Case Study: Jaxx vs. The GP
When it became apparent to me that I had a problem that I needed help with, I was advised by my boyfriend to speak to my GP to see if he had any advice, or if he could refer me to specialists like IAPT or Mind. When you have a GP referral waiting lists tend to be much shorter, because it's a sort of official co-sign. It's proof you really need help, I suppose. So, I made an appointment, and my usual GP wasn't available so I met with another doctor that works in the surgery. I went with my boyfriend for moral support, and I explained to him that I had been having problems with anxiety and stress, that I had noticed it bubbling up since I started my new job, and I was not sure what to do. I don't remember the exact words but I remember all my feelings. My chest was tight, my head was down and my eyes were almost always averted. I felt like there was a huge weight on my back, it felt like my arms were trembling under the pressure.
I might be exaggerating this, dreaming up again but more dramatic in the way writers tend to do, but I remember the doctor sat back in his chair, asking me vague questions about what I do for a living and what kind of changes I was noticing in myself. He mentioned my weight, which is fair because I'm pretty huge, and said I should consider more exercise and eating healthier.
I was mad, I was thinking “no shit, asshole” really loudly in my head, and overall I felt like I had just wasted my time and this will all just boil down to my weight like all my other problems probably do. Low mood, low self-esteem, low stress threshold, all boiling down to a high BMI. Sure, why the fuck not? I'll just lose some weight, feel good about myself until I have a bad day, binge eat, feel hideous, give up and remain fat and sad forever, shall I? Or I'll actually accomplish my goal, get to a healthy weight and suddenly all my problems will fall off like all the pounds I'm just burning at the gym. The secret to a good mood is all in your stomach, everyone. All skinny people are in high spirits all the time, sure!
Mind you, on the outside I'm nodding and saying yes, keeping my head down and absorbing what he says. He tells me to go and get a blood test and then come back in a couple of weeks so he could make sure I don't have diabetes or anything but for now I'm free to go.
But thank God for my boyfriend. This time, he did the second-guessing for me. He was pressing the GP with questions:
“But what about talking therapies?”
“Could she get a referral from you at her next appointment?”
“Wouldn't something like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy be an option she could look into?”
The doctor seemed annoyed, seemed like he was being asked too many questions, but he did agree and said Mind could be an option for me, but he wanted to see the blood test results first.
Fair enough. I go and get the test done another day, wait two weeks, and then make another appointment, but this time I go in on my own.
We have a discussion in which I had to remind him of everything I told him the last time we met which was frustrating in and of itself.
GP: You were struggling with this um, depression or something wasn't it?
Me: No, we never spoke about depression. It was anxiety I was concerned about.
GP: Ah, yes yes, to do with your work and all of that.
It was all very dismissive, not urgent, and that feeling of “I'm wasting my time, I don't need help, I was wrong about this whole thing” was just bubbling under the surface the whole time.
But we discussed my weight again, and exercise, how we often get into these moods as people but something as simple as exercise could be the cure. He told me to curb my drinking even though the blood test showed nothing abnormal in my liver (which he told me), and then gave me a prescription for some pills and that was the end of that.
Suddenly I needed pills? I had to start second-guessing for myself now.
Now, what I really should have done, and what I will recommend to you the reader if you ever go through the same thing, is to make an appointment with a different doctor and get a second opinion, maybe even a third if you have the time. I was frustrated, and I had just had my fill of doctors in that moment so I said thank you, left the office, and rather than go and put in the prescription I went and did some research.
I asked people in a Facebook group I am a part of (Adult Nerdfighters. DFTBA) what they knew about this drug (name Propranolol) and if they thought it would be suitable for treating anxiety. The consensus seemed to be that a) dosage size is important and b) it has worked for some, a common name for it is the “stage fright pill”, and it's not the same as other more risky medications. But c) the most important was that I should do what I feel comfortable with, and a lot of people suggested I try talking therapy and see how I can manage on my own before I go to medication.
Upon more research I found potential side-effects like memory loss, vivid-nightmares, one claim that it was linked to diabetes, and most importantly to this story: drowsiness. You are advised not to operate heavy machinery whilst on Propranolol, this includes machines like a Waste Baler which I had to use regularly at the job I was in at the time. Surely, I thought, this is something the GP should have asked me about?
Maybe I was irrational, but I thought an oversight like that made it clear I was not going to get the help I wanted from him, and through looking into what was available in my area I made the decision to refer myself to IAPT.
What I am not advising here, is to forgo medication as a way of combating mental illness. It honestly could save your life. What I am saying is that it isn't necessarily the only option, and that second-guessing and second opinions can be the thing that leads you to something else, something that will truly improve your way of life. The key is to know when and where it is healthy, and when and where it isn't. Even now I'm looking back into Propranolol and wondering how my life would have changed if I had decided to go on it, but I never would have had the opportunity to talk to someone and learn the things I know about myself right now. I know I made the right decision, questioning that is no longer helping me
One of the most important things anyone can ever tell you to do is: Question Everything. However, when it becomes questioning, questioning, re-questioning, and questioning again to the point of inaction it stops helping and begins hurting.