The story of the day I sought medical help for my mental illness
About five years ago, I decided I had to do something about the fact that I never spoke to my friends.
That is the very basic way to describe the weird behaviors I’d picked up in recent years, like not returning people’s phone calls, ignoring Facebook messages, and just generally letting the vast majority of my most meaningful relationships die.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was experiencing a textbook case of social anxiety. It took me years to recognize that something was wrong, so by the time I knew I needed to act I’d already been an anxious person for about three years. I was deeply rooted in my new behaviors (which were indeed new, but what brought on the anxiety is a story for another time), and I was afraid of virtually any kind of human interaction.
Knowing I had to do something meant asking the Internet for help. A short time on Google told me that I had all the symptoms of something that was actually treatable, so I was faced with trying to muster up the courage to speak with my doctor.
If you have social anxiety you’ll understand: It is a terrifying prospect to speak with someone, let alone about your fears and insecurities.
I made an appointment with my GP, but I knew there was a chance I would skip the appointment (I’m a pro at cancelling plans) so I tried to prepare myself ahead of time to minimize the anxiety. I wrote down a list of things I think are due to social anxiety. It was both behavioural and physical symptoms, and I told myself it was okay just to read the list. I don’t know what happened to that list, but it included:
· No longer wanting to speak to my friends and family
· Ignoring their phone calls
· Not returning their emails and text messages
· Fretting over the calls, emails, and messages I’ve ignored
· Over time convincing myself they hate me for my behavior
· Nausea all the time from fretting about all the relationships I’m ignoring
· Vomiting when it’s really bad
· Elevated heart rate
· Severe exhaustion (and sometimes passing out, usually at home when fully dressed to go out, but once I actually passed out on a bus on the way to a party)
· Sometimes crying
· Headaches before going out or scheduled phone calls
Honestly, having this list written down was a huge help. I felt absolved of the necessity to ‘perform’, which is one of my least favourite things about speaking to people. I had my lines in front of me and permission to read from the script; a million other scary thoughts were fogging my brain, but at least I had already taken care of dialogue.
So I made it to my appointment, albeit shaking from head to toe. When my GP entered the room and asked me what was wrong, I stammered out: “I think I have social anxiety and I’ve written down the symptoms so I’m just going to read it.” I did; and I stuttered, and the page shook, and I felt like an idiot- but as soon as I started I knew the hardest part was over.
My doctor nodded her head at most of the things I said.
“So it’s pretty clear you have social phobia. You should see a therapist, and I can tell you how to do that. For now I think you could benefit from a prescription to help get you through the door.”
I can’t even tell you how amazing it felt to have my struggles validated. Fifty pounds of fear, guilt, and despair instantly dissolved off my shoulders. I left the clinic glowing. I now knew for sure that I wasn’t imagining things, that this wasn’t just me being lazy. I had a diagnosis, I had a plan, I had a prescription!
Honestly I love being on my medication, but I know it’s not for everyone. There are side effects, and the meds are not cheap without insurance but, damn- they work (for me, anyway). That is what makes them worth the money and side effects (to me, anyway).
There have been a lot of steps in my treatment since I first spoke to my doctor, and I’m doing a lot better. I’m not completely acting like my old self, but I’ve got a whole lot of me back and I can feel myself moving forward – something that never could have happened without that first, terrifying appointment.
Emily Brown is an editor and communications specialist living in Toronto. She likes hopping around Canada and has lived in Montreal, Halifax, and Vancouver before Toronto. She loves art, words, and dogs, especially her mutt Fergus.