Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Healing Diary: How to Panic

Ugh . . . I am writing this immediately after I finished writing the first blog post in this series, and I have to tell you, it was a harrowing ordeal. Not because of the doctor, the doctor was great, but the events leading up to it . . .
The Word of the Day is: 'APPOINTMENT'.

Appointment /ə'poyntmənt/ n. 1. An arrangement to meet a person or be at a place at a certain time. 2. The act of placing in a job or position. 3. The person who receives such a job or position. 4. The job or position to which such a person is appointed. 5. (pl.) A fixture or fitting. 6. Property Law Nomination to an interest in property under a deed or will.

Okay, two nights ago (at time of writing [i.e. the 22nd of June]), I realized that self-help and occasional calls to a support line weren't going to cut it. All my sources were advising me to see a G.P., and on the 20th of June, I booked an appointment online to see a doctor. I know this date is accurate because I have a text on my phone, sent to me on that date, asking to confirm my online appointment. I set that appointment for two days later, because I was terrified of the idea of having to suffer at home for too much longer, but I couldn't book it on the weekend. See, the opening hours were shorter on the weekends and my sleeping patterns were all over the shop, so I didn't think I could wake up early enough for even a midday appointment (it really was that bad).
Also, I already had a dentist's appointment booked that day. I didn't mention it in the last post, because it kinda slipped my mind (when I wrote that post, I'd just come from the dentist), but I figured, if I had a dentist appointment in the same place, I'd feel more confident leaving the house.
So, I booked online, and I could finally relax for a while . . . I was going to get help, it's a good feeling.

Now, fast forward, the time is 1:30pm, right after writing up the first blog post in this series. I go and eat some lunch, some leftover creamy tomato & tuna pasta; with some cheese on it, it's pretty tasty. Then, my phone alarm goes off, I have to leave in 5 minutes, I put my jacket on and grab my bag (with a book in it to read, while waiting in the waiting room), then I head out the door.
I time it perfectly. It's a gloomy day, but I feel good, because I'm doing what I set out to do. It's even a little sweaty in my leather jacket, but I don't give a fuck, because it's winter, and I'm allowed to wear my black leather jacket without looking like a spaz and I feel good.
I get to the door just as my 3-minute warning alarm goes off on my phone, which I set up so that, if I dawdled too much, it would be my "run, you're late" alarm. I delete the alarm, walk in and say to the receptionist:
  "I'm here for my 2:30 appointment."
She looks at her book, then looks at me.
  "I don't have one for you," she says. "Are you booked under 'John'?"
  "No . . ." I say, frowning. "No, it might be under 'Matt'."
  "One moment please," she says, as the phone rings. While she's on the phone, I grab my own phone to check if maybe they sent me a message or something to confirm the time, so I check my phone, and all I find is that text message, the one I mentioned in the earlier paragraph, to confirm my online appointment. The receptionist finishes on the phone and says. "Are you sure it was here? You might have booked for the dentist, and there's a G.P. at Sunnybank or Warrigal Square."
  "I've already had my dental appointment," I explain, feeling very sheepish. Then I show the phone to her and ask. "Do you do online appointments?"
  "No," she says.
  "Okay," I say. Immediately, I slip out of there and start heading along the road.

Where is it? It must be in Warrigal Square, I said to myself, but should I just head straight there? I don't know where it is, and that's a 40 minute walk from here, I'd be an hour late by the time I found it.
So, I made up my mind to go home, and drive to Warrigal Square. But, the lady said that there were a lot of doctors around the place, I didn't want to go to the wrong one again. I didn't want to leave the home, and get lost again.
With all this in mind, the plan was when I got home, I'd look up the website I'd used to book online, call them and make sure they hadn't cancelled my appointment, then I'd double-check the address, then I'd drive over there.

See, here's the fun part where I get to talk about some of the symptoms of my anxiety, because they're relevant to this story. One of them is having difficulty concentrating, because I get distracted with worry, with regret about the past or fear of the future, I lose focus of the present moment. The reason why I'd gone to the wrong address in the first place was because I wasn't paying enough attention when I booked it, so I saw the street and didn't concentrate on the rest.
(As a side-note, another symptom of anxiety is difficulty when it comes to uncertainty. Notice how I set two alarms for one appointment? It's because I was worried that, even if I adhered to the first alarm, there was a chance that I wouldn't move fast enough to get there on time, hence including a second alarm "just in case". But, as you can see, I was so worried about micromanaging the future, I completely missed that I was going to the wrong place. There's a difference between "preparing for the future" and "worrying about the future", I engaged in the latter.)
The third symptom of anxiety that I want to talk about today, is worry, but one of the differences between everyday worry and worrying as a symptom of anxiety disorder is severity; one way to identify worry as a symptom is if it has a cascading effect. Like dominoes knocking one another over, one worry will lead to another and another, almost like your mind is constructing a little narrative in your head to convince you that you're well and truly fucked . . .

As I walked home, for the full 20-minutes, as that hauntingly grey sky loomed overheard, I worried that I would miss my appointment; and if I missed that appointment, I may not be able to reschedule today (and may even get some kind of late fee, do doctors do that?); and if I couldn't reschedule today, then when could I? Tomorrow, or the next day?; and if I have to schedule for tomorrow, it means I would have to go another day without treatment. If so I could have another panic attack tonight, which means that I might stay up late trying to calm down and miss any appointments tomorrow, so I can't reschedule tomorrow, I'd need to book a few days later, so that I have time to get my sleeping schedule right; but if I have to postpone my next appointment for three days or so, then that means I'll have another week without help & my parents come back on Thursday and want me to pick them up from the Gold Coast! If I can't get help before then, then I can't pick them up, I can't drive if I'm still suffering from anxiety like this, because I'll be wound up tighter than a jack-in-the-box in that car, on my own, for two hours or so on the road! So, I'd have to let them down, and sit at home, suffering, waiting for someone to take me to the doctor.
I was literally on the verge of tears as I got home, I was a mess.

I know, if you're reading this, it might sound silly, but, that's because it is. I know that it's silly, that's one of the reasons anxiety is so stressful, because even if the possibility of that worry isn't real, the concern I feel - and the tension in my chest because of that concern - is real. And for me, if I worry about something and then realize that my concerns are unwarranted, I then get upset that I was worrying about something so stupid.
This is why, as I said in my last post, I think that anxiety is worse than depression. Not only can it have a cascading effect, but it can also have a cycling effect, worrying about worrying like a spinning top whizzing around in your head. So you can start worrying about one thing, and if you're unlucky, you can get thought in a cycle, and the longer it cycles around, the more likely it is to set off a cascade, like a set of dominoes, like I mentioned before. So it's like spinning tops and dominoes all colliding together and toppling over until you make a total mess of your toyroom, which is to say, your head.

Anyway, I got home, and I found the number for the doctor. I said my name and that I had missed my appointment, and the receptionist recognized me instantly, since she'd been wondering where their 2:30 appointment was. Thankfully, and perhaps obviously, she said I could reschedule, no problem. I said I could drive, and I'd be there in five minutes, but I asked her to give me a ten-minute window, because my heart was still beating really fast in my chest, and I could hear the upset in my own voice as I tried to explain why I'd missed my appointment. She was perfectly fine with that, she said she'd see me soon, and I hung up.
I used what time I had to go to the toilet and I even found our Medicare card and then I got in the car.

I am a little nervous about driving. I will get into why in a later blog post [since I tried to explain it here, but ended up writing five paragraphs. It's a long, episodic story, which I'll save for a later blog post]. But needless to say, when I'm nervous, I become even more nervous about driving because I'm nervous that my nervousness will make me nervous . . . and that makes me even more nervous (round and round goes the spinning top).
So, I attempted to calm down, planned my route and set off. I'm actually thankful that I passed through an active school zone, because I practically cruised in third gear half of the way, and the carpark was empty, and I'm quite proud of the fact that I claimed a space, then pulled out and lined up perfectly. But then, I went into the doctor.
My heart was beating like a thumping bongo of an enthusiastic Kongo. So, I filled out my form, and as I sat in the waiting room, my book was untouched. Instead, I practiced my mindful meditation. It's something I learned from E-couch, basically, you close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing and the different parts of your body in that moment. I did a quick, six-breath session, and although it didn't relax me fully it calmed me down enough that I could focus on the task at hand. Then the doctor called me in.

I didn't ask permission to reveal his name, so I'm going to call him Dr A.M., because that's anonymous enough for my purposes and because it sounds to me like the name of a kooky morning radio host. I told him what was going on with me, basically telling him what I said in my first blog post, with a few more specific details about the frequency and content of my anxieties and symptoms.
He listened to me explaining my symptoms and experiences and got me to fill out a form which basically confirmed my, and Dr A.M.'s, suspicions:
I am suffering from mild depression, as well as more serious anxiety and stress.
After talking to me about what I was comfortable with and what I could afford, Dr A.M. gave me a prescription for an anti-depressant, some sleeping tablets and said that he would set up a care plan whereby I could get up to ten sessions with a psychologist, to talk about what's going on as well as monitor my progress on the anti-depressant.

So, that's that. I have to admit, all things considered, I am a little sad that I'm on medication again, I didn't want to get back to this point, and now I'm very conflicted. I'm excited to be getting help, and I'm nervous about how my body will react to them. But at the same time, I'm not on medication yet [at time of writing], since I'm meant to take it in the morning (for the first few days), and the other medicine is to be taken only when necessary, to sleep.
And it makes me realize that, for the next few hours at least (or until tomorrow, if I have no trouble sleeping), I'm still technically the same way I was yesterday. So, I'm still just as vulnerable now as I was before. Of course, this is just my mind working against me, taunting me, probably trying to get the last few jabs in that it can before I start fighting back.
I know that things are moving up from here. And even though I have to ease my body into this new regime, and the doctor said it will probably be a week before the drug is working properly, in about two days I'll get a call about this care plan, and work on it from there.

In conclusion, the weirdest part about all of this is that (in a way) I'm actually kind of relieved that I had this little freakout before going to the doctor. One of the reasons so few people go to see the doctor about anxiety is because they think it's not serious. They may freak out, but either they know it's silly, or unrealistic or illogical; or, they are worrying about something worth worrying about, and think that panicking is a natural reaction, not worth "fixing", but that's not true.
So, although I hated it at the time, in retrospect I'm glad that I had a little tightness in my chest while I was there because it means that I'm not crazy. Well, I am crazy (I don't think that's derogatory, it's descriptive), but at least hypochondria isn't a symptom of my mental illness. Even while writing this, I feel perfectly fine, I'm writing, I'm glad to be writing again, so, it makes me feel a little confused that, without warning, I become a squonk, and feel dreadful.
If a tree falls in the forest, no matter how loud it is, that sound is meaningless unless they can hear it, and so I'm glad that someone else could see my anxiety and confirm "yes, that is a really big tree, we should do something about that".

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and I will keep you updated on my progress. But until next time I'll write about something other than my anxiety, I promise.

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