then I openly cried in this woman’s office, out of sheer frustration. She didn’t understand that part, either.
I took the pills, by the way. I started them a week or so after the appointment because I felt that I had no right to tell a doctor that this was a bad idea without at least trying first. I was on the pills for about six weeks when I fell into the longest and darkest depressive state I’ve ever been in. After stopping the meds, it at least took another six weeks to climb back out. That was a terrifying time, to put it briefly.
I have another rheumatologist appointment coming up in a month. This time, I’ve already had the blood work done for that same test the doctor didn’t want to give me last year…and the results did come back indicating what I thought they would. (Where’s my honorary med school degree, honestly?) Maybe this time it will be different. I don’t know. I get nervous just thinking about sitting in front of another new doctor and trying to recap so much information without seeming completely crazy. All I can do is put the most sane version of myself forward, come with the facts, and hope for the best.